Fefe Dobson may seem like a new name on this side of the pond, but the Canadian singer-songwriter is by no means a new artist. Bursting onto the scene in 2003, the then 18-year-old Felicia Lily ‘Fefe’ Dobson was nothing like her peers. Far from being one of the bubblegum-style type of pop acts that were dominating the charts at the time, Fefe came with a fresh, edgy rock sound, one that immediately separated her from the pack and demanded respect…
The young starlet began playing the piano at the tender age of 13 and started writing music the following year – a skill that would later prove very handy, as she’s penned songs for the likes of Miley Cyrus and Selena Gomez. Citing artists such as John Lennon and Judy Garland as her musical influences, the Toronto native was definitely not your typical teen musician.
After wooing execs at Island/Def Jam, Fefe went on to release her self-titled debut album in December ‘03. The critically acclaimed pop-rock and punk inspired record debuted at number one on Billboard’s Heatseekers Album Chart and spawned a number of hit singles, making Fefe a household name in her homeland.
After exploring areas such as acting and modeling, fast forward to the present time and Fefe Dobson is back with a new album. Her sophomore LP, ‘Joy’, sees the talented star fuse contemporary pop with her trademark rock sound, showcasing the singer’s growth over the years. The record was released in North America last year and 2011 is the year Fefe is finally launched in Europe and introduced to the UK market.
“It’s really cool. It’s like starting a whole new relationship,” the 26-year-old explains on launching herself in the UK and being considered a ‘new’ artist all over again. “It’s like starting a new slate. You get to start fresh, with no baggage. You get to show people your talents and meet new people, and tour. It’s the best feeling in the world.”
Speaking of touring, during her stop in London last month, I attended Fefe’s one-off gig at the Monto Water Rats, where she put on, what was quite frankly, an incredible show. I had been told by her manager to expect a phenomenal live performance – and although I didn’t doubt him, of course he’d say that, he is her manager after all. But everybody who attended the concert that night would have most probably said the exact same thing.
We’re at a time in music where live shows are proving to be even more beneficial than actual music sales itself. Audiences expect their favourite acts to be just as good live, as they are on the records. Well, it’s fair to say Fefe was even better live. Playing to a packed crowd at an intimate gig in Kings Cross, London, the singer was joined on stage by her full band – a team she’s been playing with for years, and their chemistry is evident.
I’m not too sure what I expected beforehand, but I was thoroughly impressed. This was no watered down show. It was a full on, up-tempo, no holds bar, top notch entertaining show. Watching Fefe rocking out on stage, it’s clear to see that’s where she feels most comfortable: “Live shows are maybe one of the most important elements of what I do,” the singer explains during our chat at London’s Universal Music HQ.
“Not only for myself, but when I go to see a live band, it’s really important for me to connect with that live band,” she says. “If I own a CD, where I buy the songs online, and then I go to a show and it’s not good, it kind of makes me listen to the record differently. If it sounds completely different than the album and they actually can’t perform, it’s kind of a bummer.
“So I put a lot of focus into having a good live show and connecting with my audience and just letting loose and having fun. Because of the connecting aspect, that is probably one of my favourite parts of doing music.”
While Fefe seemed very much at home performing at an indie-type small gig, she’s also just as comfortable on the big arena-style shows. The ‘Ghost’ singer toured with Justin Timberlake during his European tour a few years back – something she could have only dreamed of growing up.
“Touring with Justin was amazing, I always looked up to him,” she gushed. “I grew up in the suburbs of Canada. I came from a family that really couldn’t afford to go to see concerts or anything like that. We couldn’t really afford to do much at all,” she candidly explains, as she reminisces about her tough childhood. “You know everyday I’d go to school in my uncle’s hand-me-downs. That’s how bad it was. I wasn’t even wearing my sister’s hand-me-downs, I was wearing my uncle’s.
“So I’d go to school and I’d be like, ‘Justin Timberlake, one day he’s gonna know me.’ And my friends would be like, ‘Yeah, right! He’s never gonna know you.’ People in school would think I’m crazy and I just thought, one day… And then he took me on tour and I remember getting emails from people that I went to school with saying, ‘You did it, I can’t believe you actually pulled it off.’ So, dreams do really come true.”
While things may be going very well for Fefe now, it hasn’t always been so plain sailing and there have been some bumpy roads on the journey. While ‘Joy’ may be her second officially released album, the singer recorded a previous record, ‘Sunday Love’, in 2006 – which was eventually shelved – and she was dropped by her record company.
But not one to sit around feeling sorry for herself, the talented musician continued to work on new material, with or without a record deal, and never considered throwing in the towel. Fefe’s upbringing taught her how to handle challenging life situations and for her, this was just another hurdle she knew she had to conquer.
“You go through weird stages. At first you sit there and you’re like, ‘Oh gosh, what next? I have to start all over again,’” she touchingly explained, as she relived that dark period in her life. “I had to say to myself, ‘Can I do this? Yes you can do this. OK, what’s the first step?’ It actually made me more determined,” she says. “All through my life, from birth onwards, there have been a lot of obstacles. From being bullied, being poor, being this being that. So every bad element in life, I use it to make me stronger. And the things that seem negative are really positive, because you’re just making your skin thicker.”
Well, the determination and hard work, mixed with natural talent and thick skin, really did pay off, because Fefe was re-signed by her old label Island/Def Jam and under the guidance of Chris Smith, (Nelly Furtado, Clipse) this time around she’s set to go global, with plans to conquer Europe underway.
“This new album is very exciting. It’s basically my journal over the last four years,” she explains. “It’s four years of relationships, lack of relationships. Being set free of negativity. The album title expresses it right there, the joy of letting go of anything holding you back. It’s exciting. It’s a very honest record.”
This new album represents so many aspects in Fefe Dobson’s life. It’s not only a transition in musical terms – her style, sound and song writing has evolved over the years. But it also symbolizes her sheer determination and shows that no matter how many times you’re knocked down, if you continue striving towards your dreams, you’ll eventually get there. The title ‘Joy’ is pretty self explanatory.
Words: Vanessa Laker (@VanessaLaker)