Essential Listening

  • chihiro

  • too much

With complete adoration for Hayao Miyazaki, Kevin Shields and Berth Jansch, Faith Nico aka Cruel Sister has set about sculpting a romantic, washed-out realm of sound which bursts out of her bedroom recording studio adorned by copious numbers of sketches.

Faith Nico may be a musician, but she is very much a visual creature. “For the first 19 years of my life I thought I was going to be an artist or animator of some kind,” she recalls. “Since I was a kid I was into drawing, music was more the hobby.”

“I have no music theory knowledge whatsoever because I was just art, art, art, art but music can be quite visual to me. I don’t know if I have proper synaesthesia, but a lot of imagery, feelings and colours come to mind when I listen to music.”

Faith recalls how seeing the Studio Ghibli masterpiece ‘Spirited Away’ left an indelible mark on her. “Spirited Away was my gateway into anime. It actually changed my brain chemistry. I’d never seen anything like it before.”

“That whole thing of being undermined really resonated with me,” reflects Faith, who was inspired to write recent single Chihiro about the movie’s main character, who is the voice of reason against her parents worst inclinations. The feeling of danger within the movie spoke to her because of childhood nightmares.

Photography by Paula Trojner

“I would have dreams as a kid were something terrible would be happening, we’d all be in danger and I’d be like, ‘Guys, this is bad we need to get out of here’ and your parents are like, ‘No, it’s fine and then your parents die.”

“That resonated a lot with me as a kid, but the whole movie is just (chef’s kiss), the animation is just so beautiful. I just love that movie so much and the soundtrack and once I saw that I just got completely immersed in it and I still am.”

With a career in animation put to the wayside, Faith Nico opted to study Creative Music Production in IADT Dun Laoghaire, putting those skills to use successfully on her debut EP ‘Girls My Age’, which was received generously, earning her airplay in Ireland and the UK and beyond.

The decision to trade under the moniker Cruel Sister was inspired by her love of traditional murder ballads.

“There’s a very old English murder ballad that goes by many names: The Twa Sisters, The Two Sisters or the Cruel Sister. It’s about these two sisters – they both fall in love with the same guy but he only loves one of them so one of them drowns the other sister.

Her body washes up on the shore and somebody turns her bones into a harp. The string is made from her hair and it basically retells the tail of how she was murdered.”

She was introduced to the song via the English folk jazz band Pentangle, featuring legendary guitarist Bert Jansch. “I would have listened to it a lot in the car when I was younger. My dad’s a musician as well (Doctor Millar) so we would listen to a lot of music growing up.”

“It didn’t feel very heavy,” she notes when we point out it’s unusual listening for young ears. “It sounds very beautiful and ethereal. They have some great albums – Solomon’s Seal and Basket of Light – some of them are originals and some of them are old traditional songs.

“There’s one called the Cherry Tree Carol, which is about Mary and Joseph walking through a field and baby Jesus from the womb is like: ‘Yo, cherry tree come down and give my mother some cherries’. Just loads of stories like that. I just really find those tales in a song manner inspiring.”

“As of now, Cruel Sister is very much just me but who knows down the line, a new personality could take form,” says Faith when we enquire if she uses the moniker as a shield to allow her to tackle things she wouldn’t in everyday scenarios.

Though she does concede that it’s given her license to introduce some “huge bitch energy” on stage. “I don’t know, maybe there’s a part of me that’s like I could stand to be a huge bitch sometimes as a life-long people-pleaser. “

"I'm playing around with making these fucked up noises and I can't wait to bring those fucked up noises on stage.”

To date, Cruel Sister has picked up some impressive support slots opening for Luna Li and Pussy Riot. “I was opening for Luna Li and I got a text message from my manager asking: ‘How do you feel about opening for Pussy Riot tomorrow?’ That was crazy, their show was fantastic. It was one of the most moving gigs I’ve ever been to, it was so incredible. It was so sick to be associated with them in any way.”

Cruel Sister will just have to get used to such events as she is opening for Two Door Cinema later this year, as well as performing at All Together Now and Sea Sessions this summer.

“I would call it shoegaze,” says Faith, as the conversation turns to her sound. “I remember when I first listened to My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive and I was like: ‘I want to make music like this’. I loved how romantic and ethereal it was, the washed-out vocals. I just really loved the feeling it invoked. It was the embodiment of cool to me.”

It wasn’t until her studies that she realised that she didn’t need “a whole fucking thing to do this… I could just do it at home with Abelton.” Although the aim is to one day move to the studio and create a thousand track opus, for now, Cruel Sister is an exercise in illusionary minimalism.

“It sounds like there’s a lot of tracks because the decay on the reverb is so long but most times it’s two maybe three guitar tracks and one bass track.”

Chihiro has been known to make people think that their computer is ill. “Yes, that’s the goal,” she says laughing. “Let me confuse people and make them think that their technology is not working.”

“I just wanted it to be floaty and airy. I like things that are ethereal. I like romanticizing things a lot and I like when things have a cool, mysterious, ambiguous, ghostly, fairy-like feeling to them,” she continues.

“I always have, I was obsessed with unicorns as a kid. I’ve always wanted to be a mermaid. I love romanticising things and feelings in music. I wanted it to feel like there’s a big cloud coming over you and you just can’t quite make out what you see or what you hear.”

As well as providing a comfort blanket-like effect to the music, the buckets of effects used on Cruel Sisters debut also provided Faith Nico a place to hide in plain sight.

“I wasn’t quite confident in my ability as a singer. In that genre there’s a lot of allowance for just putting a shedload of reverb on it. There’s an element of you can just feel it out and it doesn’t have to be pinpoint exact.

“There’s a freedom in that, but I do want to get better at singing and playing guitar and everything in music in general, especially with these new tracks I want to improve in every aspect.”

Cruel Sister’s forthcoming EP will be a departure from her early work introducing the Cruel Sister live band into the equation.

“I used to be apprehensive about collaboration for Cruel Sister because I didn’t want to lose anything, but now I’m more open to it because sometimes you can get something new via bumping together of ideas.”

“They’re gonna be a lot more involved in it this time but it’s still gonna be a lot of me in my room. I can see myself going further and further into studio time and leaving my room more, but this is where I feel most comfortable producing music. This is where I feel most relaxed.”

“The first word that comes to mind with the new songs is darker,” she notes, which for someone who is named after a murder ballad is quite the statement. “It doesn’t mean that I’m going to go full on goth, but I’m trying not to limit myself completely to shoegaze.”

“Spirited Away was my gateway into anime. It actually changed my brain chemistry. I'd never seen anything like it before.”

“I got a lot of pedals last year and I’m playing around with making these fucked up noises and I can’t wait to bring those fucked up noises on stage.”

“I had to do it to prove to myself that I could,” says Faith reflecting on her first EP. “And when I realised I could do it on my own that was so liberating. ‘Fuck it, I’ll put it out there. I’ll put it on Spotify, I’ll do the whole shebang’, and then next thing I’m opening for Two Door Cinema Club in Belfast. It’s pretty sweet, my degree is going somewhere and I’m pretty happy about that.”

Perhaps a good sign that Cruel Sister is taking it all in her stride and not letting it go to her head is that her favourite moment in her career so far isn’t opening for Pussy Riot, it’s seeing normal people vibe with her music.

“I used to do a bit of pole fitness during lockdown and then one day after I put out Chihiro, I got tagged in this video by this girl,” explains Faith. “She was doing her really cool pole dancing routine with Chihiro in the background and I was like, ‘This is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen’. That’s special to me.”

Cruel Sister plays All Together Now and Sea Sessions this summer with more live dates to be announced soon.

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