Fefe Dobson was never just like everyone else. The Canadian singer is a moshing of heritage and musical taste. Her patchwork soul was hard to categorize; harder still to confine. After initial success and subsequent failure with her label Island/DefJam, Dobson continued to press forward, growing in the world and sticking with the decision to make music her way, on her terms. While finding herself, she reunited with Island/DefJam and it feels so good, she named her coming album Joy. Here’s how Fefe found her way home and how Joy became her salvation.
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Planet Ill: Are you excited about the new album?
Fefe Dobson: Oh my God! It’s so crazy I’ve been waiting for this moment for a while.
Planet Ill: I really like the album cover and I hear that there was a story behind it…
Fefe Dobson: Actually it’s sort of like a concept record. I’m classified as a Rock/Pop artist so I kinda wanted to make that literal. Musically it’s going to start off with a radio station sound; like white noise, changing stations. Then it’s going to go to the Pop side of my record which is like five or six songs. And then halfway through that, it’s going to go to radio noise again changing stations to the indie section which is my Rock section. So it’s basically a changing stations from Pop to Rock and the album cover is one side is going to be the Rock cover and the other side is going to be the Pop cover.
Planet Ill: Would you classify yourself as a Pop/Rock artist?
Fefe Dobson: Yeah, Rock/Pop but I’d rather not classify it at all. I’d rather be an artist making music, you know? But naturally, they have you put in categories so mine is definitely a hybrid.
Planet Ill: You grew up in a multicultural household. Do you think that has anything to do with your tendency to want to not be put in a box or labeled?
Fefe Dobson: Yeah, I’ve always tried to be different. When I was younger I would do it purposely. I would purposely go to school and look crazy because I wanted to show that I wasn’t following trends. Mostly, you know, I grew up in a poor home so I had to wear hand me downs, and I had to dress like my mom from the 60’s, which wasn’t cool when I did it. So I was being made fun of for it…
Planet Ill: it’s cool now, though…
Fefe Dobson: Yeah now, if I wanted to wear bell bottoms, I wouldn’t be made fun of for it cause it’s fashionable. In general, musically, too I was submerged in all these genres like Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam and Cameo to Michael Jackson to Guns N Roses, Smashing Pumpkins to Lionel Richie, know what I mean? Disco, the Bee Gees. So I was hit with so many different artists and music that it just created what it created. I was created from what my mom submerged me in.
Planet Ill: that’s good that you grew up in a household that had a blend of genres.
Fefe Dobson: Music was played in my house every day and Bob Marley was played in my house EVERY single day. I’m biracial, my mom’s white and my dad’s Black; my dad’s Jamaican. My mom’s made of Scottish and English. She’s a white woman playing Bob Marley all the time. And my dad is Jamaican but he wasn’t in my life till just recent so I’m just starting to get to know my Jamaican side and it’s pretty cool; I can’t complain and I love it but it’s so funny because they’re like your mom is white so she must not have played any reggae, but my mom literally wore her hair in braids, she made murals of Bob Marley; would paint things on the wall
Planet Ill: That’s where you get it from! You’ve been in the music industry since you were younger, and I’m sure you learned lots of tangible lessons. What do you think is the biggest lesson you’ve learned to date?
Fefe Dobson: Biggest lesson is probably like first of all to not be so hard on myself. And to love myself. I mean that’s a lesson for everyone to learn. You were designed the way you were designed for a reason. You have to learn to live with yourself and love yourself. And I think a lesson I’ve learned is that we’re not put on this Earth to just roam around aimlessly; we’re put on this Earth to live and to learn.
Planet Ill: What advice would you give a younger artist? Like there’s Willow Smith now, and there’s a lot of hype right now. She wants to do alternative, funk type music. What kind of advice would you give ot someone like her? Have you heard Willow Smith’s stuff?
