Jumping Into a New Era of Featurette
Interview by Meg Clemmensen
Graphic by Emily Lantzy
A Featurette is typically known as a short film, but to me, it’s a Toronto-based electro-pop band, currently making their comeback better-than-ever after a year of writing and recording. I’ve known of the group since 2017 and we hosted our first interview together inside the lobby of a sushi shop in downtown St. Catharines, ON. But Featurette isn’t the same band as they were back then, and I spoke with the two-piece group consisting of Lexie Jay and Jon Fedorsen for 45 minutes on the phone to discuss these changes and everything they have planned to ensure they never go a year without new music again. We went over pretty much everything there was to discuss, including how their 2017 tour with Scott Helman changed their life, the way that Imagine Dragons stole their album title, and how to build and continue a concept storyline around an entire record. Hailing with their newest singles “Million Things” and “Don’t Know Me Without You,” you can expect their second album in January 2020, complete with lots of other surprises along the way.
It’s been a couple years since the last time we did an interview! What’s changed for you since then?
Lexie Jay: We missed you! We’ve been super good! We’ve got so much on the go right now that it’s actually pretty crazy. I’m so excited for this new video [for “Don’t Know Me Without You”]. It looks unbelievable. “Million Things” was a total mood, but this is even more of a step up, which I didn’t know was possible. Our director is killing it!
When is the video coming out?
LJ: Like... super soon. Two weeks maybe? It depends on their release plan for it, so it’ll be done tomorrow. Jon is shooting one final thing today and then it’ll be done! Then they take it and run with it!
You’ve definitely come a long way since 2017!
LJ: Since 2017... we’ve developed so much since then! We were just talking to our manager about how we were wanting to talk to different press people about what we have been doing in that time, because people were like, “Where’d Featurette go? They went super dark!” At the same time, we have written a full album, made two music videos, and I’ve already started working on an EP to follow up with that album! So we just went into hyper-writing mode, basically.
So you were mostly just in the studio and writing for your full break?
LJ: Yeah! We were working on ourselves. The cycle was a bit longer than it should’ve been. We played until the end of 2017 and started at the top of 2019, so really it was just a year of writing, which I don’t think is unnatural for any given band, but we were a young enough act at that point that it felt long. I think that other bands might come out with singles as the first thing that they do, but to come out with an album was the first thing we ever did, which was sort of ballsy, I guess! We only know that now because we thought that was the only way, but we recognize now that it’s definitely not the only way to do things. You come out with your first work and then you’re like, “Now what? Now I’ve gotta make new work!” Versus if you’d gone into it with a huge team and a pre-planned thing and you’re not some little indie project that we are, you might have a game plan for that where it’s like, “Ok, well the album is coming out now, but we’ve actually already written the next 4-5 songs so that we can start releasing things again.” That would’ve been a better plan.
Jon Fedorsen: But I think it’s better in that we didn’t have the pressure to quickly follow up on music that may not have been as good or ready.
LJ: Yeah, like we took our time making it ‘us.’ I think when you hear the album, you’ll be like, “Oh, that’s where they went for that year!” It sounds like we fucking worked our tails off for a year!
For sure, and it’s always best not to feel pressured with that type of thing!
LJ: Of course, you’ve gotta be creative! Yes, there’s a business side to it, absolutely! 100%. But taking that pressure off the art and compartmentalizing things is so important to the product.
Now that you’re back into the swing of things, when can we expect the album?
LJ: I think we’ve set a date! It’ll be the top of the year in January 2020.
Oh cool, that’s so soon! You’re also doing the tour at the end of this year, so will there be more out by then? You also talked about doing some shows in the new year, so will those be in support of the album as a whole?
