INTERVIEW: Chloe Foy

You may have heard us talking about Chloe Foy over here at Picky Bastards. If you are yet to hear her, then you’re in for a treat – and if you have heard we’re sure you’re already a fan. Either way, you’ll want to spend some time with this lovely little interview to learn a little bit more about her music, her songwriting, and how she’s been finding her way through the fog of 2020. Picky Bastards editor Fran Slater is the man with the questions. Enjoy:

So I think you know this, Chloe, but the last gig I was at before lockdown was your show at The King’s Arms in Salford. I wanted to start by asking you a bit about that night, if that’s okay.

It was a fantastic gig, but I know that as an audience member, with things coming to light about a possible lockdown coming in soon, it was definitely playing on my mind. I just wondered what it was like for you as a performer that night? Did it feel like a normal gig and were you able to enjoy it?

I mean, I was quite worried by that point and I had got to the point where I was trying to negotiate greeting people without touching them. And this was kind of a hometown show – Manchester is my Northern hometown and Bristol is my Southern one – so a lot of my friends were there and I know you’re expected to embrace everyone, so I was trying to go for the elbow bump as much as possible.

So it did feel weird. But I think it’s human nature to not really expect the worst until it’s happened. And because our government wasn’t doing anything as seriously as others I suppose you are kind of lulled in to a false sense of security. I didn’t think it was all okay, but I think the gravity of the moment only became apparent after – when we realised it was probably the last gig we were going to do for a long time.

But in the moment of the actual gig I was just thinking of enjoying it. I think I had thought that it could possibly be the last gig for a while so I decided to just enjoy it rather than get nervous.

I think I had also asked myself if it was okay to go ahead with it – if it was responsible of me. But I think because it was a small room it felt okay. It ended up being a very loving and intimate atmosphere.

And I know since then you’ve been doing a few livestreams, which I have seen a couple of. I just wondered if you could tell me a bit about how it’s felt to live without the touring and how livestreams have felt in comparison?

Totally weird. I really struggled to begin with. Maybe it’s just my character, but  I saw other people’s reaction online – there was a lot of activity and jumping into action – and I just didn’t feel in a place to do that. Maybe I didn’t feel the need for that because I had just done a tour, but it took me a long time to buck up the courage to do a little Instagram Live. And it just is strange.

I think one of my favourite things about being a musician is definitely the live side of things – it’s become my favourite thing, as opposed to getting in the studio. We’d finished a tour of the UK, Europe, and US at the end of 2019 and meeting all those people, sharing all that joy of music, was just second to none in terms of experiences.

But I think there are some good things in terms of streaming. You can reach people in America from your bedroom and that’s kind of beautiful, but that lack of human interaction and not being able to stare people in the face and speak to them afterwards…

I’m trying to look for the right word here – I think it just feels a bit more stunted. And by that I mean, you’re trying to interact by looking at their comments and you’re trying to play at the same time. I think you’re just not so much in the moment and you’re at the mercy of technology. You’re more distracted.

I think there’s more scope for mistakes too, although that may just be personal. Some people are really good at it. But I think I do struggle to be in the moment and the more that I’m in the moment the more the performance comes to life and the better I am as a performer. When you’re performing to a screen I feel it takes more effort to elevate yourself.

Okay – I’m only going to ask one more directly about lockdown, I promise. But I just wondered if everything that has happened in 2020 has affected your plans in terms of music? Did it change much for you?

That’s a good question. In fact, for me, this was always going to be a period of transition and change. There wasn’t going to be a lot going on.

There were going to be some pretty good gigs, though – I had a really good slot on the Glastonbury acoustic stage on the Sunday and I was going to be playing a festival called BlueBalls in Switzerland for the first time. Live work was beginning to come in in a better way than it had done before; especially in terms of festivals.

But release wise, I didn’t have much planned. I was going through a transition with my team members, too. So really it has given me a bit more time to do this but it has made the whole process of looking forward and planning a bit more uncertain. That’s quite hard. It makes it hard to know where we’re going to be at with a big release we’ve got planned at some point.

Well while we’re talking about releases and live shows, we should probably touch upon Live From Abbey House – the Live EP you just released. Can you tell a bit about that?

Well I think, sadly, it does relate to lockdown in a way. There were plans for the next release to be a bigger record but being where I’m at I wanted to do a lot of gigging around that and build up an audience to get myself to the position where I felt like it was time to release that into the world.

