Fefe Dobson Reignites Her Rocker Flame With Electric New Album 'Emotion Sickness'

By Bianca Gracie | September 29, 2023

Photo by Mark Binks/Styling by Ashley Galang/Glam by Cayla Bliss/Hair by Angie Valente

For many Black women, a great chunk of our lives is spent discovering where we belong. From relationships to societal pressures, we’re often reduced to our looks or our passion is misinterpreted as aggression. So when artists like Fefe Dobson come along, it feels like a relief.

The Canadian singer emerged in 2003 with her self-titled debut album, whose pop, rock and punk fusion was a breath of fresh air coming from a Black teenager. Singles like “Take Me Away” and “Everything” represented not only Dobson’s assured artistic identity but also the many women of color who adored the genre just as much as the mainstream white male rockers.

Since then, Dobson has released a handful of albums and singles. But her latest album, Emotion Sickness (out today, Sept. 29), finds her returning to her refreshingly loud, confident and sassy rocker roots. From the gnarly drums pounding through “Hungover” like a headache to the kiss-off anthem “Too Late”, Emotion Sickness bridges the gap of the Fefe Dobson who burst on the scenes in the ‘00s to the current artist who has a deep appreciation for her art.

Dobson has opened so many doors for other alt-women of color, which showcases the impact that artists have just by being themselves. Just by being herself, she gave other people the confidence to do the same. And Emotion Sickness represents that musical freedom.

“A lot of the records are very vulnerable, other than Sunday Love, which I felt like I let it all hang out,” she tells EDITION. “With this record, even though it is fun, I'm letting a lot of things be exposed if you listen to the lyrics.”

Below, Fefe Dobson looks back at the impact of her debut album, the emotional rollercoaster of her new record Emotion Sickness and the power of being your authentic self.

This is your first album since 2010’s Joy. Do you still have the album jitters at this point in your career?

I feel really a relief. Between 2010 and now I had made other albums that I just didn't release and Firebird was one of them that was supposed to come out in 2014. We released about two singles from that: “Legacy” and “In Better Hands.” But I just wasn't ready to put it out. We also released a couple of songs, one for Degrassi and just a few other ones. But I think I had jitters with that album because it was coming off of Joy. So I just held back and said, “No, I can't do this.” I think that “Stuttering” and “Ghost” just surprised me so greatly that I was nervous because “Legacy” [from 2014’s Degrassi soundtrack] wasn't getting the traction that I had wanted.

“Stuttering” was a big hit. So did that pressure get to you a little bit?

Yeah, it definitely did. And it got to me more because “Stuttering” was more of the pop side of me and we added guitars and we tried to put as much rock to it as possible. But it was definitely more of a pop song. We knew that going into it. “Legacy” was more of my rock side. So that made me nervous because I've always tried to combine the two. It's very important to me because I love pop melodies. I love pop music, but I also I freakin’ love rock and roll. It's in my blood, you know? So I always have to find my balance. And it made me nervous.

Speaking of nerves, you sound as confident as ever on Emotion Sickness. As soon as I hit “play” and “Hungover” kicked in, I was like, “Whoa!” It's just a blast of energy, which is refreshing.

With some records, you write it in a span of, I don't know, a year. Then when you finally put it out, you don't really relate to it anymore. It's a memory. But this album was very different for me because it was written in two months. So everything that I was writing about—other than “Fckn In Love” and “Recharge My Heart” which was written a year or two—was written while I was living those experiences in the moment. So with “Hungover”, I had a crazy night out in Toronto. I walked to the studio and fell onto the floor, just super, super hungover. (laughs) I was like, “I need to write a song about how I feel right now.” So that happened a lot where I would have an experience and I would literally just go in and be like, “I need to write about this right now and get it out.” That's what's different.

That actually makes so much sense because listening to the album, it feels like an emotional roller coaster in the best way. I feel like I'm in the middle of a whirlwind. It’s definitely a snapshot of how you were feeling in that moment jam-packed into nine songs.

Yeah, it's totally a manic, emotional experience. Aside from “Fckn In Love” and “Recharge My Heart”, “Hungover” was the first to start the process. After they heard that, my management was like, “Can you write an album in two weeks?” I said, “I can try but may need to get in some trouble!” I needed to go and live and get out of Nashville for a bit and just see my friends and see what I could do.

