Okayplayer spoke with Fefe Dobson about her upcoming new album, preserving the art form of rock as a part of Black people’s roots, and more.
The true essence of rock ‘n’ roll derives from Black culture, but can specifically be traced back to Black women. Sister Rosetta Tharpe, the godmother of rock’n’roll, set the tone in the late 1930s and 1940s with her electrifying guitar playing skills, in addition to her powerful and soul-cleansing singing. Since then, Black women have added to the foundation she built — from the queen of rock ‘n’ roll Tina Turner and funk-rock innovator Betty Davis to Jada Pinkett-Smith and her daughter, Willow Smith (among others whose contributions, once erased, are receiving the acknowledgement they’re due, like godmother of grunge Tina Bell and punk pioneer Poly Styrene). Included in this is also Fefe Dobson, a woman who made her mark on the pop rock and pop punk scene of the early 2000s.
Hailing from a Canadian suburb of Toronto (Scarborough, Ontario) Dobson was inspired to become an artist after discovering figures like Judy Garland, Joan Jett, Mariah Carey, and Janet Jackson.
“When I heard ‘Black Cat’ for the first time, I remember it changed my entire world,” she said. “It was that guitar. I don’t know what it did but it went inside of me and then rocked my world at the same time, and then shot out of me. I had to be like Janet, I guess.”
But rather than follow in the footsteps of some of the pop stars she looked up to, Dobson embarked on her own journey as a rockstar, beginning with her platinum-certified eponymous debut album. A much-needed and refreshing departure within a music genre that was (and still is) predominantly white, the album included cult classics like “Take Me Away,” “Bye Bye Boyfriend,” and “Everything” (which was also featured on the teen comedy The Perfect Score soundtrack in 2004). Her debut showcased Fefe’s songwriting abilities; she was able to craft songs around her life as a then-18-year-old the way she wanted to — unapologetically angsty.
“I look back on it now and I’m like, ‘That album was so dramatic,'” she said. “Even sonically, it was so dramatic. It’s just like a full teenager going through puberty, having boy crazy issues, and all of the above. You don’t really realize what you’re doing until you look back and you see shit. We really were super unapologetic. We didn’t care about anything that anyone was saying. We just didn’t. I don’t know. Maybe we were absolutely insane.”
Dobson being a Black woman in punk was affirming for Black fans of alternative music, so much so that it’s not uncommon to come across someone sharing on Twitter how significant her debut album was to their upbringing. Even Willow has acknowledged Dobson’s impact, sharing how one of her dream collaborations is to work with the Canadian rockstar.
“I’m really proud of that album, you know? First of all, that album saved my life. It got me out of a really tough time. It got me out of my home which was very important to me,” Dobson said. “Ultimately, it made me who I am. I was so fortunate as a young girl to be able to write about my life, and to not have anyone telling me not to. There was no, ‘Don’t go there. Don’t talk about your Dad not being around. Don’t talk about your fucked up home. Don’t talk about this. Don’t talk about that.’ I didn’t have anybody telling me how to do it. I was very fortunate that way as a young person being able to express themselves.”
Seven years after her debut, Dobson returned with the 2010 album Joy. Released while she was writing pop songs for Selena Gomez, Jordin Sparks, and Miley Cyrus, Joy featured platinum-certified hits like “Ghost” and “Stuttering.” Following Joy, Dobson took a hiatus from her own projects — like the unreleased Firebird album — to focus primarily on songwriting while relocating to Nashville, Tennessee. Now, as pop punk is experiencing a resurgence, Dobson is readying her return, having recently dropped a new single, “FCKN IN LOVE,” which was originally supposed to be her third Firebird single. Produced by Thomas “Tawgs” Salter and co-written by Cooks Classics (Beyonce, Ava Max, Panic! at the Disco) and Dobson herself, “FCKN IN LOVE” is a gritty, eclectic love song that is dedicated to her husband, rapper Yelawolf.
“The track was actually written a while back, in 2012…The sound kind of had that raw, crazy energy. That was what I was going for originally,” she said. “I put ‘FCKN IN LOVE’ back in the vaults. Actually, me and my team kind of took some time apart. We got back together in the last few years and said, ‘You know what? Let’s go into those vaults and pull that song out!’ So, that’s what we decided.”
Preparing for her forthcoming album with legendary songwriter and producer Linda Perry, Dobson is ready now more than ever to take her place back on the rock throne she built from the ground up. Okayplayer spoke with Fefe Dobson about her upcoming new album, preserving the art form of rock as a part of Black people’s roots, and more.
There’s a forthcoming album on the horizon that you have been collaborating with legendary rock songwriter and producer Linda Perry on. How has it been composing this new body of work that reiterates your undeniable presence within the rock genre, while working with someone who is equally as important?
Fefe Dobson: We met last year. She reached out to me to do a song of hers called “White Line Runaways” for a movie called Unpregnant. Of course I said,”Hell yeah,” and went out to LA to work with her. The relationship is still developing. She’s a legend, but that level of greatness is what I want for this album, you know? She’s very inspiring. She’s done a lot for not only her own solo music and her band, but also for P!nk and Christina Aguilera. She’s done great things with them and helped them express themselves.
When I discovered your music when I was 11-years-old, it always stuck out to me that you were a Black woman who was able to reconstruct the emotions of rage and anger in a way that felt so freeing in a society that tells us we can only “act” one way to be accepted. How important is it for you to exude emotional transparency through your means of creative expression?
So important. Honesty is so evident and so clear when it’s real. I wear my heart on my sleeve and I have to. I just have to. Literally. If it was there, you would see it beating. I can’t help it, it’s just who I am. I feel like even though I was 18 then, there’s a lot of times where I still have that element of myself still lingering around, which is actually pretty cool. It’s fun.
The term “hidden figures” is utilized in regards to those who assisted in laying down the blueprint in their craft, while not receiving their “flowers” for their impact in real-time. As a Black woman in rock, what would you like to see moving forward in preserving the art form that is ultimately a part of our roots?
I think that I would love to see that people understand the history of rock ‘n’ roll, and to know where it came from. Stop putting us in a box and think that we should only do certain things or be a certain way. I think if people can listen and educate themselves, then maybe there’d be less of that “box life” hindrance, you know?
I feel like when you were coming up in the industry, people in general were trying to put you in smaller spaces, where I feel like you just have so much versatility within your artistry.
For sure! It’s also — to be as nice as I can be with this — there’s a huge lack. People just got to do some history lessons. They just got to go back and educate themselves. Maybe there’ll be less ignorant, tone deaf people who are adding to this conversation.
There’s an undeniable resurgence of pop/rock female acts that have continued down the path of breaking down new barriers. Who are some artists that you have been looking forward to seeing more from?
Willow Smith! Willow for sure. I love her. I love her energy and she’s fearless. She’s beautiful. She’s just amazing. Her voice is amazing. She’s killing it, you know? The attitude’s there. It’s awesome. She’s just great. She’s just a killer artist and I’m really, really stoked for her and for her future.
Courtlyn “Court Kim” Montgomery is a jack of many trades. She is a well-known culture critic, alumnus of Georgia State University (BA in Journalism/Minor in Sociology), and an accomplished model that has been featured in Pyer Moss and Telfar. Featured in Afropunk, LAPP the Brand, R&B Radar, and The Curvy Fashionista, you can find the ATL/NYC-based Journalist @TheCourtKim on social platforms.