feeo: Smooth Soul for the End Times

Let’s be honest, nobody really has much of an attention span these days. Given the hyperactive nature of today’s society, and the complete oversaturation when it comes to consumption of content, things are more positively received when brevity reigns supreme. That said, this tendency to want to absorb a greater variety leads to artistic output channelling styles from an increasingly broader palette, giving way to a recent glut of boundary-pushers.

As a long-time aficionado of the full-length album, I can’t help but admit that as of late, all of the above has made me appreciate the EP format much more, and every once in a while, I’m fed a morsel of something special such as feeo. Over the course of the four songs on her debut EP feels like we’re getting older doesn’t it, the London-via-Oxfordshire artist craftily melds the full range of her contrasting influences into a quartet of creative yet digestible bliss. Pulling from neo-soul, jazz and folk in equal measure, ethereal soundscapes that slink around parade upon the record, bolstered by feeo’s smooth, breathy vocals. From the bouncy yet apocalypse-fearing closer ‘end song’ to the trippy title track, there is a richness to the textures on the EP, co-produced by feeo alongside fellow Oxfordshire native Upcylced Sounds.

For those who challenge the need to be bound by genre, there may be no more of an apt way to introduce yourself to the world than on a carefully considered, yet far-reaching suite of songs that subtly flit between styles. The approach that feeo (Theodora Laird) takes is rife with experimentation in ways akin to other avant-pop artists like Tirzah, while the themes of songs are timely with their musings on existentialism and mortality. To cap things off, there are mentions of Laird’s music being made in all the right places; she keeps good company in collaborations with the likes of Loraine James, support slots alongside Nilüfer Yanya and receiving praise from rising stars such as Arlo Parks. With all this on her side, there’s nothing that says feeo couldn’t be on the brink of reaching these heights.

Speaking to Laird over video call, there is a real sense that she is wise beyond her 22 years; speaking with both knowledge and passion on her music, adapting to the ever-shifting and fickle musical landscape, and how hearing about the influences of her idols helped her make sense of her own music.

How has preparation for the EP release been?

I’m so stressed. I shouldn’t be, but I think what’s so jarring for me is that I was originally planning on having full visuals coming out on the day of release, but because of time and university, I decided that I wanted to release the full video later. I’d be using the two videos for the singles and then two other videos, but I essentially have all of these ideas that I can’t do because life piles up. Releasing music without visuals is something I can’t really think about.

Do you think about both in tandem with one another?

Yeah, definitely. I also feel the visuals often bring out something that isn’t specifically in the lyrics. It’s like I’m interpreting my own music and creating a visual response. Sometimes, while I’m making actual sounds, I’m getting images popping into my head, but I love making visuals and almost enjoy it as much as making the music. I do just see them as so linked.

I feel like a lot of artists in this current day have taken it upon themselves to do a lot of that side themselves. As you’re the one who made the song, only you can truly know what you wanted to convey, so I guess it makes sense to have your visual ideas supplement that too.

I will eventually get around to making the other videos, but the whole thing of press as a concept irks me so much. I love to create things in a bubble, for myself – that’s how I think I work best – but as soon as you start making stuff to get any sort of external response, that’s when you start feeling crappy because you can’t ever guarantee whether people are going to like it.

With press, the whole thing is trying to make things snappy and to entice people – it’s just super capitalist and caters to people having a really short attention span. It shouldn’t be my problem, but then that becomes another stress about not releasing visuals because the songs are there on their own. Even though I want people to listen to the whole EP because there’s a story and it should be seen as a body of work with a story rather than four singles, I know on the press side of thing people will be asking “where’s the visuals, what can we look at?” I guess I just have to train myself to not care.

It’s a tough situation to be in; it’s a necessary evil.

I do enjoy it though, because I am from that generation where everyone has ten-second-long attention spans. I pretty much grew up on social media, and I’m fascinated by things like TikTok – like how there’s waves of songs that don’t exist and are thirty seconds long, but you know them as if they’re in the charts. It can mean so much more than just a song too; some of them have a whole vibe or trend attached to it, even if it’s just some weird sped up Brent Faiyaz tune. It makes no sense, but I find it really fascinating. I think trying to cater to a market creatively can always just be a bit draining, because ultimately you’re out of control as soon as your piece of art is out in the world. It’s free to the world to do what they want with it, and that’s sad. It’s the grief that follows the release.

