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Interviews

Interview: Featurette Talks “Dream Riot”, New Music Videos, and the Story Behind Their Underdog Anthem

By: Jessica Nakamoto –

Back with their sophomore album, Dream Riot (out now via all streaming platforms), Toronto electropop duo Featurette are ready to introduce their most hard-hitting and honest release to date.

Coming off impressive accolades such as COCA’s pick for Emerging Artist of the Year and recognition as a Top 10 Finalist for the Juno Masterclass following the release of their 2016 debut album, Crave, the young duo has done an impressive job building off their budding successes. And whether it be earning radio airplay across Canada, having their music incorporated in TV series such as Private Eyes and Degrassi, or touring alongside the likes of Alessia Cara, Scott Helman, and Walk Off The Earth, Featurette’s catchy dark-pop style has always been one to watch.

Now, focusing on themes ranging from the impact of material and social media obsession (Million Things) to standing up against climate change (White Rabbit), singer Lexie Jay and drummer Jon Fedorsen tackle heavy topics and return to the world catchy hooks and their signature atmospheric style. Yet, with music videos and avant garde characters based on Jay’s actual dreams, as well as an empowering underdog anthem inspired by the struggles of a close friend, the duo, as Jay explained, appear to have reached a new level of evolution that feels even more “grown up” than before. In other words, it’s only onward and upward from here on out.

So before you rock out to their latest record or catch Featurette at a show near you, check out our interview with Lexie and Jon as we chat about everything from music video design to the meaning behind the album title and more!

For Dream Riot, you teamed up with Ryan Worsley of Dear Rouge for mixing and co-wrote some tracks with Tyler Shaw. How did these collaborations come about?

Fedorsen: With Tyler, it’s an interesting story! We were dealing with a unique circumstance in that people we knew, were familiar with producer Alex Vujic, who goes by Pilzbury.

Jay: He actually ended up being a producer on multiple tracks on this list!

Fedorsen: We went in to write with him just outside of Toronto. Lexie and I had never written with anyone before, so we brought in a bunch of ideas to him.

Jay: Alex is kind of a pop guy, which was different for us. We’d been doing a lot more indie, alternative stuff. For example, what you can hear on Crave versus what you might have been hearing on “Million Things” and the other material we’ve teased on the new record. Alex was producing Tyler Shaw’s music at the time, and when he heard the sounds that we were trying to make, he said, “I know who we should bring in”, which was Tyler.

Fedorsen: We even wrote the lead track with him! In the room, there was Alex, Lexie, myself and Tyler. We also worked on another song that didn’t make it to the album, but it was fun! The process was casual and we got along really well. I think we benefited from having Tyler, especially since I don’t sing super well. Lexie does all the singing.

I’m limited with my ability to translate any lyrical or melodic ideas that I have. And then Tyler comes in and just starts wailing away. Wow! (laughs) He said, “you can do this or this!” It sounded great! I’m like, “that’s way better than what I was giving her!” It was so nice to have an extra perspective.

Jay: It’s great to have Tyler on one of the tracks in the album!

Fedorsen: Factor also played another big role. Right now, we’re working on a completion for them. They’ve asked us for all the materials, similar to what an old school release would need…album art, packaging information, bar codes. So, at the moment, there’s still a flood of things coming in that we need to complete!

Factor provided the grant for your first album Crave as well, correct?

Jay: Yeah, they’ve been amazing to us! When they gave Jon and I the grant for Crave, it proved they really believed in us and cared. That was the stamp of approval we needed to go forth in the world and make our loud sounds! (laughs)

When we came out with Crave, we thought, “ok, this is it!” The fact that the record was so well received was shocking to us, because it was the first thing that we did. We were just doing the band as a side project and neither of us thought “oh, this is what we’re going to do for a living”. And now, as we come out with our second album, I have my eyes set on exactly that! I want to make music full-time. I want to find a way into different facets of the industry to make this a possibility for us for the future.    

Fedorsen: We have a lot to say, and definitely want to thank Factor. It’s super nice to have them go to bat for you. We did four videos this year! We’d one hundred percent never be able to do that without them.

That sounds like great teamwork!

