Imagine a shiny ruby red apple. You bite into it, and inside, it’s Filet Mignon. That’s how I describe Toronto’s Featurette, made up of singer Lexie Jay and drummer Jon Fedorsen.
On the outside, it’s shiny Pop songs, but with a meaty interior that is filled with symbolism, recurring imagery, deep subject matter and a fearless fictional character called “Featurette Girl”.
Montreal Rocks spoke to Lexie and Jon on the release of the new album, what makes people turn heads when they shop at Walmart, what felt like jail for Jon, and Lexie’s alter-ego.
Jon: How I Built This has famous people explaining how they made Spanx, for instance. It’s interesting that it’s not always how you think they were built. It’s a lot of hard work and luck.
MR: Yes. Sometimes, you are going in one direction and the idea takes on a whole different turn. Take your band’s origins…Opera and Folk…
Lexie: …and Jazz.
MR: A completely different turn to where you are now with EMD/Pop/Dance.
Lexie: Just to be clear, it never came out of any of those things, they were just our musical background. We happen to only have guitars when we started playing together. But yes, you are right. It’s crazy how that evolved.
MR: I’m always interested in the origin story. If you were to picture yourself as a young child flipping through your parents record collection…what stands out? When did music go from something you listened to, to something you felt?
Jon: I grew up in a music heavy household. I had an older brother who was seven years older than me. He was into Rock and Heavy Metal. Growing up, we were only allowed to listen to certain bands. For instance, there was no New Wave or Pop allowed in the house, unless my parents were playing some. I remember my mom had a bunch of Phil Collins albums and we listened to those as well as Classical. There was always music on.
As to what made me feel music the most, I was a pretty tough and angry kid, for whatever reason. Music was the one thing that would not get me in trouble, my mom realized. My grandparents downsized and she took in the family piano into our basement. It was there for any of us to play. I gravitated to it and started playing without any lessons.
“I think you are ready for some music lessons.” (mom)
We had a teacher come in, and that started things changing for me. That was around grade 7. I got into electronic music in high school while I was doing Jazz and stuff. It was always in the background to think about programming, sounds and things that are new.
MR: Any specific band that unlocked that electronic switch in your brain?
Jon: I remember distinctly that it was Radiohead Kid A. My brother lined up downtown Toronto at HMV all day…obviously skipping school. We played it in the basement expecting another OK Computer. I remember that when it was finished, we both looked at each other, completely puzzled. “What did we just listen to?” We just played it again.
I was like: “Wow…a really big band can take a turn like that?”
From there, I got into the end of the 90s Trip Hop scene, electronic and Bjork.
But it was that Radiohead moment when I went: “WOW! Electronic stuff is awesome!”…even if it was banned in the household while I was growing up.
MR: Just let your brother know that the statute of limitations means he can no longer get in trouble for skipping school. (laughs)
Lexie: We had a lot of Rock music in our household. My mom still identifies as a Rock Dinosaur. My dad was heavily into Rush…a big big Rush fan. The more recent news (Neil Peart’s death) was pretty devastating for him.
We had a carousel CD player that had The Beatles, Earth Wind and Fire, Sting, Enya and Café del Mar.
Honestly, I’m not a Rock person at all. I’m a big fan of The Beatles, but it was the Café del Mar that didn’t necessarily make me say: “Oh, this is unbelievable!” But more: “What is this?”
Later on, I had a friend in middle school that had really excellent taste in music. I didn’t find a musical identity till much later. In fact, I’m still finding it, I would say. This friend gave me a whole bunch of LimeWire illegally downloaded music like Phoenix, Passion Pit and it definitely included things like Radiohead. “Everything in Its Right Place” just made my brain explode! That was the song that changed my mind about everything.
Radiohead and the darker stuff I got from him was unbelievable, exploded my brain forever and I never went back.
MR: As a band, you are not averse to disappearing for a while to create something new. Why do you feel it’s important to unplug, so to speak, when you want to create something new?
Lexie: It’s hard to be in the public eye all the time. It can be expensive if you are paying for publicity or if you are paying a firm to get interviews for you. It’s not sustainable for an Indie band to have campaigns running all the time. You need to be able to push for when you do have something big coming out.
When you don’t have anything, it’s just you and your Social Media. We definitely took a much-needed break for a couple of months from Instagram. I needed a break!
I’m a Millennial, or whatever and I should have these skills…but I don’t think it’s the thing I love. I find it to be quite taxing on my mental health. It takes up a lot of space in the day. To have a deep detoxifying social media cleanse is so nice. Taking time to breathe and not think about what our content is for today…knowing you haven’t put on pants for four days in a row. *laughs*
Why try, like I wear makeup every day? I absolutely don’t. Our brand isn’t exactly one where I can be free and be myself. We want to present a certain image as we all do. That’s her…Featurette Girl. She is me sometimes, but I am not always her. On stage, we are the same person. Off stage, I’m an Introvert, sitting without pants with a cat on my lap.
