The first thing you’ll notice about Foxanne’s music is her stunningly dynamic voice, but what’s more impressive is the way she wields it. Throughout her debut album, titled It’s real (I knew it) and released last month, she pushes the limits of her voice with not just uncompromising ferocity but also a refreshing kind of playfulness. Follows her intimate 2018 EP halfling, the record opens with the sound of a rocket launch – the singer-songwriter, whose real name is Chelsea Gohd, is also a staff writer at Space.com, and her fascination with all things related to the cosmos finds a way of seeping into different corners of the album, infusing its otherwise conventional rock n’ roll backdrop with added texture and personality. ‘Opportunity’ is the most obvious example here, a cavernous ballad sung from the perspective of the lost Mars Rover that also happens to be the album’s emotional highlight.
But Foxanne doesn’t need to invoke the vastness of the void above for her musical ambition to shine through – ‘Youngest Man Alive’ builds to an explosive and ecstatic climax, while ‘I’m So Excited’ channels the kind of unbridled enthusiasm that so much of the album relishes in. Thinking about space on a daily basis does provide a much-needed sense of perspective, however: “Suddenly I’m looking down from space and I pause to breathe,” she sings on the raucous ‘Doing it All’, “A second in nothingness here is really all that I need.”
We caught up with Foxanne for this edition of our Artist Spotlight interview series, where we showcase up-and-coming artists and give them a chance to talk about their music.
Throughout the album, you’re using your voice in such a commanding and powerful way. How did your relationship to your voice develop over time?
I didn’t start performing and singing in public until I was like a teenager-college age. But it’s just been kind of self-practice over the years. I wish I could say I’m formally trained, but I am not. It’s been a lot of experimenting with tones and trying to push the boundaries of what my voice can do without hurting myself. [laughs] Which has actually been interesting, because I had chronic tonsillitis for years, up until this month I got my tonsils removed after years of a really bad sore throat. So it was a lot of just pushing through that and kind of stretching my voice.
Was there a specific moment where you decided you wanted to write and record your own music? Do you have any memories of that?
Yeah, I mean, I remember wanting to record the music that I was writing pretty much as soon as I started writing music, when I was around 16 or so. I’ve always wanted to capture it, and I started recording little things kind of around then and later on I made a demo and the EP and a couple of things. But it really wasn’t until this record that I was able to make a recording that sounded like what I wanted it to sound like going into it. So I’ve always had an interest in kind of finalizing and encapsulating the music in a formal recording, but this is the first time where I’m like, “Oh wow, this is really what it’s supposed to sound like.”
There’s also a lot of references to space, and I know that you’re also a science communicator. Could you talk about also where your fascination with space and science in general comes from, and whether you feel it relates to music in any way?
Definitely – I mean, I’ve been into science for as long as I can remember. You know, people are always like, “Is music your hobby or is science your hobby?” Like you have to pick one and the other is not really as important. But to me, they’re both just huge parts of my life, and they’re equal in different ways. I don’t think I could ever give up performing and making music, but at the same time, I could never see myself not loving science. To me, I think the thing that links them is just that curiosity, that want to explore. So with music it’s like exploring new melodies, new sounds, etc. And then obviously the exploration in science is self-explanatory, but I think that they just have that natural connection.
I’ve always thought about how to incorporate space and science into my music and I never wanted to do it, like, super obviously or intentionally, or, you know, kind of cheapening it. And so I just figured as I continued to do both in bigger and greater ways that they would eventually start blending in with each other, and with this record I think that’s starting to happen – you know, with ‘Opportunity’ and with some of the more spacey themes and elements throughout the album. So I’m just kind of letting it happen organically.
I was wondering if you could talk more about ‘Opportunity’ in particular, the process of making that song and the story behind it?
Sure. Actually, I rewrote the song like five times, hating it every time until the last version. But when NASA’s opportunity rover kind of died on Mars – even though, I mean, they only expected it to last 90 days, it lasted like five thousand days. So it really exceeded expectations on every level in terms of exploration and science, but it was still just so sad to see it kind of disappearing, losing, connection to Earth, and it’s just so surreal to think that something that we made, that we almost animated into reality, is sitting on another planet, and we’ll never see it again. You know, even if we have humans on Mars, the likelihood of them running into it are pretty slim. So it was just a devastating and bizarre science moment that I really wanted to kind of capture the emotional side of. I thought it would be neat to write the song from the perspective of the Rover itself, which is kind of silly, but, you know, people were really upset when it died.
