Chloe Foy turns grief into beauty

For as much as many aspects of the music world have been delayed or seem to be coming together at at their own pace, Chloe Foy takes that to the extreme. Originally releasing her debut single “In The Middle Of The Night” way back in 2013, Foy has spent the majority of the last decade carefully building up an admiring fan base through her string of singles and festival slots, namely SXSW in 2018, Greenman and Cambridge Folk Festival in 2019. For Foy though her musical journey has been over a lifetime. Originally training in classical music, she then moved onto more “modern” styles of playing music, beginning to slowly craft her way as a singer-songwriter through open-mic nights and support tours with the likes of Jesca Hoop.

Where Shall We Begin feels like a summation of everything Foy has built up to this point. It captures her natural aura through its swooning and serene ballads. Detailing the loss she felt of loosing her father at a young age whilst also offering a light in the darkest days. And it radiates with a natural flair of ambient joy, drawing you in with its carefully planned guitar movements and sweeping string sections all whilst Foy serenades with her ever dazzling and encapsulating vocals. We caught up with Chloe to learn all about her journey up to this point.

How long has the album been in the works?

Quite a long time actually! I’ve been doing music now for a good while and I’ve always wanted to do an album. But it’s about having the resources to be able to do it. The songs on the album are kind of a variety, as it’s pulling together songs from what feels like a long time as well as more recent songs. I started recording it in early 2019 and then I did a few more songs at the beginning of 2020. So it was ready to go at the beginning of 2020, but then it wasn’t the best time to put it out. So it feels like it’s been a long time coming.

Have any of the older songs changed over this time or are they fairly true to what they originally were?

One in mind when I talk about older songs is “Bones”. It’s the same in its core and its structure, but the arrangement changed for it. I’d never really played it with a fuller arrangement, it had only been me and an acoustic guitar before. So it was really nice to add elements to it. I’d had ideas for it over the years so it was nice to bring those to life.

Has the album been almost a documentation of your life over all these years?

Yeah I think so in many ways. I suppose the main theme of the album is the fallout of having lost my dad quite young. So the songs are often touching on those themes but they were written at different times. It’s a reflection of that grief that people go through. It’s not all about that, but a lot of the subject matter was triggered from there. “Where Shall We Begin” for example isn’t necessarily about that, but the questions posed by it are a result of having lost someone. And the more recent songs have a more hopeful tone and are focused on the people I have in my life now. It definitely marks a journey in that way.

Has the album evolved with you?

Absolutely in so many ways. Whether it’s the themes it touches on and the subject matter and my ability to process those things in the way I write as well. And also my journey through the recording process as there’s always a bit of a learning curve. When you first step into a studio you can be quite daunted by it, or at least I was. But the process of recording a full length record and the environment in which we did it, at Penthouse Sound Studio in Manchester, I think really enabled me to grow a bit and gave me a comfortable space to experiment with what I like to do in the studio as i’d not really had that before.

Did working with the producers and other musicians involved help you realise what you wanted the songs to be?

Yeah definitely as that’s part of the process. I co-produced it with Harry Falson-Smith and we worked on demoing the songs out prior to getting to the studio, otherwise I think that they’re can be a lot of pressure when you get into the studio. If you don’t really have some framework or plan then that can sometimes be a really nice thing and make for a really nice process. But other times it’s better to go in with some idea. So that process of demoing them out did help me to realise what I wanted in the songs.

With the main theme of the album focusing on your dad’s passing, do you feel that your parents have influenced the album in others ways? Even musically?

Yeah absolutely. My parents weren’t ever musicians themselves but they were big fans of music, my mum still is. I’ve got slightly older parents for my age, they were teenager of the late 60’s and early 70’s. So as a result I ended up listening to quite a lot of that classic song-craft. There wasn’t anything wildly interesting about them really, but they had a good a good canon of people to choose from. It was Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell which sound a bit obvious now, but that’s what they grew up with. And then The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, people like Elvis Costello. And a lot of blues music was played in the house so that was my base really, before I started to go off and find my own interests and artists that I loved. So they definitely influenced where I’m at musically.

Did those artists influence your writing in anyway being the first people you listened to?

I think they must have been, actually more subconsciously. At the time that I was writing as a teenager I was listenting to all sorts and I was very much into reading the NME and it was the time when indie bands were having a bit of a resurgence. Bands like The View and people like that. I also remember loving Katie Tunstall. So I think those classic songwriters like Dylan and Mitchell influenced my songwriting sensibilities, but as a teenager I don’t think I was appreciating them. I was looking for my own path and I still am, but I always end up going back to those more classic songwriters.

Aside from them, who or what is the biggest influences for your songwriting?

I find myself always referring to fellow female musicians of today. They inspire me a lot because of what they’re doing and the visibility of what they’re doing. People like Sharon Van Etten, Jesca Hoop and Bedouine. Kate Stables from This Is The Kit. All of those people are the inspire me now but as well you’re constantly discovering new things as well. I’m also very much a people watcher so i’m very interested by people and their interactions with the world. So observing what’s going on around me and then definitely the world around us in terms of the natural world. Especially in the last year, it’s been particularly helpful in lots of ways.

Did you reconnect with natural world this past year?

