Femme’s sassy brand of avant-pop has been winning her friends and fans across the world. Colourful and fun, her catchy tunes feature plenty of leftfield surprises in the mix, which really sets them apart. Her new single S.O.S is a follow up to acclaimed Fever Boy, and has a gloriously layered production in which she adds keys to her trademark beats and bass. Femme fronted Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich’s Ultraísta supergroup, and has been gathering up a clutch of awards - International Emerging Talent award at the MUSEXPO Awards in LA, an AIM ‘Hardest Working Artist’ nomination, and the Rising Star award at the London Music Awards. She’s been on tour in the US with Charli XCX, and when we asked her about her sound, she sent us some videos too.

Tape Music

The world of Femme

Femme on tour with Charli XCX

Femme is on tour with Charli XCX in North America when we talk to her, and she’s there at Charli’s personal invitation. How is it going so far?

Swimmingly. We’re having so much fun. The crowds are so hyper, it’s been such a rush playing to them every night. Both Charli and Elliphant put on a killer show. We’re having the time of our lives.

Femme’s live shows are legendary. She choreographs all the moves for her Bullet Girls dancers, as well as styling their outfits. We wanted to know just how important the live show is to her.

It’s incredibly important to me as it’s the one chance fans have to get close and personal with you, and hear and see your music performed in the flesh. My show aims to be fun, upbeat, sassy and strong. Big beats and lots of personality. One of my favourite parts of the tour is actually after my set when I come down to the merch desk and meet all the fans from the crowd. We end up taking pictures for about an hour every night.

Creating the single High

Femme writes, records and produces all her own material, so how did she make her single High?

With High, I wanted to write and produce a tune with an instrumental hook rather than an vocal one. This was not something I’d done before and I wanted to explore. The whistle synth in the chorus was the first element I wrote. I wanted something solid to hang the rest of the tune off. Strangely when I was writing the song I was thinking about Summer Lovin’ from Grease. Duh-du-duh-du-duh-du-duh-duh-duh-duh.

Not all her songs are created the same way though.

The process varies song to song. I usually start by mapping out a beat, or cutting up a drum loop. The bass usually comes next and then I start mumbling melodies on top until words present themselves, and then I dig and dig until the lyrics start to form. This is going to sound ridiculous, but just recently I had a song come to me in my sleep. I was in that part of sleep, dozing, just before you wake up and I had a fully formed song going round my head. Melody, verses, chorus, everything. I recorded it straight away into my phone and then later that day put it into a session on my laptop. That song is on the album.

Producing and gear

We asked how she got into making music, and production.

I first started producing my own music when I moved to London at 18. Before that I had been writing with piano/guitar and vocal but usually calling on friends to help put it down in the studio. When I got to the city I quickly ditched the piano and got into my electronics. Performing live with a loopstation, making basic drum loops and would then perform them into my studio set up. I started out with a very basic set up of monitors, and Edirol interface and Cubase SE. Once I’d outgrown that I moved onto a Macbook Pro running Logic, and Apogee interface and a pair of Focal CMS monitors.

As for her favourite instruments and gear, there are a few special items.

I largely work in the box but I do have a few select pieces of gear that I like to use over and over again when working. I have a Blue Bottle Rocket mic that I record my vocals with, which then run through my Urei 1176 compressor. I use my Golden Age Pre 73 on almost everything, guitars, vocals, bass. I usually crank up the gain as it gives it a nice crunch going in. I very rarely use completely clean sounds; I like a bit of distortion on almost everything.

The Urei is a vintage compressor that was first launched in 1968, and the Golden Age Pre (preamp) is based on Neve’s classic 1073 to give you a vintage preamp sound. Femme also borrows gear and hunts down unusual instruments in charity shops.

I’m very fortunate to be surrounded by friends who are fellow producers and mix engineers, so I get a lot of tip offs from them. I’m a bit of a tight arse, so it’s very rare that I’ll part with a lot of money on gear without a recommendation. I’ve got a large collection of shitty battery powered keyboards and unusual percussion that I’ve bought cheaply from charity shops across the UK. One of my favourite purchases is an original wind-up phonograph which plays the heavy-weight carbon discs. It’s SO loud and obnoxious. Not a particularly nice sound at all, but it’s good for a bit of analogue hiss and of course looks pretty cool.

I’ve never customised anything myself as I’ve not yet ventured that deep into nerdville, but my friend Crewdson is genius and he does a lot of that. He happens to live 3 doors down from me and we make a lot of music together for a project called Eckoclick. Sometimes he’ll leave one of his phenomenal inventions at my place and I’ll pray that he forgets about it. He never does. Check him out: http://crewdson.net/

(Crewdson and his Concertronica invention feature in our Music Tech Fest coverage)

Fashion and visuals

When it comes to visuals, Femme is a fashion press favourite and she has soundtracked two Stella McCartney collections and an Adidas NEO advert starring Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez. She produces, directs and edits the Femme promos too. We asked her about the joys, and challenges, of making all your own videos and being a “one-woman powerhouse” as BBC Radio 1’s Annie Mac put it.

It’s all on you! You’re not waiting around for a first draft or final tweaks. You can stay up all night and starve yourself working on it until you’re 100% happy. You can work at your own pace (in my case, very quickly). A lot of the time you stumble on happy accidents that make the video, usually because you’ve not thought everything through in every single minute detail. This can also be a draw back of course; sometimes you fuck up and make mistakes.

I love making videos. When it’s my idea I feel a lot more comfortable in front of the camera as well as behind it. My process of making music is very visual, usually before I’ve bounced out the final song I’ve already got a concept or a ‘look’ in my head of what the song looks like. It would be hard for me to hand this vision over to someone else. In the future I hope to have the budget to hire more people to help me, better locations and bigger props.

Inspiration and drama

We wanted to know what inspires her both musically and beyond.

A lot of my inspiration comes from other people’s drama. Stories I’ve heard or read in the news. My day to day life is very steady, I get up, I make tunes, I play shows and sometimes I get drunk and get laid. But in all honesty, I seem to spend most of my time updating my god damn social media. But that doesn’t make for a very interesting middle 8 now does it. Andy Warhol, his factory and 1960’s pop art inspire me. Photographers like Bert Stern, Tim Walker, artists like Man Ray and Alex Prager. Designers like McQueen, Gaultier and Givenchy. People. Pop icons. Films. Books.

Femme’s debut album is due out in Spring 2015, so what can we look forward to?

If you like what’s come so far you’ll love my album. It’s full of sunshine beats. Summer jams. Big beats, laid back sass and a sprinkling of sugar.