Toronto duo Featurette is the about-face creation of former Crash Parallel rock drummer Jon Fedorsen and aspiring opera singer Lexie Jay and it sounds nothing like either. Instead, think of the vocal play of Lorde, driving beats of Justice backed by dirty Deadmau5-style synths. The electronic-pop act will release its debut album, Smoke & Mirrors, in early 2015.
“You can do so much with a microphone and a voice,” says Lexie. “I’m trained to use my voice as its own amplification system and it has to be a specific way all the time or you fail because people don’t accept you because the opera style is so particular, but with a microphone there’s so much extra stuff you can do. You can put your voice through an amp, put your voice through these filters and high passes, and then it’s all just smoke and mirrors.
“None of it is real; it’s all fake, but it’s brilliant,” she laughs.
Lexie and Jon met three years ago at Toronto Summer Music Camp where they were both teaching. Jon had started playing guitar when Crash Parallel was stranded in Newfoundland in a blizzard while touring with Collective Soul. Lexie, who plays piano, violin, dances and performed in musical theatre productions in high school, was pursuing opera. Then, one day, at band camp…
“I was going to do a performance for these kids and I had my guitar, but my singing and playing wasn’t great,” Jon recounts, “and Lexie, who I didn’t really know at the time, said, ‘I play,’ so I bullied her into playing with me. Then I found she had this songbook. She had been writing songs while in the opera program and I said, ‘My stuff would be perfect with your stuff.’ We did a recording before we left camp and I took it home and added electronic elements.”
That song was “Memorize,” which is on Smoke & Mirrors. Lexie loved it. The lyrics she had written in high school — the last poem in her grade 12 songbook — about believing in the outcome, but not really knowing how it would end up.
They started writing officially shortly after that.
Borrowing from the musical theatre and opera foundation, they decided to have a story thread through the album, in this case, a relationship going from good to bad, as Jon had recently experienced. “We Fall” is a dust-yourself-off and pick-yourself-up breakup anthem; “Awake” — one of Lexie’s folk tunes that was given a dreamy ethereal treatment — is about staying out all night, dancing and losing yourself.
With Lexie studying opera in British Columbia for a bit, they would often write together on Skype and also send files back and forth. Lexie also learned how to use the digital audio program Logic and created and edited tracks herself. Jon would fill in the percussion, and other effects, mix and edit. “I’m keeping my drums simple. I want them to sound more like drum machines.” he says.
The partnership works perfectly.
“My favourite form of classical is oratorio because I can ornament everything,” Lexie says. “It’s that style of music that has lots of improvisation. Same thing we do in Featurette because when we write something, Jon says, ‘Sing the melody’ and I just get to go for it. There’s no planning; it’s just whimsical. You get to build it up to something that was just a backing track originally and it inspires the rest of the song.”
Lexie’s first love is still classical music, but at 22 years of age says “My body is too young to have a full-blown opera career, but I’m young enough to have a full-blown pop career, so I go where the music takes me.”
Jon, who has been in two recording bands, Crash Parallel and FIRExFIRE, is happy to be working with just one other person. “I’ve had so much band politics the last couple of years of my life that I just thought two people would be much easier to deal with. Let the computers do the rest.”
-- Karen Bliss, Music Journalist (Rolling Stone/Billboard/MSN/RS/AOL)