LJ: I think the plan right now is that we did the May 31 release of “Million Things” with the video on the same day, which was huge for us saying “We’re back, kids!” Now we’re going for more staggered releases, so we did our September 6 release of “Don’t Know Me Without You” and we’re gonna follow that with the music video imminently, like any day now. Then we’re gonna do our tour, which is just a little 401 [Southern Ontario/Quebec] tour, just to get back into the swing of things. We’re gonna land with our hometown show on the 18th of October, opening for Courage My Love. After that, probably top of November or somewhere in there, we’re gonna think about releasing another single before the album comes out in January. So it’s gonna be like single, single, single, with at least two videos, and then the album at the top of next year. Once the album is out, we don’t usually do feature tracks and stuff like that thereafter, so I guess our plan after that is that we’ve already been writing more, so we’re gonna try and finalize that work and we’re thinking about a really cool release for that. It’s not ever gonna be a full year again, or I'll die!
Out of the two album singles that you’ve released so far, one of them is obviously quite upbeat and radio-oriented, whereas “Don’t Know Me Without You” was a much deeper cut from the album. Why did you choose to release two that contrast each other so much as the first singles?
LJ: We wanted to show the breadth of the album. I think a good way for a band to come back on the scene is to choose a relatable, poppier song — if you listen to the lyrics [to “Million Things”], it’s still hella Featurette. It’s really dark, super lonely... it’s the Featurette wrapped in sugar-coated visuals of that thing. Which sure, albeit very dark and creepy as well, but it depends how you take them. Some people were like, “Oh my god, it’s so beautiful in that mansion,” and other people were like, “This is what nightmares are made of.” And I love that! I love that we can play both angles and that’s what our band is about: we want to make it polarizing for people and provocative, but not in a mainstream-provocative type of way. So for “Don’t Know Me Without You,” we chose the exact opposite track to be like “Okay, this is the album. This is where we’re going with it.” You know? Here’s the highest of the highs and the lowest of the lows. There’s impact in both of them; they both live in the same world and I’m gonna prove when we release the album how they both work on the same piece of work. Not every track we write is a “Give A Little.” For every “Give A Little,” there’s a “Hardest Game.” Those tracks are so different too, and I think they’re really great tracks to show the breath of that patchwork, Crave. If we had done it differently for Crave... for example, “Sticks and Stones” and “Beg.” Those tracks are dark! Now we’ve gone slightly more pop format in that everything is super earwormy; it’s not as art for art’s sake anymore. It’s more like we’re trying to hone our craft and really find our sound. I still think “Don’t Know Me Without You” is very on-brand for us. But it’s not pop, and we don’t ever want it to be radio pop, because that’s not what we’re going for! It’s a track for our fanbase, for our listeners to be like, “This is something extra.”
JF: It’s more of a personal track. Also the chorus is awesome!
LJ: The chorus is frickin awesome! So much fun. The next one will tie them both in. The next one will be somewhere in the middle, like a little hint to show what the album is going to be.
That’s so cool! These two also kind of reminded me of back when you released “Bang” and “Upside Down” as a pair of singles in 2017. Those were also a duo that were polar opposites of each other. Was this parallel intended?
LJ: Totally! I never even thought of that, but like... yes. “Bang” and “Upside Down” were like stepping stones from Crave to what we’re working on now. Both of those songs, I would argue are a lot darker than “Million Things,” and this album is not nearly as dark as the depths of some of our darker stuff. We’ve got a lot of happier stuff in it or nostalgic stuff that kind of brings you back to a place where you’re like “I can do it,” even if it’s wrapped up in a dark wrapper. We’re like a dark cherry Warhead. That’s what we are.
Hey, that works! How many tracks are on the album, if you know off the top of your head?
JF: There’s nine!
LJ: I thought there were twelve! Should we know? Absolutely. Did we complete this a long time ago? Yes we did.
JF: Nine tracks so far. I think it’ll probably stay as the nine we’ve got. I don’t foresee us putting anything else in there.
As we were mentioning before about the severe contrast between the singles, you’re not really defined by one specific genre and are able to blend into a lot of different sounds to create something really distinct and unique to Featurette. Where exactly do you pull all of your influences from and how do you create what you’ve created?
JF: Originally, the idea of Featurette was “girl with a drum machine.” Girl in a bedroom, she’s written some pop tunes, and she’s on her computer making beats. Now, of course, we’ve gotten a little out-of-hand in terms of the sound-design.
