Peek through a haze of smoke and the light refracts cobalt blue. You can almost taste the dry ice. A horror-plucked crimson flashes across the screen, accosting a near-mechanical tequila ritual. The carnage percolates and limbs begin to limber, liquid confidence and loose lips ensue: danger, danger, danger; it’s time to ‘lose control’ to the hue of “Tarantino yellow.”
Louisa Rose Allen is obsessed with colour, bright, intense and undulating. For her, it truly is a case of ‘the bolder, the better’; why not crank up the saturation and make it even more intense. Her latest video for single “Absolute” is, by her own description, “dark and mystical”, capturing the sticky heat of the club, the blood-rush anticipation of a liquor hit, and the night’s liberation beginning to unfold.
“I got a lot of the references from Dario Argento, who’s a horror film director from the 70s, which sounds mental,” shares Allen, who is better known to the world as Foxes. “That influenced the colours palettes: I was like, I want it to have this colour from this film. I want this yellow, I want this red. At one point I was like, ‘I want it to be Tarantino yellow’, and the director was like, ‘what the hell are you talking about?’
“So, ’Absolute’ has that kind of grungy, end of the night darkness to it,” she continues. “We literally had a turnaround of four hours to edit it. I was searching for all these different fonts and visuals I liked and I was on Zoom with the editor and director. [It was] very involved.”
There is a whisper of playful hedonism, quietly restrained yet threatening to burst, that seems to run through Foxes videos. A gleeful food fight turns into a colour war in runaway single “Let Go For Tonight”, a spur-of-the-moment self-inflicted haircut takes precedence in “Amazing”. More so, a mischief and paranoid clinging to the coattails of yesteryear drift through breakthrough outing ‘Youth’; at this end of the stick and nearly nine years on, Allen has rediscovered a sense of eagerness, whilst the only nostalgia that follows her, like some effervescent spectre, is the same one that haunts us all.
It has been six years since Foxes released an album, the last being 2016’s All I Need, and considering the relativity of the music world, that is, by all means, a bygone age. Allen first joined Neon Gold in 2012, the cult indie label who spurred the early careers of Marina – still of her Diamonds, Charli XCX, Ellie Goulding, Haim, MØ, and a good deal more. She released “Youth” and quickly signed to a major label; before the year was out, Allen collaborated with producer Zedd on their EDM hit “Clarity”; by 2014, she had a Grammy. By any artist’s standards, it was a quick trajectory. She released her debut album, Glorious, and then a second.
And then there was nothing – outwardly, at least – for a long time, bar some intermittent posting on social media. On the other hand, there was a lot going on behind the scenes.
“I left my major label – intentionally – so that was a big decision for me, personally, to take,” Allen explains. “I signed when I was really young, and I think I just got to a point where I was in the major label machine and it started to feel like I wasn’t doing what I started out to do.” She decided to take a step back “from the hustle and bustle of it all”, and whilst fans presumed she was taking a break, that wasn’t necessarily the case. “I didn’t take time out of writing. I don’t think I can stop – it’s just in me. But I’m glad I did it, because I feel like it got me back to the beginning of how I authentically used to write, and I guess it took a lot of pressure off myself. So, I think that was kind of meant to be.”
Allen joined [PIAS] Recordings and unexpectedly dropped “Love Not Loving You”, a funk-riddled single that pre-empted her 2021 EP Friends in the Corner; comparatively to the pop sound she has become known for, the collection marked a return to her more bittersweet, ballad-esque roots. “I wrote the EP just before [the first lockdown] and was ready to release in the real world, and then we all just went inwards. But then I wrote this album”.
“I just knew that I wasn’t up for playing the [major label] game, so I stopped.”
As it transpires, we are very much still in the season of ‘The Lockdown Album’. This one in question is The Kick. There’s not much new to be posited when it comes to the pandemic at this point; artists – so used to the relentless hamster wheel of write-record-release, tour-tour-tour. Stop. Rewind. Replay – suddenly found themselves at an unexpected – or should we say, unprecedented – extended pause. And whilst creation can be a solo endeavour, there is an undeniable vacuum in the uniform aftermath of the rest.