I had a chance to look through some of the videos and singles you’ve put out so far, and it’s nice to see more of your “Featurette Girl” character. I know Crave followed her relationship arc. Does Dream Riot also have a similar concept album or storytelling style?

Jay: Kind of! I was actually just talking with somebody about this the other day. It’s not fully composed in the same way as the first one. The relationship in Crave is truly from the top to the bottom and expresses all the ins and outs of how she was feeling during that relationship. Just to clarify, the “she” is very much me but also, I’m not entirely her! (laughs)

We’ve created this character, “Featurette Girl” as we call her. She’s sort of my alter-ego, so she can say things that I can’t say, or that I’m not extroverted enough to voice. She can do performances that totally take over the stage whereas normally, I’m a somewhat introverted person in real life. For example, I have a cat sitting in my lap right now, which is pretty much my natural habitat! (laughs)

So, in this album, I think she’s really found her footing. There are a couple songs on the album that deal with typical relationship issues, but in general, I think this one has an interesting, edgy, new perspective. A lot of the songs deal with being the underdog, mental health issues, or finding you from within yourself. She’s grown up a lot in this next album. It’s not so much one idea, but more her perspective on the world now that she’s going through more of a self-development as opposed to developing alongside someone else.

You’d mentioned the underdog theme. One song I really enjoyed was “You Do You”. In addition to some of the other dark-pop or moodier pieces you’re known for, the uplifting nature was a fun twist. I heard that the track was actually inspired by one of your fans, Sarah. How did that song come to be?

Jay: This is my number one favorite story on the record! (laughs) I couldn’t be more pleased with how this one turned out.

Fedorsen: It’s probably the most positive song we’ve ever written. There’s nothing dark, about the sound at all.

Jay: Do you remember “Hardest Game” on Crave?

Absolutely!

Jay: That song resonated quite well with our audience. “You Do You” is like that track, but even more grown up. Like Jon said, it might be the only song we’ve ever written that’s uniquely good and positive. I think that’s because it stems from such a dark place as far as the story goes.

Sarah, who I’m pretty close friends with at this point, and who gave me permission to speak about this – we send messages daily! – is a fan of the band. She’s in high school now and reached out because she was going through a lot of personal issues. It’s trouble that I’ve experienced quite intimately. And in high school, I know many different people have felt the same. Especially relating to bullying, anxiety, depression and all the difficulty that comes with the growing pains and finding your own footing in that very fragile time of your life. In thinking about these issues, it transports me back as vividly as though it was yesterday. We all deal with these things quite differently. For Sarah, her outlet is music. So, I wanted to really picture that in this song.

A lot of tracks take a minute to develop or come together from a base line or vibe that Jon and I have created. But this one just emerged from the heavens! (jokes) It fell out of the sky and hit me on the head like a ton of bricks! The full song, complete melody, and almost complete lyrics, all came in one fell swoop. I was literally sitting in a bath when this happened! I jumped out and nearly fell over in an attempt to get to my lyric book! (laughs) It was intense. I wrote it all down and called Jon. I pitched it to him and said, “this is the thing, this is what’s up!”

We worked on the song a little more and basically wrote the anthem for the underdog. It’s about finding yourself because you need to. Not because anyone told you to, not because you have to do so, but just because you want to become a better you.

That’s wonderful story! I love that you were able to form such a connection and friendship.

Jay: Yeah! Sarah deserves all the good things in the world. We’ve dedicated this one to her because we’re telling her story. And, although it is my and many of our stories as well, the way the song came to be, she was our muse!

In addition to “You Do You”, another track that really caught fans’ attention was “Million Things”. Lexie, I read that the images in the video were inspired by your dreams. As an artistic director and production designer of a lot of your music videos, how do you go about bringing what you see in your imagination to life?

Jay: I think a lot of it starts with a conversation with an awesome director! Ian Macmillan directed three of the four videos we’re putting out for this piece. I actually co-directed with him on “You Do You”, which was my first time. But, “Million Things” was his baby. Where usually he holds the camera, this time, he was solely directing. It was big growth for the both of us. We sat down together over a cauliflower head at Hello123…very delicious! (laughs) and we discussed options.

It always starts with what is possible. I’m sort of the person that will bring the next, next idea to the table. But can we afford this? We kind of work backwards from the biggest ideas to the realm of possibility. Honestly, for “Million Things”, because of the look we were going for, we didn’t really have to scale back too much, thank you Factor! (laughs) because we were able to do a lot with our own hands.