LJ: Very gloomy and involved, not basic at all haha!
JF: Because it’s just two of us, we’re not really limited by having a traditional band setup. I don’t have to have my guitar player playing a song. I don’t have to have my bass player playing.
LJ: I don’t even have to sound the same on every track because I have a vocal box that allows me to change everything like a guitar.
JF: Yeah! So I think we’re really influenced by electronic music, but we’re not an electronic band in that we write pop songs. So imagine if you put a pop song in you and just a regular folk song on a guitar and then just got rid of the guitar, and key influenced by-
LJ: Whatever sound we pull into it at the time. Yeah, so Jon and I spend a lot of time creating and developing those sounds, and then we take them to our producer and develop them even further than that. So often we’ll be sitting in the studio and there’s days where you come up with nothing, which is where that year came from, and then there’s days where it’s like, “Hold on, I have an idea,” and Jon literally runs away to his computer, and half an hour later he’ll be like, “What about this?” Then I’m like, “Wait, what if you added that?” Then Babes [my cat] comes in and steps on the keyboard and plays a riff, and we’re like, “Holy shit, this is happening!” Honestly, that’s often the way our songwriting develops, and I said this in a bunch of interviews about this album — I’m not the girl in the bleachers like Taylor Swift. I can’t sit and write a song about a guy who wronged me, love and heartbreak, finding love, or whatever it is because I’m not in that place. That’s not what we do; we don’t write love songs, oftentimes. And if we do, they’re really broken versions of love songs, because I think that’s a really under-represented part of the love song! There’s so many of us who have been through really messed up relationships, whether it’s romantic or interpersonal of any kind, and we don’t talk about them because they’re not the really pretty, Instagram-filter version of ourselves. Like “Million Things” is a fantastic example of that! And even “Don’t Know Me Without You,” that was originally written for Featurette girl and her character as one of her love experiences, and it’s pulled from Jon’s real experiences, my real experiences, the world around us, and people we’ve talked to... but it’s not a unique thing that happened to me at one time, because that’s not what this is. It’s a Featurette! It’s like a mini movie, a mini experience every time you hear one of our songs, so what we turned it into in the music video is instead of it being a love song, it’s “I don’t know me without the darker parts of myself.” The “you” is the devil on your shoulder and the conflict with the angel and it pulling you to the dark side where you find yourself not always fending it off. We do often sit in a place where we think about things that aren’t as pretty and Instagrammable.
JF: In terms of the sound, I think we try hard to make sounds that are a little different than what you’ve heard before. Like if I find a synth that we hear in the chorus of an EDM song, what can we do with it?
LJ: Yeah, how do we take The Chainsmokers and fuck it up and make it our own?
JF: How do you take the polish and the brightness off and make it something else —
LJ: What if this flume noise was analog? These kinds of questions. How can we invent something new, because we’re creators!
So you also tend to tell a story with your songs, like Crave definitely seemed to have a solid concept and storyline behind it. Will this album be a continuation or another concept of sorts?
LJ: Kind of! Not through-composed like Crave — the first song was very much the beginning of her relationship and then it went to a very dark place, and then the last song was her reckoning with all of this and coming to realize who she really is as a person. So that’s where we left her, that was “Procession.” The music video for that is super different than “Broken,” even though they were shot in the same studio on the same day because we were showing different sides of the same character, right? We left her in this place where she’s come into her own to find herself, and I think in a lot of those songs, she was really relying on the narrative of focusing on the other person and how they’re affecting her on the inside, and now she’s fucking confident, let me tell you, because I’m also her! We’ve come a long way, she and I! She’s sort of seeing it from the other side now; she’s like, “There was this time when I wanted you to call me, but now I couldn’t give a shit.” There’s a lot of that on this record, and there’s a lot of introspective, focusing on yourself, you do you sort of tracks — one of the tracks is called “You Do You,” and it’s about being on your own and finding you for you. Honestly, it’s not even about guys at all at this point! It’s her, on her journey and where she’s arrived and all that. It’s really empowering!