Do you tend to process things a lot and overthink when approaching a release?

Yeah, 100%. I overthink everything anyway, so I’m accustomed to relentless onslaught of information coming into my head all of the time. Around releases I tend to try and turn everything off though. I always used to just drop random beats on Soundcloud at 3am, but I remember around the time of my first actual release where I had an actual label and was getting things mixed and mastered, you get this exhausted feeling like after childbirth. Not that I’ve had a child or anything.

You sort of have – the end product is the child.

Yeah, I guess you go through the process of ‘pregnancy’ and it’s this big event, but the difference is when you have a child, it’s in your arms for a bit. With this, you just feel drained, so you’re giving birth to then give it away. It’s more like being a cow on a battery farm, having a calf, and then having it taken away to be exterminated the next day. That’s a horrible image.

I think the EP deserves a lot better than that.

[laughs] It’s such a dramatic analogy. There is some satisfaction in it, I guess, but it’s just quite scary.

How long was the process, or ‘gestation period’, of creating the EP? When did you start putting together ideas and how long has it been finished?

It hasn’t been that long when I think about it. It was all made in 2020, which when I put together the press release for it, it did strike me as having a very 2020 vibe. Some of the tunes have been around in my brain for a while, but the two singles were totally written in 2020. ‘feels like we’re getting older doesn’t it’ was so spontaneous because that year I really wanted to have a different approach, and I’m the sort of person who would sit on songs for so long that by the time I’m ready to release them I hate them. That happened with ‘Yeti’; I’d written in when I was 17 and it went over and over again with reworking it, so with this I wanted to be spontaneous and try reporting on what was going on for me right then.

Does that particular song relate to a specific moment or event in your life?

Yeah, it was kind of inspired things I was going through, but also things that someone I was living with at the time was going through. It was quite an immediate and present tune in terms of the way in which I wrote it, and in terms of the lyrics. Often I’ll look at big stories that feel very narrative-driven, but with that I was freestyling the lyrics because I was using a loop pedal and a harmoniser, so that came quite innocently but also was trying to mould it at the same time. It all happened very spontaneously, and I drew in those mutual experiences that me and my friend had. I guess it was all meant to be a bit raw in some ways.

I’m guessing ‘end song’, which deals with themes of the apocalypse, was also very much rooted in things happening in 2020?

Totally – the video especially. I wanted to make 2020 in a video. I’m of the mindset that it’s hard to know whether what you’re thinking and feeling is specific to a time or to your age. Everyone always thinks the world is ending, especially 22-year-olds, but a lot of my adult life and last year in particular it really has felt like that. It’s a lot of trying to work out whether it is ending, or if it’s just that you’re feeling all of these things because of your age where your childhood and adolescence is ending. It’s weird how that coincides with a literal feeling of a grander ending, and that was what it was about. A lot of the images and videos that I took/stole were clips from the news; there was a wormhole of YouTube stuff from 2020 that I used that just drew it in a little bit more and made it more specific.

It’s definitely an odd time to be going through one of the most bizarre stages of your life, isn’t it?

It’s so strange, there’s obviously stuff I never lived through that was so intense that you just think of as being historical events. Imagine actually being in a war and being so scared that you’re literally going to be bombed. Obviously, there are people living through that now which is another thing. It’s like living in a weird bubble where I’m protected; I haven’t had to worry about my immediate survival, and everyone around me also has this weird buffer of privilege.

You feel guilty for not having it quite as bad as others I suppose. I wanted to ask about your musical upbringing and what things led you to the sort of music you’re currently making – where does the music of feeo come from?

I’d always wanted to be a singer, or a scientist and a singer, or a dancer and a singer – but it was always with a singer in there. I kind of started it to help process why I was feeling sad or alienated all the time. When I was 10, I moved to Witney in Oxfordshire which is the most stiff upper lip, British town. It was weird because everyone there was white, and I’d been going to a school that was multicultural, but I never really sussed the whole racial thing. In terms of style, I got really into folk music. I’d been raised on all sorts of stuff; my mum was a big Joni Mitchell fan and my dad listened to a lot of reggae and jazz, but grew up in amongst a punk scene in London so I kind of had that as well. I listened to a lot of the Smiths as well, and even though Morrissey is very questionable as a human, they defined a very early part of my adolescence. That’s another time when you’re going through a really weird period, and I had one where I went through a proper goth and indie phase, wearing a black parka coat and combat boots saying ‘fuck society’ and all that. That was when I really started writing, and unfortunately Morrissey definitely inspired me to do that kind of sad songwriting thing. It went from there, decided to play guitar, then realised I should go back to keys, and then started producing. I guess that’s kind of a convoluted way of telling you [laughs].

I just wanted to have my songs somewhere, so I started using Garageband to make these weird songs. I didn’t really know what I was doing and refused to use a metronome; nobody was going to tie me down to any time signature. Once I got better I started stripping it back loads to make it more piano-y, but then the pinnacle of my later adolescence was discovering James Blake, and it was then that I realised “oh, this is what you can do”. I realised you can be a keys player and make it more electronic and loop things. ‘Retrograde’ was a song that made me realise the style I wanted to do and it just defined where I went from there.

I feel like your music definitely shares some certain qualities with him in the way you both approach the piano, and the use of having learnt your instrument in one way to completely break it down to make more electronic things as an end product.

It’s so incredible really. I guess when you first listen to things when you’re young it’s nice not knowing exactly why something really speaks to you. It was only recently that someone was telling me that James Blake was also a massive Joni Mitchell fan, and it made so much sense to me. For me, she’s the original singer-songwriter and storyteller. I was then reading a Mark Fisher essay on hauntology and afro-futurism that talked about dubstep, and tried to relate his work to that, and then that was like putting together all the pieces. He took Joni Mitchell and dubstep and made a beautiful thing – it just spoke to me.

I can tell you’ve got a good ear for a multitude of genres, because the EP sounds quite scattered in a good way. You can hear influences from soulful stuff but some very abstract electronic things as well – you also worked with Loraine James which is definitely more the latter.

Yeah, that was insane. Working closely with her and seeing how she does what she does really inspired me. I think one of the reasons I got so into indie music when I was 12-13 was because it was the only alternative option where I was, which was quite a white area – everyone was kind of standard, and not to be narcissistic, pretty basic. I got into that, but then that made me want to do everything very perfectly to prove something because I felt so unwanted in that space. In the last couple of years, I’ve been trying to unlearn a lot of the perfectionism around what a sound should be like, and I think working with Loraine and seeing how she works around that and isn’t defined by genre is just sick. There’s no rules to it, which I think is so refreshing, and I’d like to foster that energy a bit more and kind of do what I want.

What have you got coming up in terms of performing?

I’m performing at Brainchild which is a festival I love so much. I went to the last year it ran in 2019, and I met so many people who are now tight friends. In terms of the demographic, I think most festivals I’ve been to before aren’t that culturally diverse but have a massive age range, but Brainchild is super diverse in other ways, but everyone is 20-25. It’s just like being in a nice little woke Gen-Z puddle. They actually open up a dialogue with you as well, it isn’t just about who they book but they do a lot of work on getting to know you.

There are a few gigs on the horizon, one at Avalon Café and one at the Windmill supporting Malady. It’s super great to be in London now where there’s so much variety. I’m also playing a new festival called 42Degrees, but I’m just so gassed to go the Lake District for the weekend to be honest. There’s a show in September with Febueder as well. In terms of projects, I’ve kind of returned to the guitar again and want to make a record using that, but I also want to work on this project I’ve got with a couple of experimental grime producers. The way they work is so different to how I do things, and everything is so instantaneous. Everything is done in one session and there’s nothing written beforehand, so that’ll be cool whatever that is. I also want to get better at the accordion; I’ve been learning a lot of Slavic folk tunes on it and that’s just a vibe. I don’t know why my housemates haven’t killed me yet.

Words: Reuben Cross // Photos: Charlotte Corcoran

feeo’s debut EP ‘feels like we’re getting older doesn’t it’ is out now on Upcycled Sounds. You can purchase and stream the release via her Bandcamp.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: