Femme: Photography by Indira Cesarine
“As a female producer in a male-dominated field, I wanted to take the masculinity of the big hip-hop beats and mix it with a flirty, sassy, 60s girl group vibe.” Femme, born Laura Bettinson, goes by a stage name that preaches her love of sisterhood. But the Conventry-born London resident has always been rather independent minded. “I’ve always made music by myself; I’ve never really been in a band. I was in one band as a teenager and it didn’t really last long—it was all guys but me.” Having written music and done choice gigs around Midland, England, it wasn’t until she arrived at university that she began to toy around with something other than a stage piano. “Being a tiny person, the practicality of it was just not going to work out…so I bought this thing called a loop system and started messing around with beats.” Soon after, she started to craft harmonies over productions, bought a studio in her second year at university, and the rest has since become history.
Earlier this year, Femme won the award for “Best New Emerging Artist” at the International Music Industry Awards, and followed that up with a West Coast tour of the US. The singer has recently been busy releasing a free EP of cover songs, and preparing for a US tour with Charli XCX and Elliphant beginning in October. For more information on the tour, please click here.
The Untitled Magazine: How did your tour in the states go?
Laura Bettinson (Femme): It was brilliant! It went amazing. It was brilliant to meet all of the fans… it’s always amazing to see how far your music has travelled. It’s one thing to see a name in online press, like in The New York Times, but to see people at your show and hear people singing the words of your songs is amazing. That’s the real stuff. It’s one thing to reach the press and another to reach the public so that was really amazing.
UM: It must be an amazing thing to hear your words being sung back to you when you’re on stage…
LB: It’s bizarre! It’s amazing though. I can’t wait for the shows to get much bigger!
UM: Whereabouts in the UK are you from originally? Whereabouts were you born?
LB: I was born in Coventry. I grew up in the Midlands. My mom and dad are both Northerners – they’re from Middlesboro, so they’re from way up North. Then they moved down to the Midlands and that’s where I grew up. I moved to London to study and have been here for about six years.
UM: Wow, six years? So you must know London like the back of your hand!
LB: Well, I don’t know… there are still parts of it that I discover! I don’t spend basically any time hanging out in West London at all… so that’s still kind of uncharted territory for me. Especially South West London! I get as far as Brixton but in regards to Richmond and Wimbledon, I don’t really find a reason to go and hang out there.
UM: I wanted to dive in and talk to you about your music… Your single “Fever Boy” is going crazy online. It seems to be an homage to 60s girl groups, that’s what I got from it. Can you tell me more about your love of the 60s?
LB: I guess the 60s girl group thing, like the Phil Spector girl bands, was instilled in me at a very young age. It moved me then and still moves me now. I can imagine when I’m 85 it’ll still move me. It can be universally infectious. The way that the harmony is in the music and the upbeat nature of a lot of it… a lot of the time there’s a lot of heartbreak in the lyrics. Being very happy and major and upbeat is something that always appealed to me. It was something I loved and continue to love. So I guess it was natural that it kind of leaked into the music that I make and when I started doing music out of Femme I wanted to kind of mess around with masculine beats. Especially being a female producer in a male-dominated field, I wanted to kind of take the masculinity of the big hip-hop beats and mix it with flirty, sassy, 60s, girl group, Nancy Sinatra kind of vibe. Not bubblegum, stupid pop… just something intelligent and catchy and infectious. I don’t really aim to write stupidly catchy hooks but they seem to come out like that. I naturally seem to be able to write those catchy hooks that get stuck in peoples’ heads… So, it’s not my intention behind my music. I grew up listening to a lot of Motown and soul. My Gram used to play me Doris Day and Dusty Springfield and Barbra Streisand… massive female vocals, like massively strong female vocalists. I grew up listening to that and I still listen to mainly female vocalists.
UM: I remember you playing London Grammar for your shoot… who else are you listening to right now?
LB: One of my favorite vocalists of recent times has been Yukimi Nagano from Little Dragon – her voice is amazing and it kind of reminds me of Bjork. Bjork, obviously, is an absolutely stunning artist and continues to be amazing with everything she puts out. I’ve always been attracted to those kinds of artists, there’s just a power in what they do that I like.
UM: Is this why you gave yourself the name Femme instead of going with your name Laura? Or is there another reason?
LB: Yeah, I guess so. I definitely didn’t want to go with my own name as it’s not very showbiz, you know? I wanted something that was simple and at this point I find that every bizarre combination of words has been used as a name, I just thought I’d go for the big, iconic, obvious one and aim to do it justice. I also like a lot of the feeling behind all the visuals, this idea of sisterhood. In all the videos it’s just my two best mates just getting together and making videos together.
UM: So they are your two best mates? I thought that you guys might all be friends!
LB: Yeah! They’re friends of mine! One of them actually lives on the exact street that I live on so it’s pretty dubious to do this together. Another friend of mine, who has nothing to do with the videos, actually lives two doors down. My whole social life is consisting on one street.
UM: That’s great that you can surround yourself with people who support your creative endeavors.
LB: Yeah, it’s amazing! So good, so good. I’ve got something planned for Christmas – Jodie, the blonde in the video, she’s going to pop ‘round and we’re getting together for two hours. It’s just so convenient to be able to put a video together.
UM: How did you get started performing? Was it making bands with your friends or you just making music by yourself? Do you remember when you started making music?
LB: Yeah, I’ve always made music by myself; I’ve never really been in a band. I was in one band as a teenager and it didn’t really last long, it was all guys but me. I went to Union and left them behind! They’re really sweet guys. Apart from that I started making music when I was sixteen, I was writing music anyway. I’ve always sung just for laughs, just for fun. When I was sixteen I started writing with the piano and started doing gigs around the Midlands. I’d do a lot of, not open mics, but that kind of thing. When I moved to London I started out doing a lot of voice stuff and couldn’t get a stage piano around the London tube system being a tiny person and just the practicality of it was obviously not going to work out… so I bought this thing called a loop system and started messing around with beats. I made harmonies over beats and from there I bought a studio – this must’ve been in my second year in Union – and I started making beats and tracks in my bedroom and from there it progressed to where I am making music now.
UM: Do you remember the very first time you took those songs that you created in your bedroom and performed them in front of people?
LB: Do I? In London, yes! It’s kind of funny because I was studying music at Goldsmiths at the time so I probably performed them in front of all my classmates. Not in an academic situation but that kind of thing… like show and tell situations essentially, and I remember that. I do remember that because it was in a very dry assessment room but I don’t think I’d ever shown anyone that I was doing a like a loop station thing and everyone was so very pleasantly surprised. In public, I used to do loop stations quite a lot. I went through a lot of phases doing loop station gigs… it was only a suitcase and me so it was very easy for me to do it. So I’ve played most of the East End London pubs… not as Femme, but in various different disguises. My first Femme gig was not that long ago… probably six months ago. Our official one was only in September. So, Femme seems quite new.
UM: With your Femme live show, you often do organized dance moves and cheerleading-esque things on stage. Do you know what the best show you’ve done so far is?
LB: We’ve only done one like that (laughs) at our recent single launch. So we’ve only got one under our belt. But it was great. Jodi, the blonde, and me have danced with each other in the past so basically, I don’t know if you ever did this growing up, but I kind of feel like most girls did, we got together with our mates after school and got dressed up in each other’s clothes or whatever and then just make up dance routines and perform it for whoever is around – the dog or the toys at the end of the bed. So that basically is my life every day. Basically we just meet up on a Sunday whenever I’m around and start to get our set together. Our single launch in London was the first time we did that but it certainly won’t be the last. I’m so sad I couldn’t bring them to America, it just wasn’t feasible but next time they’ll be there.
UM: I think you’re definitely right, everyone who has grown up who likes music in the slightest amount actually got together with their friends, made a band and found a deodorant can and made it into a microphone!
LB: Absolutely! And I’m a Spice Girls-era child, you know? So it’s like, you couldn’t avoid that “Wannabe” tune. Same with Destiny’s Child and TLC and all those girl groups… they were all part of my childhood.
UM: So from Barbra Streisand to London Grammar, who do you reckon is the most inspirational person to you now in the music industry. Whether it be Bjork or whoever…
LB: Tricky question! I guess there are lots of different people for different reasons. Someone like Bjork because she has always been so true to what she does. Everything she puts out, her intentions are true and that makes for a good performance. Even people like Laurie Anderson with the performance arts stuff – I think she’s fascinating and a very iconic image and even Grace Jones as well in that sense – she maintains this immaculate, unfaltering image that appeals to me. Recently, Grind… I like what she does. She’s been someone recently that I’ve really enjoyed musically and watching what she does visually. I think that’s really cool. MIA, again, she’s someone that while I may not love every piece of music she puts out I still think that she’s certainly been a big influence of mine from somebody in the last ten years that I look up to. I think she’s great and full of color and energy and it’s inspiring. There’s not really one person that I look up to and think “oh my god”! I guess if you gave me a time machine and took me back to the mid-80s then I would be totally obsessed with Madonna. But since I didn’t witness that at the time, unfortunately I can’t erase the last fifteen years of Madonna’s career from my eyes and my memory so… it’s a tricky one. But she’s obviously amazing – she’s a fucking superstar for all the right reasons and has earned it. Actually, yesterday I was watching something from the 80s about Madonna’s world tour in 87 in Japan… she just so young and uninhibited and so ballsy and such a bad ass. I guess I find that inspiring, she’s inspiring from that era. Unfortunately I don’t really like the music she makes now.
