Foxes’ album, The Kick, sounds bigger than the walls it was written inside. The UK artist (real name: Louisa Rose Allen) spent the pandemic in her apartment, much like the rest of the world, but used that period of introspection to fantasize about scenarios she missed. Hungry for animalistic nights out and crowded dance floors, Foxes turned those dreams into songs, all of which became a full-length LP rooted in escapism and her deep desire for freedom.
While the sonics are bombastic and loaded with gloss-pop glitter, Foxes’ lyrics reveal heavier themes of heartbreak — a melancholic dichotomy that’s as emotional and cathartic as our collective return to shared spaces earlier this year. An album for post-pandemic euphoria, The Kick is heart-racing from start to finish, between the soaring “Sky Love” and relentless “Sister Ray.” Only with “Body Suit” does Foxes give you a brief moment to catch your breath.
Below, PAPER dives deep into The Kick with Foxes and reflects on her massive 2012 breakout, “Clarity,” with Zedd.
A lot of the music coming out right now is a melancholy response to the past two years of our lives, but I love how The Kick sounds like a euphoric, positive release.
It completely is. I was pacing my house in the pandemic, running up and down the stairs — literally losing my mind. It was my way of trying to be free and creating these light sounds. There was a lot of kitchen dancing on my own, imagining being able to go out again and let go. I felt pretty trapped, like everyone.
The album sounds like the best night of your life that’s made up entirely in your mind — a fantasy. Was that intentional or did it come along naturally?
A lot was from memories of nights out that I was craving and missing. But because we were all in our houses, I wrote in real isolation and on my own, and it's the first record I've done that with. I usually had other people in the room in a studio, whereas this time I was making these scenarios. I was writing a record for the end of the pandemic, so I was like, “How far can we push it? What would I wanna hear when I am back out and dancing again in clubs?"
It's interesting you wrote alone because the final result feels massive and produced. Every song is a climax and its own high. At what point did you take your songwriting and turn it into something bigger?
A lot of it started quite stripped back. I was writing from dark places. In the lyrics you can't really hear it, but a lot of them are not super happy. They're about the breakup I was going through, anxiety, feeling alone. Also, I was giving myself a hard time in the pandemic cause I was just sitting with my own mind. I was writing as I usually write and then I was like, "This is super depressing, let's make this really euphoric and danceable." A lot of people were getting super down, and I wanted to have both the shadow and the light. I wanted it to be a message of hope in the end and total freedom. When I had the material there, I was like, "How can I twist this and create something for people to dance in their sadness?”
Those are always the best songs.
You can't see the light unless you've been in the darkness. I write from that place: I like to start dark, but end up in a place of hope.
The Kick really does have a heart. They’re dance songs, but emotional. Was there one in particular that set the tone for everything?
“Sister Ray” was the first song I wrote for the album. I was quite against working on Zoom or working with myself. The label was like, "It's up to you, you don't need to write a record. You can do it after this is all over,” but I had this incredible need to create. I felt almost a bit animalistic in my own house, I wanted to get out and create adventure. “Sister Ray” started it all off for me. I got up in the middle of the night, and I had insomnia and couldn't sleep. The chorus just started first, and then I had the whole chorus and I was like, "Okay, this is a song.” I watched a Velvet Underground documentary the night before. Do you know about their “Sister Ray” track? It's basically about a really insane night out that Lou Reed writes about, but it's pushing it to the extreme. I didn't want mine to be that intense, but if I had a minute of that night out, that was the kind of night I was wanting. I think you can feel in the song, I'm like, “Get me out!"
"Taking everything away and not having anything was quite challenging, but it allowed me to build from the ground up."
There are very few projects like this, where it’s non-stop sweating and power-pop from start to finish. Where does that come from?
I love a lot of ’80s music, Janet Jackson and Whitney Houston.
You were once part of the major label machine, but recently left. How did that impact The Kick?
I left Sony in 2018. I had been with them for eight years. I was writing the music I wanted to write and it was good in a lot of ways, but I felt a lot of pressure. There's a different pressure when you're with a major, you get compared a lot. It's quite mad in that game. I decided to leave, but it was just like jumping off the building and hoping there was a safety net. It really allowed me to step back and get back to my own lane cause I felt for so long that I started to get merged in a lane in which I didn't feel comfortable. I actually felt quite uncomfortable. I went back to the start, writing in my bedroom again. Taking everything away and not having anything was quite challenging, but it allowed me to build from the ground up.
Within that kind of support structure comes things that are harmful, but you're forced to sit with yourself and be like, "Who am I? What do I like? Why did I start doing this?"
I think anybody that goes with a major when they are really young, they have a plan for you. There was a lot of that, and I felt like I had fallen into it and I remember feeling like I was in a washing machine for years. I needed to get out of it, and realign myself and get back to the core of it. It was great, I got to actually do some research and find out who I wanted to work with. When I was leaving Sony, I was like, "This is like a game and I am not the best person to play the game." But I set my terms and that was fine. Then I met the label I'm with now, which is an independent label. I just feel at home.
Especially in dance-pop, there are so many examples of amazing artists who sign to a major label, then leave and release their best work to date independently. Why?