Jon: Writing music.
Lexie: Writing down lyrics, yes.
MR: It’s interesting that you mentioned Featurette Girl. From what I can tell, you mix a biographical type of writing with this fictional character. When was she born? What was the birthing process like?
Lexie: Right from the beginning, although Jon might have a different opinion on this. For our first album Crave, it was originally conceived as two EPs, like the lifecycle of a relationship. The first half was getting to the bad part of the relationship. You know, when first you first meet the person that you know will be bad for you and going all the way through that cycle and coming out the other end. That isn’t one relationship that happened to either one of us, or anyone at all. It was different parts of relationships that I pulled from our own, and some parts that never happened at all, but I heard from friends. Playing into that, I created her own love life. In doing so, I really found my own voice because you don’t have these amazing concepts from the beginning. It evolved through the writing process. For Dream Riot, so much more of that is my own thoughts and opinions about things. Bigger issues and how I tackled them. They are not all just fantasy ideas, they are our collaborated opinions on things, our morality, our honesty and our truth.
MR: Sometimes, when you write purely biographical, it could be too vulnerable. When you can hide behind some character, you can reveal more. People don’t know what’s real and what’s not real. You can reveal deeper truths.
Lexie: Totally. I’m a serial Monogamous. I love to be in a long-term relationship. Because of that, I haven’t had the breadth of relationship experience with all these different people that I could be Carly Rae Jepsen or Taylor Swift with all these different ways that my heart has been broken. I mean, it has been aggressively broken, but not a different way, every time, by a different guy, just going to the store, that I can write about.
MR: To be honest, we don’t need another Taylor Swift. We’ve got one, that’s good enough.
Lexie: Exactly, and nobody could ever be Taylor Swift. I wanted to do something different. Jon had an opinion on this…
Jon: More to the beginning of the question, if it’s good to have separation. You can’t have things that are too personal. If it’s too specific, you not allow the listener to…
Jon: Connect with their own life. We are not trying to make a fantasy story at all. It’s funny because, the more Featurette Girl because Lexie’s alter-ego, it gets closer and closer to who she is.
Lexie: I think we are merging. When we started, I wasn’t her at all. She was my way to speak out and was my power on stage. I have experiences, when we were playing on stage and I would totally dissociate and black out. I would not remember a minute of the performance. I saw footage of it. It was definitely me up there doing stuff, but I did not remember it. I don’t know why that was, but over time I’ve got more in tune with it and now it doesn’t happen anymore. Also, I have complete control over what I do, I’m proud to announce. *laughs*
We are the same now. I’m more grounded in my own opinions and I’ve found my voice and she found hers and we are merging personalities, which is cool for me.
MR: Your writing has been described as being dark. What does the word “dark” mean to you?
Lexie: Million Things is a song that, at face value, is very listenable. It was on the radio a bunch, despite the beat being quite aggressive and choppy…that assaulting style we have that Jon has created. If you didn’t really listen to it, you would think: “Wow, that is a happy song. That’s a jam.”
Jon: It hits all the major chords.
Lexie: Hooray! We had a person that was very close to us at one point that said: “You write really happy music.” So, we said: “Oh…so you’ve never heard a word that we’ve said.”
That song is a very dark and unhappy song, just like You Do You, which we just launched Friday (January 17, 2020). It’s beautiful, empowering and by far the happiest song we’ve ever put out.
Lexie: Positive message, right? At the same time, it was born out of darkness because there is a young girl who has depression and anxiety in high school. It’s not fair what she’s going through, so that birthed this message. It may sound like a banger, but when you really listen to it, you say: “Now I’m just depressed.” Depressed and motivated maybe.
MR: Million Things reminded me of the Hip-Hop videos where they show you all the million things they own. This is completely different. What are the dangers of focusing, in your life, only on stuff?
Lexie: That’s just it, you hit the nail on the head. One Million Things is about Social Media and the anxiety that comes with putting your best self forward all the time. When I was working with our director Ian Macmillan, I tried to create this idea of all the different rooms she’s pictured in and the link of how they look and feel. If you look at anyone who is a real influencer on Social Media, on their top 12 pictures, they all have the same vibe going for them. They are very crafty. They curate all these images with all these rules you learn as you get heavy into it. Like you can’t have two selfies side by side, for instance. OMG, this is so extra! I don’t have the patience for any of this. For Million Things, we tried to go as over the top as we could.
Jon and I went to 50 different Walmart’s to buy all these giant stuffed bunnies and bears.
MR: Yes, for the bedroom scene.
