Fousheé’s Shock Value
In the space of just a couple of years, musician Fousheé went from cutting her teeth in New York’s live performance scene to earning her first Grammy nomination in 2022. For the latest issue of WIP magazine, she discusses the allure of shock value, breaking into the next level of herself, and why she thinks she hasn’t made an album yet.
Words: Morna Fraser
Images: Alondra Buccio
A human-like figure sways against a black background, hair and skin imparting a bluish glow. It pauses, looks down and begins pulling a plasmic substance from its mouth. A saccharine voice singing over an X-Files synthline closes the video for “Supernova” on a sinister note: “Or you could be cyanide, but I’ll never leave.” In another video from singer-songwriter Brittany Fousheé (AKA Fousheé), a gun-toting couple robs a bank. Stuffing cash into soft-toy bags, they look lovingly at each other as Fousheé’s vocals waltz delicately over folk guitar plucks.
Her airy falsetto resonates during a performance of her song “i’m fine” which premiered this past February for NPR Music’s online video series Tiny Desk Concert. But there is a moment that catches you off-guard – Fousheé stares unblinkingly into the camera, expression unchanged, and unleashes a menacing metal scream. Afterwards, she smiles coyly.
Fousheé is an artist interested in extremes. Her latest full-length softCORE, released November 2022, is testament to this, its bold, punk-heavy songs exploring the tension between the ethereal and abrasive; vulnerability and provocation. Raised in New Jersey and now based in Los Angeles, with a period spent in New York in between, Fousheé was catapulted into the public eye in 2020, after a vocal she recorded for a royalty-free sample pack was used by Brooklyn rapper Sleepy Hallow. When his song “Deep End Freestyle” went viral on TikTok, Fousheé eventually took to the platform to reveal her identity as the person behind its hook. This post got over 6 million views and she was officially credited on the track. She signed a subsequent record deal with RCA and in 2021, released her project time machine, a debut made up of breezy folk, soul and alt-R&B cuts.
While both time machine and softCORE may seem like albums to some, Fousheé considers them as “projects,” an understandable choice, given the artist’s proclivity for experimentation, coupled with her lightning-fast rise to prominence. Her sophomore release, she tells me over our video call, “was a response to the ‘Deep End’ era. I felt angry, overwhelmed, lost and wanting to break into the next level of myself.” Fast forward to the beginning of 2023, and Fousheé has already wrapped up a world tour with Steve Lacy, as well as one of the US with James Blake, secured a Grammy nomination for co-writing Lacy’s song “Bad Habit”, and announced a slot at this year’s Coachella festival.
We speak two days after she attends the 65th Annual Grammy Awards, accompanied by her mother, sister and aunt. It’s a radiant LA morning and Fousheé is at home. Long platinum locks framing her face, she is calm and soft-spoken, concluding many of her reflections with a smile, her tooth gems catching the light. There’s still an air of mystery around certain aspects of Fousheé’s life – like her age for example – but she is perfectly comfortable speaking on the experiences that have shaped her creativity.
Perhaps this protection of her personal privacy, yet the candidness with which she discusses her artistic process, lends itself to the duality explored in Fousheé’s music, like a way of forging balance amidst viral fame and rapid industry recognition.
Where time machine showcased Fousheé’s dreamier side, softCORE gave her the freedom to rage. So what comes next? “softCORE made me think about legacy a lot, what I want that to be,” she says. “I want to make something you can always come back to and look at as the blueprint for who I am.”
Morna: How has it been processing everything that’s happened in the past year? And what’s keeping you grounded?
Fousheé: My family, my past experiences, and spirituality. My family are really excited about everything, so seeing them gives me a new sense of gratitude, because this feels a lot bigger than me. Lately I’ve been reading writers who talk about not getting too invested in earthly things, because we’re going to lose all these things anyway. Also, my experience from “Deep End,” how big of a moment that was and how quickly it passed, makes me appreciate everything that’s happening now. I’ll say I’ve processed things at maybe 50%, I’ll probably look back on this and think “Wow, that was crazy.”
M: I’m intrigued by how quickly cycles move within TikTok, and the impact this then has on musicians’ careers. Speaking from your own experiences, how do you think the platform can help or hinder an artist?
F: It can open doors that might not be possible to open without the power of such a large audience behind it. It pushes things into a faster gear, but it also creates a lot of pressure. Often with platforms like TikTok, you can become tied to them. I wouldn’t say I am – but if you’re called a TikTok artist, after a while you might feel the need to prove you aren’t just that. It literally feels like overnight fame. With my situation, even though I
was an artist for so long prior, that one post went viral and life quite literally changed. That’s a big adjustment.
M: You took your mom with you to the Grammys. I know she used to be a drummer in the reggae band PEP. What sort of influence has she had on you, both personally and musically?
F: My mom taught me bravery and strength. She was the only one from her household to come to the US from Jamaica and start a new life, so I learned how to hustle from her. It was hard finding a great job, immigrating here, but I watched her work her way up and into better neighborhoods. Our house didn’t have many instruments, but there was a stereo system and a mic, and she would always blast music whenever she wasn’t working. Music is a very central piece of a Jamaican household. I remember when I was really young, my mom would stop in the middle of a parking lot, open all the doors, blast music and make us dance. I started singing and writing when I was around five, when I’d throw little shows for my family. My mom taught me to harmonize really early, so I was always on key and on beat.
M: You grew up in New Jersey. What was that like?
