THERE is a political and social message behind…
their new track, Upside Down. I ask Canadian duo Featurette about the song and whether President Trump’s governance is causing more problems than it is worth – they have clear opinions on that point! Lexie and Jon talk about their formation and the music scene where they are; the artists they respond to and admire – and whether we can see them in the U.K. next year.
They talk about their backgrounds and whether protest, given the subject of their new song, ever creates change; what new music they have planned; some great new artists we should all get involved with – and whether they will have any time to chill over the Christmas period.
Hi, Featurette. How are you? How has your week been?
We’ve just finished a fun tour this weekend - so we’re coming down from that (smiles).
For those new to your work; can you introduce yourself, please?
We’re an Electro-Pop duo from Toronto - made up of Lexie Jay (Vocals, Keys) and Jon Fedorsen (Drums, Synths). We write our own tracks that are punchy and bass-forward - and love music that’s heavy-hitting and a little bit dark at times.
If you’re into Phantogram, Broods; K.Flay, or Tove Lo - you’ll probably like the sounds we make.
Upside Down is your new single. What can you tell me about its background?
We started writing that track last year - we were inspired by the concept of the ‘Upside Down’ in Stranger Things - another world that’s not all as it seems, parallel to ours, but much darker. Over the next year, in the changing political climate we’ve been witnessing with our neighbours to the South, in many ways; we find ourselves in that parallel world right now.
The headlines are darker than ever before: things are changing, and slowly, people are waking up to realize that it’s our responsibility to do something about it - not just place blame. This summer, we revisited the track, chopped it up and resampled it - we basically flipped it on its head.
Everything’s upside-down - but it’s not just ‘them:’ it’s all of us.
It seems, actually, liberty and the devaluation of American principles are at the core. Do you think true values and ethics are being eroded by President Trump? Are his skewed views on proletariat rulership leading American into the abyss?
You got it.
We think that the devaluation of our principles, and the skewed morality of our collective consciousness, has led us into a place where we’re extremely vulnerable. Trump, in many ways, seems to be the manifestation of society’s worst qualities and, somehow, he’s in the most powerful position in the world. But, it’s not just Trump: I don’t think we’re alone in believing that he’s not even sure of what he stands for.
Trump is more of a figurehead that a large portion of the American people are using as a platform to forget their own humanity - and wreak havoc on all those that don’t align with their views. They’re angry. They want to make up for all the wrongs that they felt have been done to them - no matter the consequences or the hypocrisy. Somehow; it’s becoming just that: it’s Us vs. Them.
It’s a dangerous time to live in...
How effective can music and protest be when it comes to raising awareness and shaking complacency? Do you think Trump’s days are under serious threat?!
I mean; it’s a difficult thing...
How many people are going to hear this song and really listen - look past the hooks and dissect the poetry? Further still: how many of those are going to care?! I think that, since Jon and I have a platform – hopefully, a growing one - it’s important to do what we can to raise awareness for what we believe in. More than that perhaps: this is a real issue that’s affecting so many right now; we’re writing from such a real place when there’s a crisis like this.
I don’t think that Trump’s days are under serious threat…and that’s what scares me. He’s been caught in a lie; in wrongdoings and the mistreatment of women - and people so many different times - and yet…he’s still in office. There’s nothing you or I can do to change that for the moment, but it’s important to us that people aren’t scared to talk about it - so that we never make a mistake like this again.
The track is punchy and angry. Did it lay onto tape pretty quick? I imagine it was a natural and pleasing track to capture?
It really was…
The original version - we wrote a year ago - was mostly music: a lot of the lyrics came later. It was a lot less angry. It was more beautiful and a little more organic-feeling (fewer synthetic drum machines and the like). When we saw what was happening in the political climate; it inspired us further and we took the track we had and totally ripped it apart. We kept the music but infused-in energy - and an anger that we hadn’t drawn on in such a way. Our single just prior, Bang, had some anger too; but it was a personal blow - this song is so much bigger than that. There are a lot of angry people now (angry on both sides).
Performing this track live has been like therapy for me - getting all out, you know?!
What comes next in terms of material? Will an E.P. form part of your 2018?
We’ve been writing all summer, actually. We’ve got a lot of new tracks up our sleeves and, although we haven’t fully realized our plan yet; an E.P. might just be coming your way.
Some serious ear-worms for sure…
Can you take me back to the start and reveal how you guys got together?
This one time, at band-camp…we started a band! (*Pause for laughter*)
But, seriously, we were both teaching music at a summer-camp - which is how we met.
Jon’s brother had just won the Lottery - and he moved across the world to New Zealand; leaving behind a guitar that Jon picked up. He brought it with him to camp and wanted to play some tunes for the kids - to show them that you can always learn something new and pick up a new instrument. Great message but, unfortunately, he was a pretty terrible guitar player! He recruited me to join him to strengthen his band a little for the faculty show, and then, we just kept playing after that. We actually recorded an acoustic demo, and no, you can’t hear it!