As an artist, you are meant to be let loose and kinda wild. If pressure is applied, you are not doing your best work. I got sick of being told I didn't have enough radio-worthy music. I really tried writing a pop song, but it never really came. You can't just try to write a pop song. Great pop music is a bit weird, it's not really a formula. You take off the chains of someone telling you what to do and then you probably end up doing something that is actually real and authentic, and then it connects because people know when something is really coming from you, rather than a man in a suit that doesn't really know much about me. It's freedom. When you're free to do what you want, that's when you create your best work.
During your four-year break, what sort of things did you do completely unrelated to music that helped you arrive at The Kick?
There was a lot going on. I was actually writing through that time. I went on some quite mad trippy journeys. I went to Nicaragua and did some writing in a jungle. I was wasted the whole time. I don't know if that was good, but it felt good because I was running free and living. The way I see it, I especially need things to write about. It's like having an emotional car crash. That's the best way to write because you've got the best material, which is sad but I did go to a stage of creating drama, and then I was like, "What am I doing?" It's like being in a tornado and then you've got material. I had a lot of different experiences, especially connecting and getting back down to earth. I saw my family again, I got a dog, I got a house.
In order to be creative, you have to have a place to fall back on, like a bit of a grounding.
But I think being in different spaces was really good. I actually hate writing in a sterile studio. Things like going to the jungle and being in a hut and looking at monkeys was very nice. Definitely, for me, you need to have shit going on around you.
Did you write anything in the jungle that made it onto this album? ?
Not this album, but I did an EP that came out just before the pandemic. There were a couple of songs that made it: “Friends in the Corner” was from that. That was written in the jungle. I was so drunk. The Kick was genuinely written in my house, so it's from a very strange time in that sense.
Is there a song on The Kick that you feel is the most intense, emotional car crash, as you described?
“Forgive Yourself” is quite up there. I was at that point in the pandemic where I was going a lot in my own head and giving myself a hard time. A lot of people had to sit with themselves. A lot of things I hadn't realized about myself I was slowly processing. “Forgive Yourself” is this little prayer to myself. If you can forgive other people for things, stop giving yourself a hard time. That was a bit of an emotional car crash, I was talking to myself. They're all sort of little diaries that I was writing on my own, so it is strange to have them out there now.
"They're all sort of little diaries that I was writing on my own, so it is strange to have them out there now."
I'm impressed by your ability to take painful experiences and create something that sounds so bright like on The Kick.
I kept reminding myself, "If these sound sad, people are just gonna cry." I want to come from a place of vulnerability and sadness, but try to create some hope and get to a place of euphoria. I guess we all went through a different journey with ourselves during the pandemic. I felt very lonely. A lot of it does feel very exposing in terms of what I'm saying, but I definitely wanted it to have a layer of happiness.
How did you decide that its title, The Kick, encompasses this entire album?
It sounds a bit cheesy, but I had the feeling of having a kick inside. I really wanted to kick down the barrier I created around myself in the past or anything that stopped me from living my life to the fullest. There was this internal feeling of kicking it all down and coming out the other side a happier, freer person. I saw this layer that I've been building up through the years and I wanted to literally kick it down. The album art is me literally in boxes. In my head there were these little emotional houses, and I was trying to compartmentalize them all and kick myself out of all these rules I had built up. That was the right way to describe the album.
After all these years, what is your relationship to “Clarity”? It’s so rare for music to become ubiquitous in the way that song did, it’s massive.
It's always gonna be a really strange one for me. “Clarity” is its own complete entity. It didn't feel real when it was happening and it still doesn't feel real. I think I had two of my tracks out. I had no idea of what I was gonna do. I had never shot a music video before I shot the “Clarity” music video. I was a baby, but I had a real emotional connection to that song and I know I was naturally meant to sing it. When I look back I have two feelings about it because part of me is so grateful for what it did and the platform that it gave me, but then I also can see that it may have put me in a box in terms of, "she is the EDM girl.” After was very difficult for me to build my own lane, my own reputation and come out of that and have my own record without having people being like, "Hang on a minute, it's not EDM?" I have a love and hate relationship with it, I have to be honest. I'm so glad for it, but I know that it was harder for me to be my own artist.
That was a moment in music when a lot of female vocalists were hopping on EDM songs and not getting recognized for it. The credit fell onto the DJ or the producer, instead.
I loved the acoustic “Clarity,” that version has always had my heart. If you take away the EDM, it's kind of an emotional, beautiful, sad song. The best dance songs have that emotional underlying feeling and that song stripped back is how everyone loves singing it. It was quite a mad time, wasn't it? Madder for me because it was the first time people knew of me and then I was sort of like, “EDM is not what I’m really about.”
Have you had any amazing, memorable nights out since you're finally out of your kitchen?
Not as crazy as I would have liked, but just being with my friends and going out. The nightlife is going back to what it used to be and it's great. Everyone is connecting again and dancing. I love nightlife culture. I've had my fair share of dancing on bars tops.
Stream The Kick by Foxes, below.
Photo courtesy of Foxes