Melbourne’s live-looping indie-pop artist Phia already impresses as a supremely elegant and commanding performer, and if you listen to her new EP The Woman Who Counted The Stars, you’ll experience a musician only growing in depth and strength. WildnFree worked alongside Phia (Sophia Exiner) to co-present 2016’s Melbourne Music Week Choir featuring her artfully nurtured local choir Melbourne Indie Voices and observed her teach the choir how to sing together in harmony and give them opportunities to publicly perform, all with great skill, kindness and passion. So, WildnFree was intrigued and excited to hear her latest release via Europe based label Labelship, The Woman Who Counted The Stars. Darker and sparklier than her previous work, Phia explores the deep space of a new sound all glitched, distorted and fuzzed in some parts, soft and nebulous in others, purposefully following the rocket trails of women deserving all the accolades of an Armstrong or Aldrin, yet forgotten to space and time.
Part inspired by an interview she read with Björk late last year, Phia accepted the challenged to expand her songwriting beyond the expected topics of boyfriends and heartache. She explains the exact inspiration behind each track for us here on WildnFree. Take it away Phia!
1. The Woman Who Counted The Stars
Last year I was inspired by a viral Facebook post by Björk who wrote, “Women in music are allowed to be singer songwriters singing about their boyfriends…If they change the subject matter to atoms, galaxies, activism, nerdy math beat editing or anything else than being performers singing about their loved ones they get criticised.” Songwriting challenge accepted! It kind of just floated in the back of my mind for a couple of months and then I found myself reading an obituary for the astronomer Vera Rubin who discovered the first evidence for the theory of dark matter. I’d never heard of her but I found myself gripped by the description of her pouring over huge astronomical plates and using mathematics to discover that there weren’t enough stars in our galaxies for them to stay together, given the speed at which they rotate, without the existence of dark matter.
I just loved this image and the title for the song came into my head, before the song itself. After writing it I performed the song with my Casio and loop pedal to Josh Teicher, who produced the album, after a rehearsal. He immediately started playing the guitar part you can hear in the chorus and I thought, “Yes!” I loved the Tears For Fears vibe Josh’s guitar parts bring to the final production. Our mixing engineer came up with the idea of doing Natalie Imbruglia style “oohs” into the chorus, delicious.
My last album was written on the road. I refined my songs as I toured around Europe which meant I had very specific sounds and arrangements in mind when it came time to record. For this EP it was a very different experience. I wrote the songs, then Josh and I created demos before taking them to a rehearsal with our drummer, Lachlan O’Kane. They then took on more shape before heading to Point Lonsdale to a recording studio with Nick Huggins to lay down the final parts.
This is a song that really took on a life of its own once I was playing it live with Josh and Lachie. Lachie started playing the groove you hear on the record and Josh started playing around with some riffs until Lachie and I stopped him and said – that’s the one! I wrote the song based on an article I read about scientists discovering 60,000 year old bacteria in underground caves. I love sci-fi and the questions they pose, what does it mean for our short-lived lives if non-human matter can live so long? I love Nic’s mix on this one, I can hear the subterranean caves I’m referencing in the sounds him and Josh created.
3. Washed Away
We recorded this one in Berlin last year, at the Soundcloud studios. It was the first experience I had of walking into a studio with a song, but no demo and starting from scratch. It was so liberating! There were no expectations of what the song should be so heaps of ideas were thrown around. I tried to write a really catchy chorus, I had Taylor Swift meets Fleetwood Mac in mind. Josh recorded the guitar solo in the first single take, I love it. It’s got quite an intense aggressive sound, but a the subject matter is about feeling overwhelmed by family history. You can’t hold on to everything.
The song is written based on a conversation I had with my Mum, she was telling me about a friend who is a weaver who takes fabrics and garments that have some emotional resonance – an old wedding dress, or a cardigan of a loved one – and weaves them into quilts. I was really moved by the story, which you can read here. Sound wise, I was experimenting with different instrumentation for this EP and wrote this song on piano. But when I was trying to come up with an arrangement it just didn’t feel right – when I play a song, I have to have this feeling of it being really fun, I have to want to sing it. So I picked up the kalimba and found the riff and something just clicked. Josh came up with the interlocking guitar parts which I just love. We recorded the main parts of the song live in the studio all together, which I’d never done before for a pop song. I played synth bass and sang, Lachie playing drums and Josh playing one of the guitar parts. I think it gives it such a wonderful, natural feel. We added the dreamy synths and extra guitars and some samples from the live recording later.
5. Silver & Gold
The song is inspired by Kintsukuroi, the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with silver or gold lacquer, making something beautiful out of something broken. I wrote this song a couple of years ago but just couldn’t work out the instrumentation and arrangement for it. I played it for Josh and he really had a vision with the sounds and groove, referencing Jay Z and DJ Shadow, and layering live drums with drum machines. I love the 90s TLC vibe and trashy guitar sounds, and the layering and filtering of the Casio keyboard.
Now enjoy this beauty:
The Woman Who Counted The Stars Tour
November 30 – The Old Bar – Melbourne
December 2 – The Newsagency – Sydney
December 3 – The Grace Emily – Adelaide
December 8 – City Sounds, Brisbane
December 9 – Smith’s Alternative – Canberra
Tix & info at www.listentophia.com