We get to know Melbourne songstress Phia. a) who just released her new single ‘Heartstrings’, b) whose first album purchase was the Spice Girls’ debut album (respect), c) who loves a little kalimba and d) who has plenty more up her sleeve in the weeks and months to come.
So get your teeth stuck in to our latest feature.
1. Name : Phia.
2. Where are you based? Melbourne, though I’ve just moved back home from Berlin, where I’ve been living for the past five years.
3. How did you get your start in music? I guess my real start was singing harmonies in the car with my mum and sister. But moving forward in time, I started playing jazz piano in high school which prompted me to audition for the V.C.A. I also got accepted into a law degree and thought, I’ll do music for one year, so I can say that I’ve done it and not have any regrets. Once I started I never thought about leaving.
4. Give us five words to best describe you as an artist. Intiuitive, analytical, hands-on, optimistic, anxious. Is that too honest?
5. Tell us a little bit about your sound and how it developed. My main instrument is the African kalimba, also known as a thumb piano. It’s a small piece of wood with metal tines, that you play with your thumbs. I discovered it when I saw it being played on stage by the guitarist of RedBerryPlum. I was really into toy instruments at the time, so thought I’d add it to my collection. I fell in love with it as soon as I first held it. I also had just plucked up the courage to buy a second hand loop pedal. I’d thought about it for years but found it all quite intimidating. By accident the kalimba and loop pedal arrived in the same week, so I put them together. The sound was instantly engaging and magical to me – the looped kalimba sounds a bit like a harp but even more rhythmic, it has the percussive beginnings which work so well in a loop plus the beautiful harmonic resonance. It was a real lightbulb moment for me; I’d found my sound. Now it’s developed and evolved somewhat, and particularly with my collaboration with Josh Teicher (my guitarist and producer), we’ve added lush guitar lines, deep synth bass and beats to it.
6. Who have been your musical influences? The Beatles were and remain a huge influence on my approach to songwriting and pop music. The pianist Bill Evans’ lyricism and crystalline sound on the piano has also really influenced me. More recently I’ve loved delving into Tune-Yards’ kaleidoscopic musical world, Lianne La Havas’ lush songs and production and I’m so excited to hear Laura Mvula’s second album. Her sound and songwriting voice is so powerful and unique.
7. What are your favourite songs of all time? OK, I’m gonna divide this question up a little. My favourites of songs released before my lifetime would be ‘She’s Not There’ by The Zombies – I remember hearing the keys part as a kid and being like, what is making that sound? How does it sound so good? Now I know, the rhodes piano, the jazz influenced seventh chords, but the whole is still greater than the sum of its parts. ‘Julia’ and ‘For No One’ by The Beatles – I could name any number of their songs, but these two capture that beautiful wistful melancholy they did so well. ‘Fire And Rain’ by James Taylor, ‘So Far Away’ by Carole King… OK I’ll stop now. Favourite songs in my lifetime would probably be ‘1234’ by Feist, ‘Montezuma’ by Fleet Foxes (what a killer opening line that songs has), ‘Dance, Dance, Dance’ by Lykke Li and most recently, ‘Overcome’ by Laura Mvula.
8. What was the first album you bought? ‘Spice’ by the Spice Girls.
9. Give us a little fun fact about yourself that people might not know. I’m a big sci-fi and fantasy fan and a huge feminist. When the two intersect I’m beside myself. Recently I was driving and saw a girl who was being walked to a dress-up birthday party with her parents and she was dressed as Rey and I teared up.
10. What would your chosen career be if music wasn’t an option? I’d love to be a writer for young adults. Books like ‘Obernewtyn’ by Isobelle Carmody, the Alanna series by Tamora Pierce, Harry Potter and so much more were so influential and inspirational to me growing up.
11. What’s the best advice you’ve been given in your career? Your best song is always ahead of you. And to go straight to the merch table after you’ve finished a gig (you’ll sell more CDs).
12. Tell us about your latest release. ‘Heartstrings’ is the next single from my upcoming album, ‘The Ocean of Everything’. I’m so pleased with how this song came out, it was actually one of the hardest to get right in the studio. We spent a couple of days on it and then revisited it about a month later and were super depressed with how it sounded. So Josh and I took it back to our home studio and totally reworked it. We added in a little Motown in the shaker and tambourine groove and in the outro bassline, a little Dance Magic Dance Bowie in the guitars and Casio and totally overhauled the structure. It’s now one of my favourites on the album.
13. What do your future plans involve? This year is going to be big! The single launch is on July 3 at the Gasometer in Melbourne which we’re double-headlining with Georgia Fields (I featured on her recent single, ‘Open Orange’). The choir I run, Melbourne Indie Voices, is going to be joining us on stage, so it’s going to be a real extravaganza! The night before, Josh and I will be in Alice Springs for the first time ever playing a show with Resin Moon, Rayalla, the Alice Sings Pop Choir and Edward Francis. And then in August we’re off to Europe to launch the album. Stay tuned for Australia dates.
14. Where can our audience catch you live? The aforementioned Gasometer date in Melbourne and the Alice Springs gig. I’ll then be touring Germany throughout September and will be launching the album in Australia in October with a national tour.