afropunk interview: fousheé talks time machine, fender next and taking up space

July 2, 2021

Her eerie refrain, half proclamation half plea, of trying no to go off the deep end that found its way onto a freestyle by Sleepy Hollow struck a chord amongst a world locked inside. It haunted listeners so much that they had to find out who the voice belonged to and how to hear more. The voice belonged to Fousheé, a New Jersey artist who had been making the rounds, playing venues like SOB’s, the Apollo, and even found her way onto NBC’s The Voice. But like so many musicians hadn’t found her break yet, or more so, the world hadn’t found her. But now, the world had come calling in the form of a social media campaign to not only identify the voice on the track but demand that she make her own version of the song. Oh, and by the way, they wanted more music. In an instant came the labels, the shows, the brands, the collaborations.  To paraphrase Prince,  sometimes it takes years to become an overnight success. 

The story of Deep End has been retold so many times you expect it soon to become the stuff of social media urban legend. Exaggerated to such unbelievable proportions that next we hear it, maybe the sample pack will become a stolen tape or a label that forced the song out of her hands. But Fousheé is thankful for the opportunity and has been carving out a legend of her own. She, like H.E.R, Lianne La Havas, Adeline, and others, have ushered in a new wave of women guitarists. She was also the first black woman to break the top 10 of Billboard’s Alternative Airplay chart since another black woman guitarist, Tracy Chapman, did it 32 years ago. 

We got the chance to talk to Fousheé about her being named to Fender Next, taking up space in Alternative music, guitars, and more. 

I know everyone asks about the whole Deep End Twitter, TikTok thing, so I’m not even going to ask that. My first question is, how does it feel to be a part of Fender Next? How did that come about?

Fousheé: Well, we’d connected before when I did a guitar giveaway. As a guitar player, Fender is top of the line. It’s always been a goal for me to connect with them and see what we can do together. We worked in the past, and then they reached out about being a Fender Next artist, so we have some things in the works but nothing yet. I’ve received some guitars, but we have big plans about teaching people how to play guitar. I just want to put a guitar in the hands of people who want to learn because I’ve been there and beginning to learn guitar, so I think we can do some really interesting things together.

Who got you into playing the guitar?

Fousheé: My mum played the drums, but I didn’t get that gene, but the guitar, I think just being around the New York music circuit and watching all those live musicians. I always loved the guitarists because they would have these cool solos, and they just looked really cool. I also figured it would help me be able to write and perform better. It’s like another language that you can learn and express to the producer that you’re working with and have more control over the music that you make. I thought it would help improve my quality of life as a musician, as an artist, as a recording artist.

Also, I grew up in a household where my mum would just play Bob Marley non-stop, and that might have been somewhere [chuckles]- buried in my memories when I found it second nature to pick up the guitar.

What was your first guitar?

Fousheé: A black Les Paul, Epiphone. I still have it, actually. It’s still intact. Just one of the pick-ups might need a little tuning, though. But it’s still there, and I actually used it in my recent video for Slime.

What are you playing now? 

Fousheé: It’s an orange, tangerine color Fender Telecaster.

What type of amp do you use?

Fousheé: Whatever they have, usually, a Fender amp or whatever. Just something with effects on it. I’m not picky.

You gave the New York artist answer, “Whatever they got.” 

Fousheé: Yes. I love that about New York, though. It’s very spur of the moment. We work with what we got. It reminds me of a Jamaican saying where they say, “Turn yeh hand eh make fashion,” it’s like you turn your hand, and you turn into fashion. It’s not an article of clothing. You’re working with what you have. You can make it look like fashion. They just know how to make it work. 

All right, you have the black one. You have the orange one. Do you have a favorite guitar? 

Fousheé: I can’t choose favorites because then the other’s feelings are hurt.

I have my old trusty, and then I have some new ones that are very exciting, but I appreciate the time that I’ve had with each. They each serve their purpose. The first one, that’s my baby, that’s the one I learned on. That’s the one, yes, we shared a lot of moments, and then I have my acoustic one where it’s like… the acoustic one you need for times where maybe you don’t have an amp, maybe you can’t plug it into anything. You need that. That’s vital. Then I have my fancy tangerine one that if I want to look a little more fashionable and want to match my guitar, I want the guitar to pop. I’ll use that one. Then I have another more recent one that Fender gave me. It’s a mix, it can be played as acoustic, but it’s flat like an electric guitar. That one is the wildcard.

Yes, that’s the Strat Acoustasonic.

Fousheé: There we go. Sometimes the older ones are better because you get a new one and the pick-up already broke, or something already broke, and I just got it, and then my old trusty is still working. Still kicking.

Is there a dream guitar?

Fousheé: Oh, I don’t know. I just want maybe the vintage Les Paul made in Japan in the ’70s. The originals ones, I’ve been told those are the best Les Pauls. Maybe something pre-owned by someone special. That would be cool. That would be a dream guitar. If I could just get one of Prince’s old guitars, then I’ll be good. I’ll be on point.

Yes, you’re talking my language. Prince is my favorite artist of all time.

Fousheé: Wow, yes, he’s legit. Wow, you know who reminds me of him a lot after working with him? Steve Lacy. We have a song together on my project, and just working with him and seeing how musical he is, I know he’s influenced by Prince and other musicians. Us together just is some of my favorite music. The first day we met, we made like five songs, and wow.

That was the track on your album where at the end, he messes up.

Fousheé: Yes. The funny story behind that is that when we were writing the song, we had just like a long jam, and then there was a real moment where he was like, “Is it this? Is it that?” I was like, no, we have to keep that.” We did everything, and we put it back in there.

It makes it feel like a computer when you don’t have those moments, so I wanted it to feel like you are in the jam with us, you’re writing with us, and it’s so charming. It’s so charming too because he’s like, “Is it this? No. Is it this? No.”

Speaking of, tell me about the project. Tell me about Time Machine.

Fousheé: Okay, well, I don’t know where to start, but I think the concept of a time machine when we think of time travel is always just overthought. We think of this machine that’s super futuristic, like maybe one day, we’ll be able to time travel, but, honestly, we time travel every day in our mind. That’s what I did on this project. It’s really just my writing process of going back to Maries, talking about what’s going on now, thinking about what the future might look like, and the combination of that. I think in addition to that, me being from the East Coast and moving to the West and just constantly commuting back and forth, the time difference. It feels like time travel.

It just ended up being a theme from a random perspective to connect all the songs together. I think sonically; I was on a mission. I wanted to take up space in the alternate world because it was really a whole project in response to Deep End. Because Deep End was able to do things that I didn’t know needed to be done. Deep End was top 10 on the Alternative radio charts. [ A black woman] For the first time in 32 years since Tracy Chapman. I’m like, Wow, Why has it been so long? Why is it this song? How can I take up more space now that I know that we’ve been underrepresented in that area? I wanted to approach things from an artspace first and foremost but still include songs that represent other pieces of my background and other pieces of what I was inspired by coming up and things that I like. I think mostly it has an old soul with sprinkles of different genres in there.

One of my favorite tracks is your remake of Enjoy the Silence by Depeche Mode.

Fousheé: Oh, wow. It’s funny because that was for an H&M commercial, and we just liked it so much that we just added it to the project. I think all these things, like me finishing Deep End because it started with a sample, and then people told me to make my own version. Then I made a version. I wouldn’t have done it on my own.  And like Depeche Mode, I would have never thought to cover that song. It’s interesting what those things bring out in me. I think they were all opportunities to grow, and it changes my perspective. It definitely affects me.

You were talking about taking up space in Alternative music. What do you want people to take from Time Machine? 

Fousheé: I want it to have a lot of realness and value, something that is relevant today. The topics are things that people today can understand and relate to, but when you listen to it ten years from now, the song still feels just good and timeless. I don’t know. I think it’s just a new combination of things because you’ve got songs like Slime with lyrics that you wouldn’t normally hear on a folky-sounding song. Depeche Mode, I think we made it into this poppy, electronic thing, which it kind of was before, but it’s just a different twist. It’s songs with combinations that are new but feel so nostalgic, or it feels good sonically. It feels like something that you felt before, but you can’t quite put your finger on it. I want to make a mark in music and just be in my own lane but while giving you something that you can feel or relate to or that you can listen to forever.

Your music style is very eclectic. Who are some of your favorite artists?

Fousheé: I feel like every day that changes. Someone who really impacted me was Frank Ocean. As a child, I was just exposed to whatever was on the mainstream level, and you hear songs presented to you in a certain way, and I think he was one of the only people to pass through mainstream but while approaching songs differently. It’s not chorus, verse, chorus. He’s not approaching the songs the same way that everyone else does. He’s kinda like going off a stream of thought, but it’s beautiful, and his music and his point of view, it always makes me very emotional. I think when I heard his project for the first time, I felt like I knew what California looked and felt like before I came here. It was just very inspiring, and it pushed me to write in a different way. Then, just as an adult and being exposed to all the music now, I kind of jump around a bit. It’s weird because when you hear so much music, you don’t want to hear the same old thing, so now, I gravitate toward whatever’s weird, new, fresh. I like those types of artists, but he definitely was a big inspiration. Of course, growing up in the house, my mom would play Bob Marley, Celine Dion, Brandy, Tony Braxton, those types of artists.

What advice do you have for young women looking to follow in your footsteps? 

Fousheé: Don’t be afraid to be seen, heard. Just go out there with the full force. Be annoying. Be persistent. Be brilliant. Be brave because it’s not easy, and you’re going to get a lot of no’s, but there’s always a yes behind one of the doors, so just keep doing it. Do what makes you happy, and don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.