In 2013, Elizabeth le Fey was known on the Internet as a “Yoko”, referring to the misogynistic portrayal of Yoko Ono as responsible for the Beatles’ break-up. Such gendered scapegoating rarely goes unpunished in 2016, but only two years ago it left le Fey feeling abandoned and voiceless.
It followed a controversial Tumblr post from 2013, in which le Fey lamented her time in the band Foxygen, her relationship with founding member Sam France, and her exit. At no point did she announce a break-up of Foxygen. For the next month her story was read, reported, distorted, and then ignored in favor of the Foxygen boys’ minimizing explanations. In 2013, Elizabeth le Fey was not Globelamp, a solo musician who happened to be invited into Foxygen. She was cast as Yoko Ono with a blog, offering kindling to nasty rumors that furthered a caustic, grossly antiquated rockstar narrative for her male counterparts. So she took it upon herself. In October, she released The Orange Glow on Psychedelic Thriftstore Records out of Olympia, where she currently lives. Le Fey found a way to get her voice back.
“Everyone was always trying to make me be quiet,” she recalls. “Like my family [would say], ‘Don’t talk about it and just let it go.’ I can’t just let go of something that felt like an injustice. I have to write it all out.”
Her voice is passionate on the other end of the line. It’s Tuesday, her day off. No job or class at Evergreen University to report to. While we’ve emailed many times, there’s more to explore. The injustices exceed a mere rift between former bandmates; they include court appearances, physical abuse, post-traumatic stress, and attempted gag orders to prevent her from ever discussing Foxygen.
“I feel like, if you’re a girl, you’re getting told more to relax,” she says. “I was scared to talk about anything after going to court. After having my Twitter, Tumblr, and song lyrics used against me in a court of law I felt like my words could easily be twisted and used against me again. I felt vulnerable. I didn’t have a lawyer so I had no one to ask for legal advice. I posted a picture of the restraining [order] months ago—which I am legally allowed to do—and within a few hours the LAPD called me saying someone had filed a complaint against me.
“All I want is for people to hear my story and learn to have the strength to tell theirs too. I stand for equality and non violence. This is more about my freedom of speech than my relationship problems.”
It all began very harmlessly.
In August of 2012, Sam France emailed le Fey out of the blue and professed his admiration for Globelamp. They had mutual friends in Olympia. Both artists grew up in Southern California. France expressed interest in collaborating with le Fey while she was on break from school, and possibly having her join Foxygen, details she shared on Tumblr. The email that would change her life came August 31, 2012, a day before her flight back to Evergreen College.
The day before my flight I got a frantic email from Sam saying how he knew I was leaving the next day and how he was bummed we never got together and hung out. He told me he was going to shoot a music video in the next few days and that he really wanted “Globelamp” in it. I told him I had already bought my plane ticket and didn’t have the money to buy a new one. The idea of doing the video sounded fun, but I had no money and also had never even really met Sam before. I couldn’t even put a face to his name because when I googled Foxygen all that came up was one picture and I didn’t know which one was Sam. He told me he would reimburse me for my ticket and buy me a new one. I didn’t really believe him but when he did it an hour later my plans changed for good. It was surreal.
Invited into Foxygen’s fantastic, vintage dream world, le Fey and France traveled to the Madonna Inn to shoot the “San Francisco” video. In it, she’s an abandoned lover, depicted inverted on a plush pink carpet while France appears vertically, overwhelmed by his recording gear. He sings I left my lover in San Francisco, and then reaches the mic towards le Fey, who responds, That’s okay / I was bored anyway. The chemistry seems there, but that could be the allure of the Madonna. Whimsical enchantment is the resort’s forte. Shortly thereafter, France confided in her that the band needed a member to replace Jonathan Rado’s girlfriend, who had college commitments. Before long, le Fey put her life in Olympia on hold to become a touring member of Foxygen.
Touring the West Coast in support of Jagjaguwar labelmates Moonface, Foxygen made and lost fans at maximum velocity. Le Fey flew around the country, for CMJ appearances in New York and rehearsals in Connecticut. They were halcyon months, building towards the release of We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic, which appeared on January 22, 2013. Amid the bustle of the release and shortly before a scheduled European tour, her best friend in Olympia suddenly died. As the loss tormented her during travels, factions began to form in the band, aligning her and France against Rado and Shaun Fleming, she recalls. By SXSW, Foxygen were viral and unhinged; the weekend in Austin garnered them an unruly reputation, and soon the European tour was cancelled to preserve “creative health of the band,” according to statements at the time.
High review marks and a sordid relationship with professionalism meant Foxygen was a hit.
The “creative health” line referred to le Fey’s ousting. Le Fey and France were accused of making Foxygen the “Sam and Lizzie Show” by other members. Next, as le Fey recalls, Rado said he’d permit her continued involvement—provided she not be paid.
