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The Lockdown Interviews: Foxes

| April 19, 2021

Foxes (photo by Holly Fernando)

Phoning from her native England recently, Louisa Rose Allen admitted that over a year of on-again, off-again pandemic lockdown had essentially ground her life to a screeching halt. “It’s like a rollercoaster that’s just not moving, isn’t it?” she asked rhetorically, adding a wry chuckle for punctuation. Because the existential irony certainly is not lost on her — at the beginning of 2017, this songwriter/model who records and performs as Foxes had already watched her career shut down, of her own carefully-planned volition. Only a few years earlier, her name was everywhere — long before her chart-topping 2014 debut Glorious was released, she had won an actual Best Dance Recording Grammy for “Clarity,” her collaboration with producer Zedd, and she wound up singing on cuts by Rudimental and Fall Out Boy, being personally invited by Pharrell to open his 2014 European tour, and even filming an ultra-cool cameo on the cult BBC TV series Dr. Who. But after the second set, All I Need in 2016, she reckoned that what she need was a long, relaxing break from showbiz, until she recently returned with a punchy synth-tropical single, “Love Not Loving You,” also featured on her new seven-track comeback EP, Friends In the Corner. And her quirky take on pop feels like a welcome breath of fresh air, on an R&B-sultry “Kathleen,” the symphonic thumper “Dance,” a delicate piano ballad called “Woman,” and a shimmering iridescent title cut. Foxes were happy to map out the trail that led her into her den and then back out again.

IE: So why did you bow out of music in 2017?

Foxes: What’s interesting is, I didn’t ever really LEAVE the music industry. I was actually still doing a lot just behind the scenes. I continued writing, and I continued just being there. I was still standing, but I just had to go and find some inspiration from different places, I think.

IE: Did you travel?

Foxes: Well, actually, I did quite a few writing camps in the jungle. And lots of people went — I was there with quite a few other writers and artists. And it was actually the label that put out my very first record on vinyl (the 2012 single “Youth”), Neon Gold — they were setting these camps up, so I was just like, “Well, why not?” So I just headed to the jungle for a bit, which I guess you could say sort of counts as leaving the face of the Earth. It was in Nicaragua, actually, and it was definitely an experience and quite wild. And there were lots of strange noises and animals, as you can imagine, but tons to write about. It was so different to being in a jam-packed city.

IE: What was your daily routine? And did they pair you up as many camps and workshops do?

Foxes: Yeah, they paired us up. But we didn’t really have any rules, and you could just write when you want to. So we were writing all through the night and at different times, and you’d go into one room, and everyone would be having a party at 4:00 a.m., and then you’d go back to sleep. So it was very mental but really fun. Because, as you can imagine, when musicians and creative people are put into that situation, all sorts of stuff goes on. But it was definitely inspirational to have that bit of freedom and figure out a new way of writing and just being and all of it. The trips were for two weeks at a time, and I did three of them in one year. But amongst that, I left my record label, so there was kind of a reason I wanted to give everything up. I felt like my time at a major label had come to an end, and I wasn’t feeling like the major label system was serving me anymore. I felt like I was kind of in a bit of a machine, and I wanted to get out of that and just see what else there was going on. And then I just decided to take the risk of stepping away for a bit, which — looking back at it now — I’m really glad I did.

IE: So you just stopped thinking about the music biz entirely?

Foxes: I didn’t think about the business, but I thought about MUSIC. It sounds cliche, but I can’t NOT think about music — it’s just my life. So I thought about that, and I thought about trying to come back to a place where I was never thinking about the business side — I was thinking about the creative side. I definitely wanted to get back to that….I dunno what you would call it, but at the beginning, I was first writing in my bedroom, and I really didn’t give a shit about what a major label, though, because I didn’t think anyone was going to ever listen to it. So it was just a freeing experience, and I just wanted to get back to that. I didn’t lose confidence in myself, exactly, but I started to lose some of the core of what I was writing about because when you’re with a major label, there’s a lot of dilution that goes on. So I went in fully knowing exactly what I was because I wrote the first album before I’d even signed to the label. I had a very clear idea of what I wanted to do back then.

IE: And you had actually won a Grammy even before that.

Foxes: Yeah. And it was quite insane to have that happen early on. But I think what’s really good is; I finally got to make some important decisions for myself, like signing with an independent, building a team around that, that I really love, and just finding people that are on the same wavelength. I also got new management. I just wanted to shake everything up, and it was really empowering to do that. It was about needing to be at the head of the table again — so many people end up getting involved with your music, you end up losing your voice a bit. So that was really important for me to reassess everything and then start from the ground up again, which is always a risk. But a very important one.

IE: And it paid off with the confident, sonically-inventive “Love Not Loving You”? Which sounds like a kiss-off to everyone in your old brigade.

