Foxes Defends Pop Ballads, Talks Sia + Being a Serious Songwriter: PopCrush Interview
The way Foxes explains it, she's sort of music's inverse Superman: Outwardly, there's a look and attitude that could inspire an H&M capsule collection, but seated a bit more deeply — past the neon veneer, the shredded denim armor, the requisite pop star spandex suit — is a songwriter who's angling to move Clark Kent to the forefront.
After catapulting into radio rotation as the voice of Zedd's "Clarity" — which earned Foxes (real name Louisa Rose Allen) her first Grammy in 2014 — the Brit act released the dramatic-but-blithe Glorious to critical acclaim. Friday (February 5), she followed up the synthpop-heavy debut (plus additional contributions to Fall Out Boy and Rudimental) with All I Need, a sophomore heartbreak LP she described as rawer and more delicate. The shift considered, there's no confusing to whom her newest tracks belong — two albums into her career, and she's yet to, herself, engineer a collaboration. This, she hopes, will chip away at the likelihood of her tombstone reading "Featured Artist."
Now, amid the release of her road trip-ready "Amazing," Foxes says she's excited about the state of pop, and seems sure it's returning to an arena built for great singers and sincere songwriters. See what she told PopCrush about her love of Stripped, why she's still bent on recording big ballads and which American singer's currently captivating her.
PopCrush: We talked to Jess Glynne a few months ago, who won a Grammy as a feature on a dance track before her first album came out. You had the exact same experience the year before she did. What was it like to win so early in your career?
Foxes: It's been a strange one with the Grammy and I guess really with having “Clarity” come out and doing what it did so early on, right at the beginning. I did feel a little bit like a kid, you know? I felt very young when it got nominated for a Grammy, it's something I always dreamed of. It was really a goal I envisioned — I kind of wanted to pave my career, and that was what I was aspiring to. To win something very early on is a really strange thing. It really just set fire under my feet and I'm really focused on my album and focused on really what I want to do to make myself stand on my own two feet away from “Clarity.”
And speaking to the new album, you’ve described it as more emotional — more strings, more piano and a less produced sound than the first album. Are you nervous at all how fans will receive that?
Yeah, I think you're always nervous, especially with a second album. I feel like it's like you're starting all over again and you're creating something all over again and asking people what they think and asking people to enjoy it. So, you never know how it's going to be received. I feel like this is the most proud I've ever been of work that I've done, so that's really all I can do, do the best work I can do and then hope that it gets received well. But I'm also really excited.
I wanted to ask about the intro, “Rise Up.” There’s a recording that says “If I were a bird, I would fly far, far away.” Who’s saying that, and what sort of message were you trying to convey?
That's actually my niece. I'm a big fan of samples, and on the first album, I used a lot of samples throughout the album and there's a lot of my family on it. I think there's something that really makes the album feel personal, when someone is on it is someone that you love. It gives you that connection to the album. It's important, I think. I wanted her to start the album off because she is someone I see as a rock, she's one of the reasons why, when you have your ups and downs, you kind of keep going.
I think there's something vulnerable about being a child and wanting to fly away and escape from a situation, and I think making this album, I kind of felt like that. She actually said those words without me asking her to. She said quite a few interesting things and they were all quite creative and bonkers. It's quite interesting at the age of three-and-a-half.
Contemporary pop places a lot of value on uptempo stuff, and ballads have sort of disappeared from a lot of artists' catalogs, but you've got a bunch on All I Need. Was it difficult to get them on there, and how important is it to you to include them?
You're right, actually. It's interesting that you said that. I don't think there are many albums now that really have that variation, the moments an album needs to feel like it's not just one same thing and I think, to me, the albums I've grown up with and really, really loved have those up and downs, have those ballads, have such a mix of it all. It's really telling a story in lots of different ways. It's really important to me to have them on there. Do you remember Christina Aguilera's Stripped? I remember growing up with that album, songs on it like that, I think are important.
I didn't struggle with having them on the album, though. I think I'm very in control with what goes on the album and the decisions that are made and stringing the album all together in the end. Luckily, I have a very good team that allows me to do that. Not as many albums are selling anymore, I feel like that's changed and you need singles constantly from an album to be able to do well. Hopefully, this will feel more like an authentic album — lots of different sides to it.
All I Need touches on relationships through deep conversations and abstract emotions, then there's a song just bluntly called “Money,” which is a very stark statement about greed. Is that speaking to a particular experience, or is it a general statement?
It's speaking about particular experience. It was quite funny, actually — it wasn't funny at the time — but someone I was close to once described money as a human being, almost as if it was female and I kind of wrote it that way, kind of felt at the time that someone was in a relationship with money and I couldn't really live up to that. It felt like almost cheating on them, I could never live up to what money could be for that other person.