We soon after traded-up for synths and an electric kit…and we never looked back!
Which musicians did you both grow up idolising? How varied were your childhood homes in terms of the sounds experienced?
Oh man. So different.
Jon: I grew up listening to a huge array of music. My dad was into The Rolling Stones, Supertramp and Phil Collins; my Mom was into Simon & Garfunkel, Enya; lots of Mozart. My older brother went backwards: big into classic 1960s and 1970s Rock; 1980s Rock and Metal. Growing up, there was so much music in the house, that all that was left to take for my own was the Grunge of Nirvana, and then, the cooler fusions of Radiohead; Björk; Portishead and Lamb.
Those led me into Electronic music like Squarepusher, Four Tet and Amon Tobin - before getting into Jazz for school. I guess, during Jazz-school, I was into drummers Bill Stewart, Tony Williams; Jack DeJohnette, Trilok Gurtu - basically, anything that was super-complicated and hard to listen to passively! L.o.L! Now, I think I’ve levelled-off and can listen to music again without focusing only on the drums and the bass.
Lexie: I went to high-school as a Music Theatre major and then followed that with a Classical Voice degree at the University of Toronto - so my music library was nerdy as hell. I got into popular music much later - and I’m still learning so many new bands these days. It’s crazy how much cool stuff is out there! I grew up idolizing Idina Menzel after I heard her in Wicked – wow; what a Voice. When I got into Opera in University; it was Diana Damrau for sure. Not what you wanted to hear probably…but that’s what got me going!
Outside of vocalists, Jason Robert Brown’s writing, especially his work The Last Five Years, was a huge influence on me. Then; I found out about song cycles and art songs in University (Benjamin Britten, Hugo Wolf and Debussy) - and that was a huge reason why our first album, CRAVE, was put together the way it was. It was actually written as a song cycle: one girl’s journey through a relationship - and how it changed her.
It seems Toronto is producing great music the same way a rabbit would produce…you know what! What would you put this down to?
Haha. Yeah, you’re totally right. There are so many great bands and great players - and new genres and fusion emerging - we can hardly keep up! For us, it’s really important to find those new sounds; stay ahead of the curve - and not (so much) throwback to that ‘1980s sound’, just because we’re using synths. I think that’s what keeps us sounding different
I think it’s a pretty competitive industry as well. The more great musicians there are out there, in a close proximity, the more there will be in a way.
IN THIS PHOTO: K.Flay
Who are the new artists you recommend we check out?
K. Flay is one of my new faves - and she’s really getting her stuff out there (which is great). She speaks to the political level as well.
On a local level: For Esmé is a band that really inspired me at the beginning of our synth journey (I believe she’s coming out with some new material in 2018) and, more recently, we toured with Monowhales (also female-fronted) - who have a raw power you’re totally going to love if you’re into us.
IN THIS PHOTO: Monowhales
If you each had to select the one album that means the most to you; which would they be and why?
Jon: I remember waiting for my brother (who skipped a whole day of high-school) to bring back a copy of Radiohead’s Kid A. We listened to it as soon as we got home and our minds were blown. How could a band do such an about-face?! When it was over, we look at each other; nodded and played it again from start to finish. I think it gave me permission to think outside the box once I started doing music on my own.
Lexie: For me; I really gravitated to Passion Pit’s Manners - that was something that really stood out for me. The sounds, especially on the vocals, were so different from the other stuff I was listening to: I thought it was really playful and unique. I think that’s in part why I use a live harmony pedal on stage now and come up with all my vocal patches for each song - so that I have the same control a guitar player would over their instrument. I want that control to shape and change my vocals to match the song perfectly, just like Passion Pit does.
What advice would you give to artists coming through right now?
Be brave and say what you’ve gotta say. I think that honesty goes a really long way in this business.
Honest music with an honest message that you actually believe in is going to hit harder than any ‘trending’ sound or vibe. Don’t copy or chase sounds: let then influence you and then make your own way - so that you’re creating something that’s your own.
What tour dates do you have approaching? Are you heading to the U.K. soon?
I wish! Lemme call my agent (smiles).
Tour dates are top secret at the moment but we’re hella overdue for a Toronto show - so you know we’re going to be hitting that next – then, hopefully we can jump on a plane! From what we’ve heard; you get one first impression when it comes to the U.K. market. We don’t want to blow it but we’ve got some new stuff coming - that, we think, will push this project over the top - and get us over the pond.
Christmas is not too far away. Do you both have plans already - or will you be busy working?
Writing, always writing: you can’t stop that process.
We might take a few days for the family but, when the creative juices are flowing, you have to track that stuff in!
Finally, and for being good sports; you can each name a song and I’ll play it here (not one of yours as I’ll do that).
Lexie: Kill J - Propaganda
Jon: Moderat - A New Error