After sitting down with Ian, I took some of the ideas back to Jon and soundboarded off of him some of the things I wanted to create. I built everything you see in the video that’s not a physical piece of furniture!

Fedorsen: I can attest to this! (laughs) We were in the studio and Lexie says, “we have to go to Michaels”. So, we drive to Michaels and we buy hundreds of dollars worth of plastic flowers for masks. It was amazing. She’s wiring them up and during the shoot, the dancers can’t see anything!

Jay: Oh they could see Ian! (laughs)

Fedorsen: (jokes) They could barely see out of one eye!

Jay: (jokes) They could use their other senses! You don’t just need your eyes to see!

Fedorsen: (jokes) So she’s like yelling, “don’t ruin the masks, we have to return those!” (laughs) We went to Walmart and bought all these Easter bunnies. We went to fifty-five Walmarts in Toronto to buy these bloody teddy-bears!

Jay: And bunnies and giant oversized stuffed animals that we used in that second scene!

Fedorsen: Lexie always talks about her dreams a lot, so the title “Dream Riot” really works for this album.

Jay:  The “Riot” part seems obvious because it’s loud, in your face, out there, and unapologetic. But the dream aspect of it, not everything we do in these songs is just loud. It’s dreamy and is very surrealist at times. I think “Million Things” is a perfect example of that vision coming to life. Like giant cat people and strange avant garde bunny people in a room full of teddy bears! (laughs)

I think in dreams as well, a lot of people might realize that they don’t actually see faces. Or, if they do, they’re of people they already know or even of themselves. I think this is true…we can’t create new faces in our dreams. You can only draw from elements that you already have, which I think is really cool. And, for me, I just have faceless creatures. So, I wanted every video we put out to have an element of facelessness. Until, of course, “You Do You”, which features a million different faces of all our friends. It’s a somewhat different angle.

Fedorsen: If you see the video, there’s a couple of elements that reference all the videos that we’ve done for this project. The rabbit man shows up again and there’s a bunch of Easter eggs that you can check out! We wanted to keep consistent.

In “You Do You”, Lexie built all these clouds and put LED packs in them. It’s non-stop. We even had a geometric rabbit head from Etsy in “White Rabbit”. We’re always trying to keep costs down, but more importantly, keep the creativity in our own hands. That’s important.

From opera and jazz to your Paint Nite business, you both have very diverse music and artistic backgrounds. Do you think that this helps when it comes to experimenting with new sounds or thinking outside the box?

Jay: Totally! In the beginning, when Jon and I started writing together, we had a lot of similar ideas. That makes sense because we like the same style of music, which is in turn why we create the music that we do. We’d be discussing our thoughts and we’d get into these big, heated discussions, almost fights. It was all out war at some points! (laughs) Then, at the end of it, we’d realize, “wait, we’re literally talking about the same thing!” But our backgrounds in theory are very different, so it’s like coming from two different languages. We were arguing about the same exact problem and saying the same exact thing to each other, but we couldn’t understand each other’s musical languages.

So, over the years, we’ve come to develop our own language which is less derived in theory. Rather, it’s words like “sparkly”, “that squiggly part”, or I’ll ask Jon about the “swirly sound”! (laughs)

Fedorsen: And I’ll say to her, “yeah, I know exactly what you mean!”

Jay: We have our own way of speaking now which is very useful. I think most bands probably come up with that. I think it’s so funny that our diverse backgrounds led us to such extreme conflict in the beginning, even though we were trying to deal with the same issue.

To that same point, Jon’s jazz background means that we’re not always doing four-on-the-floor. We have a lot of different capabilities as far as making weird polyrhythmic beats. We don’t have to be so straight and narrow. We can really think outside the box!

Fedorsen: I agree. I don’t think we’re necessarily bound by a genre, if that makes sense, even though we’re in the electronic pop area. That’s sort of the best way of describing us, but we don’t have to follow rules in the same way, because we have the freedom of being a duo. Each song can be its own sonic space. That’s something which lends itself well to this project. It’s not like we have to have a guitar player or we have to make sure there’s a guitar part in every song. If we don’t want it, we don’t have to have it. I don’t think a lot of my jazz background necessarily comes into the pop music harmonically, but I think it helps me creativity. I can ask, “Do I really need to have a sound that’s traditional? Can we make something new which serves that purpose?”

