Fousheé on songwriting: “If something feels too normal, then something is wrong”
Fousheé has been writing music since childhood, but her path to stardom has been unexpected. After appearing on The Voice in 2018, she made 250 song samples for the online music platform Splice, which allows musicians to purchase and use samples royalty-free. One of Fousheé’s samples was used in Sleepy Hallow’s “Deep End Freestyle,” which went viral on TikTok. But Fousheé’s part was uncredited, and the mystery of who sang that hook remained. Fousheé’s family encouraged her to come forward, so she did, in a TikTok that now has 2 million likes. Fans asked her to make a full song, which Fousheé created and released, called “deep end.”
“Without that push, I don’t think I would have done any of those things,” she says now. “But why? I think I deserved credit for the song. The song deserved to be connected with people and to get out there. Wanting more for yourself and not settling and the importance of it was the lesson that I learned.”
In a rewarding twist, “deep end” reached the top 10 on alternative radio — making it the first song by a Black woman in over 30 years to do so, since Tracy Chapman’s “Crossroads.” “When I found out it had been 32 years, it just felt long overdue,” she says. “I was a little confused because as a music lover, there’re a lot of Black artists that I listen to. It just made me question why it hadn’t hit on a mainstream level yet.”
And Fousheé’s planning on going even further into the alternative side of her sound on her as-yet-unannounced upcoming project, which takes a lot of influence from punk. The first song, “double standard,” which came out April 8, has a deceptively summer-y feel that contrasts its sharper lyrics: “Boys don’t play by the same rules that the girls do.” It’s just a taste of what she has brewing, especially when it comes to the themes of the project.
Your music doesn’t fit into any one genre — it takes from all these different types of music. How did you develop that style?
I think it’s a reflection of my taste. I get really bored very easily, so the music that I listen to is all over the place and a reflection of my personality. If I’ve been writing a lot of sappy love songs, eventually I’ll feel this urge to revolt and then write something polar opposite to that. I love variety. It keeps me entertained.
You write your own songs, and you direct your own music videos. Why is it so important to you to have that level of ownership and control over your work?
When I write, I’m a very visual person. That’s the most exciting part of it for me because in school, I was not that lit kid who could write a thousand-page paper. I’m very not wordy. I hated reading. But I love to imagine things. So when I write a song, I usually already have a visual idea. I feel a little uncomfortable unless I’m able to fully express that vision, from writing the song to making the visual. It goes hand in hand for me. Especially since I wrote it, I know what I wrote it about, I know how I felt and I know how I want the visual to feel. I don’t think anyone else has that relationship with the song besides the songwriter. So it’s an equally important form of expression and just as equally important as writing the song for me.
I wanted to ask you about “double standard” because it has a really powerful message behind it. What inspired that track?
I think not only the song but the album deals a lot with my frustration with — and I feel like this word is so overused now — the patriarchy, and it’s still very much alive. But I’m very hardheaded, and I feel like those rules don’t apply to me, and I intend to break the rules. This is something inclusive, too; it doesn’t matter if you identify as a woman or not. I think we all adhere to these invisible patriarchal rules. And it’s good to break the rules. It’s good to question the rules. This is just a form of me expressing that frustration that I’ve experienced not only in relationships, but in the industry and in the world, and that’s what the project is about. But specifically, the song is from a relationship perspective, saying when guys specifically in relationships get away with more and expect you to be OK with that or not reflect the same energy. In the song, I’m like, “Well, I’m just doing what you’re doing. Why are you getting upset?”
How did you find yourself gravitating toward more alternative sounds?
I think during the period of time between my last project to this one, it was a big adjustment for me, being a new artist in the industry and just life, period, and relationships. So my natural reaction was to rage almost. I felt this need to be OK, but then on the inside not being OK and just wanting to scream. So a lot of the songs ended up being me literally screaming. There’re different layers to it. There’s vulnerability, but then there’s rage, as well.
Did you find that because you already have such a broad spectrum of musical influences, it was easy for you to navigate that? Your upcoming song “i’m fine” is a little different from your other music in that the other songs had a drumbeat from one genre, or a guitar that sounds like another genre, whereas this one starts out as indie rock and then all of a sudden, it switches to heavy music, and then it goes back to indie rock.
No, it wasn’t hard at all, surprisingly. It was exciting for me knowing that I’d never heard a song like that. I feel like part of my job as an artist is to create things that haven’t been created before. So it was a really, really cool moment, finding that niche and realizing that these two things can work together as one. It’s experimenting. That could have easily been a terrible song. Or maybe some people will view it as terrible, but it makes you uneasy, it makes you listen, it makes you think. And that’s really why I do it. So it wasn’t hard at all. I love both of those genres. So why not put it in one? I’m such a fan of folky songwriting, just me and guitar. And that was mostly what the first project was, so this one I wanted to be more dynamic.
What was your process when it came to experimenting and trying those new sounds?
I called [producer BNYX] up and said, “I want to make a folk screamo song.” I didn’t know what it was gonna be about [Laughs.], but that’s literally what I said, and he sent back that. There were longer sections, but I cut it down to make it more dramatic, and that was it. I think we knocked that out in less than an hour. It was one of the Philadelphia stops on my tour with James Blake.
You said in your Song Exploder interview that you like to bring a little bit of weirdness to your songs. How do you translate that into your music?
I don’t think it’s possible to write about anything that hasn’t been written about because music has been around so long, so we’re figuring out new ways to talk about the same shit. So finding the most creative way to say those things and to portray it visually would be how I bring weirdness to the songs... If something feels too normal, then something is wrong.
Fousheé appeared in issue 405 (The Modern Icons Issue), available here. Check out photos from our lookbook below.
[Photo by Alondra Buccio / Top: Paul Frank, Skirt: Thrifted][/caption]
[Photo by Alondra Buccio / Shoes: Marc Jacobs][/caption]