FOXTROTT Sheds the Synth-Pop Mantle on 'A Taller Us'

FOXTROTT Sheds the Synth-Pop Mantle on 'A Taller Us'
Photo: Marc Etienne Mongrain
Having officially signed to One Little Indian earlier this year, Marie-Hélène Delorme is ready to bring her work as FOXTROTT to the world. But with all that has influenced her in writing and recording her debut A Taller Us, labelling the LP simply as synth pop might be doing the record's experimental leanings a disservice.
 
"I've never felt very comfortable with the label [synth pop]," Delorme tells Exclaim! from her Montreal hometown. "But at the same time, there's no point in fighting it. If I say that I don't relate to it, that's when people ask me 'What do you call your music then?' and I don't know what to tell them."
 
While her music and songwriting structures owe a lot to electronic and pop music, respectively, it's a challenging task to draw immediate connections between her musical output and the inspirations that precede it. Rather than demonstrate her influences in an apparent fashion, Delorme's work requires more of an active listen to discern what she's drawing from.
 
"When I write a lot of music, I try not to listen to other music too much," she explains. "I'm not really the type of artist to go, 'Oh, that track is cool, I'm going to make something like that.' I find whatever moves me and just absorb it. I want things to sound as least as possible like something you've heard, but still accessible."
 
Raised around classical music and jazz, a key record in developing Delorme's taste early in life was Stevie Wonder's Songs in the Key of Life. From there, she began listening to reggae, dancehall and hip-hop through young adulthood. Each of these influences can be heard on A Taller Us: a French horn blasting its way to the foreground on "Shaky Hands," the Afrobeat-tinged drum programming of "Driven," and how the bass and drums heavily channel reggae on "Colors."
 
What ties all of this together is Delorme's voice — both powerful and tuneful in a style that goes against the running trend of flighty, airy vocals in synth pop. Witnessing said lack of intensity prompted her to place the vocals at the forefront of the mix and add only minimal amounts of reverb and delay, resulting in a sound she describes as more "in your face."
 
"I have always been attracted to singers that sing with their full body," she explains. "Not the light, eerie type of vocals, but more soulful, singing from your chest and your stomach — from Lauryn Hill to PJ Harvey for example, I've always been drawn to strong female vocalists. Personally, I'm not a big fan of vocals that are more like decorations or ornaments."
 
In keeping her own vocals away from such a classification, Delorme felt the need to strike a "perfect balance between rhythms and frequencies." It's an aspect in which she still feels she's improving, meticulously crafting each drum part, bass line and melody for her vocals to take centre stage amongst.
 
"I hear a lot of producer-driven music in which the songwriting or vocals are more of an add-on, and vice versa, when songwriters team up with cool producers but the production ends up sounding like an afterthought," she says. "Treating both with the same level of importance was the challenge I set for myself. I wanted to focus on the quality of each individual element and keep things simple — the cheesy 'less is more' approach!"

A Taller Us is out now on One Little Indian.