I wrote the song vocally and on guitar kind of just how it is on the record, and I toyed with the idea of kind of building it up and making it a bigger thing, but I really just liked the sound of it kind of stripped back and bare like that. So the things that I added to it were pretty minimal. Though – I don’t know if you’ve heard the audio, but other probes on Mars have actually captured what Marsquakes, like earthquakes on Mars, what those sound like. And so I tried to recreate what that sound is using a synthesizer and buried that underneath, kind of like a textural thing.
That’s a really interesting detail. Are there any other kind of Easter eggs like that on the record, like the rocket launch on the opener?
That was actually audio I took from the first rocket launch I ever attended. So it’s just kind of, you know, special to me and no one else really. Because at least for me, the sound of the rocket launch was even more impactful than watching it. I mean, the ground was shaking, it was really crazy. And so obviously, the audio isn’t the best quality but I wanted to kind of have that sentimentality in there with that.
Could you talk about the process of making the album as a whole? How was your approach different compared to your 2018 EP?
I think the two main things that were really unique to making this album were: one, I think I had more confidence as a musician. I knew exactly what I wanted it to sound like, I knew the songs, I knew what I wanted to do with them. And then the other part of that was that I worked with people who I really trusted with the sound and really enjoyed working with; especially as a woman in music I’ve been in situations before where, you know, I’m working with a man producing it and they kind of steamroll what they think it should sound like, and it can be challenging to work with that dynamic. But the team I worked with at AGL studios – Doug and Kelly and Elaine who mastered it, and of course my bandmate, Andrew – everyone just really got the sound, they listened. And I was really able to have the creative control that you should as a musician. It was just a great experience in general, I had a lot of fun making it.
Did lockdown affect the process at all?
I got really lucky in that we finished recording right before the pandemic. And so it was a little bit challenging doing mixing and mastering over email and over the phone, going back and forth with different mixes, but it wasn’t too challenging and everyone was really communicative. I mean, the most challenging thing was, how do you release a record in a pandemic? I was like, “Oh my god, we finished it and now all we have to do is mix and master it,” but I’m thinking to myself, record labels are struggling, musicians are struggling, I can’t play a release show, I can’t do all of the normal things that you would normally do to release a record. I couldn’t do any of it. And so it took me a number of months to kind of figure out even how to release it.
Are there any songs that you feel like have taken on a new resonance since you wrote them because of the pandemic?
I think ‘Let it Ache’ definitely hit a little bit harder in quarantine. That song is about, you know, living in New York through the winter and it’s gray, it’s depressing, you’re trapped in your apartment. And just finally seeing the first signs of spring and it’s just like this overwhelming relief, there’s sun for the first time in months. And so I think that being stuck inside for quarantine, it really kind of paralleled those same feelings in a really major way. You know, it was the middle of the summer but I was stuck inside, I couldn’t see my friends, I couldn’t enjoy the beautiful outdoors.
Actually, I had a recent experience that also paralleled that in a unique way in terms of space. In November, I actually spent two weeks living as an analog astronaut in a mock Mars simulation, on a volcano. So I lived in this tiny little dome with five other women and we lived, ate, worked as if we were on Mars. But being trapped in this little dome, couldn’t go outside, couldn’t breathe the air, it was like quarantine all over again, times 100. So it’s really interesting how that song has kind of evolved in meaning through quarantine, through this weird Mars experience.
Oh, wow. That reminds me of The Martian, which I saw ages ago. I don’t know if it’s in any way accurate.
I love The Martian. There were some similarities, I’ll say that much. We ended up eating lots of dehydrated potatoes.
Is that something you feel like you might write a song about, or have already written a song about?
I’ve been working on some stuff. We’ll see if any of the songs ever see the light of day, but I definitely have some material written about that experience.
Do you have any idea of what direction you might want to go in musically going forward?
There’s things that I would like to try in terms of styles, instrumentation, arrangement. But I also want to let it kind of organically grow, because I’m sure the next record will have a whole different sound and I’ll look back on this and be like, Oh my God, why did I ever put this out. You know, like you do with every new thing. But I just want to continue to hone my sound and really understand better what my voice can do, what I can do in terms of music. I mean, now that, you know, I have no more tonsils, the vocals might even be crazier than before. We’ll see.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.
Foxanne’s It’s real (I knew it) is out now.