Fefe Dobson: A little bit. I haven’t been able. I’ve heard so much about it, I haven’t been able to check it out. Advice? I’d probably say surround yourself with good people; people that will tell you the truth. Yes people might be fun for a while but it’s about good friends and good family and staying true to yourself. Don’t worry about what’s hot because what’ shot is only hot for a minute. You gotta be able to be honest with yourself and you have to go to sleep with your conscience at the end of the day. Just be true.
Planet Ill: This time around, with your album, do you feel that we get more of you?
Fefe Dobson: Island/DefJam has always been my supporter. LA Reid was always behind me. Same with Steve Bartels. They’ve always been behind me; they’ve always been encouraging me. Even when i wasn’t with them, when we parted ways, musical differences was the point, I’d talk to LA every once in a while, and he’d be like, “Let me know when you have new music, I want to hear it, I want to hear it.” It was never in a negative way ever.
It was always positive. You know what? I need some time to grow up. I need some time to figure out where I’m going next. They needed time to figure out what I was as an artist. So now, coming together, I’m a little bit older, I can express myself better. It’s easier when you have someone that can also express their vision.
Planet Ill: Do you think that you could have been happy just being a Pop star? Just letting them mold you into what they thought?
Fefe Dobson: I don’t think they’d be happy doing that. Obviously I wouldn’t be happy having anyone create me, but I think they would feel weird about it too, because it’s like, who wants to create something? It’s about taking the talent that you’re given and then helping that artist get the masses with their vision. I could not just get a phone call and they’d be like, “Fefe, this is what you are.” I’d be like “I’m confused.” I can’t be anything but myself and hopefully people will see that as something worthwhile. I could try and try to be someone else but it would come off as being phony.
Planet Ill: Now that we’re not being phony, and we’re here with Joy, tell me where the title of the album came from.
Fefe Dobson: Well, making this record, first of all, was very therapeutic. Sunday Love, the record that didn’t come out was titled after my mom; a name my mom had. It was kind of more of a dark concert. This record came from a very positive place. I was very joyful making it and I only encouraged positive people in my life when I made the record and if there was any negativity going down, I would just walk out of the studio and just get air because I wanted this record to have positive vibes all around it. It was very important that nothing negative came in the way of the process. I wanted it to come from light; from a light place. And I was lucky to do that because everyone I worked with was unbelievably positive.
Planet Ill: I know you come with a Pop/Rock edge but I also know you worked with JR Rotem and Claude Kelly. They both have an R&B edge. How did those collaborations come about?
Fefe Dobson: It was very interesting. There was a song that I had heard and it really spoke to me. And I added a couple twists and turns here and there on it, but it was just really special. I’ve been fortunate enough to write for other artists so I know when a song speaks to me, and this is really first experience really having that.
So since they had a song and they said supposedly that this was going to change my career, I heard it and I felt something great from it. It really moved me a lot, so that was my experience with them [JR Rotem]. And then, with Kevin Rudolph, he’s also in that world too, in a way. Kevin’s just an amazing writer and amazing producer and we got off really well and then we wrote a song for Selena Gomez together.
I don’t know, it’s been cool. For me, it’s not about genre> I’d love to work with Babyface, I’d love to work with everybody. At the end of the day though, it’s always going to be me and it’s always going to have an element of guitars or sound that is my copyright. Who I am; my trademark of who I am.
Planet Ill: What would you like people to remember about this album?
Fefe Dobson: I’d like them to take from it something that moves them. I want to feel like we connect. I want to feel like I connect with that young girl or boy sitting in their room; that kid that feels like no one else understands them. I want them to remember that that album spoke to them at a point in their lives. I think that’s it. That’s definitely how I feel because I have so many records that I can look back and say that that album saved me.
Planet Ill: What has this album done for you?
Fefe Dobson: It’s been my therapy; Joy saved me. It gave me my voice back and it…I feel like Joy…it came to me. I didn’t try to find it. It chose me and I’m so thankful it did so I could express what I need to express. That’s how it saved me. It just chose me and it gave me a chance to express myself again.
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