“I think I just got so bored,” reflects Allen. “I needed an outlet. Three months in I was halfway through an album, kind of just frantically running around my house, reading all my books and -“
“Literally!” she laughs. “I was like, right, it’s either make bread or make music. So I decided to make music,” Now, at this end of the lockdown haze, it is easier to look back on The Kick and see it as an idealist, hyperrealist fantasy that acts as a time capsule for Allen’s experience of the pandemic. “I look back and go, ‘oh, that’s so funny. I wrote that in my house on my own’. It’s definitely an interesting album because of that, because I think it was like a massive release for me. But it was strange,” she adds. “Because I think I didn’t really understand the idea of writing on Zoom.”
It’s bizarre to think that, only two years ago, barely any of us used Zoom, yet in the time since the video call app has been so embedded in life that it’s become a whole other verb. Relationships were maintained, families held together, and friendships blossomed over the platform, one being that between Allen and electronic producer James Greenwood aka Ghost Culture. “We’d had one session just before lockdown in person, but it was really odd for us [to] form this friendship over Zoom. We’re just sort of as mad at each other, so most of the time was laughing, going a bit insane. But, because he comes from a very different world and genre, my favourite part was that we kind of merged our sounds together. We learned a lot from each other in that way.”
They would trawl Urban Dictionary to break lyrics between ten-minute warning pop-ups. “I set up a little mic in my house and I was on Ableton sending lyrics and melodies, or sometimes it’d be the middle of the night, and I would send voice notes. We had God knows how many Zoom sessions, night and day.”
Time ceased to function during lockdown – for better or for worse. “It allowed me to go into my head a bit more, so I felt very challenged,” Allen continues. “But I also felt it was really good for me because when you go into a studio, you have to write a song in a day. Instead, it was like, oh, I can just write this whenever I want. So there was a real freedom of creativity that I felt was good. Time didn’t really exist.”
This lack of familiarity and linearity is perhaps one of the most disorienting things about the pandemic, where clock hands twitched instead of ticked, the world trapped, suspended and stagnating in its purgatory. Yet despite being of this time, both Friends in the Corner and The Kick exist in a binary to one another; the one, refrained and introspective – an artist getting back in touch with her roots – and its successor being, in earnest, a total release of pent up emotion. This resulting intensity – of emotional empathy, ribbon-esque swathes of colour, and a desperate yearning for dance – reflects Allen as all of us, trapped in quicksand, stifled and waiting dormant for life to restart, whilst living in a tremulous anxiety at the thought that it may not.
I remark that I live in fear of a lockdown happening again. “I know – enough!” Allen wails in mock exasperation. “I mean, it might do – we don’t know!” She reaches for her coffee table as we both touch wood. It is a feeling best encapsulated in The Kick’s lead single, ’Sister Ray’, it’s stomping beat and rippling synths capturing the urgency of desperately wanting to again experience what has been taken away, one that stings all the more for having experienced it in the first place.
In turn, ’Sister Ray’ was inspired by a friend who Allen lost during the pandemic. “I definitely chose it because it means a lot to me. I think there’s a strength in that song that kind of felt like the right thing to release first,” she explains. “I just love its energy because I remember writing it and really wanting the pandemic to be over, and really wanting to dance with my friends and feel connected again. It was the one that just felt like, as soon as it is over, I can finally release this [song] and feel free, and maybe other people would feel that as well. I think I thought I was a little introvert, but it’s definitely made me crave human beings a lot more now.”
I ask if Allen had any personal revelations in lockdown, and she pauses in thought. “I think I realised that I shouldn’t live in my head as much as I do. It was, like, a lot of self care as well. I learned actually how important it is to be able to sit with yourself, which I don’t think I really had before. That was a big revelation. So I was like, shit, it’s really hard to sit alone. And the other revelation was how many Netflix series I can go through!”
“I always want people to feel like they’re not alone.”
Another side-effect of isolation is that it can bring up the ghosts you believed you had exorcised. “It’s funny, because the amount of stuff I think I had to process I thought I [had already] processed. And then we went into lockdown, and I thought, God, there’s so much coming up now.” A lot of that processing which Allen believed she had done in her time out of the limelight and prior to the pandemic left her thinking: “I’m going to go back into the music industry now, and it’d be fine. And then I sort of realised that, well, no, there’s still a lot there.
“I think when you’ve spent a long time with a major [label], you kind of start to think things that aren’t normal, are normal. Just the idea that if you’re not on Radio 1’s playlist, or if you’re not getting as much attention as other people, they start to kind of freak out, and then the pressure will be on you. And you’re like, ‘well, hang on a minute, I just wrote this in the bedroom’, I didn’t ask to be compared to these other people.” She pauses. “I think that’s the kind of thing where you sort of just lose why you’re doing it. It wasn’t about how many people were listening, it was about what I was writing.”
