“The best advice I ever got was from Ricky Byrd, [the guitarist] from Joan Jett & The Blackhearts,” says Fefe Dobson about songwriting. “He told me, ‘Writing is a muscle that you gotta work every day to get stronger, just like working out at the gym.’ He told me, ‘Write every single day even if it’s just rubbish.’”
The rubbish she obviously discards, but the gems have been released on two major label albums, 2003’s self-titled debut and 2010’s Joy. The platinum-selling pop singer shares writing credit with 17 people on Joy, including Kara DioGuardi, J.R. Rotem, Kevin Rudolph, Thomas “Tawgs” Salter, Nicole Hughes, Andrea Wasse, Jon Levine and esteemed veteran producer Bob Ezrin, and there were even more collaborations that didn’t make it to the record.
“So many people have come in and out of my life who have taught me something, from Joan Jett to Cyndi Lauper to Bob Ezrin to Dave Lichens and Billy Steinberg — so many,” says Dobson. “I couldn’t choose just one.”
In the early days, Jay Levine and James McCollum of The Philosopher Kings, Prozzak and Left Hook Productions took her under their wing for her first album. “I was a little shy at first because I didn’t know if I was any good,” says Dobson, now 26, “but I knew that I liked to write and I had been writing before I met them. Jay was very passionate about me writing how I felt about my life and my childhood and expressing the teenage drama that I was going through, so he really just let me be free.”
Managed by Chris Smith (Nelly Furtado), Dobson signed to Island Def Jam. With hits such as “Bye Bye Boyfriend,” “Take Me Away” and “Don’t Go (Boys and Girls),” the self-titled album went platinum in Canada was certified gold in the U.S.. However, the follow-up album, Sunday Love – for which she co-wrote songs with such artists as Joan Jett, Nina Gordon and Cyndi Lauper – kept getting its release date pushed back and was eventually shelved as Dobson was dropped by the label.
Undeterred, she kept writing and working on what would become Joy. Smith put it out on 21 Music and her U.S. label eventually re-signed her. Joy has done fairly well in Canada considering the retail landscape, selling 10,000 physical units, according to Nielsen SoundScan, and 240,000 paid downloads of the singles “Stuttering” and “Ghost.” At press time, the latest single was “Can’t Breathe.”
Her songs have received close to 20 synchronization placements (movies, TV, commercials) and have been covered by Miley Cyrus (“Start All Over”), Selena Gomez (“As A Blonde,” “Round & Round”) and 2007 American Idol winner Jordin Sparks (“Don’t Let It Go To Your Head”). And taking Ricky Byrd’s advice, she continues to write every day.
“I’m writing in a very mystical way,” Dobson discloses. “The other night I had a dream and I made myself wake up so I could remember the melody and record it on my phone instantly.”
* She woke up with the chorus for “Bye Bye Boyfriend” after falling asleep in the studio.
* Her song “I Want You” has appeared in TV ads for the movie Whip It, Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut.
* She performed Ike & Tina Turner’s “River Deep, Mountain High” at the Rock and Rock Hall of Fame induction ceremony in 2010.