So this then felt like a time to try other things.

This EP came off the back of doing a livestream at The Abbey House in Marmsbury, which is near where I’m staying at the moment, and it was just a really lovely case of getting friends together who all had various skills but didn’t have much to do because of the pandemic. So a friend who’s a musician who normally plays in the pit in musical theatre in London, he’s also a really good sound engineer. So he came and did the sound. And then some friends who are videographers. And then a friend who lent us the space.

So it was a case of a little community coming together and actually creating a really professional piece of work, because they’re all very skilled at what they do. So that was how the livestream happened – and then, as we’d put so much into it, we just decided to put a few of the songs out as an EP.

Well it was a lovely livestream and I’ve been really enjoying the EP – I particularly love the way you slowed down ‘Oh, You Are Not Well.’ But part of your answer there made me want to skip ahead to a question I had written down for later if that’s okay.

You mentioned wanting to build an audience and get yourself known – so I was just wondering how you would describe your music to some of our readers who might not have heard you yet?

Wow – tough question. Well my music is changing, I think. Over time. But it sits somewhere in the folkier, Americana end of the spectrum. Well – someone once described it as ‘Cinematic Folk’. So I suppose it’s cinematic folk, edging towards Americana, but with some darker vibes on the newer things.

I like the term Cinematic Folk – I haven’t heard that before

Yeah, it’s hard with folk I think. I know of real folkies – proper folk musicians – and I’m not one of them, so my cop out is often ‘I’m a singer-songwriter’ – but that doesn’t really help people to understand what I do.

Yeah. I feel like to people who aren’t really into folk music, or don’t know the breadth of folk music, it can be easy to see anyone who sits with an acoustic guitar as a folk musician, so a lot of time I say I’m into folk music. And I do like going to see very folky stuff live, but I probably don’t sit and listen to very folky stuff at home. But I listen to folk music such as the music you make – but it’s sometimes hard to explain that to people. So it must be really hard when someone like me asks you to describe your music in that way…

Well yeah. But I would just say that they’re heartfelt songs, tales of love and loss and life, and told with a folky-Americana vibe.

Lovely. I think that sums it up very well. So I was hoping we could maybe talk a bit about your songwriting process. To me it feels like you’re pretty prolific, there’s a lot of singles out there, and you can see a change throughout. So could you just tell me a little bit about how you put a song together?

Well I think I’m fairly basic in a lot of ways, in my approach.

I’m very aware that a lot of people right now are using Logic software straight away but I very much just write with a guitar. Or a piano with some of my recent work. I think that is because I value songs that will still sound good with just me and the guitar. So for me it’s important that they’re born there. And then they may have certain arrangements put to them that make them sound somewhat different, but at least I can still then go back and play them on the guitar.

So yeah, I think I’m quite simple in my approach. Even in arrangement I would say that you don’t want to do too much. Someone once described my approach like a very simply cooked roast chicken with just a little bit of lemon and some herbs – and that’s all you need to make the best of it.

And I’m not as prolific as you might think. I think I struggle in terms of being a perfectionist.

That’s interesting, as it seems like you put out quite a lot of material. So are you not writing loads of songs, but putting out most of what you do write?

Yeah, I think so. That’s probably it. I guess maybe I write a lot but I don’t complete a lot. I think maybe if it’s not speaking to me straight away then I throw it, which is maybe not the best approach and I should be more disciplined with my approach to songwriting. And I think you can learn that. And I know people who make themselves sit down every day and do it whereas I was guilty, until recently, of waiting for it to come.

But my approach tends to be that I’ll just be playing guitar and trying out new things – new tunings, that kind of thing – and then be singing a melody over the top. And then it tends to be that the lyrics will then just flow and I’ll realise I’ve been feeling something that I didn’t even know and that will bring it to the surface.

I have written just lyrics in the past, but then I struggle to fit a melody to them afterwards. So I prefer it the other way around. So there are several things in my notebook that are not songs yet and are more like poems, but maybe I should revisit that.

I’m just sitting here and totally sympathising with that. I write fiction and if I write something and it doesn’t feel right in the first ten minutes then I drop it and there are so many documents on my computer like that. If it doesn’t feel right straight away it is hard to stick to it sometimes…

Yeah. I think I’ve learnt that perseverance is important in some cases but my best songs tend to be the ones that just come. They seem to be the ones that are most liked and have the lyrics I feel most strongly about.

And I was interested in your choice of songs for the Live EP actually, as they are all ones that have been around for a while. Were they songs that you got that feeling from when you were writing them? And why did you choose them for the EP?

It was kind of practical reasons in some ways. There were new songs on the livestream that I didn’t want to be out in the world in that form yet.

But I chose ‘Asylum’ because it seems to be very well liked – it’s done really well on Spotify for example. And I like it because I think it feels so relevant still. It was written about finding peace in this crazy world we live in. A lot of my songs touch upon struggles with mental health – whether that’s my own or other people’s – so the lyrics still speak to me on that one. And I really like the arrangement of that one on the EP, with the violin.

And again, I really love to play ‘Oh, You Are Not Well’. That kind of refrain after the chorus is something that I really love to sing. And ‘Flaws’ has been around for maybe three years now, but I always come back to it. ‘Flaws’ and ‘Asylum’ are a good sandwich because they start with this violin drone, and I love that drone going on underneath while there is a kind of clash and resolve in the vocals. So they’re songs that have kind of stood the test of time for those reasons, I think.

Okay great – so we’ve touched on  this a little bit, but I wondered if you could tell me a little bit about your influences and inspirations. I’m going to mention someone who you might be fed up of being compared to – I imagine it happens a lot – but is Laura Marling an influence? And is there anyone else you’d like to mention?

Well I’d be lying if I said she wasn’t an influence. I think her approach to songwriting and guitar playing and guitar tuning was very freeing to learn about as a younger player who wasn’t necessarily the greatest player in the world.

It was great to learn that you could play beautiful sounds in open D, for example. Learning bits like that from her songs was very freeing. And she is just brilliant and her latest album is amazing. So I could never hope to be her, but I definitely take influence from her. But then in terms of arrangements I think I am probably less pared back than her.

And then in recent years Jesca Hoop has been an influence in a lot of ways. Her approach to songwriting and stagecraft – I have been very lucky to witness that when supporting her on tour and working with her – and I’ve learnt a lot from that. She has become a massive influence.

In terms of other artists, I grew up listening to very obvious ones like Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, and Neil Young who my parents would listen to. And I think I danced around the living room to Revolver by The Beatles. I don’t know if it’s very danceable but you know ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ – you could definitely dance to that as a kid.

So that kind of songcraft was always just there. In the car, at home – really classic songcraft. But then a lot of these artists also made me very aware of experimenting early on. So yeah, those kinds of influences I think.

Great, thank you. Interestingly that ties into a lot of conversations we’ve been having at Picky Bastards this year. You’ve just mentioned a lot of old classics and we’ve talked about how some of us, during lockdown and all that has happened this year, have needed to go back to music that is familiar to us and kind of comforting, whereas others of us have been desperate to listen to new music all the time. What about you? What has soundtracked your 2020?

Well I think the main album has been one from 2019 that I came to a little bit late. It’s an album called Who Are You Now by an artist called Madison Cunningham. She’s quite a young artist who I think is from Los Angeles and she’s an amazing guitarist and her songs are just incredible. She’s very classic. You’d think she could have come straight out of the seventies or something.

I just keep coming back to that and I’ve listened to it so many times. Beautiful stuff.

And I think my favourite album of the year is probably the Laura Marling, although I did really like the BC Camplight album too. That was really good but I think I’d go for Song For Our Daughter as my favourite from 2020.

So we’ve talked a bit about your influences there, and some of the music you’ve been enjoying. I know you have a Covers EP coming on December 11th. Are you happy to tell us anything about what will be on there yet?

Yeah, sure. Well again, this was another lockdown project. I was lucky to receive some of the emergency funding for artists and with that I could finally embrace technology and set up my own little home studio.

So yeah, me and Harry – who is also a musician but happens to be my boyfriend – have kind of just been working on this covers project. And covering things that you might not expect me to cover…

Yeah – I agree. I know when you told me you were doing a Covers EP I wasn’t expecting the kind of songs that were on there. I assumed it would largely be folk songs, so to see the likes of The Cure and Nick Cave was a great surprise…

Oh, good.

I think I felt like I could have just covered songs that I knew inside out and loved, and obviously I do love the songs that I’ve done, but I wanted to try and take a few songs and almost make them my own. I think with the folkier songs I know I would have found it hard not to just do a replica.