It is! It’s really interesting how the whole album and concept ties together like that.
LJ: Yeah, until you asked that, I was running through the tracks in my head and I’m like, “Yes, that’s exactly what’s going on actually!” But it’s neat because you’re right, it came out in that last journey, and I think the music we make is a product of us. We were in a place where we were vulnerable and trying to find ourselves before, so that’s the kind of music we made, and now we feel like we’ve found our stride. It’s like, “Hey, where’d you guys go? You were gone for a year,” and we’re like, “We were building a magic machine that we hope to take over the world with!” Be it a small itty-bitty band from Toronto, or if we actually get to do a nationwide tour or an international tour... wherever it takes us, we know who we are now. We found our sound and we’re ready to share it with whoever’s willing to listen.
Yeah, cause the two new singles are definitely about a sort of relationship, but they seem a lot stronger in a sense than Crave, as it seems like it’s a lot more confident.
LJ: It’s a lot stronger. Seeing it from having your own validation of your perspective and not having it always be so reliant on the other person — that’s exactly why we made that music video that way for “Don’t Know Me Without You.” The one part of that song that I couldn’t get behind was that it’s so dependent on the other person, but the music isn’t that way at all, right? It’s super punchy and aggressive. When you see the music video, you’ll see what I mean!
Sounds good! Now, you are doing your first tour in a long time soon, and that’s coming up quick-
JF: Thanks for reminding us haha!
What are you planning for it? Anything special or different than past shows?
LJ: I think touring is a hard category. We’re trying to hone-in on the stuff that’s here right now, where we know people want to see us play.
JF: With that tour coming up, what’s going to be exciting for us is to get back in a room with another great band from Toronto [For Esmé] that we actually looked up to when we started our band, and we’re playing venues that are gonna be sweaty and intense and danceable. It’s just gonna be really high in energy, and we’ve actually gotten rid of all of our slow tunes in our set.
LJ: We’re doing a dance-yourself-clean tour this time around, and then when we land home again, For Esmé isn’t on the show in Toronto, but it’s a Courage My Love show at the Rec Room, which will be huge! That’s a great room! It’s like a “Hey, we back” tour!
JF: The music is harder to pull off live...
LJ: We have challenged ourselves in the way of the set though. It’s less about the rooms we’re playing and more about “Wait til you see what I’ve done!”
And then you’ve got that other surprise show coming up in Toronto on October 11. Is there anything you can say about that?
LJ: I can talk a little bit about it! I can’t tell you who or where, I’ll tell you closer to, but basically, we collabed with a well-ish known Toronto band and we’re gonna do a cameo where I go onstage and sing that song with them so we can get it out there! Just gonna pop my head into an already bangin’ show, take some pictures, and then hit the road!
Yeah, and as you said about touring, opening spots like that help a lot! I feel like the Scott Helman tour was definitely wild for you because people like myself and some of your other most loyal fans all found you through that tour!
LJ: Oh my god, that tour was so important for us! If we got to do more things like that, I think we’d be in a really different place as a band. That being said, maybe our music wouldn’t have changed positively in the way it did. This is a thing I have about life — I feel like everybody has these, like, 100 points, and you can stack them in any given category, but you can’t have them all. Like, you only have 100 points to drop in, so you can stack two categories up, but you can’t have all five. So it’s like, do you want to be really even across the board, would you want to excel in one area? In this case with this band, we didn’t necessarily get to choose that for ourselves, but where we’ve landed... if this music isn’t the thing that’s selling you, I don’t know what is. We needed the time to find ourselves and I’m really proud of it! Before it was like “Hey, we just made this thing, I’m fresh out of school and I don’t know how to sing a straight tone!” I like some of the songs and I’m jazzed about the fact that we’re doing this project, but I didn’t feel like I found my voice yet. I’m really singing on this album, like it’s really good! I can’t wait to share it.
Before we finish talking about shows, since it has been a while since you’ve been on tour, what do you miss the most about playing?