“Hungover” and “Shut Up and Kiss Me” are my two favorites because they have this rush of nostalgia. There's a balance of our love for early ‘00s pop/punk but it still sounds fresh. Even with the album as a whole, it showcases where you are now as an artist but also calls back to what fans loved since your debut.

I appreciate that a lot. I have so many influences. I listen to a lot of different bands. And I think that's always found its way into my writing. I'm very proud of all the songs that I've been able to be a part of over the years. And like I said, “Stuttering” and “Ghost” really took my life to another level. I'm always so proud and blessed to have those in my catalog. But this album is just very, very raw. For instance, with “Hungover” I wanted to have a song that was two minutes long and that felt like I'm just losing my mind. That was the goal. Yeah, you're losing your mind. But you're gonna do it again.

Yeah, let's be real here. (laughs) Does this feel like a full-circle moment for you? Looking back on the self-titled debut and now coming out with Emotion Sickness, they both celebrate what you love so much: pop/rock fusion.

Yeah, I definitely feel like it's going back to my roots. It's a mix between all the albums so far. It has a little bit of the theatrics from the first album and the rock side, but it has the grit from [2006’s] Sunday Love album and then Joy with songs like “I Want You”.

I would agree with that, too. “Recharge My Heart” is also a standout for me, just because we've all been in a place in our lives where we're trying to find love within ourselves after being depleted and finding that motivational fuel.

It was the middle of the pandemic [when I wrote it]. And the person I was with we had split. I couldn't go see my friends and get those vitamins or charge even from them. So it was a time for me to find it on my own as well as remind myself that one day I can try this again in the love department. It was a real time of having to recharge myself.

I mentioned you sounding confident with this record and “Dancing For Myself” is the epitome of that. Do you feel more free at this point in your life?

Yeah, I do. I feel like I've been able to break cycles in relationships and how I see myself. That song is about feeling liberated and realizing that you absolutely deserve better. You can do even better without that person or on your own. It's fine, I'd rather dance by myself than dance with a partner who just doesn't get or leads me in the wrong way. I want to lead my own dance!

The album is a fun listen. But I think there's also lessons to be taken away from it. Is there anything else you learned about yourself throughout the recording process?

Resilience for sure. I've always been very safe in certain ways. Some people would disagree with that. Because a lot of the records are very vulnerable, other than Sunday Love, which I felt like I let it all hang out. But sometimes, I protect people in my life when I talk about them or I've held things back over the years of what was really going on with me. With this record, even though it is fun, I'm letting a lot of things be exposed if you listen to the lyrics.

I'm sure that had to feel like a release. That's the beauty of music too. You may hold back a lot of things, but it’s kind of like writing in your diary and just letting it all go for the world to hear. That could be part of the healing process as well, both for the artist and listener.

100% I started when I was 16 or 17. Writing really saved me. I always wrote in my diary and stuff. But it goes to another level when you actually put a melody to it, and another level when you're performing it. Because you're connecting with people and you're almost yelling. Even though it's singing, you're channeling this person in you who needs to have some sort of relief.

I love that. You mentioned earlier that you have a lot of inspirations. But for this album, did you go to anyone in particular?

I was into a lot of ‘90s stuff. I love Veruca Salt and Bikini Kill. I also have always loved Courtney Love. But I also just went with flow. “I Can’t Love Him and Love You Too” is originally written on acoustic guitar. Sam and I were like, “This is a doo-wop song!” We didn't know how we were going to make this song fit on the album. It was written maybe an hour and a half of us just sitting there drinking wine in an Airbnb. I already get emotional about it because it's like damn, I don't know how we pulled this off. (laughs)

Photo by Mark Binks/Styling by Ashley Galang/Glam by Cayla Bliss/Hair by Angie Valente

I was reading an interview where you mentioned that you're a Pisces. I don't know how deep into astrology you are, but I thought this album was such a Pisces album. It's just so emotional. I mean, I love that you're embracing all the feels. (laughs)

I'm such a Pisces, it's so true. (laughs)

It's so funny because I'm a Virgo. We're notorious for holding back our emotions until we explode. But I think I love this album because it does channel that explosion.

