It speaks volumes about the talent of a young, relatively unknown Montreal producer that she’ll send an unsolicited demo to highly sought-after, Grammy-nominated mixing genius Damian Taylor (Björk, Arcade Fire, Austra) and quickly hear back with a gushing “I love your stuff, let’s work together.” For Marie-Hélène L. Delorme, alias Foxtrott, that came as a substantial pat on the back after cutting her teeth as an in-demand remix architect (for bands like Think About Life, Bernard Adamus and Lesbians on Ecstasy) while pursuing her singer-songwriter-producer passion project.
These days, this queen bee of melancholy party beats is commanding attention for her hypnotic cover of The Smiths’ “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out” and “Colors,” a deceptively soothing, dance floor-ready hymn. As she preps for SXSW and the spring release of her debut LP, A Taller Us, we caught up with the wise beatmaker to chat about comparisons to fellow Montreal female artists, steering clear of too much digital wizardry, and the importance of vulnerability in pop music.
First off, what’s the deal with your ragtime-inspired moniker?
At summer camp, they would give us nicknames. Mine was “renard serviable” (French for “helpful fox”) because I was super kind but doing my own thing in the corner. I was a bit of a loner, which makes sense in relation to this project. Also, the foxtrot was always my favorite beat on the organs I have at home, so it just came together that way. The extra “t” is the German translation. It just looks better with two Ts, right?
Journalists are suckers for easy shortcuts, like saying it’s a trend to be a one-woman electronic producer from Montreal, pointing to Mozart’s Sister or Grimes. Have you run into a lot of sexist crap like that in recent years?
I guess, to a certain extent. When I first started out, people would be surprised that I wasn’t just a singer. People didn’t believe I made my own beats. When I performed alongside a popular Quebec singer, whose song I had remixed, I showed up with my sampler to the venue, and all the guys just thought I was his assistant. It was like they couldn’t fathom I was the one who had produced beats with a really fatty bass! As for the comparison, it’s inevitably going to creep up but it’s just funny, because musically we’re not similar at all. I’m not outraged or anything…they’re amazingly talented girls. And maybe it’ll help promote the music!
You’re a self-avowed gear nerd–you collect a cornucopia of analog synths, organs and studio monitors. Are you averse to using some of the new digital technology?
I use a lot of digital tools, but more as samples. There’s a lot of cold-sounding stuff around, and that’s less what I’m into. I want my music to sound beefy, warm, with big melodies. My sound uses a lot of analog synths. I’m a big fan of a specific era, the end of the seventies, so I have a few of these, plus a few more modern pieces to round out the sound, as I don’t want it to sound like the seventies! I also use samples, because I worked in film post-production for a while, so I have access to a lot of film sound banks. For instance, I’ll use this weird sound of a drop of water in a sink and then I’ll make it into a synth. I’m just looking for warmth in my sound, and I think that keeps me away from a lot of the digital wizardry.
Your introspective lyrics come from a really honest place. How important was it to make yourself vulnerable during the songwriting process?
I put a lot of personal stuff in my songs, stuff I hadn’t shared with anyone. I hate when people hide their emotions under ten layers of language. What I do is pop music – I’m trying to do something very honest. I miss music that’s like that so I’m trying to make it… I take a really emotional and physical approach to music. That’s why I make pop music. It’s a very intuitive and visceral approach, not an intellectual one. If it doesn’t grab me or shake me, I’ll scrap it. I’ve always admired bands like The Beach Boys, because of the purity and honesty of their lyrics. And even though her themes are a bit teenager-ish, I love Robyn. It’s amazing how emotionally in your face she is. I wouldn’t exactly compare it to what I do, but I like it. It’s so upfront.
Are there any fellow beatmakers who get your heart racing these days?
I love [Norgewian producer] Cashmere Cat. In my stuff, I pay a lot of attention to percussions, rhythmic stuff and melodies, and I find he has that same sensibility. It’s very catchy. I also like what Kaytranada does; it’s very physical. His sounds aren’t super laser-y, it’s all about his swing. He has a great feel.
I think it’s a great time for beatmakers right now. In a way, we’re the new rock stars, and I think it’s hilarious! In the past, they were always behind the scenes. Now, they take selfies and all the girls are after them. People’s ears have really opened up to so many things. People used to need lyrics, whereas now, they’ll freak out over a little synth sound that’s the equivalent to a chorus! People’s brains have expanded in terms of what pop music is about. Twitter, Instagram, SnapChat, you can hear it in the music! It’s the full-on ADHD generation.
Foxtrott performs on March 13 at Maggie Mae’s Rooftop as part of M for Montreal’s SXSW showcase. Her debut LP, A Taller Us, will be released this spring.