Jay: The opera stuff sometimes comes in, though less from a theory standpoint. For example, we use whistle tones as a layer of the vocal harmonies in the background. If you had isolated vocal feeds from our tracks, you’d think, “whoa, there’s a lot going on there!” (laughs)

I was listening to some of the tracks you’ve released and songs like “White Rabbit” seem to really stand out. They’ve got that classic Featurette sound, but they’re also pushing things in a new direction! 

Fedorsen: Exactly! I think “White Rabbit” is one of my favorite tracks because of where we started with it versus where we ended up. We definitely have to give credit to our third silent partner, Marc Koecher, who’s a friend of mine from high school. He and Josh Sadlier-Brown worked on our first album. Josh just moved to Sacramento and wasn’t as available for this project so Marc came over and we gave him a bunch of stuff. He said, “I have an idea for this song” and came back with a version that sort of turned into what you hear now. He took our work, chopped it up, and it sounds amazing! It’s such a great percussive, interesting, off-kilter song. I definitely have to give him a big shout out for that.

Jay: Totally!

We’ve seen rabbits appear a couple of times across your music videos. Is there a thematic link or special meaning behind that particular animal?

Fedorsen: Yes! It goes back to our first album. We were going to do a white rabbit for Crave.

Jay: I actually still have the album art for it! Originally, Crave had a rabbit in it and was titled “Smoke & Mirrors”. But then, the week before it released, Imagine Dragons released their record with the same title! We were like “uhhh, I think we’re going to be casting a little shadow here” (laughs) So, we renamed it and redid all the artwork. That was actually pretty cool, but extremely stressful. However, in this case, the white rabbit in the song is referencing Alice in Wonderland’s rabbit. “We’re late, we’re late, for a very important date!”

“White Rabbit” is very much about climate change and the impact we’re all having on the planet by not paying enough attention to it. When you hear the lyrics and verses, they’re all images of nature and power, referencing how humanity thinks that they’re above it. It’s framed in a very confrontational way. When it says “even the trees don’t want you, even the wind doesn’t pick you up”, it’s talking about everyone.

One could mistake it for a relationship issue or something like that, which is kind of the guise we wanted. It’s very hard to write songs about the planet and be like, (sings) “nobody’s listening, why does no one care?” We wanted to try and make it a little more interesting and captivating than that. Apparently, it works because the video’s gotten a ton of attention, and I love that!

We set it in this post-apocalyptic world and had a white rabbit there like a looming, very scary and spooky figure reminding us that we’re running out of time. We’re late basically.

Fedorsen: We are.

Jay: That’s where that song comes from.

Speaking of animals, Lexie I head you’re a cat lover! Do you think Babes the cat will ever make an appearance in one of your songs or music videos?

Jay: She’s a very geriatric, twenty-year-old, tiny little Babes at this point. We were going to put her in “You Do You”, but I think it would have been too self-indulgent to do it. I have regrets about not bringing her in that day, but at the same time, I think it would have been far too stressful on her. Right before we called you, we thought this might be the last interview the three of us ever do together. She’s right here with us, in my lap, purring. This is her feature!

Oh my goodness! All my love to Babes!

Fedorsen/Jay: She’s the best!

Fedorsen: In fact, there’s a couple of notes that Babes played on the album! When I’m playing, she likes to jump up on the keyboard and on this one, she put her paws down on the arpeggiator and on the correct notes! Usually, she just slams all the keys down. But this one, we kept it in there.

Jay: She’s in the album. Credit for Babes! (laughs)

I love that!

You’re playing Wintersong Music Festival in Canada on January 18th, the day after the album is released. Is there a special song you’re especially excited to perform live or for fans to hear for the first time?

Jay: We are playing an hour-long set, which we haven’t done for a while! We usually play forty-five-minute sets max. When you’re in an opening or headlining position, an hour’s usually unheard of. We’re stoked to be playing for that long. We intend to do throwbacks and throwforwards, if you will! (laughs) We’re going to be playing at least half of the new album as well as older songs such as “Sticks and Stones”, which we’re literally digging up from the grave at this point!