UM: I think you can like in a capsule – that’s fine!
LB: Well that’s my capsule for Madonna! A lot of 80s music is quite inspiring, especially since it was more kind of balls-out and there was a sense of humor behind it that sometimes I feel now has been lost in the girls. Not so much the boys, I think that men can still have a good joke and stuff. You just don’t find many women pop stars that can laugh at themselves as back in the 80s it was a bit more humorous and tongue-in-cheek and a bit more risky. Now you don’t find people taking the piss out of themselves. It’s like, “you make music for a living you can’t be taken that serious!” You know? How can you do that? It’s like a dream job. There’s always a sense of humor in a lot of what I do.
UM: Particularly for videos like “Fever Boy”, is it your pit bull that’s getting a bath in the video?
LB: No, it’s not mine. I wish it was mine! It’s a friend of mines! Originally I didn’t know I was going to do the video for that tune but this idea came to me. I had been watching a lot of Busby Berkeley videos – amazing stuff from the 20s – and I liked the look of it. It’s just so polished and the poses… the women turn around and have this amazing uniform grin on their faces. So, I liked that and liked the look of it. So I thought I’d combine that with a small-scale version in a bathroom, washing a massive dog. Originally I wanted a big dog like a Great Dane or something really furry but none of my friends had any of those so my friend sent me a picture of Rocky – Rocky the Dog – and he was dressed up as Yoda. He sent me all these pictures of this dog dressed up in ridiculous costumes, this big masculine dog dressed up, very tolerant, for a laugh! So that’s how that dog ended up getting involved and he was brilliant. None of us knew that he was going to be as amazing as he was! My friend that helped me film and was operating the camera, when I told him I had the idea, he was like “that’s never going to work. You’ve got an animal, it’s face is too small, you don’t even know if it’ll behave”… all these NO NO NO’s, so I said let’s just see what happens. I think someone was looking down on me the day that we filmed that video because it all went my way basically. I’m really happy with the video, a lot of people like it.
UM: You directed the video yourself, you write and produce all of your artwork, how do you find the time to manage all of those things and go on tour? How do you find the time to do everything yourself?
LB: It’s tricky, I guess you just work all the time! Every minute of every day! The rest of the time it’s social media… that stuff takes time to do it well. It’s a full-time job, this whole thing! It’s really important for me to have a firm grip on all that stuff, especially from the beginning. I’m not closed to collaboration, I’m not saying that I’m going to do all of this stuff myself forever, it would be very unrealistic of me. But this grassroots stage of just starting to project and launch your project into the public, it’s been the sense that every fan knows it’s been all my decisions. So the right intentions have been behind it. I took the press photos in my room with a camera on a tripod on self-timer because I was like I know what I want and want to look like and if I don’t I’ll figure out what I want. It turned out that they were good enough for us to use so I guess I just like creating stuff and messing around and every bit of that stems from the character and the person behind the project. I’m always like “Oh, I can do that myself.” It’s really important now, the way we consume music so constant, I don’t actually look for music it just finds me. I keep up with websites and being involved in social media… I end up absorbing stuff. There must be 20 bands a day on the UK blogs that you “have to hear”. It’s exhausting. But to get your head above that you need to be ahead of the stream. You need to constantly be producing stuff. You can’t take months out without creating or posting videos or posting photos. It’s really hard. You can’t take any time off but what I found myself is that I can make the music and produce it and get it out quickly because I don’t have to go into a studio and hire people… I can make the music videos with the friends around me who will help me realize my vision for it whether they like it or not. I just know what I want it to look like at this point.
Pick up a copy of The Untitled Magazine’s “Legendary” Issue 7 here for more on Femme.
Photography by Indira Cesarine
Fashion Editor: Indira Cesarine
Hair and Make-up by Roberto Morelli
Femme wears a dress by Renzo + Kai, and faux fur jacket by Nasty Gal with her own vintage jewelry
Watch our exclusive behind the scenes video with Femme!