While still only in her mid-twenties, Fanny (Faye) Hamlin has lived a life less ordinary. As a 12-year-old she joined the Swedish all-girl pop group Play, sold millions of records, toured with the likes of Destiny’s Child and ‘N Sync and would hang out with Beyoncé. At 15, she decided to quit the band and go back to school; one day Justin Timberlake, the next day homework and double mathematics.
Play were most popular in America and their home country, which is why, when The Line Of Best Fit chats to Faye, she is not surprised that we have never heard of her previous band. This may, however, be just the way Hamlin wants it to be. If Play were a sugary troupe of pop puppets, Hamlin’s solo career feels like an entirely different proposition. Having teamed up with fellow Swedish songwriters/remixers Montauk, her debut single ‘Come To Me’ and the forthcoming release ‘Water Against The Rocks’ are both brilliant slivers of understated electronic pop.
Indeed, there is steely resolve about Hamlin. While talking to her, it becomes apparent that creative freedom is centrally important. Unlike the marketing machine that surrounded Play, her solo career will be based on her decisions alone. Signed to the achingly-cool Hybris label, and with a debut album due out in September, Faye may just pull off a spectacular reinvention.
You began your career in Play at a very early age. Looking back, how do you view the experience?
It started out when we were 12, so we were pretty young. But, back then, I saw it more as a hobby than a job. Ever since I was a child it had been a big dream for me to be a pop star. It was a wonderful time for me and I got a lot of experience but, of course, now when you look back at it, it was quite surreal. It was hard work, but just singing and dancing was a lot of fun.
Before you joined Play, what sort of music did you listen to as a child?
I was a very big Spice Girls fan and me and my friends had a Spice Girls group when I was about nine.
Which Spice Girl were you?
I was Geri, of course. I also listened to The Beatles and I would sing their songs at the piano with my dad. Also, do you know the American soul singer Jill Scott? Her first album, Who Is Jill Scott? Words And Sounds Vol. 1 was a big influence on the way that I sing.
I believe you toured with Destiny’s Child. Did you get to hang out with Beyoncé?
Yes, sometimes, but she is Beyoncé Knowles – I was mostly just quiet and staring at her. She is a wonderful woman with a wonderful voice. I stood at the side of the stage watching the Destiny’s Child show every night for three months. I learned a lot and she is a big influence when I sing.
Did she ever give you any advice?
Yes, she gave me the advice to not work in the music business!
What happened to Play? I believe you split from the group twice, firstly in 2003.
When I turned 15 I got tired of it and I decided to quit the group and go back to school. I really wanted to go back to Sweden and finish high-school as a normal teenager like the rest of my friends. I think that I made a great choice. I am really happy that I did that.
You rejoined the band in 2009 – why did you return?
We did an album here in Sweden. I wanted to give it a second chance but I quickly realised I really wanted to do something on my own, so we only did one record. I then started working with Montauk, who are producers and songwriters, and it feels really good and I am really proud of myself.
When you began to think about your solo project, what was your vision for the music you wanted to create?
Well, my thoughts were that I wanted to do something that was more focused on the music, more than the commercial stuff which happens when you are in a pop group. I am trying to make the music the most important stuff that I do. The most important thing is that I do it myself and no one is making decisions for me. Of course the music is different because I’m not making songs with pop songwriters that make 100 hits per day, so it is a different sound. Also, I want to use my vocals in a different way and that is a wonderful feeling for me to be able to make my own sound.
How did you come to work with Montauk?
We’ve know each other since we were 15 and I started doing some backing singing for them four or five years ago. Then, we started working on this project two years ago and we wrote a song together for fun and it became such a great song that we continued working together. Six months ago we got signed by Hybris and now we have a whole album waiting to be released.
You mentioned Hybris – why did you choose that particular label?
We wanted to find a label that was as far from a big commercial label as we could. The way we work with Hybris, we can talk to the owners directly and we know what they think. It is three people working for a small company; with a major label it is a lot of people and you never know how decisions are made. On a small label, you can do things yourself and that is important right now – to do my own thing.
The lead single from your album is ‘Come To Me’ – why did you choose that particular song?
We really liked that one – it was the second song we wrote for the album. I love the lyrics. It is catchy but not a typical hit song. It describes the whole feeling of the album.
The chorus contains the words “free me” – should we read much into those lyrics?
Yes and no. A lot of the lyrics were written by Victor from Montauk and I do more of the harmonies and melodies, but, of course, he knows about my past life. So, some of the lyrics are connected to my life and experiences and it does reflect what I have been through.
Looking back on your experiences in Play, how do you feel about the music business?
I’m not scarred by the business but, of course, I am emotionally scarred about a lot of things. But, it makes you stronger as well. If I hadn’t been in Play and had that experience, I wouldn’t even have come this far.
How have Play fans reacted to your solo material?
Actually, it has been really good. Having read a few of the comments I believe they like it. The reaction when I quit Play was quite negative – the fans didn’t like it all that I had quit the group. But now they seem to like the single, which is great. It is wonderful that they have been so devoted for almost ten years.
I’m sorry to hear about the negative reaction you received, that must have been very difficult for you as a 15-year-old?
It was, but I was so determined to quit the group and go back to school, and I didn’t read comments or go on the internet searching for anything. I was so young so I just went back to school and hung out with my friends. That was it. The second time around was more difficult for me. When I read the comments, I found it harder to shut down.
Finally, you are making a big statement by signing to an indie label. You could have launched your solo career on a major and not have to start from the ‘bottom rung of the ladder’. Is this an act of bravery of foolishness?
Well, if I had signed with a major label I don’t think it would have been all about the music. The music is so important to me and when I sing I can do that on any stage. It doesn’t have to be a big venue. It is important for me to do this is my own way and because of what I have been through, to take it a bit slow in the beginning. I need to take it step-by-step and be sure I am doing the right thing at every moment.