F: We would move from apartment to apartment, not-so-great apartments, and crazy neighborhoods. I eventually ended up going to middle and high school in a better neighborhood. There… I didn’t love it. In poor neighborhoods, the communities have more fun and they’re more tight-knit. I missed that. Being away from everything, I felt very lonely. I didn’t feel like I fit in a lot, so I would spend a lot of time with friends from the neighborhood I moved out of, or just alone and writing. Daydreaming. It was imperative to my musical growth, but it wasn’t a very happy time for me.
M: This feeling of being an outsider, is it something you still carry with you today?
F: Yeah, maybe I’ve learned to write from a place of sadness, too. I do feel more empowered, though, by feeling like an outsider, because I’ve identified as that for so long. Maybe it’s why I make the music or fashion choices I do. I try to go against the grain. But I still think it’s important to have a community of unique artists and musicians around me, so I try to do that, too.
M: Have you found this community in LA?
F: I would say so, because there are more artists here doing it on a professional level. But I also used to live in New York, where it was more of a struggle community. We were hustling together. Most of my performance experience came from the live music scene in New York, so that was a very special time.
M: In a previous interview, you said you were an “introvert with extroverted aspirations.” Have you felt much push and pull between you, versus what the industry expects of you?
F: It’s interesting. Maybe the word is omnivert. At moments, I can feel more powerful than usual, but I’ve always had to figure out what to say. That’s my biggest thing, I can sing all day, but what do I say? I think it’s second nature for me to do what feels the most comfortable. Most times, I fall short of what people expect of me if I know there already is an expectation, so I’m trying to challenge that. Sometimes these things line up, and what I want for myself is what people might want from me, that’s when big moments are created. But I’m not scared of people, I think I live for moments of shock, especially in a live setting. With Steve Lacy on his tour, I’m performing some metal and rock songs before him, and our music is very different. So I thought about that question a lot, about what his fans might want to hear from me, but I saw it as a chance to win them over.
M: You can hear this fearlessness in softCORE, in your screams and the thrashing production. How do you feel now that it’s out?
F: Making it was a response to the “Deep End” era. I felt very angry, overwhelmed, lost and wanting to break into the next level of myself. I spent a month in New York, just writing everyday. It took a year to plan the release of softCORE and within that year, there were moments of regret. I even considered making a new project, but I just decided to put all that energy behind conceptualizing the new person I was becoming and what that would look like.Part of me is a rebel, part of me is a storyteller, and part of me is a scientist. The scientist part dabbles in all these different sounds, and likes to learn and discover. The storyteller wants to reflect our times and be a mouthpiece for the generation. The rebel in me, I can’t even measure that side. She does what she wants and pisses everyone off. I love her. I don’t think about genre when I make music, I just make what I feel. Out of all the music that I’ve put out, this got the most criticism, but the reward that I’ve seen from it has been greater. I do feel seen and heard.
M: Why did you record it in New York instead of LA?
F: New York brought out a certain side of me more, I would dress differently, feel differently there. I wanted to be around what made me feel comfortable expressing that. Many of my weird, alt friends lived there at the time, and we’d just run around the Lower East Side, SoHo, Chinatown, it was great.
M: Your writing style is very visual, and I noticed that alongside the punk elements in softCORE, there’s a lot of intergalactic, futuristic imagery.
F: I would say that was softCORE in its earlier stages. I was really inspired by Björk and the future, but that quickly became grunge. I started gravitating towards darker colors and sounds, but it’s in there, I just had to reimagine everything to fit together. When I write, I write with a visual in mind or from feeling. Most of this comes from my imagination. Being a kid who grew up without cable or video games, I had to paint these pictures in my mind. I look at them in the same way, visuals and lyrics.
M: After having been on the road for so long, how do you think it’s influenced your creative process?
F: It made me understand people more. I learned about emotion and what moves people, what the common threads are. No matter where you’re from, from Colorado to Paris, we’re all pretty similar. As I performed, my perception of my artistry changed. I started to perform differently and gain a new love for certain songs. I built more confidence and fell in love with the shock factor of performing them. There’s a release. That was why I made the music, to release these feelings and turn them into something, and I get to see the audience do the same. Steve [Lacy] also taught me how to relax more because I used to be too serious. Before I would be like, “No one move or talk,” and I would meditate. Now, we listen to metal, we mosh, and scream before every show. It helps a lot, just not taking myself too seriously.
M: What does future Fousheé sound like to you?
F: Just going back to my roots, always songwriting, more bare bones. Challenging myself to pick up more instruments and think about the things that I write down. I want to try to make something more pretty. I’ve been listening to a lot of Al Green lately. Timeless artists, like The Beatles, Kurt Cobain, Stevie Wonder, Tracy Chapman, Bob Marley, Lauryn Hill. softCORE made me think about legacy a lot, what I want that to be. Despite everything that I’ve made up to this date, I haven’t made an album yet. I want to make something you can always come back to and look at as the blueprint for who I am.
M: If you were to go back in time and see the person that you were five years ago, if you were able to speak to her, what advice would you give?
F: That's a hard and emotional question. I would definitely be very proud of myself. I’d tell her that all of your hard work will pay off, because I used to wonder about that a lot, “Am I ever going to make anything out of this?” I would advise her to know her worth, and embrace who she is physically and spiritually. I was always searching for what the right thing or image was.
Those things are right in front of you, you can just be exactly who you are.
Styling: Juliann McCandless
Make Up: David Josie
Hair: Alexander Armand
Gaffer: Jamie Amimoto
Photo Assistant: Raymond Monterrosa
Production Assistant: Jacob Almaraz
WIP magazine issue 08 is now available from Carhartt WIP stores and our online shop.