Wolves have long appeared as symbols in songs—spectral embodiments of solitary spirit animals driven by otherworldly passions and a mystical sense of freedom. After all, everyone from Duran Duran to the Los Angeles punk band X has invoked the hungry wolf in their songs detailing their most uncanny allegorical excursions into the night.
With her latest album, titled The Fever Returns, Atlanta-based singer, guitar player, and songwriter K. Michelle DuBois pushes the boundaries of her Southern-inflected indie-pop songs toward mysterious new and nocturnal terrain. Throughout the album, unlikely musical bedfellows—highly cultivated guitar tones, boundless pop production, and metaphysical imagery—were placed side-by-side, singularly pleasing and full-bodied combinations.
The album’s opening title track comes to a head with a lingering rumination. DuBois sings: “Broke free from a comfort zone / Was it really that good? / Or were you hiding / Seeing things you ain’t seen before / Walk right through an open door / You get so excited.”
Her words cast light on a path snaking through songs with titles such as “Heaven,” “Firestar,” and “Baby Witch,” each one finding the earth, the moon, the stars, and the elements taking on more profound and higher meanings amid her bounding melodies.
It’s in the song “Strawberry Moon,” though when the wolves come out. The music builds subtly at first. The sound of wolves howling in the darkness blend with lingering percussion and synth lines; all are resonating on the same spectral frequency. DuBois eases into the song, adding texture as she sings, “I was hunted beneath the Strawberry Moon / All told, my sole purpose was finding a place / Finding a place where we could stay wild.” The sound of her voice and the shape of her words stir up a pensive atmosphere. It’s here in the midst of “Strawberry Moon” where she reveals the vital essence of The Fever Returns, and it’s a message of looking deep within to make sense of her place in the world.
“It’s about finding your powers and your strengths—honing them,” DuBois says. “Let them be the impetus for you to leave your comfort zone, and to go out and experience new things, and to open new doors.”
The album’s title and its opening number came to DuBois in the Spring of 2019, while she was stuck in bed, fighting a months-long illness. “I was spending a lot of time at home, much like right now,” DuBois says. “I had a horrible fever that was coming and going, and then I started thinking about it in different terms, like a fever for life, or whatever your passion may be, and ideas started coming together.”
DuBois has a long history within the Atlanta music scene. Her affinity for music began when she was a teenager living in Nashville. One year, she was given a bass guitar as a Christmas gift. Composing music has remained a central theme in her life ever since.
After moving to Atlanta years later, DuBois formed the group Ultrababyfat with longtime friend and collaborator Shonali Bhowmik. In 1998, they released their debut album, titled Silver Tones Smile, honing sweet and infectious pop-punk hooks that landed the group on stages with Pavement and PJ Harvey, and comedian David Cross. In 2001, Ultra Baby Fat became one of the few female-fronted bands to grace the Warped Tour stage.
Soon after, though, the group called it quits. DuBois later formed the group Luigi, with whom she explored a more experimental side of indie pop, culminating with 2008’s CD, Found On The Forest Floor.
During her time with Luigi, she began working with producer, engineer, and lifelong friend Dan Dixon. In conversation, DuBois describes Dixon as a “sound artist,” who now runs his own studio, dubbed RCRD Studio. Over the years he’s become DuBois’ go-to producer, engineer, and sounding board.
Over the years, Dixon has worked with various artists, ranging from the Doobie Brothers with Zac Brown, to garage rock and punk outfits Biters, Curtis Harding, and his own recent collaboration with the Coathangers drummer Stephanie Luke dubbed Nrcssst.
In 2012, DuBois emerged again, this time as a solo artist, releasing her debut full-length, Lux Capone. She switched gears to work with producer Ben Price at Studilaroche, who helped her reconnect with her roots as a songwriter. She soon rejoined Dixon to create the indie-pop hooks heard throughout her 2015 album Astral Heart. DuBois and Dixon continued working together for 2018’s Harness, and again for The Fever Returns.
“Dan is like a brother to me,” DuBois says. “We are so familiar. Each time we record together, it gets better and better.”
Harness and The Fever Returns function almost as companion pieces to one another, and their connection developed naturally.
“I watch a lot of T.V., and a lot of my inspiration comes from things that I might be binge-watching at the time,” she says. “Some of the shows that I really got into—I loved Westworld, which had a melancholy vibe to it—stepped me into the material for these albums. I felt a similar vibe, and it took off like a train. Everything I wrote in that vein inspired me for the next song. One song would inspire something after that, and then another and another.”
In the end, the album is an almost defiantly mature collection of songs with a wide-angle focus on two things: DuBois connecting with the more ethereal elements of nature, and the freedom to explore her creativity without restraint. With The Fever Returns, she has made a terrific, layered record that exceeds expectations. Not only has she found wholly new dimensions hidden within her voice and songwriting, she lets them howl.
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