This Philadelphia-based duo is creating music that “prances about.” After releasing the music video for their track “Waterlogged,” the two met with Aislin to share the origins of Joann Fabrix, how they balance their collaborative and solo work, and how Kate Bush has inspired them.
Joann Fabrix creates music reminiscent of your favorite fables and fairy tales—colorful, entrancing, sentimental, and brief. Their debut album FABLE features songs that feel like short stories set in new worlds, and lyrics filled with lines that could stand as poems on their own. The duo consists of Helly Manson and Nico Lepeska-True, who turn found-sounds and small-scale samples into “glitchy jigs and slanted lullabies.”
Raised in London, Manson sang in a traditional school choir and started drumming in high school. Lepeska-True sang in a chorus as well, taking part in a youth group called Boston City Singers during their upbringing in Boston, MA. The two crossed paths in Connecticut during their first year at Wesleyan University when a mutual friend asked if they wanted to be in a band. Despite playing in two bands together, they didn’t become friends until two years later when other band members moved abroad. After remixing one of Lepeska-True’s songs, Manson shared it with them as a birthday gift, and Joann Fabrix was born.
From the first time I learned about you and heard your music, I’ve always been drawn to your name and the way it’s spelled. How did the name Joann Fabrix come about?
Lepeska-True: (Laughs) Yeah, it really just popped up! I was making a lot of trips to craft stores at the beginning of my senior year at school, getting materials for my art thesis… And also I think Helly was trying to name a pop star in her English thesis around then? (Laughs) So maybe that was in my mind subconsciously. At some point, I thought, “Joann Fabrics would be an amazing name for a pop star!” We ended up throwing the x in later just for fun.
Your music features a lot of glitchy ambient sounds with haunting vocals layered throughout. It’s described as being reminiscent of your favorite fairy tale—colorful, entrancing, sentimental, and brief. Do fairy tales play a large part in the inspiration for your music?
Manson: I think in a sort of unintentional way. When we were finishing FABLE and trying to come up with a name for the album, I was thinking a lot about how all the songs feel like their own succinct worlds/short stories. So that was sort of the reasoning for the title. Aside from that we are both extremely influenced by Kate Bush. Her songs evoke childhood in a really strong way for me, even though I only started listening to her in my teens. I think that’s sort of her magic. So yeah, a heavy dose of her really rubbed off on us, probably!
Lepeska-True: Yeah I agree with all that, lots and lots of Kate Bush. The songs just ended up feeling like little fairy tales, and then we really leaned into that with all the visuals that came after the music.
What are some of your favorite fairy tales?
Lepeska-True: I love Frog & Toad! Which ended up being a source of inspiration for the “I Heard You Leaving” video. I also think about an animated short called The Snowman, based on the book by Raymond Briggs. It has a really beautiful score. Neither of those are traditional fairy tales, I suppose...
Manson: Also not a traditional fairy tale, but there’s a soviet animated short by Yuri Norstein that I really, really love called Hedgehog in the Fog about a hedgehog [that] gets lost in the woods on his way to find his friend the bear!
“There’s the person in the car who feels small and alone and also the famous celebrity who is incredibly isolated even though she’s on all the billboards and whatnot. These lonely bubbles bump up and merge with each other in the video because everyone is moving around so much.”
The recently dropped music video for your track “Waterlogged” features beautifully layered art and is set in a world that looks very futuristic. Could you give us a little more insight into the video and it’s meaning?
Manson: We actually didn’t do anything for this video conceptually. It was fully the brainchild of our dear friend Rafe Forman! From talking to him I can tell you that the video explores these different isolated characters within a sprawling cityscape. There’s the person in the car who feels small and alone and also the famous celebrity who is incredibly isolated even though she’s on all the billboards and whatnot. These lonely bubbles bump up and merge with each other in the video because everyone is moving around so much.
The animation, which looks like an artist’s sketchbook come to life, is very different from your previous music video. Was the decision to create an animated music video a result of restrictions caused by COVID?
Manson: Nope! I think we started talking about it with Rafe the fall before our album release.
2020 was a hard year for everyone trying to navigate the changes that came with COVID, but I can only imagine how difficult it has been for musicians who may have relied on live gigs and touring as the bulk of their income. How have you two been handling the changes? Has it affected your lives as musicians in any way?
Manson: It was definitely a bummer not to be able to tour after FABLE was released, mostly because we just really wanted people to hear us! But our earnings from shows have only ever really covered gas and food on tour and not much else. And we both have jobs right now. So in that regard, we are lucky and not much has changed. As far as making music for Joann Fabrix goes, it hasn’t really changed the way that Nico and I collaborate, because we both typically send songs back and forth over email until they’re done.
Lepeska-True: Yeah, it’s mostly just been a lot of sadness about not being able to take part in/experience live music—I miss it a lot.