“I was paid on other tours, but now [Rado] wanted me to just come as Sam’s girlfriend and not get paid,” says le Fey. “I felt disrespected by that and didn’t want to tour with them any longer but continued dating Sam.”
This led to the Tumblr post in 2013, which was extensively reported and misread as a breakup manifesto. All massaging of the situation was handled by core members France and Rado, who dismissed le Fey’s claims with calculated brevity. It worked; the world moved on.
Except le Fey could not move on. She was still trying with France, still working with him on her Globelamp record, Star Dust. Le Fey describes the events in an email, centering on what became a tipping point for her relationship with France: “A few months before we had broken up and were fighting over control of my Star Dust record. We had been working on it together; I wrote the songs and he co-produced and played/sang on it. After our breakup he threw a tantrum and refused give me the tapes that were rightfully mine.”
In October 2013, le Fey and France officially broke up. He eventually relinquished her recordings. Months later, she also received a 32-page restraining order that prohibited her from encountering France’s entire family, both parents and siblings, until January 22, 2019.
In court, she chose to represent herself. She remembers the proceedings as a “witch hunt”. France’s lawyer even tried the lyrics-as-evidence approach that prosecutors often wield against defendants who rap. “They made me read some lyrics from my song ‘Daddy’s Gone’ that I had tweeted,” she says. “They were trying to make it seem like I broke into their house.”
“Daddy’s Gone” is off Globelamp’s Star Dust, released in June of 2014. The lyrics in question are: It doesn’t matter if you lock your door / It doesn’t matter if you don’t want more / You shouldn’t have let me in. But le Fey claims she wrote that song well before joining Foxygen and, even more ironically, France recorded, played drums, and sang backup on it.
Still, by January 24, 2014 France’s family, the band, and its representatives had their way. Le Fey was out of the picture, deleted from band history, and silenced by fear of court orders. The world moved on to promotional narratives for …And Star Power.
These events were off the record in leading up to the October 2014 release. In interviews, Foxygen dismissed all inquiries regarding internal troubles. Rado fielded the questions with quick, calculated denial. To Paste and Wondering Sound, he made veiled references to le Fey’s claims. To Esquire, he played an artist trump card: media shaming. “People were using our story for themselves,” he reckoned. And, “It was mainly the media…” Meanwhile, France lacked poise in a LA Weekly interview, blaming the situation on a broken leg, not “band drama.” Later in the piece, he said that …And Star Power is about “a person going insane or an entire band in general.” He paused, then backpedalled: “Or just, y’know… a general protagonist character.” The reporter noted France’s pause, as if to say: this guy is making a point to offer jack shit.
That August before the release of …And Star Power, the final Foxygen record, le Fey tweeted a picture of her bruised lip, alleging France struck her. The picture dates back to their relationship, before the restraining order. The image never goes viral. Foxygen are merely criticized for releasing an obtuse record, conflicted in its flimsy conceit.
The tweet pic has since been taken down, but evidence remains through a retweet and Tumblr post this year. “If you care about justice at all, are a feminist, or are against domestic violence please do not support the band Foxygen,” she wrote on Tumblr. “The lead singer hit me in the face, slut shamed me, held me down by the neck and threatened to kill me, and got a restraining order on me claiming I abused him.”
Le Fey says France’s family members, around whom she’d felt unwelcome before, knew about the abuse. “I had told his dad that Sam hit me in the face,” recalls le Fey. “And he told [Sam], ‘Make sure she doesn’t tell anyone.’”
She says she knew that if she’d just handled one thing differently, the case would have swung in her favor.
“Not calling the cops after getting hit in the face is one of the biggest regrets of my life,” she says. “I could have used that police report to prove that Sam was physically violent towards me, but alas, I never filed a police report.”
She had to write it all out.
When I was approached to premiere Globelamp’s “San Francisco” single, I knew nothing of le Fey, her history, or her project. The piano ballad thrives in a balance between psych-folk and chamber-pop, but even in all its enchanting, baroque production, the lyrics, Is she going to expose? / The girl’s gotta go / His mama said so, struck as having relevance beyond the recording, so I requested a brief statement. It was then, le Fey replied, “This song is from the female perspective of the girl in the ‘San Francisco’ video, the girl you probably didn’t know about, the backup singer, the one who was made to feel silenced because of her ability to expose what is hidden within the orange glow.”
The idea of the orange glow is many things to le Fey. A warm flame drawing people in, an aura, a light leading you out of a forest. France was the first to bring the idea to her. The Orange Glow record is the last two years of her life. As she says, “Looking back, [it] is like I barely escaped this deceptive orange glow that was drawing me into a place that seems very warm but actually wasn’t.”