The record label switch allowed Allen to be a lot more hands on in completing her vision this time around. “There’s such a huge difference, you do genuinely take 100% control,” she explains. “And a lot of it is down to you, you know, even from finding directors [for music videos], to finding the colours. It just means more work, but it means it does feel more authentic.”
And she enjoyed the extra work. “It was totally the best thing that I did. I just knew that I wasn’t up for playing the game, so I stopped playing the game. When you’re used to something for so long, you can feel like, ‘I should keep doing it’ or, ‘that’s what I’m known for’. But I just thought, if I keep doing this, then what? What’s the [point], you know? This isn’t real, it will become inauthentic. I thought sod this, it doesn’t feel right. So, I decided to stop.”
Ultimately, this internal conflict went into the writing. “If it hadn’t, my brain probably would have just blown up. ‘Forgive Yourself’ is a very big one because I think I’ve taken the blame for a lot of things in my life; the best thing you can do is let go of things and move forward, whether it’s about me personally, or about relationships. I’ve always gotten over heartbreak by writing about it. ‘Kathleen’ (a song from Friends in the Corner) is about my grandma, and I would always go to her for advice, about losing love, or being heartbroken. She’s very independent, so I think I’ve learned a lot from that.”
In many ways, The Kick feels as though Allen has fallen in love again with the potential for love: the good, the bad, the heartache – the overall overwhelm of living. Yet, whilst palpably twitching in anticipation for the future, The Kick coexists in its nostalgia for the past; the lives we’ve lived and presumed to have lost, the loves that left, or an affinity for the times that were never quite our own. “Body Suit”, especially, harks to decades past, a sax-drenched slow jam. “I love 80s music. I also love dance music. I love so many different things. And then, I guess, soundtracks, I think that’s why some of my music can sometimes feel like it goes from quite a soundtrack or emotional place, to a dancey place. There’s always two different sides to what I’m writing.”
Allen doesn’t listen to much of what’s in the charts; her heroes are Kate Bush, Bob Dylan, an era where a veil of mystique persisted between artists and their fans. Perhaps this is why, in social media overload, there are no true idols anymore. Allen prefers to keep some of her life a mystery, but reflects on the pressures to be a brand, not just an artist. “I do think that is the kind of era I would have suited. I’ve often thought that if I was more extroverted maybe I could have dealt with the music industry when I was with a major, but I think it was just a bit much. So, I think it just suits me to kind of not have my guard up, but not let it take over my life.”
This constant feeling, feeling, feeling is sometimes too much for everyday living. Allen often struggles to maintain focus, fighting the urge to flit to the next idea before the first song is even finished. She projects films, muted, and writes along to them as a means of inspiration to calm her energetic mind. It is this persistent stream of emotion that led her to write ‘Too Much Colour’. “I remember writing it and sort of feeling very exposed, and so there is an element of just over-feeling and being very empathetic and that’s quite a lot to deal with in everyday life. It’s great for songwriting – brilliant for songwriting – but it does leave you quite vulnerable sometimes. It’s one of my favourite songs on the album.
“A lot of people that are writers find things quite overwhelming, and it’s a lot going on in your head, and that’s why you write because you can get it out and it’s a release. But I think in everyday life, it’s quite difficult to have a mind like that. That’s probably why I just continuously song-write. I was originally going to call the album ‘Too Much Colour’, but then -“ Allen is suddenly interrupted by the television, as if to underline the idea of itchy, millennial distraction. “Turned on, by itself, that’s weird. I’ll turn it off… watching the Kardashians, don’t judge me,” she laughs. “Yeah, I should not have admitted that then.”
As the power of social media has been underpinned over the past few years, whether it be for checking in on friends, staying sane, or seeing how the Kardashians are coping with their version of ‘unprecedented times’, the unifying field is a craving for primal, authentic connection. It’s how Allen bonded with Ghost Culture; it’s how The Kick came to be. “I always want people to feel like they’re not alone,” she states. “The world is actually more connected than we realise in terms of what I’m writing about, or what people are going through. That sounds so corny, oh my god. Also just dance and have a good time and enjoy life…” she laughs. “That sounds corny as well!”
Being lonely and being alone are not synonymous with each other. With The Kick, Allen invites us to dance through the b.s, and to experience life through fresh eyes and at its full throttle best; after all, there are only illusions between us.