I read an interview recently in which you said you could feel pop shifting to cater to good voices and good singing. Do you find that’s more a condition of the United Kingdom’s pop market than the United States’ scene?
I think in America there are some incredible voices. I think Tori Kelly is someone who's got a great voice. I think there's something about English music that feels very raw and emotional, you know? I think that maybe it's because it rains all the time. There's definitely something that feels a bit grittier here, musically. It's not a shiny pop, and I do feel a bit more accepted here. In a sense, it's been easier, because I live here and I can put my energy into just touring here a lot and that kind of thing. I find that it's a shame that I can't come to America really to sort of try and spread my music and tour. I did early on, but I haven't been able to recently. I hope that's something that I'll be able to do in the future.
You’ve rejected the idea of being classified as a bubblegum pop act, but have said that you, yourself, are a fan of that scene. I was wondering if you could explain that disparity a little bit more.
It's quite difficult to be a female in pop sometimes. I think there are a lot of female pop stars and assumptions that are made, and it's difficult to stand out as a songwriter. When you're performing your own music as a female pop star, I think — I've definitely come across people that don't think I write the music, and I find it very hard to get that message across without hammering it home, but I guess I want people to know that it's personal and it's for me. I love pop music and I love pop artists, but I guess the nicest part of doing this is that you can really create new pop sounds and hopefully something I've created can reach a larger audience and then become pop music. I think there's not much of that anymore.
I don't really see myself as a pop star and I get called a pop star a lot, so I don't really know what I am. I guess I'm just learning, but there's nothing wrong with being called a pop star.
I heard you say your next tour will be much bigger with grander themes. Will that change your sets?
Yeah, I've been having lots of meetings about that and it's really exciting for me at this point, because I feel like I can get really involved. It's kind of like a vision, it's kind of coming alive. It's going to be most of the new album and then pieces of the old album. The venues are going to be bigger, the lighting is going to fill up more, and things will be a lot more mature. It's going to feel like a show, which to me is really exciting. I guess it's your little world that you're creating for people to come and watch, but on a larger scale.
No, I haven't. In 2014, I did a year of a lot of collaborations and I worked with a lot of different artists and it was so brilliant to do and it was such an amazing experience, but I think I wanted to make sure that I could have my own project aside of all of that, so that's kind of why I went down the road to not having any featured artists on the album, because I guess I wanted it to feel like it was all one piece of work. Also, I just did so many features I think people had enough of me, but it's all about the right collaboration. If the right thing came along with the right person, then I would love to do something else. I've already started thinking about the next album and where to go from there and who to work with, I'm excited about working with new artists.
Is it safe to say Tori Kelly, like you mentioned, would be of interest to you?
Yeah, I've never actually done anything with a female artist, so that would be very interesting. And I really admire Sia, I really admire her career, where she's taken it and how she presents herself and her music. She's a whirlwind of talent, she really is, it's incredible. Working with a female would be very, very fun, I think.
You’ve said you hope your social media channel is a place where everyone can open up about insecurities. How involved are you that way?
I have a very lovely fan base. They're very supportive, and they've been there for a very long time and a lot of them are young girls. I remember being a young girl and dealing with insecurities. They don't necessarily ask me questions that are specific, it’s more general self-love. Maybe some people, I guess, will try and be as connected to the fans as possible. I guess it's normal, but I don't really want there to be a gap between people that buy my music and others that think I'm on a pedestal, so I think it's just showing that it’s okay to be yourself.
In the realm of self-love — or not — you talked about how bad of a dancer you think you are in a recent live stream. But your “Body Talk” routine was convincing! Are you really that bad?
I was probably just poking fun at myself, but I think I'm one of those people that’s sort of like, dancing like no one's watching. Yeah, it's not that great. It's not something I'm trained at, I wouldn't say. It's more just interpretive dance, and slightly a bit mental looking, too.
It is a very different tone than a video for something like “Better Love,” which is really beautiful and cinematic and flowing — were you aiming for something very different with that video?
It's funny, because when you look back at the videos at the time, they feel right and then with each video you change and with each video, I find that you start realizing what you want to do and by the fourth, fifth video and you're like, ‘Oh, I really wanted there to be a similarity between all the videos.’ The “Body Talk” video felt different, because it does have an ‘80s sort of sense to it and I did sort of have a vision that involved more dancing, dancing in a not perfect way. Whether that came across or not, I'm not sure, looking back. I think it could have been slightly different, but it's easy to say that now, because I've done it.
Watch Foxes perform "Youth" for PopCrush: