For her second Island Def Jam album, the aptly named Joy, the young, 24-year-old industry veteran Felicia "Fefe" Dobson is finally embracing her roots, with a no-holds-barred collection of full-throttle rock & roll that spotlights her skills as a singer, songwriter and performer.
From the cheeky, nursery rhyme playground anthem and first single, "I Want You," the tribal percussion of "Can't Breathe," produced by rock legend Bob Ezrin (KISS, Pink Floyd's The Wall, Lou Reed), and the sassy retort of "You Bitch," produced by Howard Benson (All-American Rejects, My Chemical Romance, Daughtry, Hawthorne Heights, Gavin DeGraw, Papa Roach), to the dance-floor thump of the tongue-in-chic "Paranoia" and the arena, flick-your-Bic torch song, "In Your Touch," Fefe has finally found the sweet spot in her mix of rock and club beats.
"I grew up with Michael and Janet Jackson, but my older sister was listening to Guns N' Roses and Nirvana, so I was right in the middle of it," says Dobson, a native of Scarborough, Ontario, a suburb of Toronto, where she was brought up by a single mom, a mix of native Canadian and English, with a Jamaican father she just recently reconnected with. "I like that combination, especially when I heard Janet's `Black Cat,' with its rock guitar riff. That's what this album reflects. I tried to isolate myself from the radio and TV while I was making it. I listened to a lot of old records, like Stevie Nicks, the Doors and Led Zeppelin, real dramatic, emotional music."
Joy reflects that passion, both musical and personal, with Fefe's sensuality oozing out of songs like the speeded-up punk of "Watch Me Move" ("I'm a firecracker/Better tell your mother... W-w-w-w-watch me move"), the Pretenders-like ballad "Shame" and the pure ecstasy of the title track ("I got joy in the bedroom/When it's just you and I/I got joy when you satisfy me").
Dobson bust onto the music scene as a precocious 18-year-old, releasing her debut album in 2003, which spawned four singles, including "Bye Bye Boyfriend," "Take Me Away," "Everything" and "Don't Go (Girls and Boys)." She appeared as Tina Turner in the NBC series, American Dreams, opened for Justin Timberlake's European tour, and was featured in a Tommy Hilfiger commercial that included "Don't Go (Girls and Boys)." The album also earned her two Juno Award nominations for Pop Album of the Year and New Artist of the Year.
By 2006, Dobson returned to the studio to work on her never-released album, Sunday Love, which featured collaborations with such artists as Billy Steinberg, Matthew Wilder, Cyndi Lauper, Courtney Love, Joan Jett, Nina Gordon and Rancid's Tim Armstrong. In the interim, several of her songs were covered, including "Start All Over," a song which was recorded for Sunday Love, but never made the album, by Miley Cyrus, "Don't Let It Go to Your Head," the first single, by American Idol winner Jordin Sparks, and "As a Blonde," which was covered by Selena Gomez.
Four years later, Fefe is back, with an album that is a clear indication that she will be doing things her way, or not at all.
"I had to go and find myself musically," she says about the break between releases, crediting manager Chris Smith's confidence in her ability for the breakthrough. "I needed time to do that. Luckily, I was allowed to do it on my own, without any interference. Otherwise, I would never have been able to make this album."
Working with producers David Lichens, Jon Levine, Howard Benson and Bob Ezrin on Joy, Dobson lives up to the portraits of her heroes she first hung during the recording of her first album--Kurt Cobain, Judy Garland, Coldplay, the Vines and Jeff Buckley. She co-wrote most of the songs on the album, usually composing on guitar, her choice of instrument.
"I play the few chords that I know," she says. "I try to write melodies off the same chords. `Joy' is written with about three chords, and an extra one in the bridge."
Songs like "I Want You," which has been heard in the TV series The Vampire Diaries, as well as in promos for the film Whip It and The Sims 3: World Adventures computer game, come straight from experience.
"I'm a sucker for love," admits Fefe. "When I was in junior high, I would carry around this huge volume of Shakespeare. I just like the romantic vibe. I write about it because I fall in and out of love quite a bit. I was always pulling on my mother's heartstrings to get more love."
"Shame" is a torch song underlined with jungle rhythms that is a confessional in which she does the breaking up. "When I went to demo the song, I had to go see an ex-boyfriend," says Fefe. "I felt I betrayed him, so I wanted to clear the air. I could not sing it until I did. This reflects that relationship. As humans, we're not perfect. We sometimes hurt people and break hearts, but it's OK to apologize."
In "Can't Breathe" and "Watch Me Move," Fefe is confident in showing off her raw sexuality.
"I am woman, hear me roar," she laughs. "Aren't we all animals at the end of the day? I like to show that side of me, but in a respectful way. I'm just expressing myself. It's all about feeling good and confident about yourself, and not letting anyone else tell you what you can or can't do."
At her young age, Fefe Dobson is more than ready to tackle expectations for her upcoming release.
"People expect you to bring it by the third album," she says. "But I'm not letting the pressure get to me because that's when the fun disappears. I want to laugh and enjoy myself because, at the end of the day, I didn't do this just to do it but because I love to perform and make music. At the end of the day, I want to be rocking like Tina Turner when I'm her age."
With Joy, Fefe Dobson is on her way to achieving that goal.
"I don't regret a thing," she says. "I keep moving forward and not looking back. I couldn't ask for anything better. I'm a girl from suburban Canada who never thought I'd be able to do what I've accomplished. And I'm not done yet."
In fact, Fefe Dobson is just getting started.