And I suppose people might not know that side to me; that I do like those kinds of artists and songs. And then I covered a song from Annie at the end of the EP, which was kind of just a joke. It’s a bit of a weird one really…

Well it’s definitely a surprise when that pops up – and it’s a surprising EP. But I think it also shows a different side to you and to cover songs like ‘Push the Sky Away’ actually feels like quite a brave move…

Well, we recorded that in August and I was at a bit of a low point really; just feeling like ‘when is this all going to end’ and not being able to see any light at the end of the tunnel at all.

I was feeling so much for all my fellow musician friends and people who work in the industry, and everyone who was missing out. All the crew members. And looking at the lyrics to ‘Push the Sky Away’ I felt that it really lends itself to that kind of feeling – that idea that we can do it, that we can keep on going. Even though on first listen it’s quite a morose, quite depressing song – there is real hope in the lyrics. I got quite emotional recording it, actually.

And then there’s the cover of ‘Just Like Heaven’ by The Cure. I decided to cover that because I loved them as a kid and had a real period of listening to them all the time. Even while I’m talking to you now I just got a picture of myself listening to them on the bus and feeling totally inspired and uplifted by what they were doing. Or what they did – I was obviously listening much later on!

But then I haven’t really revisited them since, oddly. And then suddenly we’d started doing a couple of covers for fun and then decided to make it an EP and I thought of them. I thought of ‘Just Like Heaven’. Because it’s a great song.

Agreed – and a great cover. Okay, Chloe – I did just have one more question but something you said in your last answer made me think of another. You were talking about the difficulties people in the music industry have faced this year and I saw earlier today that you’d shared Tom Gray’s #BrokenRecord campaign on Twitter. I just wondered if you wanted to say a little something about that at all?

Yeah, so the campaign is about fixing streaming. Streaming is this thing – a bit like Facebook – that started as this small little thing and has now morphed into a monster that we really have no control over now. It’s become so important in the industry as a metric of how you’re doing, but it doesn’t really offer much of a return financially.

So it’s a real problem. And when you actually delve into the statistics about it – and I don’t understand it all myself – but the major labels are getting the lion’s share of the income from streaming. And then the rest is split between the other artists who aren’t on those labels or are unsigned. Which is why we are getting such a low proportion.

The campaign is all about fixing that and I think that songwriters and musicians have to be engaged and interested in it to make a difference. I think it’s important to take part.

Obviously this has been particularly highlighted by the pandemic. Before, it almost worked because streaming was a part of an ecosystem that involved things like live gigging and that meant we could just about make it work. But now there is no income from live music, streaming just isn’t enough for people to get by on. It definitely needs to be fixed.

And then there’s the whole other issues of funding from the government for musicians – but maybe that’s too much to get into right now!

I think as music fan, and someone who writes about music, it has been quite stunning to see the reality of what musicians make from streaming this year. I knew Spotify was bad, but I didn’t know how bad. But then I don’t suppose someone like you, someone who is growing their audience, has much choice but to be on there…

Not really, no. For me I have sort of come up at a time when Spotify was going from people using it to it being the dominant streaming platform.

And I have been very lucky in that I’ve had a lot of Spotify streams. It just happened that I was put on an editorial playlist and one of my songs started to earn a modest amount of income. And then we realised the importance of getting songs onto playlists and for me it has made the difference – it has made me be able to make the jump and do music full time.

By no means is it enough to live on on its own, but it has helped. But when you look at the number of streams against how much it pays it’s really not very much. But it’s a captive audience and it’s kind of the only place to go now.

Well yeah – and as a music fan it is really frustrating to know that I almost have to use Spotify to discover the amount of music that I want to discover, but that you guys aren’t getting a fair slice from them. But let’s end on a hopefully happier note – and a question that your fans wouldn’t forgive me for not asking. I have to ask if there are plans for an album soon?

I can say there is something in the pipeline and I can’t wait. And that I am, as always, looking forward to getting a new sound out there and some new songs.

And I’m always writing and have enough material for more than one album – but I think that’s all I can say about that for now. I definitely want to be an album releasing artist going forward.

Okay, lovely – that sounds exciting. Whatever it is that’s coming we’ll be looking forward to it here at Picky Bastards. Well that’s pretty much all I had for you Chloe. Thanks so much for talking to us!

Thanks for having me. It has been lovely to talk to you.

You too Chloe – take care!

Interview by Fran Slater

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