Foxes: Yeah, And I think a lot of the music that I’ve written after leaving things behind has got that energy — about starting again, about being able to stand in your power again, and trust in yourself and trust in your muse and what you’re doing. A lot of it has that spirit. But that song for me was quite crucial. The production is a bit weird, and it’s a pop song, but not the easiest to digest in certain places. But I quite like that. I quite like the kitchen-sink sound, where we were using all sorts of different things to create different sounds. That was something I did way back, with “Youth” and my early songs. So that song definitely had that kind of creativity that I had in the beginning, and it was produced in the same way.

IE: Hannah Reid from London Grammar has recently revealed all the sexist ‘Mansplaining’ she’s been forced to hear whenever she voiced a technical opinion in the studio or at soundcheck. Condescension never suffered by her male bandmates. Does your song “Woman” touch on that?

Foxes: Totally, It does, yeah. And it’s interesting what Hannah experienced because it was always weird for me because I’m not in a group — I don’t have anyone else, I’m not in a band. So definitely, experiencing that kind of treatment is really bizarre when you’re the artist, and it’s just you, and there’s no one else there. And (studio) people are going, “So this is what we’re going to do,” and you’re like, “Hang on a minute — what are you on about?” So I really resonate with that, and I think lots of women do. And it’s a real shame. So I’m finally speaking out now, too, about my experiences, just to make people aware of the kind of treatment women go through. It’s just not right.

IE: It must be tough to not only retain your sense of identity in showbiz but your spirituality, as well.

Foxes: Yeah. I think if you’re creative and sensitive and all these things, it’s like they actually don’t go very well with the music industry, which is such a strange thing to consider. Because there’s actually a lot of vulnerability in a lot of artists, and it can be quite damaging in the music industry. To be able to put art out into the world and have people listen to it? That’s totally vulnerable. And I’m someone who’s actually quite an introvert, and I used to have social anxiety. I’d get quite nervous about situations, so it’s quite interesting that that kind of personality that I am is kind of able to expose myself so massively and still be able to deal with it.

IE: My motto is, Everybody has an agenda, and it rarely includes you. Get used to it.

Foxes: Yeah, yeah. And it’s a shame that you have to kind of learn that the hard way in this industry. I definitely went in very naive and made friends with as many people as possible, and I thought these were real friendships and that everyone had my back. But no — it’s very much a jungle out there, and you see a lot of strange things. And a lot of these people, they PRETEND they’re your friends, but they’re keeping you on their side so they think they can get away with anything. And at the end of 2016, I just realized that a lot of these people weren’t listening to me, and I didn’t have a voice, and it wasn’t about me as an artist anymore or the music. It was about trying to create this OTHER thing that could make them money, and it’s just totally soulless. So you definitely have to get away from that kind of bullshit.

IE: And there went the idea for Foxes promotional glow-in-the-dark yo-yo’s.

Foxes: Ha! And you’re like, “What the fuck?” And before you know it, you’re selling yo-yo’s, and you’re not knowing what’s going on, and you’re not even in control of it. So it was for me all about taking back control. And I didn’t care in the end about how famous or successful I could be — I had to get back to why I’m doing this and feel the love for it again.

IE: Is there a real “Kathleen”? And what advice did she give you?

Foxes: Yeah — that’s my grandma. And advice? Well, everything in the song, really. I was going through a breakup…well, actually, going through anything, I’d use her as a grounding point, and I’d always go back to my hometown and see her and sit by her side, and I’d ask her what to do. And it just so happened that this one time, I voice-memo-ed what she said, and I got to the studio a few days later, and we were kind of sitting there, brainstorming about what we could write about. And I pulled my VoiceNotes up and remembered her spilling all of this genius advice, all of the wise, comforting things that grandparents say. And so I wrote “Kathleen.”

IE: Is she still with us, I hope?

Foxes: She is, yes. She was in hospital over Christmas, which was actually really upsetting because of COVID we couldn’t see her, so she was on her own for three weeks, in hospital. And that was frightening. So part of the reason I wanted to put “Kathleen” out after that was, I knew she was coming out of hospital, and I knew she’d be recovering and healing, and I just thought, “This song really needs to come out.” I wanted everyone to hear it, and I knew that it would help her.

IE: What did she say about it?

Foxes: Well, she was extremely overwhelmed, first of all. She’s someone who talks constantly, and she’s the most knowledgeable human being I’ve ever met in my life. But I think this was the first time that she was ever at a loss for words. She didn’t know what to say, and I think she shed quite a few tears.

IE: And that’s your ideal audience, right there.

Foxes: Exactly. And I think it’s so important to get those messages out.  If your grandmother is going to give you some amazing advice, I think other people deserve to hear it. And it’s a very special privilege for me to be able to do that. I think connecting like that and passing on advice to other people is one of the most powerful things ever. It’s the best way to be, and I think trying to help each other as much as possible — especially now — is just crucial in this world.

– Tom Lanham


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Category: Featured, The Lockdown Interviews

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