Fefe Dobson on the Magic of Céline Dion and the Karaoke Machine That Changed Her Life

The Exclaim! Questionnaire

"I've written albums upon albums, some of which may never see the light of day"

Photo courtesy of the artist

BY Megan LaPierrePublished Sep 27, 2023

Fefe Dobson has always been ahead of the curve. As the pop-punk revival has crashed into the nostalgia-bloated mainstream of the past couple years, she welcomes it to contribute her own personal renaissance.

"My producers and I really didn't set out to necessarily create an album that would stand the test of time," she says of her eponymous 2003 debut, written and recorded during after-school sessions when she was still a student at Scarborough's Wexford Collegiate School for the Arts. "But I think the honesty in the music and lyrics was what still ultimately resonates with people. I was growing and evolving, just like any teenager."

With EMOTION SICKNESS — her first new album since 2010's Joy — arriving this week (September 29), the singer-songwriter is re-introducing herself to those who grew up with her and a new generation of ongoing works-in-progress. "I think the different chapters and eras of my career have connected with different groups of people, and I'm grateful for that," Dobson tells Exclaim!

Cracking the spine on her latest chapter is recent single "HUNGOVER," a bombastic banger teeming with gritty riot grrrl energy. "Why am I like this?" the artist asks herself, tripping through a haze of smudged mascara and missed calls from unknown numbers, before answering her own question: "I just! don't! care!"

Dobson will continue connecting the dots between eras by dotting the map with a fall tour across Canada. She's just as hungry to perform her new material — as well as celebrate two decades of her first album with "some of the classics" — now as she was 20 years ago.

What are you up to?

I've just wrapped up recording the final vocals and finishing up my new album! At the moment I have a handful of live shows lined up throughout the summer, which have been really fun for me to reconnect with my fans and crowds in a live setting. I'm also preparing for a film role at the moment, shooting this August. It's a beautiful story centred around the Danzig street shooting that happened in 2012 at a block party in Scarborough.

What are your current fixations?

At the moment, I'm into Sid Vicious, fishnet tops with extra rips in them, paper-thin white shirts and vintage leather belts — the more beat-up the better! I'm really into vintage punk rock at the moment, which is having a resurgence and is inspiring my new music and this next chapter of my art. I've also been craving toro sashimi. Delicious! 

Where do you live and why?

At the moment? Out of a suitcase. [Laughs.] My home base is with my three little puppies out in Nashville, TN. I live on this beautiful property in the middle of the woods. It's really grounding and quiet, but I also love flying back "home" to Toronto, where I spend a lot of time working and visiting with my friends and family. Toronto will always really feel like home for me. I kind of bounce between Nashville, Toronto and L.A. It's a combination of where work brings me, where I feel social and also where I go to get away and reset.

What's the last book or movie that blew your mind? 

I really enjoyed the movie Bones and All. To be honest, I have a little crush on Timothée Chalamet. I also really loved watching the Pam & Tommy TV miniseries and the Pam Anderson's Netflix documentary. She's fascinating and so beautiful. 

What has been your most memorable or inspirational concert and why?

I've seen a lot of amazing concerts over the years, including Cyndi Lauper, David Bowie, Joan Jett and Mariah Carey. The list goes on. I'm very fortunate to have seen so many amazing performers. I think one that absolutely blew my mind recently was Céline Dion. I started bawling before she even came on the stage. She's just so amazing. Her stage presence. Her voice. Incomparable! 

What's been the greatest moment of your career so far?

I think one of the most memorable was being a part of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and inducting the songwriters of "River Deep - Mountain High." Playing alongside Paul Shaffer and the incredible band they pulled together that night was a highlight. It was an honour to celebrate one of the greatest of all time and arguably one of my biggest influences, Tina Turner. I was so in the moment and really wanted to do a great job with that performance. That moment is imprinted in my memory.

What's been the worst moment of your career so far?

I can't really remember. I think I blocked it out. [Laughs.] There have been some pivots and a few disappointments over the years, but all of which really helped shape me and allowed me to grow as an artist for one reason or another. I'm in the midst of a sort of renaissance in my career at the moment, and so I'm focusing on all of the great, positive things for me on the horizon.

What advice should you have taken, but did not?

"Do not text him!" [Laughs.] I love love — I can't help myself. Otherwise, I think I'm fairly good at listening to my intuition and trusting my instincts, but I also have a pretty great team around me and I yield to their advice in the right situations. 

What was the first song you ever wrote?

