Foxes: “Living up to expectations can be difficult”

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  • She’s the Southampton girl who won a Grammy in her twenties, but what happened next? Sophie Goddard meets Foxes to find out…

    She won a Grammy at just 24 years old for her collaboration with EDM artist Zedd in 2014, before going on to release a critically-acclaimed album (Glorious) and touring with Pharrell and Coldplay.  Now back on our radars after a three-year hiatus, Foxes (real name Louisa Rose Allen) it seems, has learned a lot. Here, she talks us through her new music, what she stands for and what it’s like being a woman in music in 2020.


    (Hollie Fernando)

    Your new single Woman is brilliant, congratulations. How does it feel now it’s out in the world?

    I’ve got to be honest, I was quite nervous to put that song out. I’d had it for a while – I wrote it in the gap I was away. I’ve been surprised at the floods of lovely messages from people saying thank you for it. It’s been really nice to receive messages from other women and all sorts of people, of all ages. That’s really encouraging because I was quite scared to put that one out.

    Does it feel soul-baring, sharing new music?

    Yeah, it’s completely like that. It’s like you’ve lost your diary and it’s been broadcasted, that’s how it can feel. It doesn’t always, but I do write very personally and when you’re very connected to the songs, you do feel quite odd about it. I think with Woman, it felt particularly strange in lots of different ways, but you never know how people are going to interpret things. I like that people are interpreting this in their own way and you’re not explaining exactly what happened.

    That’s interesting. I interpreted it as a comment on social media and call-out culture since it’s all so prevalent at the moment. But someone else listening might hear something completely different, right?

    Yeah. I think this song could be interpreted in many different ways but you’re right in that it can feel like a scary time to be online. I think no-one really knows what the best thing to say is, as you find yourself being called out for not standing up for one thing because you’re standing up for another, so it’s really hard. I’ve been speaking a lot about this recently and what’s great right now is everyone’s got a voice and is able to stand up for things that are not OK. But at the same time, it’s really difficult to make sure you’re backing absolutely everything and that can feel quite exhausting.

    It feels very timely, the idea of using your voice for change.

    Yeah, it’s been a terrible time but it’s like we’ve all paused. And in that pause over lockdown people have really found their voices and had the time to really think about what they want to say.

    As an artist, do you find social media difficult to navigate?

    Yes, I do. I think everyone has that to some degree because social media has taken over life, so I’d be lying if I said I didn’t. You worry about what you’re saying and about saying the right thing. I try and turn it off and not take it into my real life or get too affected by what’s happening. It can be really damaging and actually quite scary for mental health. It’s definitely felt unhealthy for me in the past. We were so quickly thrust into this new way of living that everyone’s expected to be great at having this online presence, that’s a lot of pressure.

    As somebody who uses it for work, it must be hard to find that ‘off’ switch, too?

    Yeah. There are good and bad points because I think it’s also a really good way to connect with people. And something that might be scary for me to talk about might actually help someone else and give them the confidence to be able to speak themselves. I’d hope I can use the platform in a positive way.

    Who were your influences growing up?

    I grew up with my mum and sister and they led me into the music I would love. My earliest memories are my sister playing Björk really loud around the house. Kate Bush definitely sound-tracked my upbringing too – my mum had a vinyl player and played Hounds of love through the house, it was amazing and created this kind of haunting soundtrack. But I’d watch a lot of films really. I’d sit in front of the TV and watch anything – I loved soundtracks and the piano parts of films. So there was a mix of very different things going on, it was a very musical house.

    What came first, singing or songwriting?

    A bit of both. I used to run around the house singing – well probably howling more than singing. Then I started writing at 10 – whether it was any good or not I don’t know. Then I learned throughout my teenage years to put the two together somehow. I was very vocal growing up, so I think it was more the melody at the beginning. I’d start writing about what was going on around me.

    Earlier, you compared the idea of somebody reading your diary to sharing a song you’ve written. Did you keep a diary?

