“Either they compare me to Grimes and I’m like, did you fucking listen to my music? Or they look at my haircut and they’re like 'Oh my god! You look like tUnE-yArDs,” FOXTROTT, née Marie-Hélène Delorme says, sitting in Austin’s giant conference center after landing in Texas and officially checking in to her first SXSW. Those are the two small, predictable boxes for this lush, vibrant producer with a voice of the warm breeze on an early spring day. She’s noticed lately that critics seem to ignore everything else—like, all the work she’s put into her music—because she has a vagina and an unusual haircut. But such is the life of a female producer and singer in a musical landscape with barely any. No matter how passionate, smart, innovative, or interesting the music (and it’s all four) people just can’t get over the fact that she’s a chick. “You’re going to have to work hard for them to see the music,” she warns. “For me, that’s what interests me: the music. Not how I look.”
You play all the instruments on your records?
Yeah, I play every instrument. Not so well, but every instrument. I don’t have one instrument that I’m amazing at, but I’m okay at every one, which makes it cool because I like working with a lot of analog stuff.
When did you start learning music?
My grandma was a piano teacher so when I was very little I started playing piano. Then, when I got fed up I switched to the violin for a few years and then when I was really fed up I started playing guitar because I wanted to play songs that I listened to and I wanted to distance myself from classical music. I used to sing a lot, when I was a teenager I started to sing more.
Did you write your own songs then?
A bit, but it was more just singing Lauryn Hill songs. At around seventeen years old I started hanging out at techno, jungle and drum & bass parties and I was like, “Whoa, people make their own music and it’s not in a commercial way.” Like, it’s people that I would hang out with at parties. I’d be like, “You made that track?” So I started totally hiding out in my room, and making my own stuff. I didn’t know anyone, not one person who did that. I don’t know how I learned the program. I was on my family computer and I remember it took me three weeks to put out one sound of the software. After that I was always playing around with it. I was obsessed. It was funny because I had friends, but no one around me was doing that.
I come from a super Francophone part of Montreal. It’s not part of the culture that’s more Celine Dion, Francophone traditional music or classical music. I was listening to hip-hop since I was six years old, Tupac, and the Fugees and all that stuff, but I remember my parents were like, “What the fuck is wrong with you? We just didn’t understand the music.”
Do you want to make hip-hop beats?
Yeah, I have a bunch on my computer. I would love to give them to rappers. From the new new school, I really like Le1f. So much. He’s so good. For the more older rappers: Talib Kweli and people like that.
As a fellow Canadian, what do you think of Drake?
He has good taste for finding new artists, but he’s not my favorite. I don’t hate him, actually his last album is pretty good, but I just find the whole aesthetic of cold depressive introspective bro, just kind of (shrugs). I know what space it occupies in the world and I’m fine with that, but . . .
You’re music is very raw and emotional too, right?
How is that different from Drake?
I work a lot to find and bring a lot of warmth in my writing. The texture in the song is just a different type of emotional. I try to be as earnest as possible and I find that Drake just sounds distant. Maybe it’s just because I’m a woman and I don’t really connect like that. There’s really good songs on there, but I think it’s the jock side that just doesn’t work for me. I like the song with Jhene Aiko. “From Time,” the lyrics are good and it works. It’s just some of the other stuff.
Do you find yourself one of the few females in this producer-singer space?
Definitely. It’s very funny because as much as I have always been conscious of my place in the world and that there’s not a lot of women, only recently more and more did I realize how the battle is so not over. It’s crazy. It’s been on the business side, on the relationships with other producers. I thought that was over, but I’ve been confronted with situations where people even younger than me from a privileged background, educated and I’m like, “What is wrong with you?”
What have you experienced?
If I’m talking about music, they’ll barely look at me. The world of producers is super super, macho nerdery. It’s a total bro world. It’s like revenge of the nerds. I’m a nerd, I don’t have a problem with nerds and I actually fit in that world surprisingly well. I don’t have to struggle for it, but more and more my project is seen a certain way and I experience things that I would not experience if I was a guy. More and more I feel like there’s such a need for diversity. I’ve been asked by journalists, “Is it a trend to be a female solo artist?” I’m like, it’s not a fucking trend. It’s just that we got computers the same time as you guys and it happens that we’re females. It’s just a generational thing. It’s just that I have access now and how I use that. It’s so frustrating when people talk like that because it’s not a trend. It’s super sexist saying that it’s a trend. It doesn’t work that way. I just hope to see more and more and more people do that. And there’s always the fact that I’m a female producer. I have to say it, say it, say it that I make the beats that I make the beats that I do it all, and nobody believes it. You have to put it out there.
People who know that you create everything still don’t take you seriously?
I don’t want to point out specific stuff, but I was at a special event with all producers and I was one of very few females invited. I played my tracks and I told everybody that I do all the production and that I sing the songs. The first thing they asked me was like, “Hey do you want to come and lay some vocals on my beats later?” I was like, No. I’m not the singer chick. I’m here for the same reason as you. If I were a guy, they would never approach me like that. Even if I were a guy that sang it would be more like, “Hey you want to collab? We’ll work on the computer and some vocals.”
I heard you just finished an album.
I always have music in my head. Constantly. For years I had this sound that I was building, the whole aesthetic of my record. I had that in my head maybe four years. Not the songs, but the sound, the aesthetic. The songs for maybe a year and a half.
How is it different than your debut EP Shields?
Shields is definitely the poppiest in the conventional sense.
I like that you don’t shy away from calling your music pop.
No, I’m comfortable.
What does pop mean to you?
For me, pop doesn’t mean Top 40. My songs are still built in a conventional way. It’s not a different, aggressive structure. It’s meant to be catchy and you want to listen and learn something and you want to maybe sing. It’s accessible. I’m happy with my music when I feel like a lot of people can grab onto the first layer of catchiness and like it a lot, and then other people who are more geeky and listen to more music can notice the sound and production. That’s a sign that I succeeded at what I want to do. I don’t want it to be music that’s made to be listened to by music freaks only or people that have all the background to get it. It’s not. It’s pop art that anyone can appreciate and then if you go further there’s more. It’s hard to balance. I’m not interested in weird stuff. It’s fun to do weird stuff, but I want to make music that moves people.
FOXTROTT's Shields EP is out now. Her debut album is coming soon.