By Jack Irvin
Foxes didn’t plan to take six years off between albums, but following the release of her most recent full-length project, 2016’s All I Need, the U.K. singer-songwriter born Louisa Rose Allen was in need of a reset. Ever since bursting onto the scene as the vocalist on Zedd’s Grammy-winning 2012 single “Clarity,” which dominated dance floors globally and scored Foxes a record deal with Sony Music, she felt pressured to recreate its success with more EDM tracks. The musician recalls playing her synthpop debut album, 2014’s Glorious, for American label representatives before it dropped and being told, “This isn’t going to work. We need 12 ‘Clarity’s” — which she had no intention of creating. “I wrote my first album in a bedroom,” Foxes tells MTV News from her East London home. “I didn’t expect to suddenly have to make a record that must be played on the radio or sell millions of copies.”
Unlike many other musicians who’ve faced creative differences with their record companies, Foxes refused to compromise her artistic vision and remains proud of both albums. But after a half-decade of operating in the major-label system, during which she also toured with Pharrell and Coldplay, she grew fed up with feeling pushed toward mainstream pop stardom and parted ways with Sony in favor of an independent career. “A lot of the work felt very independent anyway, so I didn’t feel like I was losing the building blocks. I was taking back control,” declares Foxes, who’s releasing her third album, The Kick, today (February 11) through indie label PIAS Recordings. The jubilantly energetic 12-track set is reminiscent of modern pop classics like Carly Rae Jepsen’s Emotion and Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia, finding the musician fully embracing dance-pop for the first time — on her own terms.
Foxes doesn’t refer to the six-year interim between albums as “time off” but rather a much-needed pause. She never stopped working. Leaving Sony also meant letting go of many people with whom she worked, so the newly independent artist’s first order of business was to craft a team of individuals who not only supported her musicianship, but truly understood her vision. For Foxes, that meant surrounding herself with more women, starting with her sister Holly, whom she hired as a creative consultant. “When you're quite a young female artist in the music industry it can feel strange [to be] pigeonholed into a pop-star persona. That wasn’t really ever in my nature,” she explains. “Working with women, they understand that. There’s protection, and there’s a sisterhood, which is really nice.”
After building a new team and writing “like 40 songs” without the overwatch of a label, Foxes felt ready to officially reenter the music scene. She signed to PIAS at the start of 2020 and immediately started planning to put out her first project in five years: Friends in the Corner, a sonically eclectic and lyrically vulnerable eight-track EP focused on friendship, family, and womanhood. The world drastically changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic by the EP’s April 2021 release. But rather than writing more emotionally challenging music given the depressing circumstances, Foxes wanted to dance.
Apart from writing an entire album, Foxes endured a familiar quarantine experience, complete with emotional-anxiety roller coasters and the difficult decision to self-isolate separately from her boyfriend for a bit. Being alone sent her into a reflective headspace, and she soon found herself missing nightlife and reminiscing on a close friend who’d recently passed away. “We used to have these incredible nights where she was the life and soul of the party,” recalls Foxes, whose craving for such wild parties served as inspiration for “Sister Ray,” the first song she wrote for The Kick. Crafted as an ode to her late friend, the euphoric club banger references The Velvet Underground’s 1968 song of the same name, an epic 17-minute telling of a fictional night out filled with debauchery, drugs, and drag queens. “If you look it up on Wikipedia, it’s quite insane, so I wasn’t going for that,” she quips. “I’d say, like, 40 percent of that.”
Once “Sister Ray” was written, Foxes knew she was making a full-on dance record: “I was dancing in my kitchen, and all of these melodies and lyrics were coming out.” While songwriting, she pointedly stops listening to current music in order to avoid unintentional influences, so instead of drawing inspiration from her contemporaries, she turned to classic favorites like Björk’s Debut. “It has the right mix of dance and ballads,” she explains. “I’ve always loved the structure of the album.”
Stuck at home making upbeat music meant to be blasted through nightclub speakers wasn’t always easy, and sometimes Foxes turned to more unconventional methods to spark her imagination. “I was watching a lot of film, and I put my projector on my wall, muted it, and then I’d just start writing,” she says, citing Studio Ghibli’s dreamlike movies as her go-to silent viewing. “Creatively, it makes you think of quite insane things.”
Foxes’s listeners may be surprised to hear such vibrant dance beats throughout The Kick given her feelings toward the long EDM shadow of “Clarity,” and she understands it’s a dichotomy. “I guess it sounds a bit weird if I'm saying, ‘I'm not a pop star,’ and then I’m releasing music that’s very poppy,” says the musician before chalking the sound up to the increased confidence she’s felt since cutting ties with the team that didn’t trust her artistic vision: “I feel more comfortable, and I feel more grounded.”
As an independent artist, Foxes no longer worries about how her music will be received, which has allowed her to step out of her comfort zone and back into the genre she adores. “Maybe I’m an introverted pop star,” she says with a laugh. “I’m not sure, but I love pop music, and I love writing pop music, so I don’t think that’ll ever change.”
Returning to the industry also changed Foxes’s view of success, which she experienced in the traditional sense through top-charting, multi-platinum hits like “Clarity.” Aware that her music may no longer reach the same volume of people without the marketing machine of a major label behind her, she’s realized that’s not what she’s looking for anyway. “I have a lovely fanbase of people that really have stuck by my music since the beginning,” she says. “That feels like success. I don't feel like it has to be the whole world necessarily, as long as you're connecting to other people.”