Fefe Dobson is Back

Nature is healing. Pop-punk is cool again, guitars are high up in the mixes of mainstream hits, and Gen Z idols like Olivia Rodrigo and WILLOW are reinventing the genre with more emotional maturity and fewer dick jokes. (Though some occasionally still slip by thanks to Machine Gun Kelly, pop-punk’s jester prince.) But the biggest sign Mother Earth is on the mend? Fefe Dobson is back.
When the Scarborough singer dropped her self-titled debut in 2003, she was a breath of purified air amid the dorm room stank of the white male-dominated rock realm. Moody, heavy, catchy hits like “Bye Bye Boyfriend” and “Take Me Away” crushed Canadian airwaves and inspired legions of misunderstood alt kids who saw themselves in her. As one of the few Black pop-punk singers to go platinum in the aughts, Dobson brought much-needed representation but confused a music industry that couldn’t fathom a rocker girl who didn’t look like Avril. Over the next decade, she had a turbulent relationship with her label Island/Def Jam, releasing two more albums before going radio silent.
But it’s a new day. The young outliers Fefe resonated with have grown up to start their own three-chord revolution, and she’s ready to join them at the front lines. At 37, Dobson’s got a comeback single (“FCKN IN LOVE”) a forthcoming album, and more angst in her yet. We chatted with her about where she’s been, her new chapter and the “turmoil” in her marriage to rapper Yelawolf.
  • KIND: So Fefe. I’ve gotta ask the burning question on everyone’s mind: Are you a weed smoker?

    Fefe Dobson: Well, my mom grew her own weed. So that's pretty cool. She made her own beer, too. My mom's gangster. But I've only smoked a few times, and all I heard was "dooooo." Like a dial tone. And that was it. It scared the crap out of me. But, I mean, there's nothing wrong with it. Maybe I just smoked the wrong stuff. I don't know!

  • KIND: Hold up, your mom grew her own weed? Like in the house?

    FD: Yeah, yeah. I was maybe, like, eight. So I don't know what [kind of weed] she was growing up in there. I don't even know if her beer was good because obviously I wasn't drinking, but my sister would know. She's older than me. She probably stole some…

  • KIND: What stoked your love of rock 'n' roll?

    FD: A lot of the rock ‘n’ roll definitely came from my household. My sister was listening to Nirvana and Guns ‘N’ Roses. It was that perfect grunge time, when teens were really trying to have a voice and rebel, which reminds me a lot of now actually. And then my mom was playing everything from Phil Collins to Depeche Mode to Bob Marley. Janet Jackson was a big one for me with “Black Cat.” It's really when I knew that the harder stuff was where I wanted to go with that guitar solo, and that intro, it just blew my mind.I think rock has always felt right to me because growing up I needed and wanted to be seen and couldn't be seen and couldn't be heard. And I didn't have a voice. And that genre helped me express myself and realize I didn’t have to be so perfect and proper. I could rebel and almost say "fuck you" to my childhood.

  • KIND: It’s dope you found your sound so early on in life, even though when you came out in 2003 labels struggled to find a place for you. There’s a story that the first label you signed with, Zomba, dubbed you as “Brandy Spears.” Which is so wack.

    FD: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I love Brandy and I love Britney Spears, but I am not that. It was just messed up because it was based on the sound of my voice and the colour of my skin. And that's it. I kind of understood that you have to compare artists, maybe, to get other people on board. Like, “Hey, I work with this girl. She's kind of like this and she's kind of like that.” And it's like, well, what if I actually just don't make sense and that's OK?

  • KIND: You put out countless pop punk hits and inspired a generation of kids who felt like outcasts. You had bangers. Which leads me to the other burning question on everyone’s mind: Where have you been for the last decade?

    FD: I just kinda took some time to myself. After “Legacy” and “In Better Hands” came out in 2014, I just felt like I wasn't really ready to put out a third single and proceed with that album. I felt like I needed to take a step back. I wasn't happy with the way things were going and it felt like there was very little progression. And instead of trying to keep pushing something that didn't feel like it was working, I decided to reevaluate and take time to grow and make sense of the last 20-odd years. At that point, I had been in the industry for quite some time. So I went through this transition period and put that album on the backburner and went to Nashville and just started living. I got married and then I had an issue with my relationship and I was going through that, and I was experimenting musically.

  • KIND: Why is now the right time to return?

    FD: Well, I got my team back because we took some time apart. And when I wasn't making music, or when I was stepping back and writing for others and just living in Nashville, I didn't really have my team. You kind of just realize who you love. And for me, I really had this moment of clarity of who I am as an artist and who I am as a human, as a woman. And maybe because of COVID, maybe being by myself and having to really reflect might have helped with that. But yeah, it was just time. I was ready.

  • KIND: Pop-punk is having something of a resurgence. What do you make of it? You alluded to this earlier, but do you think there’s more rebellion and angst in the air lately?

    FD: Yeah, I mean, in general after COVID and everything that happened in the last three years with George Floyd and all of that, hopefully we were shaken enough to make real change. But I personally felt like, “Fuck this shit.” I might not be a teenager anymore, but I felt that. Like, “No, I want to be more honest. No, I'm not going to say sorry for them. I'm not going to be apologetic for speaking my truth.”And I think a lot of teens feel that way, even with women's rights and everything that we're going through. It reminds me of that grunge period for sure, because teens were like, “Screw it.” For real.

  • KIND: So what truth will you be speaking on your upcoming album?

    FD: I would say it’s the story of where I've been for the last little bit and my story on the relationship I've had for ten-odd years and the turmoil. Only one side was shown [of that] and not mine. So this is my turn to tell people what really happened. Only the other person, my partner, showed their side. I've been quiet for many years. And it's just time for me to express what I've been through. Love is amazing and love is really hard. And I really realized and learned what I deserved. It took many, many years.

  • KIND: I know your husband is Yelawolf, the rapper. So you’re saying he’s been able to tell his side of the story in his songs, and now it’s your turn?

    FD: Yeah, basically. You know, our relationship has had a lot of ups and downs. And I've always been very quiet when there's been downs.And I've never really expressed my side in the sense of my pain and my heart on that. And, I mean, he's heard some of the songs.

  • KIND: Well, the world is stoked to hear you sing honestly. It’s been dope to see you finally get your flowers since you’ve returned. Younger artists like WILLOW are talking about your impact. People are recognizing you as a trailblazer for the way you carved your own path in an overwhelmingly not-diverse genre. How does it feel to see that?

    FD: It's amazing because that's how I felt growing up trying to find an artist that helped me have a voice or made me feel like I wasn't alone. Someone I could relate to. And it means the world to me when I hear that. When we do music, our voices are very important. Our messages are very important. And I am just so thankful and feel very blessed that I've been able to get my message out there and help other people through the process. There's nothing better than listening to an artist or someone where you feel like, “Oh wow, they see me. I'm not alone.” It's the best feeling. Or they make you happy and you dance around, and for an hour you're not so hurt or affected. It's pretty amazing that I can give that to someone, whether it’s a 14-year-old or an adult.

My mom grew her own weed!