Since she launched the Good Girl Gone Bad album, Rihanna, the dance hall singer metamorphosed into a rock star before the delighted eyes of her fans.The young woman takes full credit for this drastic change, a way to rebel against the pre-manufactured Beyoncé-wannabe style that her producers forced her into. But there’s a hitch; many have noticed a striking similarity between the rock attitude of Canadian Fefe Dobson and the Barbados native’s new look. At that time Jay Z was still the president of Def Jam under which Rihanna and Fefe Dobson were both signed.
If Rihanna is a gorgeous exotic Barbie, Fefe is rather eccentric and anti-mainstream. When Fefe emerged with a bob in 2005, she didn’t meet the success expected. Instead, she parted ways with her label, Def Jam who was at the time, presided over by Jay Z. Although it received great reviews, her second studio effort didn’t hit the shelves. Except for a couple of shows held for the promotion of the album, Fefe had to give up on the project and move on.
On the other hand, 2 years later, Rihanna was seen sporting “the bob” that became a roaring success in salons. She popularized Fefe’s marginalized style by adding a glamour touch to it. Rihanna eventually went her way as her look has constantly evolved. The hair cut she is now wearing on the Vogue cover looks nothing like the new Fefe style; mid-long hair with messy clothing.
On many American websites the tension – between Rihanna’s fans and pro-Fefe Dobson – was such that it felt like it was possible to cut the air with a knife. To pour oil on fire, Honey recently interviewed Fefe Dobson and brought put the similarities.
Asked about the abrupt change of her ex-labelmate, Dobson plays safe even if she doesn’t lay it on the line. The « Take Me Away » singer did not only answered with finesse she also took the opportunity to highlight the differences with Rihanna.
She is supposedly a fan of mine. I try to take it as a compliment. It gets a little much when she starts getting the same tattoos as me but overall I just want people to separate the image and listen to the music.
The rest of the interview also reveals some interesting details about the evolution of Dobson as an artist and also touches on her rock status, a scarce for black female singers.
Yours to see. Read the full interview.
Honey: How you would describe your sound?
Fefe Dobson: There is a fusion. I am so influenced by different types of artists that I don’t really know exactly what genre I’d be put in. There’s guitar so you know that’s rock and the melodies are pop because it’s repetitive. But it’s just music to me.
Did you grow up wanting to be a rock star or just wanting to be a musician?
I loved rock and roll. There were tons of different types of music in my house. My mom played Lionel Richie and The Bee Gees and Michael Jackson was huge in our house. But then my sister would be playing Nirvana and Guns and Roses-type stuff. I gravitated more towards my sister’s stuff. I love guitars. There’s just so much angst and so much aggression and passion in one guitar, its crazy.
Rock and roll and hip-hop are very similar. They both get really political. They are very passionate and they spit the truth a lot of the times. It’s rebellious. It’s becoming trendier, but appreciated. When I first came out it wasn’t embraced as much, you know, a black girl doing rock and roll. Now things are different. People are more open to it. I heard it all the time when I first came out like, ‘You actually think this is gonna work — a black girl doing rock?’
Was there ever a rivalry between you and Avril?
There was definitely a bit of jealousy on my end. For her everything was blowing up and for me it seemed like everything was a lot harder. And then we started talking and we actually became friends and I started to chill out about it. I wasn’t so paranoid.
At that time did you ever feel like she might have an easier way because she is white?
I don’t know if it was a white or a black thing because other girls had problems too. Avril was first in the sense of that girl movement. They were all kind of fighting for the same pitch. I don’t know if it was a color thing. But I hope not.
What was the process of making your second album, Sunday Love?
From the beginning, there were a lot of musical differences and trying to figure out what was Fefe’s sound. I was going through a rebellious time myself. I was 20 years of age and as most people rebel to their parents, I was rebelling against my manager and myself. I had a feeling we weren’t all agreeing on where the direction was going and as it got to the end of the process it just didn’t feel right. I think everyone felt the same way and we released a single and it didn’t really catch on. « Don’t Let It Go To Your Head » didn’t really click at first but I think everything happens for a reason. We made a video, we didn’t release it. At that moment it bothered me — when you create art you want people to see or hear it. Looking back, I’m actually thankful it didn’t come out. I don’t think it represented me in the best way.
Did it feel like devastation or just like a disappointment?
It goes in stages: devastated is first, disappointed after that. I went back home to Toronto and I sat around for a little bit and then decided to write with some friends of mine and make a new record regardless.
Did you tour at all with that album?
We did tons of shows. The record was in some magazines — it got great reviews. But I started writing with someone else and doing my own thing, listening to more music and bringing in other influences. I evolved and it was the best thing that could have happened to me.
When did you really realize that you wanted to go back in and go hard with this third album?
I always knew it. Even when LA and I parted. I never said to myself I don’t think I can do this anymore. It just never came out my mouth. I’ve said a lot of stupid shit but I never said that. If it’s your passion you have to get back up and do it.
How has your sound evolved?
I like to have fun so that comes across. It’s just this time its actually an album I would put on and listen to. I had a really hard time listening to the first record. The things I talked about were emotional, like « Unforgiving, » about my father. Now I want to celebrate a little bit more.
