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In conversation with Catherine Fearns

Interview with British guitarist, pianist and composer who has recently released her latest album "half life".


An original artist who soon began studying and producing music in various genres and styles.

Classical music was very important to me from a young age; I studied piano from the age of six and performed regularly in competitions and concerts. However I never really believed it would be possible to be a professional musician.

Hi Catherine, Growing up, how important was music in your life? Can you recall the moment when you decided that you wanted to be a musician? Was it an easy or difficult choice to make?


Classical music was very important to me from a young age; I studied piano from the age of six and performed regularly in competitions and concerts. However I never really believed it would be possible to be a professional musician. Nobody prevented me; my parents would have supported me, and I knew I was good enough. However I felt it was too risky a career choice, and that my responsibility was to get a reliable job. I was also a very shy teenager, and since I only associated music with performing which I found so nerve-wracking, I thought it would be too stressful to be a pianist. And so I stopped playing in my late teens and hardly touched a piano for 20 years. It is a decision that I always regretted, deep down, and I became almost afraid of the piano, because of the feelings of regret that it brought up. But now I’m back!


Was there ever a time when you thought about doing something else? If you weren’t a musician today, what else could you see yourself doing? Would you be as fulfilled in life?


Oh yes – I spent my twenties and thirties doing just about everything other than being a musician! I had several career changes; partly due to having children, partly due to travelling for my husband’s work, and partly because I never found the right thing. I started writing in my late thirties, first as a music journalist, then as a novelist. And changing to a creative career gave me the confidence to return to music. Now that I am finally a musician I finally understand what it is to love your work.


Catherine reveals us ...


The biggest surprise is how right it feels to me. People often talk about ‘impostor syndrome’, and you would think that someone like me, who suddenly decided to become a composer at this age, would feel like an impostor.

What has been the biggest surprise so far about making music your career? What has been an unexpected or welcome challenge to it all?


The biggest surprise is how right it feels to me. People often talk about ‘impostor syndrome’, and you would think that someone like me, who suddenly decided to become a composer at this age, would feel like an impostor. But I don’t, at all; for the first time in my life I feel brave, and excited, and that I don’t need anyone’s validation.

However, I don’t know if I can say yet that music is my ‘career’. This year I will certainly work on monetizing it more – through commissions, licensing, performances – it’s going to be a challenge but one that I certainly welcome.


Let’s talk about your brand new project “half life”. What was the inspiration for this album? How do you think it prepares listeners for more music from you?


half life is an album of twelve short piano works. The inspiration comes from two meanings of ‘half life’; firstly, the time it takes for a nuclear atom to decay to half its radioactivity, and secondly, the sense of being at a half-way stage of life. Both meanings relate to power and decay. The pieces are all based on very personal stories and feelings; in fact I originally wrote a poem to accompany each piece, but in the end I decided to let the music stand for itself. The titles are all in lowercase, in the ‘non-committal’ style of the French impressionist composers, because they are meant to be suggestions and I am happy if listeners find their own meanings.

This is classical, or post-classical music, but there are definitely references to heavy metal as well, and I really wanted to explore the potential for the piano to be a heavy instrument.

I have already begun composing my second album, which continues to explore the heavy potential of the piano. It will be similar in style but more ambitious, with more instrumentation (and certainly some guitars!).


For better or worse, social media is essential for creative careers. I can’t imagine succeeding in my work without it. However the challenge is to keep it on the sidelines and not let it take over.


What has it been like keeping up with your social media accounts and all of the different platforms? Is it hard to stay up to date on it all? What would you say is your favorite way to connect with your fans now? What has social media done for your career?


I have been on social media for several years, first to promote my writing, and then my heavy metal music with the band Chaos Rising. So my followers are a mixture of people who like writing, reading and heavy metal – it will be interesting to see how many of them like classical music too! My followers were quite surprised/confused when I suddenly started playing the piano and composing – but so was I – it all happened very fast!

I am relatively new to Instagram and it’s the medium I prefer – it has the kindest, most positive vibe. I have done a few Instagram live events with my band, and I’m looking forward to doing a livstream solo piano concert this week.

Next I need to get to work on my Youtube channel.

For better or worse, social media is essential for creative careers. I can’t imagine succeeding in my work without it. However the challenge is to keep it on the sidelines and not let it take over. Once you start making a piece of ‘content’ it can waste several hours, and you often feel quite empty afterwards. It’s important to remember how that dopamine rush works, and also to remember that Instagram is not the real world. You have to take everything you see there with a pinch of salt.



Who are some of your favorite artists or rather, what musicians have continued to inspire you and your music? Who would you absolutely love to work with in the future?


When I moved to Geneva, Switzerland, five years ago and began playing the electric guitar, I became involved with the local underground music scene. I have met so many amazing musicians here who have such a humble approach to their talents and release their music so modestly. I learned that some of the most beautiful, innovative music is often almost completely hidden. I have been particularly inspired by my guitar teacher, Jerome Pellegrini, who plays in the hardcore band Nostromo. He taught me that composition is a very instinctual thing and doesn’t need to be backed up by university degrees in music or expensive equipment; only by passion, time and authenticity.

I have been lucky to have the opportunity to play the piano as part of Chaos Rising, an all-female international metal project, and I hope to continue that in the future. Outside of heavy metal, I have to mention Tori Amos, who has been a profound influence on me since I was a teenager. I finally got to see her play live a couple of years ago, and it was everything I had hoped it would be. I think she is a genius.

In terms of modern classical music, I am still discovering who is out there, as it’s rather a new field for me. I’m very into Japanese music and via Instagram I have discovered an amazing jazz pianist/composer from Japan called Taku Yabuki, and I’m just blown away by his music. That’s the sort of level that I can only dream of reaching.



At the end of the day, what do you hope people take away from your music?


If someone finds even one moment in my music that speaks to them, I am very happy.

Most of all, I wrote this album to be played by other people. The sheet music came before the recording, and I would love for other pianists to play it for themselves and find their own interpretations.


What are some goals that you have for yourself this year? How close are you to reaching them?


I am composing my second album now, and it will be more ambitious than the first. I’m working on a larger canvas with more instrumentation.

With Chaos Rising we are also planning to release a double album this year, which is really exciting after all our hard work and nearly 20 single releases.

As I mentioned earlier I’d like to try and monetize my composing work this year, and I’ve already had a couple of soundtrack commissions. If my livestream performance goes well this week, I’d like to explore the possibility of more live piano performances too – it has been almost 30 years since the last haha!

But I’m not setting specific goals. I’m on an adventure with this, plus we have all learned the past two years that sometimes our goals can easily be derailed through no fault of our own. The best I can do is be open to opportunities that come my way… and if they don’t come, I will create my own!


Artist bio

Catherine Fearns is a British composer living in Switzerland. As keyboardist and guitarist for acclaimed all-female heavy metal band Chaos Rising, she is a busy songwriter in the field of extreme music. However she is also a classically-trained pianist, with a fascination for the surprisingly close links between classical and metal music. In exploring these links, she has developed a unique and exciting style of composition. Catherine is also an award-winning novelist, and for her, writing and composing are all part of the same storytelling process.




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