Lexie: Yeah. We returned all of them by the way. *laughs*
Jon: Children were crying. “Sorry kid…we’ve got your first giant Easter bunny. It will be back in two weeks.” *laughs*
Lexie: Yeah. In two weeks, it will be on sale, you can thank me later!
Jon: People were staring at us. We had carts and carts full of them.
Lexie: All these fantastical images. The room filled with daisies. It was so next level. All these men assisting her in her bathtub. So extra…so stupid. If you took a still of that moment, those things exist online.
MR: That’s scary.
Lexie: Those are real things that people have done and continue to do. I got the inspiration from those because I think it’s so ridiculous. At the end of the day, she’s alone in the house. There are these creepy men from her dreams that are sort of there with her, but you notice they are faceless, right? They are faceless people because she doesn’t have anybody there to actually support her. At the end of the day, she’s got nobody to share it with. What’s the point? Did it even happen?
MR: Now we go back to You Do You. Again, so many people living that Insta-life. Why do you think it’s important to stay grounded to the real you?
Lexie: For so many reasons. The most valuable piece of advice my mom ever gave me growing up: “You need to be the constant”. Especially in High School, everyone will come and go and flux around you…the best version of themselves and then they will go off the deep end. They will get into drugs or whatever. Everyone’s lives are so dramatic, and they are changing so much in that time, it’s a whirlwind. If you are the constant in your own life and you know what you want, you are being yourself, then the people who are meant to come back to you will come back to you. Everybody else…we don’t need them.
“If you are the constant in your own life and you know what you want, you are being yourself, then the people who are meant to come back to you will come back to you.”Lexie Jay
MR: It’s interesting now that I’m 50, because if I look back at high school…I don’t hang out with anybody from my old High School. Yet, they were so important in my life at that time. Things change.
Jon: Here’s the thing about High School.
Lexie: Jon’s hot take on high school.
Jon: You are basically in jail. You are basically stuck there because society doesn’t want you free, running around the streets. They keep you in compliance. You don’t get to choose the people you are with. You are stuck with them, unless you change schools. Five years of forced socialization. Then, it’s over and everyone goes to different places, usually. Then you realize: Wait a minute. I can actually choose the people I want to hang out with. If you peak at high school…man…I don’t know…there is so much more after that. Some people relive high school with their jobs and at their office. They are stuck with people they can’t get rid of.
“Here’s the thing about high school. You are basically in jail.”Jon Fedorsen
Lexie: Or they become teachers and they have to relive it forever. *laughs*
Jon: You are stuck with your surroundings. What is important with You Do You is that you have to find out what it is that makes you tick. That constant is so important. You have to make sure you have a sense of who you are. You should be proud of the things you do that make you: You.
In the video, we had people bring in their pet lizard. “Yeah…I have a pet lizard…I’m rockin’ it.” In high school, you might have been teased for that. Whatever. The whole point is that we have to find the thing we are proud of. We shouldn’t be ashamed of it, you know?
Lexie: Exactly. Whatever the thing that you are bringing in that is defining you at this moment…be proud, be loud and be you. Anybody who doesn’t like it, you really don’t need them.
MR: Yeah, there’s no space for that.
Lexie: They add nothing to our lives and it’s so much easier if you don’t talk to them. What’s interesting as well, on Jon’s point and yours, is that I don’t talk to most of the people I went to high school with. The ones I do talk to, I didn’t really talk to in high school. We’ve grown up so much since then. I have new friends from high school that are only my friends because we had high school in common. Now, everything that’s happened since…that’s why I’m friends with them, not because of high school.
Jon: We survived.
Lexie: We survived and now I really care about you. The guy holding the boom in You Do You went to jail in high school. He was into drugs and he turned his life around. He’s an unbelievably driven person now. He does all these different things for charity and is always on the go for some initiative that’s greater than him. Women’s rights and all this different stuff. Like…Who are you? You’re the most amazing person from high school! I could have never known you…because you were always in jail. *laughs*
The place in the video that we rented from the city, by coincidence, was the place he was in jail. How cool is it for him to stand in a room in that very building because: “I won at life. I’m amazing. Look at me now!”
MR: I guess the worst would be being an influencer still stuck in high school.
Lexie: We don’t want any of that. That’s not for me.
MR: Double whammy. Your band is very visual, obviously, in the videos you make. If I think about you, Lexie, studying opera, it’s a very visual performance. People are dressed up and there are stage props. What visual message are you trying to relay in your music videos.
Lexie: The original conception of the band…Jon’s ideal…was featurette, right? Small, mini feature films. When Jon came up with that, we decided to pair up these strong visual components with each song we do. Even from its conception, the soundscape, it will live in its own world. Hopefully they will relate to the next song. The idea was to create these mini EPs or single releases, each as their own complete world and hopefully create a visual component that would go along with that. Mini vignettes if you will…moments in time.