Yeah definitely. I grew up in the middle of nowhere in the countryside. And then for last 8 years i’ve been living in Manchester. Covid meant then that I moved out of Manchester and was back in the countryside in Gloucestershire and Wiltshire and it’s been a real source of solace. It always had been but i’d never taken the time to make sure i was in nature often and it’s incredibly soothing, you can find peace so easily. There’s no judgement from a bird is there? Haha. So it’s an easy place to be.

Do you think that natural connection is something we need as humans?

Absolutely, I think so. It’s one of things where it feels like a lightbulb moment but it’s also been really obvious. I always knew that and I’ve grown up in a family that really have an appreciation for the natural world and they’re all country bumpkins. But it’s that realisation at the moment of “This was totally obvious all along”. And it makes sense that we as humans need to take it back to basics a bit as it’s all got a bit convoluted, so our focuses are on slightly strange things compared to what they should be as humans. We’re not feeding our souls as much as we should be.

We just need to settle down really!

So you have a background in classical music as well, when did that begin?

Quite early on. That’s actually where I started I suppose. My parents always wanted to give me the chance to play so they got together what money they had and put that towards me going to this Saturday school when I was about 5. I didn’t pick up an instrument until I was 8 because the Saturday school was a classical music school, but it was all about learning rhythm and movement through music at a really tiny age. So I picked up the cello when I was 8 and I suppose the informed a lot of my experiences through music, right through to when I went to university. I was playing in orchestra and singing in choirs, so in terms of performing music that was always my experience of it. But it’s funny because I wasn’t really engaging in that kind of music outside of that. I wasn’t actively going to listen to Vaughan-Williams unless I needed to for homework. So it’s been interesting because I’ve moved away from that since leaving university and I would like to do more of it, but going as far as university and doing wasn’t perhaps the best thing for me. I came out a singer-songwriter who was happier doing open mic nights in Manchester than I was playing the cello. But it certainly informs the way I arrange songs, the harmonies I use and my love for a lot of vocal harmonies and the use of strings, that kinda thing. It’s ever present. And the way I use melody as well and the way I choose to resolve, is perhaps informed by that side of things.

How much of your classical background fed into the album?

There’s a song on the album called “And It Goes” and it has this moment where it strips back to just vocals and layered vocals. And that feels very inspired by that, not just in terms of the fact that there’s vocal harmonies, but in the way that the harmony is employed. I think i’ve ripped off a classical composer in the way that it moves because it’s quite a lullaby. But it’s fine when they’re not alive right?

Haha yeah sure, why not. They’re not gonna know.

But yeah the way the strings moves are quite classical.

“Work Of Art” is about having those connections with people in a room appreciating music. Does it feel nostalgic looking back at concerts now?

Yeah! Isn’t that strange? I don’t really know what it’s gonna be like when I do go back. And it’s strange to be looking back at only last year. I was lucky enough to tour at the beginning of last year before it all happened. There’s definitely a sense nostalgia.

What is it about people gathered in a place to appreciate art that makes it so magical?

I’ve never put it into words. But I think it’s the thing that gave me the bug, even when I was performing in a more classical sense as a kid. Maybe it’s because I’m a Leo and I like to be the centre of attention secretly haha. There’s just something about that exchange. And even when i’m watching music there’s something so moving about music and it’s the fact that you’re all experiencing it together collectively. And again it’s about getting to the root of what makes us all human. It’s become apparent to me, especially in the last year that that is collective experience as we’ve almost become shadows of our former selves without the ability to exchange with one another. Wether that’s the ability to just talk about something to each other face to face. Experiencing art is great, but experiencing it with other people, you don’t even have to be talking about it, but there’s something about the presence of a lot of people in a room. There’s studies about the psychological impact of it, people experiencing something together communally. And also if there’s shared themes then you’re bound to be connecting with someone on some level subconsciously. Either you’ve gone through the same thing that that person is singing about, or you interpret from it what you can.

At the core of it is just having those connections with people.

Yeah absolutely. And it doesn’t need to be as literal as people talking in a room. We can be an audience facing a band and that can be a moment of communication.

How are you feeling about getting back to playing shows? Are you nervous or excited?

A bit of both essentially. It’s really strange announcing shows for one because I think I, along with a lot of fellow musicians this year, have gotten out of the habit of getting hopeful because we’ve been let down so many times. It’s weird knowing that that’s on the horizon in October for me. But there’s part of your brain going “But is it really going to happen?”. I’m just really excited to get back in a room playing. For me doing this as a job is wonderful, but it’s not fulfilled completely unless you get to go out and share it with people. There is part of me that’s a little apprehensive because I think everything has changed now and I don’t know how it will be to interact. It will probably be fine because humans are amazing and resilient, but I’m very sensitive to people who are more reticent to go out and interact with people.

Finally, if anything, what would be something you would change about the music industry?

The word “democratic” keeps coming to mind. I would free it from the grips of big corporations and make it a little fairer in that way. The majority of it is still a preserve of people who can afford to do it. People who can afford to live in London for nothing whilst they pursue their music career. And I would say it’s not very accessible, so across the popular music industry and the classical music industry I would love it if more people could access it and experience it. Not to say that everyone should make a career out of it, but they have the chance at it.

Where Shall We Begin is out now, available to stream everywhere and buy here.

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