Fefe Dobson Biography
While writing and recording the songs composing her new album, Sunday Love, Fefe Dobson learned the hard way how to make a great album: keep getting your heart broken. The destructive power of love and love lost and the diary entries they spawned are at the core of the Canadian firecracker’s second disc, and it’s what enables her to skirt the mythic sophomore jinx with ease.
On the heels of the success of her 2003 self-titled debut—which spawned the massive MTV/TRL smash “Take Me Away,” and even landed her a “Got Milk?” ad (but more on that later)—Dobson returns with an album on which she offers both apologies and the middle finger to former lovers in songs like “This Is My Life” and “Scar.”
The album’s 14 tracks proudly bear the influence of ‘80s pop and ‘90s punch. Some of the biggest hitmakers from both decades either co-wrote, produced or served as enormous inspirations for the disc. While ex-Veruca Salt hottie Nina Gordon adds backing vocals, the songs themselves were co-authored by the likes of Billy Steinberg (“Like a Virgin,” “Eternal Flame”), Matthew Wilder (“Break My Stride,” producer of No Doubt’s Tragic Kingdom) and ex-Marilyn Manson guitarist John5. She also collaborated with Rancid’s Tim Armstrong, Cyndi Lauper and Joan Jett early on in the songwriting process.
As a result, Sunday Love finds the 20-year-old Dobson—who wrote and recorded her celebrated 2003 debut between the ages of 15 and 16—coming into her own as a singer and writer. While Sunday Love is most definitely her “Love Kills” album, Dobson says it’s just as much about her musical growth. And no one was as key to that growth as Wilder, who co-produced and co-authored four songs: “Scar,” “Be Strong,” “Man Meets Boy,” and “If I Was a Guy.”
“I fell in and out of love so many times making this record, and he was always there when it happened,” Dobson says. “I went through a really bad breakup with my boyfriend and no matter what happened, I had a session with Matthew the next day. So it was good that way, because right after I had a breakup or right after I was really emotional, I would be able to put it into music. Matthew and I would just sit there and talk about life, and he helped me through things, and then we’d just write songs, like two songs a day. I had my diary, and I was like, ‘Do you want to hear things from my diary?’ and he was like ‘Okay,’ and I started reading him poetry.”
If Wilder was her therapist, then John5 was “like my inner anger. He helped me get my inner anger out. And Billy was like my inner sap.”
But the writing process wasn’t all tears and tissues. “Yeah, Yeah, Yeah” is a light, thrashin’ pop track, while “Miss Vicious” is a study of stalkers and their prey. “As a Blonde” laughs out loud at our culture’s fascination with blondes, be they pop stars or not. “Man Meets Boy,” meanwhile, examines child abuse.
Musically, Dobson was looking to inject a bit of the teeth-kicking bombast from some of favorite ‘90s albums: “I really wanted to go for that old school, like, riot girrrl thing. I wanted there to be some like ‘80s synth stuff, but I wanted that almost grunge-y feeling, but more than that. I love Hole’s Celebrity Skin record because it was a mix of Courtney Love’s grunge with that sparkly, more produced vibe, and I love the ballads, and that’s kind of what I wanted to go for.”
Helping out in that pursuit was Courtney Love herself: “I had this really great moment where she invited me over to her rehearsal space, and she was like, ‘Fefe, what we need is women to stand up and not take any fucking shit,’ and at first I was like, ‘Okayyy,’ but then I was listening to her, and I was like, ‘Hell yeah, I should celebrate that I have tits and that guys bow down to us because we’re powerful.’ I really took that and ran with it.” And during the recording of the album, Fefe’s musical influences were never too far away. Dobson pinned pictures of Nancy Spungen and Sid Vicious inside the vocal booth.
Growing up in Ontario, Canada, Dobson started playing piano when she was 13, falling in love with albums by everyone from Nirvana and the Red Hot Chili Peppers to Cyndi Lauper and Silverchair.
Aching to leave behind her suburban town, just a couple of years later she found her way out through songwriting collaborations with local producers and songwriters Jay Levine and James Bryan McCollum, with whom she penned her celebrated self-titled disc. Released in 2003, Fefe Dobson was as melodic as it was crunchy, and was driven by Dobson’s ragged-edge, screw-you attitude, which was embraced by critics, fans and even the people behind the milk moustache advertisements, who made Fefe one of their most recent poster girls. The album debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s Heatseekers chart and the video for “Take Me Away” was the most requested clip on the TRL countdown in 2003, and also scored “buzzworthy” status from the network.
Her debut found Dobson—the product of a bi-racial couple (her father was black, her mom white)—rising from the ashes of a painful childhood that found her coping with having an absentee father and a single mom.
“I was 16 when I made the first record, now I’m 20,” she says. “I went through a lot when I was 16, but I’ve gone through even more now being 20. My voice has changed. I feel like I’ve gone through puberty. I see the world in a totally different light and I want to express that. Sunday Love is just about chillin’ and relaxing and enjoying every possible aspect of this career and my life now.”