Laura Bettinson is no stranger to the game. The woman behind FEMME does it all. She sings, writes, produces, directs, photographs, and styles. A natural artist and a sharp entrepreneur, she draws inspiration from the girl bands of the 60s, and her videos are what you wish you girls nights were like. But don’t let the good ole girly, pink pop fool you. There’s no getting around it FEMME is a bonafide badass. B-Sides met up with her at SXSW to talk Girls, Beats, and Bass over a cup of American joe.
So you do everything- you sing, you write, you produce, you direct. Is there anything that you don’t do?
I don’t do gymnastics. It’s not like I started out like ‘I want to do it all, I need to have control over everything.’ I didn’t want to wait around for someone to fit me into their schedule, so I started teaching myself how to produce tunes. There’s this temptation with pop musicians to put everybody down the same well-trodden roots, you know, the same writers, producers, and video directors. Everything becomes really homogeneous and quite dull. I really would rather be something that broke out of that. Set a trend instead of follow someone else’s path. I’ve been forging my own way and doing that through producing my own stuff. It’s very much my own creative vision. I’m definitely not against collaborating in the future, it’s just very important to me that my debut album is a very solid representation of who I am as an artist just so I can tell the world this is me, this is where I’m happy, and from there maybe we’ll go somewhere else.
If you are filling all these roles, what is a typical day like for you? How do you balance everything?
It depends what I’m working on. At the moment, because the album is coming out, a lot of my day-to-day is interviews. Social media stuff takes up such a lot of my time, to talk to my fans and keeping them updated with everything that’s going on. Usually if I’m not in the promo cycle, sometimes I’ll get up and I’ll sit in the studio from morning until midnight, especially if I don’t have any plans or social arrangements, I will just work until two or three in the morning on something, then sleep and get up and do the same thing the next day. Sometimes I feel like taking a break from making music all the time and that’s when I’ll do the video stuff, film some stuff with friends, or take some photos. I took a lot of my own press photos when I started out. That was a way of me really getting a firm handle on who I am – it was for me. All of this, just like when I started out, it was for me. The writing and the photos and stuff was to figure out who I was and what I was doing artistically. As soon as you put that out in the world, and as you’re about to get an audience that’s when it changes slightly. It’s been really fun, it’s been a really good journey, but it’s important for me to have a handle on everything from the beginning.
Well I won’t ask you about what you do in your free time, because it sounds like you don’t have any.
Free time? Well I do stuff with other people’s projects. It’s actually quite fun to work with other people and help them out.
Who else have you been working with?
Before I did this, I was in a project called Ultraísta with a quite famous record producer, Nigel Godrich of Radiohead. That’s still ongoing, that’s not dead and buried. That’s quite nice for me because it’s so different. It’s a lot more of an experiemental sound and it’s quite nice to have that alongside a pop thing. and then i do another project called Echo Clique, which is very glitchy kind of thing. I’ve done tracks with a guy called Huxley in the U.K. who is an electronic DJ, and hip- hop stuff with the Last Skeptic. I’ve got song coming out soon with a bigger, U.S. DJ’s album – I’m not sure if I’m allowed to say anything about it yet because I don’t think he’s announced his album yet, but that’s coming. That’s a really cool track.
You have a very unique sound and unique style that shows up in your music videos. Your videos all have very girly themes that remind me a little bit of early Lady Gaga, Madonna, with some Gwen Stefani thrown in. Are you inspired by any certain powerful females in pop music in particular?
Yes, all the girls, all the strong girls. I get a lot of inspiration from kind of 60s pop icons. I’m a big Supremes fan as well as of the Ronettes, and the Shangri-las. I’ll spend hours on YouTube watching those old music television performances. There’s a charm to it. I try to put that in a live show, like with our choreography, it’s just me and the girls. In the U.K. when we do the shows we usually have another two girls on stage and we completely choreograph the shows along with the glitter and lights. It’s a bigger production whereas today (at SXSW) we just had our suitcases.
In all your videos there’s a lot of pink and I’m loving the pink hair. Is that your favorite color?
No, I’ve just brainwashed myself. I wasn’t the girly kid in school, I was always kind of more tomboyish to be honest. But that is pop music to me. It should be fun and it should have a sense of humor. Obviously a lot of the best music has a sense of honesty to it as well, but a lot of my favorite music is taking that nice sense in the middle of it and kind of exploding it in the fancy pop world around it like Madonna, Michael Jackson, Prince David Bowie- like all these massive pop icons. They did that really well visually and sonically.
If your album was a soundtrack, what would be the story it went along with?
I kinda feel like it would be somewhere between Thelma & Louise and Grease. Strong, powerful women, a little bit of pink, a little bit of something fluffy, something sugary at the end of it. Something quite ballsy essentially. Something quite bold. That’s what the music sounds like- it’s kind of masculine – big beats, but with 60s vocals and harmony.
Your music is very unique, kind of like the city of Austin itself. What do you think about Austin?
I really like it and I’m enjoying it here. Last time I was here, when we came on that Charli XCX tour, I really enjoyed it then too. I think the Texas people or the atmosphere or something really fits with kind of my mentality. I haven’t had that much time to explore properly yet here at SXSW, but I’m going to try to get out.
Vogue named you “Artist of the Week” when you were working with Ultraísta. Is what you wear when you are performing different from what you wear day-to-day?
Not much actually. A lot of my style has been inspired by a lot of found fashion like thrift stores and charity shops in London, stuff that I’ve borrowed, like my outfit today, from London designers- sort of up an coming people that need a break. I wear their stuff because I can borrow it and they get the pictures of me wearing it which helps them out as well. A lot of my style also comes from street style and marrying it with an old vintage nod. Like a vintage nod, but always looking towards the future, because I don’t see a point in looking completely backwards.
Debutante drops on April 15, what can everyone expect from it?
It’s bright pink, kind of bold pop with I hope a lot of personality. It has Santigold influences. “Light Me Up” is probably the most pop thing on the album, everything else is a little more wonky. It’s kind of a continuation of what I’ve been working at the past couple of years. It’s what I consider a set of songs that sits very well together. It’s just girls, beats, and bass. I’m excited although kind of terrified as well. It’s like the reviews will start to come in and its like ‘oh god, I don’t want to read them.’ I’ve never sat down with these people reviewing my album, I’ve never had a conversation with. It’s just their take on it. They might now know exactly what it is they are just listening to it on a first go, it’s actually intriguing.