In the early 2010s, “Clarity” by Zedd featuring Foxes was inescapable. In fact, the song ended up winning a GRAMMY in 2012, and Foxes went on to release two successful albums that spawned multiple Top 40 tracks. But after the release of her second album All I Need, Foxes disappeared, deciding to take an extended break from music. After having taken a three-year pause, she marked her return this year with the release of “Love Not Loving You.” We spoke to Foxes about her latest offering “Woman,” making a comeback in COVID-times, sisterhood, and her dog.
Louisa Rose Allen, as Foxes is actually named, is at her mom’s when I talk to her. “She lives just down the road, I’m here with my dog. If he starts barking – my apologies.” Her dog is an incredibly lovely little thing that frequently makes an appearance on Foxes’ Instagram. “He’s an angel, though. And he’s just got all his fur shaved off, so he looks like a completely different dog – his little summer hairdo.”
Of course, her Instagram feed has changed ever so slightly with more posts on new music. She acknowledges that it’s “definitely been a while – three years to be exact, I think.” Foxes decided to take a break, after having rushed through a second album without giving herself the time to really experience life. Most importantly, she wanted to allow herself to craft the songs exactly as she wanted them to sound, even though that was a bit of a gamble in and of itself. “In the music climate right now, there’s so much out there and there are so many voices, and I was very aware that I could get lost in that – you kind of have to stay on the pace of it. So I knew the time away could potentially make people be like ‘who’s that?’”
But releasing them during a pandemic isn’t what she’d imagined of her third album. “It was quite a big decision to make just before the world turned upside down. I’d been writing solidly for three years and trying to make an album that was true to me as possible. I’d written two [albums] before of course, but they’d been written very quickly.”
The experiences aren’t the same, she stresses. “The first one, I kind of had my whole life to write it– it was very freeing and resulted in something that was very authentic to me. And I think for the second one, you kind of don’t take your foot off the pedal. So for me, it was very important that I took that time to process some things that had happened, and really get true to myself with what I wanted to do musically and visually. The spacing allowed me to get back in touch with who I am at the core. I was quite young when I got into music, so there were a lot of things that I didn’t really take the time to do. So it was really freeing to have had that time.”
Even though the entire music industry was suddenly in crisis due to COVID-19, Foxes decided to push through with the release, and she hasn’t regretted it for one moment. “It was interesting because the album was done end of last year. We were all ready to go and I was really excited, and then we all got put into lockdown, so it was very strange. We either could’ve gone ahead and done this, or I could’ve chosen to wait, and my gut was just like – I need to throw myself back in and do it. I think it’s also a time for creativity and music and art; it’s actually quite important in these times. People need those things to take their minds off of what’s going on in the world.”
What with music being the soundtrack to history, there are certainly a few important themes that are apparent in Foxes’ recent music. Independence, equality, and an affirming, empowering message for women are messages in both of her latest tracks. It’s reminiscent of a wider shift happening in music where activism has taken a more prominent role as of late. Yet Foxes wrote the tracks way prior to this recent wave of outspoken musicians. “I guess the time I had to really find out what it was what I wanted to say and the message I wanted to be writing about, those were messages still going on then, so I was inspired by what was going on before this all happened. I mean, freedom of speech has been so alive right now and people have been able to have a go online and express how they’re feeling. So I guess it feels very heightened now, but it’s always been there.”
On the other hand, there’s definitely some deliberation behind the timing of their release. “I think because I had so much music to choose from to put out, I’ve chosen these songs because of the times we’re in, and I think that can add to the other voices who are talking about these situations and join in on the conversation.”
And her voice is a powerful one. A song like “Woman” is– as a woman who’s experienced the feeling of powerlessness and being voiceless – very cathartic to listen to. However, the creative process can also be therapeutic, and therefore very personal. When asked about having to strike this balance between making art and choosing to expose your vulnerabilities for the world to see, Foxes admits that this can be incredibly difficult.
“I wrote this song as a form of releasing how I was feeling, being able to find some kind of healing in the situation. I think it is extremely exposing, and it isn’t the easiest and I think that something about this album– a lot of music on this album feels like that. It feels the most exposed I’ve been in my writing and music, so that’s challenging. It’s always scary releasing music, you’re releasing your feelings and letting everyone know. So I guess you have to find a sort of protection within yourself to be able to try to separate yourself from, you know, the reaction it could get or the comments it could get, which is never easy, and I don’t think I knew how it would feel, but I have actually felt quite emotional [on the day ‘Woman’ was released],” she smiles.
Foxes adds that mostly, she hopes the music can help someone else heal as well. “It hasn’t been easy, but I would hope that by exposing myself like that and by trying to kind of let myself be– seen, or exposed, or judged or whatever– that maybe will help others feel like they can speak up and they have their voice, and they can share how they feel. And they may take something from that, I’m not sure – but it felt right. Whatever I have to go through, in order to release a song so personal, either way, it feels right in my gut, so I kind of just have to go with it.”
Relying more on her intuition has been one of the main lessons she’s taken from a book called Women Who Run With Wolves, which she said was life-changing and healing.
“I came across the book a few years ago,” she elaborates. “My sister was going through something at the time and she was using it as something that was holding her up and giving her strength– acting as a friend. Books can sometimes feel like that. She gave it to me afterward, and it was quite wonderful. It felt like she was handing down something that would help me find my voice and find some courage in other women’s stories and women’s past struggles, and things like that. What I love about it, is that it really goes back to a woman’s power, strength, and wisdom. Which– we don’t always feel like as women, we can get appreciated for that in certain ways, and I think women’s intuition is really powerful and listening to your gut instinct. We bring children into this world, there’s so many instinctual motherly stories in that book, and they can feel just really inspiring. There’s a real sisterhood feeling of that book that I felt really gave me strength and united me, almost, and made me feel connected to women in that way.”