July Talk, for example, have a black and while series of videos where they always have the July Talk look. I’m not sure if we have achieved the Featurette look. Kind of, with the releases for Dream Riot video’s we’ve put out so far. There is the facelessness, color saturation and these kinds of things. You Do You had a lot of faces, but that was the big reveal. Now the album is out, and these are the people behind this amazing project, the people who supported us. The visual component for us is that no matter what will happen next, we will capture this song and this moment. White Rabbit is a really great example of that as well. When you listen to that song and look at that video…I can’t picture another world where those sounds can live. It’s desolate and sparse, yet full at times and saturated in the choruses. When there are sounds, they are so impactful. They just shoot you in the gut. The white rabbit image in the wasteland dug out hole that we found, does that for me. That’s how we arrive at these crazy, creepy ideas.
MR: That was the first video I saw when I was researching you…the desolate, post-Apocalyptic world.
Lexie: If you look at that one versus A Million Things or You Do You, the budgets are just enormously different too. The quality of the content is the same. Which had a bigger budget? You tell me and I’ll tell you if you are wrong.
MR: The album Dream Riot just came out a few days ago on January 14th, 2010. It’s available on all streaming media. What is one song on there that isn’t necessarily the most popular, but has the most meaning for you?
Lexie: At the moment, it’s certainly You Do You. Especially when we perform, that one gives me full body shivers. Here’s the story behind that one. There was a fan called Sarah who we met on the Scott Helman tour. She was a super-duper fan of Scott Helman who kept commenting on his stuff. Because we were touring with them, she started commenting on our stuff, getting excited about the upcoming show in Montreal. The Montreal show was by far my favorite of that tour. The room was electric that day.
She came to the merch booth afterwards and I recognized her. We’ve been fast friends ever since.
Since then, she has confided in me and given me permission to share, that she is going through depression, anxiety and bullying in high school. I went through those exact same things. I had a very dark high school experience. I was in a really weird place, all by myself and I could relate. I sort of used her as my muse, with permission, to write this song. The song You Do You hit me on the head all at once.
I’ve told this story many times and I still find it hilarious every time. I was in the bath and the words came down from the heavens all at once. OMG, I have to write this down. I ran out of the bathtub, fell in a puddle of water on my way and I wrote it down all at once, and recorded the melody on my phone. I called Jon: “Jon! This crazy thing just happened. I have a whole song, top to bottom. Get over there, we need to work on this.”
It’s the favorite thing I’ve ever written, because it’s for her. It just came in one piece. The only thing we changed is the tag at the end of the chorus. It was for her, and it echoed my mom’s words of: You be the constant. Others come and go. You do you.
MR: You might have had a scar for a few days, falling out of the bathtub.
Lexie: Exactly. Big bruise on the butt.
MR: These issues leave scars that last years, even decades. It’s nice that someone can address them and maybe give them a glimmer of hope that they are not alone. There is hope and it’s not going to last forever.
Lexie: Of course. I was so far from that popular kid in high school. I was so alone all the time. I would just sit in the practice rooms, because I went to art school, writing songs. I was in every extra-curricular because I didn’t want to go home and spend more time alone. I was always busy, and I know the feeling of not having anyone you can confide in. If I could go back in time and tell myself something, it would be this song.
“If I could go back in time and tell myself something, it would be this song (You Be You).Lexie Jay
I get to do that for her now, which is really cool.
MR: Cool. For Jon, I love the story about your brother winning the lottery and travelling partway around the world.
Jon: He thought he was a Millionaire, right? He won something like $35,000 with a scratch ticket. It was a lot of money…
MR: But it goes by fast.
Jon: He never came back, actually. He did make it around the world. He made it to Western India and then he ran out of money. He ended up living in Japan for a bit. Now, he’s living in New Zealand with his family. There you go.
MR: That’s cool. It shows, in your family, this adventurous streak of just going for it. That applies to your music. Being an Indie band in Canada is not an easy thing. You have to put in the work. You guys have been putting in the work for many many years. The fact that you are gathering some steam, getting some airplay, and good tours is a testament to the hard work you put in day in and day out…without makeup and in your gym sweats. *laughs*
Lexie: Totally…you got it.
MR: It was great talking to you. Hope you make it back to Montreal soon, so we can bring back that same energy you felt when you performed here last time.
Lexie: We are planning on it, my friend.
Interview: Randal Wark is a Professional Speaker and MasterMind Facilitator with a passion for live music. You can follow him on Instagram, Twitter and YouTube. His new Podcast RockStar Today helps musicians quit their days jobs is coming soon.Share this :