I wrote a lot of random songs as a kid, but the first song that actually made sense was called "If You Could Only Read My Mind." Like most of my songs, it was about a boy. That's a common theme in my music: I'm always in love. Falling in, or falling out of it. I still journal quite a bit, and that's where I draw inspiration for my songwriting. I probably have a bigger catalogue than people realize. I've written albums upon albums, some of which may never see the light of day, but those feelings and emotions are documented somewhere because I generally write to decompress and digest feelings.  

What do you think of when you think of Canada?

Home. I've lived in many other places, and it's always so nice to identify as Canadian and run into other Canadians at events or along my travels. Canada is a really beautiful country that I've been fortunate enough to tour across multiple times, and there's just so much to explore. 

What's the meanest thing anyone has ever said about your art?

I'm not sure that anyone has ever really said something terrible about my art, per se, or at least that really affected me in any meaningful way. Art is subjective, so I'm open to the idea that once I set my art free into the world, some will connect with it and others won't. Ultimately, if my art makes you feel something — one way or another — it's making an impact, which is the intention. I think if someone discredited me or made some type of sweeping statement about my art not having any heart or substance, I may take offence to that, because I really wear my heart on my sleeve and can be sensitive at times. I'm a Pisces, what can I say? I pour my emotions into my music. The good, the bad and the ugly.

What was the first album you ever bought with your own money?

The first CD I ever bought was the Now and Then soundtrack. I was in love with Christina Ricci and Devon Sawa. I love romance, and the music in the movie was epic! Nowadays, I love collecting vinyl records, but back then I was all about the cassette and CDs — especially soundtracks! My mom also got me a karaoke machine one year for Christmas that I used to record some of my earliest demos. It had instrumentals pre-loaded onto it that you could sing over and record. She saved up for that thing and it really paid off in dividends. It eventually would land me a record contract and also a publishing deal; essentially a career in music.

If you weren't an artist, what would you be doing instead?

Truthfully, I know I was born to be an artist. If not music specifically, it would be some form of art. I'll be painting, drawing or dancing when I'm not working on music or touring. The arts fulfill me, and I can't imagine myself in any other line of work. I also love fashion, particularly vintage. Sometimes I even end up styling some of my own shoots, just because I have such a specific vision and aesthetic. 

How do you spoil yourself?

I love a glass of champagne, wine or tequila in a relaxed space with some art and music and great food. I'd love to live in Paris, but you can generally find me tucked away in a booth of a hotel lobby bar with some friends and a few drinks and crudités, oysters or a charcuterie board. I also really love to travel. Travel is such a privilege, and I really love to carve out time to indulge.

What's the best way to listen to music?

In a car. Maybe that's because it's summer right now, but long drives or when I'm headed out to an event, there's just something about the experience of riding in a car that brings a different energy to music. Although it's second-best to listening to music in a studio, if the mix is right and production and vocals are hitting, you feel like the main character in a movie. I like to do a "car test" of my music when approving mixes for the final album. If it's bumpin' in the car, it passes the test. 

If you won the lottery, what would you do with the money?

One thing I've always wanted to do is to build out a studio compound on my property in Nashville. It would be tucked out back on the property, but being amongst the trees and nature is really grounding and almost spiritual when working on art. I'd love to do writing camps and record my own albums there.

One of my other dreams would be to actually own Dorothy's dress from The Wizard of Oz. Judy Garland has always been so special to me — the song "Rainbow" from my first album is actually written about her. Usually when I have a day off in L.A., I'll pop by the cemetery where she is to pay respects. I feel so bonded to her and her story.

What has been your strangest celebrity encounter?

Believe it or not, John Goodman in a New York deli. I was talking to the waiter at the time, asking if they had "real" maple syrup if I ordered the pancakes. For me, the maple syrup has gotta be from Quebec. I love their maple syrup! Out of nowhere, a man starts to chime in on our conversation with other places that have great maple syrup — and I turn around and it's none other than Mr. John Goodman. It was awesome! I loved that he was as passionate as me about maple syrup! He's a legend.

Who would be your ideal dinner guest, living or dead, and what would you serve them?

Amy Winehouse, hands down. I think I'd just order a bunch of random things from a bunch of different restaurants that I love — all of my favourite things spread across the dining table. I'm more of a baker than a cook, so maybe I could bake something for dessert. I love to bake, so that would be my personal touch. 

What is the greatest song of all time?

I would say "Imagine" by John Lennon and "Over the Rainbow" by Judy Garland.

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