The Return of Fiona Grey
When she was younger, Fiona Grey made a promise to herself: I will not go to Europe until I'm performing there. Sure, she made other promises that didn't stand the test of time – I mean, how many of us stood by our teenage ones? – but this one was absolute. With five UK shows and a Paris gig in the books, she boarded the plane to begin a month-long adventure and make life-long memories.
Fiona has written music most of her life. Believe it or not, she still gets royalties from a song she co-wrote with her father at six years old. Writing music has been such a constant in her life that it's no wonder she plans to continue doing it forever. It's become an extension of her being. While the work can be hard, and she's seen the ups and downs, she strives to bring fun into every show she does whether it's through her lavish costuming she hand-makes herself or coordinated performance moves with her backup dancers. She commands the stage as bonafide force so well you find yourself wondering when Left Shark will be making an appearance to officiate her into pop culture stardom. We catch up with Fiona at her hometown returning show with Rove to hear all about Europe, connecting with fans, and what happens when someone discovers a song is about them...
You’ve just returned from doing a tour throughout Europe. How was it? Which night in particular will you never forget?
Yes, I did! It was such a magical experience. There are so many nights that blew me away but one of my favorites was actually the first show of tour. We were playing this small town in Northern England called St. Helen’s with the excitement of it being the first show of the tour mixed with the fact that the town had never seen a pink spandex-wearing weird pop singer like me. I think I freaked them out in the best way. We missed our train getting back to Liverpool after the show and ended up killing an hour in an old British karaoke pub. I never expected to hear that much American country music in England! It was definitely a memorable night.
Both of your parents are artists. What lessons did you learn from growing up with them that you still carry with you today?
If I learned anything from my parents, I might have been smart enough to steer clear of being an artist. I feel really lucky to have experienced all their ups and downs from the sidelines but I think the biggest lesson they taught me was to never glamorize the life of an artist. It’s a job and though, in comparison, it’s a pretty fun job, it’s a lot of work and you have to love it more than anything to stay in such a cut-throat game.
Why pop music? What draws you to it over any other genre?
Genres are so confusing. I feel like there are so many weird subgenres of pop. At the end of the day, I wanna make music that people can escape in and sing along to just like other pop artists I admire, i.e. The Beatles, Madonna, Prince and Lady Gaga. In Europe, as a joke, I started calling my music "Dirty Pop." Mostly because no one knew what it was so they were intrigued. I might start using it more...
Some artists keep their work simple in their performance: they go on stage, it’s just them and a microphone and they let it all out. You like to bring a more theatrical element to your performances. What themes do you incorporate and what steps do you take to prepare for a live show?
When I was young, I was doing a lot of musical theatre and acting. I loved it but hated the lack of control you had over the parts you were playing. As much as I loved telling other people’s stories, I had so many of my own that I wanted to tell. I’d always been writing songs and found that all the aspects of acting, musical theatre, singing and dancing I was so in love with, I could incorporate all of them into my live “Fiona Grey” performance. I treat shows like I’m putting together a musical theatre performance. The goal is always what the best way of telling story is and taking the audience on a journey.
I’ve also read you create your own show outfits. Can you tell us about a few different looks you’ve created for you and your bandmates?
Yes! It’s all about pouring glitter and sequins on vintage clothes. I’ll sit for hours adding embellishments to old bras or nightgowns and then hemming them up. I can’t really afford all the flashy expensive stage clothes I’d like so sometimes I have to get creative and make them myself! My favorite look I did for my dancers was this glittered nighty with a corset top sewn onto it and then I made these studded chokers. [Editor's Note: See the look here.]
Many artists like to keep their life and their music separate from each other, but you previously produced 3-part series At Home With Fiona Grey so fans can get a personal look into your process. Why is it important for you to have that fan connection?
Fans are everything. They fuel us to create new music and challenge us to top what we’ve already released. I remember my friend seeing me get ready for a big show and she jokingly mentioned how no one really saw that side of me. I thought it was important to show all that’s involved in getting ready for these big nights. A lot of my fans are artists so I hoped the videos might inspire them to continue to keep creating their own art.
Each of your music videos tells a story. Typically, how does each come into being?
I’m a very visual person and when I’m writing it’s almost like I’m seeing the story play in my head. Once the song is complete there are already so many ideas that I’ve fleshed out that when I meet up with a director we are able to brainstorm. It all comes together. I always know how I want it to look, the mood I want to portray and the director usually helps find a way to make it happen (on a low budget) and add ideas to the story. It’s fun to collaborate in that way!
As an independent artist, you have to juggle a lot of the business with the artistry. What advice would you give to those having trouble managing both?
Don’t think you’ll be able to do it naturally. Being creative and running your business are using completely different sides of your brain. Block out time in your day for computer work and then ideally in a different location and time to be creative. I go to a lot of coffee shops to work on business work and then I have a zen area in my room I like to write music. I try not to mix environments so I can fully focus on the task at hand.
You’ve credited Madonna as being one of your biggest influences. One of the issues she’s facing in the industry is criticism of her age. She still pushes forward as fully herself and gets a lot of blowback for it. As somebody who plans to build a career in music with longevity, what are your thoughts on ageism in the industry?
It’s always going to be there. Madonna knows it but she continues to create what is genuine to her and strategize the next step of her career. Sadly, it’s much more prominent as a woman in this industry. I meet so many female artists who make comments about how they are getting “too old for pop music” and they're 28 years old. It’s so insane to me because we feed into the ageism all the time. I think in order to have longevity as an artist, you have to be aware that there will always be ageism in the industry but not let it change the music and art you want to create. Madonna is such a great example of that as she still wears and does whatever she wants and doesn’t let anyone control the way that she grows as an artist. I mean, she’s 58 years old and she’s body goals!
“What You Want,” like many songs, was written about a lover or a crush. Have you ever had an instance where the person you wrote a song about knew it was about them? How did that go?
I wrote this song on my first EP called Liar when I was in high school about my (ex) best friend fooling around with the guy I liked while she was helping me get with him. (This is so high school, I know.) I played it for her before I told her I knew what was going on and she immediately started crying and knew it was about her. It was a really invigorating experience. I don’t think I’ve told that many people about it actually.
You’ve gushed about meeting Drake after he kissed your hand. If you had the opportunity to collaborate with any artist, who would it be and in what ways do you feel your individual styles might mesh well?
I’ll never forget that Drake kiss! My dream collaboration was always David Bowie. Which was probably what made his death even harder – for selfish reasons. But I would say right now as far as modern artist’s go, I’d love to collaborate with Lady Gaga. I have so much respect for her as an artist and I think she’s a killer songwriter. Her new record is amazing in the best and weirdest way. Also Paul McCartney because he’s Paul McCartney...
In honor of your hometown returning show, tell us about one of the most memorable moments you’ve had on stage.
The release show of my EP Belladonna at The Bootleg was one of my favorite nights. It was the first time in my life I had a huge crowd of people singing along to my music. It was such an early show in my career and I remember having such an out of body experience hearing the lyrics I’d written being sung at me. It still never gets old!
Any updates on your upcoming EP and what we can expect?
I’m so crazy excited about this EP. We’ve been really taking our time on it to get it just right and it’s so close to being complete. We are releasing the first single in January and then hopefully the full EP mid-2017. The EP is inspired by the widespread infatuation with pop culture and our religious obsession with love. I wanted it to be very raw and honest while still being rich and dynamic. I can’t wait for you to hear!