Rage And Romanticism: Fousheé Interviewed

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Beyond the industry co-signs and viral hits, Fousheé is a renegade at heart – her genre-agnostic sound a refreshing departure in an internet age that limits self-expression. Here’s a story of a muted songbird who found her primal scream. 

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“I’m an introvert, so the best way to express my feelings is through music,” Brittany Fousheé is in a pensive mood, her peroxide blonde hair – an era motif – a halo of blinding white light. The songwriter is in London when we connect over zoom, a brief reprieve between shows supporting Steve Lacey on the European leg of his sold-out tour. “I had to overcome a lot of things internally, I’ve drifted away at times and got distracted in my journey. I’m glad I came back to myself,” Fousheé’s doe eyes do the talking. 

The cover art for her debut album, ‘softCORE’, captures the eerie, and enchanting nocturne Fousheé is indulging in right now. The moonlight beams through her levitated silhouette in what looks like a Louisiana swamp. Fousheé is deliberate about her presentation; from the treatments, to the hair, and fashion paraphernalia. The cover art was the result of some nifty CGI work. “I was never really there; I was edited in.” Fousheé reveals. “I’m big on moodboards and imagery is a big part of my process as an artist. With this art in particular, I’m the embodiment of light and dark. I love playing with elements and environments; the forest, snow and water. They’re related to my emotions.”

Fousheé began quietly plotting her next steps back in 2018, which involved moving to LA and meeting a coterie of like-minded creatives. “It was one of the best times of my life. It shaped my artistry because I wasn’t trying to do anything besides make music that I really liked. We were really content in our little community,” Fousheé reflects wistfully. One musical companion was last year’s breakout star, Steve Lacy. A few months prior, Fousheé achieved a career first, scoring a number one on the Billboard Hot 100 with Lacy’s post-breakup anthem ‘Bad Habit’; a song she augmented with her tensile voice and incisive penmanship.

The milestone moment isn’t an anomaly when you consider the viral engagement that predated Fousheé signing with RCA in 2020. Thanks to Splice, a music creation and collaboration platform, her voice fortuitously became synonymous with pandemic-era TikTok, when Brooklyn drill rapper Sleepy Hallow sampled the hook from her track ‘Deep End’. Both versions – the freestyle and the expanded version – have pulled in over half a billion Spotify streams since. That same year, ‘Deep End’ hit Top 10 on Billboard’s Alternative Airplay chart. The last time a black woman had achieved that feat was Tracy Chapman more than thirty years ago – a mystifying fact given black women’s historic role as transgressors in music. Still, Fousheé trails that lineage, appealing to a multi-generational audience with songs that could crossover at any moment. 

Born and bred in Bridgewater, New Jersey, Fousheé owes her early musical education to her Mother, who came up as a drummer in a Jamaican all-female reggae band PEP. Sacrificing her musical aspirations for a fresh start in a foreign land, Fousheé is thankful her Mother fostered the latent musical ability within her. “My Mom was a touring musician. I think she nourished her love of live music by playing her collections at home. She exposed me to music that she liked, music that she missed,” Fousheé shares. 

Enthused by the conventions and culture of reggae – the deceptively simple chord sequences, emphasis on drumming and kinetic synergy between band members – Fousheé began transferring her thoughts into song whilst focusing on academia. “Education is a big thing in Jamaica!” Fousheé laughs. “Musically what I got from that type of exposure was the songwriting of Bob Marley who also happened to be this larger-than-life Rockstar. I picked up the guitar much later on but I can trace my love of strong basslines and rhythmic sounds to that influence.” 

Fast forward to February of this year. Fousheé is a featured performer on NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert as part of a line-up commemorating Black History Month. Flanked by her band, the acoustic set-up gives her the space to display the unique tonality of her voice; be it the gritty, granular delivery on ‘spend the money’ or the operatic trills on ‘candy grapes’. Her smile says it all: performing is her anchor. “Maybe I’m not fine, but are any of us?” Fousheé tells the Tiny Desk audience. “It’s okay to not be fine. It’s all about balance.” Mere moments before that epistle, Fousheé unleashes a guttural scream. “I remember when I found my scream,” Fousheé says. “I was like damn! I didn’t know I could be this loud because all my life I’ve been that person who’s been told to speak up. Now I’m the loudest I’ve ever been.”

The quest for equilibrium underscores ‘softCORE’, an experience that mines for catharsis amidst turbulence. Channelling the folky lamentations present on her celestial 2021 project, ‘time machine’, Fousheé also fully leans into the down-tuned and riff-based rock she’s always loved: “I try not to do anything that doesn’t feel natural to me. I didn’t want to force a project out that sounded like ‘time machine’ again. I had to express my wrath.” Track number two ‘i’m fine’, the first song recorded for the album, captures the duality of extremes in both the clash of sound and the emotion Fousheé was wrestling with: “I had an idea to do an abrupt metal meets folk song. I felt relieved making this after years of making more subdued music.”

Fousheé decamped to an Airbnb in New York wanting to recreate a similar kind of friction in the songs that followed. What emerged was an expeditious 30-minute riff on radical softness and transformative rage. “I needed the album to go back and forth between light and dark, to go soft and then hard,” Fousheé explains. “I had second thoughts about it, that this isn’t what people would expect of me. I played it every day and I wasn’t tired of it; I just committed to this sound and didn’t look back.” ‘softCORE’ sees Fousheé reclaiming agency through character roleplay, unpacking romantic trauma, sexual dynamics and patriarchal systems that preserve age-old disparities between men and women. “I was angry at men,” Fousheé says rolling her eyes. “I was a tired reoccurring storyline of a damsel in distress. If I can’t change something, I like to play pretend. I became who I was mad at.” 

On the engineered strum of album closer ‘let u back in’, an autotuned Fousheé venerates and admonishes one particular romantic entanglement: “I was going crazy in relationships, like dating is a minefield, you know?” Is she dating now? “No comment,” she deadpans. Fousheé expresses her ire at industry double-standards, in particular the strain of sonic misogynoir that shadows black women experimenting with sounds outside of genres like R&B or neo soul. “I was tired of being told that a harder, more abrasive sound would be too risky for a debut. I felt strongly that I had to make a certain project that was all softness. I do think it’s a gender thing,” Fousheé continues.

‘softCORE’ is multivalent. The rhapsody of rage brushes up against Fousheé’s frivolous side: take ‘stupid bitch’, where grizzled distortion morphs into a tender symphony. “I want the listeners to feel evanescent and I want them to feel freedom. I know I’m clearly channelling anger and grit here, but I wanted to translate something kind of fizzy as well. I just want people to have fun with it and be free when they hear it. Moreso, I want them to feel the textures of the world that I’m creating which is a very grimy but beautiful world. Think latex and chains but also a little bit of light and air in between,” she says. 

Fousheé sees the ‘softCORE’ era as a time capsule – a changeover between past and future versions of herself. “This version of me was needed but it’s definitely not a permanent feeling or state of my creativity. I feel like I’m heading to somewhere more timeless. With whatever follows, I’ll know it’ll be the ultimate expression of who I am.” I ask when her next sonic experiment may land. “The album of my career hasn’t been made yet,” Fousheé says with a coy smile. For now, the video for ‘spend some money’ is the perfect summation of her present milieu: that of clandestine thrills, gabardine black leather fits, inversion of fairy tale tropes, and jaunty excursions into Riot Grrrl punk that says box her in at your own peril. 

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Words: Shahzaib Hussain
Photography: Michael Tyrone Delaney
Fashion: Juliann McCandless
Makeup: David Velasquez