Unsurprisingly, the book has been a huge inspiration for her music too, and Foxes ended up realizing that “there a huge theme of women in this album, and trusting your gut with things – standing in your power.” But as similar as the theme is on both new tracks, stylistically, the songs are very different.
Foxes says this is very much on purpose. “I guess a good way to describe it is that the album definitely has two faces. I’ve been away for such a long time, I think that it was quite important for me to give it some time to reintroduce my music again, and sort of – put out separate songs and let them stand on their own for a bit.”
“’Love Not Loving You’ & ‘Woman’ are sonically different, but this album does kind of have two faces, and I didn’t want to write something that would just have either – I wanted the mix. I tend to love writing something that has an underlying melancholy kind of sad feeling, but with music that layers over the top that can kind of make you feel hope, as well. So it’s almost something like, I didn’t want to make the whole thing sound depressing, so sonically I definitely wanted to have all sorts of production going on.”
The two-faced analogy is playfully touched upon in the video for “Love Not Loving You,” which features paintings of women overlaying imagery of Foxes herself. It took a lot of preparation, but Foxes loved getting involved. “I’ve just felt like – having those women be at the forefront of the video, whether they had a solemn or cheeky look on their face, I thought it was so expressive. It was so interesting to see them so out there in the video, and really kind of being able to shine and show the many different faces, their emotions and creativity that they almost definitely did and do have behind being just the painted women. It was really fun to shoot, and then choosing all of the paintings was also really great to go back and see all of that incredible art and hone in on all those women’s expressions. “Plus,” she adds, “also getting to research their lives, and some of them are just like, incredible and there’s so much they had to give, so it was a real sort of fun experiment in the end.”
Most of all, it highlights how she’s been able to express and control her creative process in just the way she wants to. Having signed with an independent label, Foxes feels like this has given her the opportunity to actually take back control– and in a way, echo the same reliance on women’s intuition that she sings about in her new music too. “It has been such a feeling of taking control back and being able to creatively challenge yourself in doing all of it yourself. Which is what I wanted,” Foxes starts to explain.
“But also building a team around me that I could choose, which was something that I couldn’t even believe I was able to do, was incredible – I was able to choose who I was going to create with and who was going to help me build this campaign. So being able to do that was great, and a lot of the people I chose to work with were women, which is almost quite funny in the end – apart from my A&R, who is brilliant.” Cheekily, she adds that she thinks “he sometimes feels we’re all of these boss women and he’s overpowered, but I think it’s really good.”
“I also think there’s something in wanting to work with women, and obviously because of the album feels heavily inspired by women – and just have that women’s intuition around me and all the creativity of that. It’s just been so brilliant and I just didn’t get to always work with that many women, just because not that many women were in music – but that’s changing now. I feel incredibly lucky to be able to choose that kind of team, but it felt right to me to hire women.”
It’s also allowed her to go back to basics when it comes to her writing, although the process can differ per song. “Sometimes, songs just fall into my mind and I never always know where they come from. I know it sounds bizarre,” she laughs, “but that’s just what they do for me. It’s like a feelings whirlpool, and it just ends up in a song.”
This time around, it meant “carrying around lots of writing books filled with massive amounts of words and poetry and all of these different things that will just come out of my head.” She tries to then form them into melody, making the entire process a bit like a “puzzle.” Foxes tells me that, really, “you’re building them into this picture – there’s definitely always kind of a mad process to it, but that’s where I like to start.”
To be more specific, for this record Foxes decided to go back to her roots. “I went back to write with a guy that I did a lot of the first album with, I just really wanted to start from the beginning again, I knew by going back to him and doing something more with one other person would create that, the most honest piece of work that I would probably be able to do. On the second album, I worked with quite a few different people, and I think that could sometimes disjoint things. So it was really nice to go back to bedroom writing again – it was really freeing.”
Because despite her two solo albums, the one song that clings to Foxes the most, is that megahit that got her a GRAMMY – “Clarity.” And while that obviously led to great success, it’s also meant that people expected her to continue down that lane of music by default. “On one side, it was really wonderful to have that big song, and I’m so grateful, it was a great ride. But then there’s also been a lot of me trying to forge my own identity out of that, but I feel like I’m getting there.” She pauses, then laughs as she reassures me that she definitely doesn’t mind performing it to this day. “Though I still have to sing ‘Clarity’ live, I don’t think I’ll ever get away with not singing – the amount of time I’ve sung that song is insane. But it’s always fun because people love it.”
More importantly, Foxes emphasizes that at the end of the day, there was a reason she was part of the song. “The thing about ‘Clarity’ is that at the heart of it, if you strip it back – it does sound like some of my music, if you just hear it on piano it’s a very emotional song, so it definitely links in some way. I love being able to sing it stripped back, so you really get to see it and hear it in its rawest form.”
If you want to hear Foxes herself in her rawest form, give “Woman” a listen below:
And in the true spirit of sisterhood, Foxes also shared some other female artists that she’s currently listening to and/or inspired by:
- Weyes Blood
- Caroline Polachek
- Aldous Harding
- Puma Rose
- Sharon Van Etten
- Rina Sawayama
- Janelle Monae