LJ: The response that you get in the room. The other month, we played a show at Adelaide Hall and we played some of our new songs off the album and there was this one song called “White Rabbit,” which is one of my favorite tracks. It’s also arguably a deep album track because it’s super moody, it is out there! It’s super bangin’. I think the most different track on the record. We played that song and the chorus dropped and people lost their fucking minds. I’ve never had a response like that since the first time we played “Interrogation.” That doesn’t even exist for us as a song yet, it’s just something that we do live that we’re working to develop on that aforementioned follow-up EP that’s something I’m gonna get to later. I just had one of those “Oh my god” moments when we did that. That’s what I miss.
Hold on, you mentioned this song title was “White Rabbit.” Were white rabbits not a symbol in the “Million Things” music video?
LJ: They were!
JF: You’re good!
LJ: You’re so good at this game! It’s all connected, of course! That’s really funny, I had no idea. Maybe I’m, like, subliminally influencing my own art direction. That’s the thing about “Million Things,” I built those flower heads and created the cat and the imagery and put it on the people and I’m super duper proud of it.
JF: Plus the daisies!
LJ: Exactly! All that stuff was my vision that I created with our director. Ian [our director] really brought it to life. Actually, one of the first things we did in Smoke & Mirrors, there was a white rabbit involved in that too. Do you remember that Jon?
JF: Right, right
LJ: Ahh, it’s all coming together! Oh yeah, so Crave was supposed to be called Smoke & Mirrors...
JF: But some other band...
LJ: Yeah, Imagine Dragons or some baby band we’ve never heard of! (just kidding, they are massive)
JF: Yeah, I’m sure they’ll pan out one day, but they announced that their album was gonna be called Smoke & Mirrors.
LJ: This was like four days before we released and we had to change everything! We had to change the titling, the imagery, we had to do a new photoshoot! It was hell on earth! It was so stressful. Ultimately, it worked out, but there was a whole white rabbit motif for our original work, so there you go. I guess I’m gonna have to make a video for that now! Oh no. I don’t have any money! We’re gonna have to start a Kickstarter just from this interview! “White Rabbit” funding, we wanna see this come to life!
That’s so funny. And this is what I get for being a Taylor Swift fan. She puts so many Easter eggs in everything that I’m just trained to overanalyze and pick out these things now.
LJ: Yeah, we’ve got Jon Easter eggs in ours now! All our videos are like, “Did you spot Jon?” That’s our theme now. Everybody’s in a mask, and also “did you spot Jon.” That’s my thing going forward haha!
So Crave was the first real body of work that you put out, and it got you your first radioplay and everything. What milestone goals have you set for this new album or that EP that’s coming later?
LJ: I just wanna write music that’s real for us. I just wanna put out work that we’re proud of and not put pressure on it to be like, “I’m gonna hit 5 million streams!” Realistically, if that doesn’t happen, what do you do with yourself? I think we’ve already put out videos that have done so much better than what we’ve done before because people are looking for what we’re doing now. “Million Things” is doing well on the streaming side of things and is still playing on the radio, so I think that in some ways, we’ve already got the momentum going that we wanted to make it feel like this was worth it. To know that there’s fans out there is already enough for us. The fact that there’s a fan like Heather (@navigatetherisk) who cared enough about the cat head [from “Million Things”] to make it its own Instagram account? Like, I don’t care if anyone ever follows that! But the fact that it exists means that somebody cared about my art, and there’s always that goal. I think now, it’s less about numbers and stats and more about connecting with people. I wanna meet the people that I met at that Scott Helman tour that were like “Hey, you’re a real band! You’re really special!” I don’t know, maybe every act that’s ever opened for Scott has the same reception, but I felt something really real on that tour. That Montreal show we played with Scott the day before my birthday? That show changed my life. I was like, “I get it now. There’s a next level here, there’s another feeling that I’ve unlocked that I need to access again.” So my goal from now on will be getting back to that place and finding the show where I can be like, “I won tonight.”