    I did. And actually funnily enough, I just remembered it got nicked! I remember having a diary at around seven years old and it actually getting stolen which was quite horrifying at the time as you can imagine. It was pretty devastating. I do now and I write a bit. My grandma’s actually had a diary all of her life – she’s written something every day. I’ve tried to imitate that but I’ve sort of failed, which is a shame really. I think it’s really lovely to keep a few words each day, written down rather than it all being online.

    As a new artist, you achieved a huge amount in a very short space of time, like the Grammy. Did that ever feel like a pressure?

    Yeah, it’s something I feel now I can be really open about. Because when the Grammy happened it was incredible and I couldn’t believe what was going on. I still can’t quite believe that happened. But it happened very early on in my career and the amount of pressure that created and the expectation that was put on me at that time was a lot. I was writing music in a bedroom and hadn’t even released an album yet. So after the second album, I had to really step back and pause and take the pressure off. I thought, ‘I have to remember why I’m doing this’. There were all sorts of different reasons, but I think the pressure and living up to someone else’s expectations can be difficult.

    Which of your songs means the most to you?

    That’s really difficult because I think each song or each album you write, you’re in that phase and so that definitely changes. One minute you can be heartbroken and love a song because it’s basically like ‘fuck you’ to whoever and you hold that one really close. But when I look back at songs that really resonated, I think I’m really happy I wrote that because it was good for me to be able to get that out. It’s like a healing process and release. It’s not a well-known song but White Coats is a song from the first album that talks about mental health and anxiety and the feeling of being fearful and in that kind of scared headspace. But it’s also saying ‘It’s OK’ and in my head, it was playing with it.

    Perhaps it’s similar to Woman in a way, saying vulnerability is OK?

    Yeah, absolutely. I think that’s what I’m always trying to do with songwriting. Because I come from a very vulnerable place and I think we should reframe vulnerability – everyone is and we shouldn’t be scared to feel vulnerable because it’s something we all share. I get it the wrong way around sometimes – having a shield up and pretending you’re OK isn’t the answer. I remember feeling quite ashamed about being somebody who had panic attacks but as soon as you start having those conversations and talking with people, it’s like, ‘Oh, I’ve had them for years too’. So it’s comforting, I think.

    Do you think fame played a part in that anxiety at all?

    It’s a tricky one. I’ve been like that since I was little so I wouldn’t say it was caused by it. It’s almost like when you’re built that way, you’re probably not built for fame. It was a difficult feeling, like I didn’t have the right ingredients to be a pop star. It seems you need all the confidence in the world but what I think would be nice is if people showed a bit more vulnerability. That requires a lot of confidence but it’s much more of an open conversation now. I think people in the limelight should talk more about their struggles as it’s a better message and helps people feel they’re normal – we all have these things going on.

    Who would you love to collaborate with in a dream world, dead or alive?

    I think it would be someone so far from what I do, it would create something quite mental. Maybe like Ennio Morricone who was a composer. But I also really love Robyn, I would love to work with her and I feel like she’d be really fun to work with as well.

    Your stage name Foxes is purposely genderless, do you feel we still have some way to go in terms of equality for men and women in music?

    Yeah, I think we’ve only just begun. There’s so much support that I don’t think really existed before – I feel it only started about three or four years ago. In terms of producers and women behind the scenes, that’s just been completely unheard of in the past. To be at a label and have a woman as an A&R or doing the real hands-on stuff. And it was great for me to be able to do that with an independent and actually build my team with as many creative women as I could. In saying that, I also have a really great A&R who is a man and I’m not ruling men out at all. I think we’re getting there and like a lot of things, we’re voicing it more now. It feels like there’s more space for us now, which is so cool to see.

    Finally, if you were to give one piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be?

    Please listen to your gut instinct, because it’s always right. Don’t listen to anyone else telling you things are fine if you feel something isn’t sitting right.

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