Le Fey arranged the record to reflect her experience. Invitational pop gives way to darker, deceptive mysticism in “Don’t Go Walking Alone In The Woods At Night” and “The Orange Glow”, but offers hope on the other side. It was a record she knew she had little choice in writing. While France’s mother is the voice of derision, her own mother’s voice on “Don’t Go Walking…” is forewarning. Le Fey says her mother didn’t understand at first why she could not move on from her past with France, why she couldn’t let it go.
“It’s like, will you stop telling me ‘don’t be negative’ or to not talk about things?” Le Fey continues, “I make art and music to deal with this stuff. People are telling me not to feel things and it’s really annoying because that’s where I want my music to come from.”
The songwriting on The Orange Glow is highly personal and autobiographical, but not in the smothering way. Songs like “Washington Moon” could chart in coffee shops up and down the West Coast; while “The Negative” is about her late roommate, whose last words to le Fey involved spiritual advice: buy an onyx rock. The record honors a loved one as much as it cherishes messages sent by the universe. While much of the record picks up the pieces of her troubled years, the utility of her catharsis is never instantly gratifying. Le Fey says she often needs her friends to analyze songs for her, to grapple with their message.
Le Fey says that when France heard “Controversial/Confrontational” he asked, “Is this song about me?” At the time, she thought the inquiry silly. They were still together. Still in good standing. On it she sings, Men cannot be trusted / And I know women too / But I believed you. She says friends who listened to it noted the songwriting does not lay full blame on either gender, but rather questions our nature to be trustworthy—that matters of the heart are heavier than reductionist binaries.
“In retrospect it’s weird because the lyrics could be about [him] now,” she says. “But he’s not who I wrote it about.”
The more we talk, the more complicated it gets.
Calls to France’s lawyer weren’t returned. Foxygen’s representative at Fort Williams Management wrote in an email, “The restraining order against Elizabeth Gomez was requested and granted for good reason. By running this story, you are giving voice to Sam’s abuser. Please deeply consider the ramifications here before deciding to move forward.”
Le Fey bristles at the “abuser” claim. “I’m not going to be treated like shit by a bunch of guys,” she replies. In her recollection of the relationship’s dissolution, le Fey says that misconduct was mutual. “Me and Sam did not have the best relationship. I’ve been a victim, like he hit me in the mouth,” she says. “But for the most part it was equal. We’d both get into fights, but Sam would take it to the next level. Any time I’d do stuff it would be out of self defense.”
Some of her stories of their troubles include instances in which she provoked him by challenging his lack of backbone. Le Fey would claim France’s parents run his life, or that Rado was manipulating him. “The main difference in why we fought is because I didn’t think he stood up for anything and that he was weak,” she says. “I have sympathy, but I feel bad he can’t escape that.”
She went on to talk about the case.
“They were trying to frame me as an abuser. The thing is, they can say that all they want. The judge didn’t grant the restraining order because of that,” she says. “The judge did it because his mom lied [when his mom said that] I tried to break into [France’s] house.”
When I ask why, she says there were instances that could be mistaken for stalking or breaking-and-entering. After they’d split, le Fey was at an Of Montreal show in Los Angeles. While hanging out with the band, a member brought up France and then asked her to give him a present, she recalls. Le Fey obliged and drove it to his home later that night, but he was out with friends. She said she called him first, received no answer, then looked around the house to see if anyone was home. Instead of leaving immediately she ate a snack in her car outside their house.
Another time, she was invited to France’s house for a Halloween party. In court, it was described as a visit without invitation, an intrusion. Le Fey’s account differed. “I told the judge I picked up [France] at his parent’s house because he was really bored at their party,” she says. “We had sex in my car and I dropped him off back at his house.”
That, she asserts, didn’t please France’s family: “They wanted to find anything to try to frame me.”
As for not calling the cops to report France’s abuse, le Fey says no one ever educated her on what to do in those situations. Further, she “never thought [she’d] date a dick enough of a guy,” le Fey says. “I always thought I was not going to be a girl like that. When I was younger I could never understand how a girl could be with a guy like that. So I was letting myself down too, like, ‘Wow, I’m weak. I’m pathetic.’
The maternal presence in Globelamp’s “San Francisco” is not a poetic exaggeration. Le Fey took many issues with Mrs. France, claiming that she lorded over his life too much and possessed the password to his email. It was after criticizing France’s mother that he once held her down and threatened her life unless she stopped, she says.
Le Fey feels these accounts did not carry weight in court because she chose to represent herself. She says France never had to speak in court, that his family has the money and therefore the power. On the phone, le Fey asks, “Do you know that book The Scarlet Letter? I feel like I have to wear this shame thing and be silenced while the other person gets to run around, free, and get everything they want,” she says. “If someone knows about it they are more quick to say I’m crazy or something. People use it against you when it has nothing to do with them.”