Fedorsen: We haven’t played that one in such a long time. It’s a great track!

Jay: I feel like at that show, there’s going to be a lot of rock populists in Stouffville. That track gets a little bit metal at the end. So, I have this awesome vocal pedal and I’m going to rock out those delays really hard! Manual delay on top of it to create some awesome feedback loops. I cannot wait! I’m so excited!

Our giant LED “F” will be making an appearance that day as well, so it’ll be our third band member on the stage! (laughs) We’ve got a light show all done up and ready to go. It’s basically going to be the entire Featurette catalogue, sampling from every part of our vibe to date.

How fun! (laughs) OG fans will be really happy. 

Jay: We actually have some requests from OG fans who are coming to that particular festival for tracks that we’ve never even put out! (laughs) They’re songs that we used to play in our set at the beginning of Featurette!

Fedorsen: Like the track, “Worth It”.

Jay: Yeah! We’re playing “Worth It”, which doesn’t even technically exist as part of the Featurette catalogue. But our live fans happen to know that one and made a request. We’re doing it all!

Looking further down the line, are there any other goals or projects already in the works for 2020 that you can talk about?

Jay: For most bands at our level, it’s very hard to know what the future will hold as you can only do so much planning. At the end of the day, you rely on the industry to tell you what’s going to go through. Even for things like a release show. It’s not like a venue comes to you and says, “hey do you want to do a show this day?” You’ve kind of got to go around, solicit, and find the proper line-up. It’s very home grown.

But you can definitely expect a release show from us for sure! You can also expect me to pull some dreams out of the hat to make it extra special! (laughs) I think when people see the video for “You Do You”, they can get an idea of what the set might look like.

I’ve got some plans, but none of it is quite concrete enough to say yet. But my goal for this year would be for us to play outside of Canada again.

Fedorsen: Yes!

Jay: I think we’re ready to dip our toes into international waters! (laughs)

(jokes) Southern California says hello!

Fedorsen: Yes! (laughs) We’re excited to put the album out, see what the response is, and find out what doors can open for us.

Jay: Awesome tools like Spotify let us see where people are listening. So, if a country is saying, “come here”, maybe we just will!

Fedorsen: We’re also working on other songs because we don’t want to have a delay. We’re actually going to Vancouver in February to do some other stuff, but right now, we’re going to focus on the album for probably the next six months to a year. We might throw in a couple extra songs here or there!

Jay: We’re raring to go!

To wrap things up, I have a couple of fun, fill-in-the-blank questions. Would you like to give it a go?

Jay: Yes! Hit us with it!

If I could collaborate with anyone past or present, I would pick…

Jay: My answer’s always Phantogram because I’m always so inspired by them. I just worked out to the entire album Three last night! They’re total idols of ours. They have a similar format and she’s such a powerhouse! What about you Jon?

Fedorsen: Yup, that’s the one! Phantogram’s great.

On my days off, I love to…

Jay: I’d love to know what those are because we don’t really have them! (laughs) Our business has required our attention twenty-four-seven and we haven’t had a day off in the last seven years! If and when though, my answer would involve cats!

Fedorsen: (jokes) We do not do the relaxing thing very well!

Jay: My cottage in the Muskoka area during summer has to be my favorite vacation spot though, because even though we take our work with us wherever we go, I can do it from the dock. And if it gets too hot, I can take five minutes and jump in the river! Can’t really type in water. Forced vacation! (laughs)

One thing I’m obsessed with right now is…

Fedorsen: Oh, I’ve got one! For Christmas, I got a propane power outdoor pizza oven that goes to a thousand degrees. It makes Naples style pizza and I’m obsessed with it! I think I’ve eaten pizza eleven times in thirteen days. It’s amazing! (laughs)

Jay: That’s eighty-four percent of the time for him! (laughs) Jon eats pizza all the time!

For me, I’d have to say plants. In addition to being a crazy cat lady, I’d like to give a shout out to all the crazy plant ladies out there! It’s been very, very, dark and cold up here and I’ve been obsessed with keeping my babies alive! I have a room with tropical plants all around me with probably over one-hundred plants in it! The addiction is very serious! (laughs)

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