And things go really naturally, right? Like as you keep releasing things, they’ll get hyped up more, and more people will start listening.
LJ: That’s the hope! Maybe with more interviews with you, that’ll be the case!
Don’t worry, I’ll keep hyping it! I wanna circle back to that EP you were talking about — since the album is coming January, will the EP be closer to the end of the year?
LJ: Maybe! This is just something I’m cooking up. I don’t have rigid plans for this yet; I think working on this album was such a big thing that it’s like I’ve just given birth and I’m not ready to do it again yet haha. I just never ever again want to have a lag like we did! I just want there to be excitement all the time! I’ve already written those songs, it’s just more about getting them produced in an exciting way. I’ll get them to you when they’re ready!
And you definitely want to give the album a full life cycle before releasing anything new!
LJ: Exactly! So my goal is to have all that done by the fall and then maybe start to release a teaser at that time. And all the while, be working on the next album! It’s not worth us waiting. Fans look at art like “Oh my god, that came overnight.” But it takes 10 years to build something overnight! So for all the intimate fans who we have here who have followed us every step of the way, for them it’s like, “Oh my gosh, this has been in the works! I’ve been here for the journey!” Those are gonna be the really special people that are gonna be the key drivers in our success in getting other people excited about it. The Meg's, and the Heather’s, and the Sarah’s (@sarah._.evangelista)!
So the last question I did write down, since you obviously do a lot of Southern-Ontario tours and Toronto gigs opening for other bands, what does being a Canadian musician mean to you? The industry here is definitely very unique in that we’ve got a lot of really different artists. How does all of that play a role in your artistic process and how you market yourself?
JF: In our experience, at least from my point of view, we’ve got an industry that’s small, and that’s actually a good thing. A lot of people consider it a detriment when you compare it to the States or Europe, but the Canadian music scene is very open-minded. I think a lot of people are listening to different genres and willing to have bands like us go open for bands like Scott. There’s acceptance, like we celebrate the diversity of different genres in a way that I don’t think happens in a lot of places.
LJ: It’s really cool because somebody huge in music here, like Ryan Guldemond from Mother Mother, we went to Vancouver and we wrote with him the other day because we’re in Canada and you can push it like that. In the States, a random chick from New York gets to go write with Billie Eilish? Probably not. It’s a much bigger pool and you’ve gotta get through all the red tape. Like, we’re friends with Dear Rouge now, just because of life happenstance! Is it because we’re this massive band and there’s that level of proficiency? No, not at all! Real people are in a small enough music community that reaching them isn’t unattainable.
JF: The misconception might be that bands don’t talk to each other, like “I don’t wanna give away my secrets!” That doesn’t happen here; we don’t guard our hobby. I think there’s a lot more common ground. People see each other as musicians or people more than they’re celebrities. I’m sure there’s some exceptions — like Carly Rae Jepsen, she’s huge and we’ve never bumped into her like that.
LJ: I don’t know, we’re buddies with RALPH and she’s opening for Carly, so you never know! Degrees of separation right? Also, people wanna hang out with us because our music is so bizarre that they’re like, “This is not a threat to me!” I just show them pictures of my cat and then we’re instant friends. That’s how I handle most business dealings in life. It’s going really well for me so far (lol). But seriously... it’s a small little pond, and I don’t think anybody’s ideas are too big or too small, and people are really open-minded to that.
There’s a lot of really unique talent here, and I feel like everybody just supports everybody.
JF: Yeah, totally!
LJ: That’s so true. Also, Scott’s music is super different than ours, but we toured with Scott, so how does that even make sense? Only in Canada! Would that happen in the States? Absolutely not! Did we connect with the same fans? Hell yeah we did! I like that question, that was a thought-provoking interview!
From a more confident standpoint than ever before, Featurette are ready to release their new album and start taking over the world with it. Expect the release in January 2020, and don’t lose focus because there’ll be new tours, music videos, and so much more to look forward to. Connect with the band on social media @FeaturetteMusic. Follow them on Spotify here and let them know that you want them in your city during this album cycle!