I love that.

Of course, I have to mention the 20-year anniversary of your self-titled debut. Again, it’s this full circle moment? You really kicked down the doors for alt girls like myself. I know the label initially wanted you to be one way, but you rebelled and went down your own path. Looking back then, did you feel pressured to conform to a certain musical identity?

First off, that album saved my life. It got me out of a broken home, it gave me a voice finally, when I always felt like I was not heard or seen in my own community, in my own home. It gave me a chance to say what I was going through and to stand up for myself, which I felt like I wasn't ever able to do. So that's that part of it emotionally and spiritually. But I'm very proud of the album. I do have moments where I deep dive into it. It's so theatrical, which makes sense because I went to music theater and I'm a bit of a ham naturally. I was always very dramatic.

But it was a ride. It was a roller coaster. I realized it more now as an adult. When I first came out when I was a teenager, I was very protected by my team [who didn’t] expose me to the naysayers, the people who didn't understand why I looked the way I looked doing the music I was doing, which is unfortunate. My management, which I'm so fortunate to have had and I'm still with them, they believe in not only managing the artists, but managing the emotions and the heart of the artists. So they really protected that part of me. I needed that actually, because I was dealing with so many other things from turmoil at home and all these other things as a teenager and also just my life. I got to know more of it, as I got older, about what really was happening. I'm just thankful I was able to make the music that represented me and how I felt. I got to write as a young girl. I was able to even pick what instruments went where and how they sounded. I was very thankful I was given the opportunity to do that.

It's so beautiful how life works because you said that the album really saved your life. In retrospect, it saved a lot of our lives, too. I remember also growing up with Jamaican descent and in a suburban white town. My discovery of rock music was through middle school, watching Fuse and seeing Linkin Park and Good Charlotte and Avril Lavigne. But no one looked like me. When you came on the scene, I was like, “Oh my god there's another Black girl who loves rock as much as I do.” I felt seen because I knew that it was okay to love this kind of music. You probably didn't even know it at the time, but I think it's so great the way music is so relatable.

That means a lot to me, honestly, because I didn't have a lot of people to look up to. There's Janet Jackson. When she did “Black Cat”, that really affected me, I loved it. And there's Tina Turner, but I wasn't really exposed to her until I got older. But yeah, it's something I felt right about. From my leather jackets, or the way I wear my eyeliner or how I cut my hair, that's just always been my second skin. That's just what makes me feel comfortable, you know? And musically, that's what made me feel right.

Photo by Mark Binks/Styling by Ashley Galang/Glam by Cayla Bliss/Hair by Angie Valente

How are you going to be celebrating the 20th anniversary?

We’ve been talking about doing a little re-release and adding some songs that never actually made the album that were written around the same time. There's been a couple of things in the works that we've, we've wanted to create for that day. It's crazy. 20 years, let's go!

Let's do it! There's so many women artists who are really killing it right now with the same pop/rock fusion that you entered the game with.

Well, I'm really happy. I hate to say the word “back”, but it's being seen again. There was a moment, about five years ago, when it felt like, are there going to be songs with bridges anymore? Where’s the full chorus? We need something. After the pandemic, we really needed songs that were emotional, that we could yell and scream at the top of our lungs and just let it all hang out. So I'm very happy about that and the unapologetic energy of the genre.

I totally agree with you. Us women deserve to rage and wear our hearts on our sleeves. To have that be received well is so refreshing.

And not feel bad about it. When I was younger, you were afraid to even swear. You’d get in trouble, it's weird! I remember doing the MuchMusic Awards many many years ago. It was during the Sunday Love time because I remember my hair was really short. I was giving an award to an acquaintance of mine named Caleb Porter. I was like, “And the award goes to Kailyn fucking Porter!” I remember people were just talking about it the next day like I did this horrible thing. He won Canadian Idol and they were like, “How could you be so disrespectful?” First of all, I said it in celebration. And second, who the fuck cares? I can't swear. But all the guys at MuchMusic can come in diapers. But I was a female and I wasn't allowed to say fucking. It was crazy.

Now you can curse as much as you want!

I know! Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck.

Photography by: Photo by Mark Binks/Styling by Ashley Galang/Glam by Cayla Bliss/Hair by Angie Valente