Jive was your first deal?
It was Zomba Records, which is affiliated with Jive. They offered me a development deal when I was 15 but they wanted me to be the next ‘Brandy Spears’ as they called it. Black so she’s ‘Brandy,’ ‘Spears’ because she’s Pop. I was like ‘no’. It was a great opportunity they were going to offer me money and my family had no money. So to me, a 15-year-old being able to help support my family — it was hard to turn it down, but I knew my career would have been over before it started.
How did you feel about Jordin Sparks doing a cover of your song “Don’t Let It Go To Your Head” on her last album?
I didn’t know about it until it had been recorded. She said really nice things about me to MTV. It was really sweet. It was nice she did more of an urban, R&B version of it. It wasn’t like a rock version or anything. It was a completely different version so I was like ‘OK cool’. She wasn’t trying to carbon copy me.
You are going the Indie route for this album?
My manager started a label, which he’s wanted to do for so long. I have been working with him for eight years — he’s my first manager. Not many people can say that. I trust him with everything and he trusts me. Loyalty is really important to us. I wanted to be his first act on his label, which I am. It’s called 21 Music and it’s out of Canada. He knows me, he believes in me musically and he gives me freedom to create.
Are there nerves behind that though, that you don’t have this huge machine monster backing you like the majors? Is it scary?
No, its not because its funny like we were talking about finding CDs the other day and how the majors like FYE to towers and the virgins are gone and now there are only indie record stores and they are taking over kind of like the record industry. I believe in Chris, I believe in his label and I believe in anybody associated with the label and if a major wants to become involved and help out and be apart of it and they believe in it the way Chris believes in it then we are all open for that but we don’t want anyone to slow down our process.
You were already on Def Jam when Rihanna signed, right?
I was first I was signed to Def Jam in 2003. I think she was signed in 2005
First of all, what happened when you left the label?
It was just musical difference. It was a mutual breakup. Things weren’t working out the way we had wanted and it was time to part ways and let me create some things. Is Rihanna rock and roll? I don’t know. I mean I think that term is used really loosely.
Basically, her career did not affect yours whatsoever?
I wasn’t associated with it anymore, but do I get comparison… all over the place. To me, again, we are different. It’s like Avril-syndrome. You ask me now, and yes, we are both black but it’s not the same music. She might have some guitars on her thing but what is that? It doesn’t make it the same music.
That’s my point. The image thing — to go so extreme, from dancehall reggae queen girl to cool, punky, rocker-chick. People say Rihanna bit your style.
I mean, for sure I question that, but who wouldn’t. She is supposedly a fan of mine. I try to take it as a compliment. It gets a little much when she starts getting the same tattoos as me but overall I just want people to separate the image and listen to the music. It’s about the music. Its like Prince and Michael Jackson, totally different artists. Or its like Kanye West and Jay-Z. So what? They are both black men, they sound different. So they both wear jeans, they are different. And why would you want the same type of artist?
People are definitely doing an image comparison.
To me, dressing is like an expression. You don’t have to be crazy or whatever. Just wear whatever you want to wear.
I think you can tell when it’s contrived and when it’s authentic.
I agree. I do have to say one thing though, her songs are well written. I know Ne-Yo writes some stuff and he is an amazing writer but we’re just different.
Have you guys met?
Yeah, I met her when she was the dance hall queen with the long hair. She was a nice girl but very quiet.
Do you check blogs on a regular basis? Do you Google yourself?
I want a Google alert but I don’t know how to set it up. I read some stuff but I don’t have cable and I don’t really listen to the talk morning radio unless its classic rock. I don’t watch cable because, especially making these records, I don’t want to be influenced by the commercial world or society. I want to make a record almost as if I was a hermit.
Do you live at home?
I left home at 16. When I came to New York I never returned home.
So now your home base is Toronto and you have an apartment there. Do you have a boyfriend?
I do have a boyfriend. He is a great boyfriend. I love him dearly. We live together in Toronto.
How long have you been together?
We dated about four years ago for a year-and-a-half and then we broke up because he lived in Quebec. Four years later, we bumped into each other in Toronto. He was dating someone else, I was dating someone else and we fell back in love. It’s like we never broke up. It’s like we don’t remember those four years.
So you were apart for longer than you were together?
Yeah, I broke up with him and then we bumped into each other and we couldn’t live without each other
How long have you been together?
We’ve only been together for four months. It’s really recent.
Had he been following everything about you since you all were apart?
Well, he was my base player and then I fired him.
So you were together when he was in your band?
Yeah, and it was tough because we ended and that’s when the label thing happened and I was broken from that. I couldn’t give him what he wanted because I was too broken.
So is he going be in your band again?
I don’t know. It’s really hard to mix business and pleasure. At this point we just need to focus on our relationship and not bring the business into it.
This is a really romantic story. How old is he?
He’s 21 and it really makes me believe in love. Honestly, that’s what I meant about the label thing too. Once you don’t have it anymore, you learn what you appreciate. I’d rather have him.
Interview by: Shanel Odum (Honey Magazine)