Melbourne born and German based singer-songwriter Phia is showing she’s truly a citizen of the world as she tours through Poland this month with fellow German based Aussie Mez Medallion. I caught up with her recently to chat about the European dates, her love of pop music, and life away from Oz. Tune in tomorrow for an interview with her touring partner Mez!
You’re currently based in Berlin, which is a world away from Melbourne. What inspired you to make the big move?
It was partly based on timing – I wanted to have lived some of my life in Europe, and suddenly it just seemed the right time. I didn’t have anything tying me down in Melbourne – no full time job, or mortgage, or university! It was also a career thing; I wanted to explore opportunities over here for my music. Berlin seemed an obvious choice: it’s cheap, there are heaps of artists here. I also have a German passport as my grandfather was born here, so that makes the visa side uncomplicated!
How does life in Berlin compare to living in Australia?
I find it hard answering this question. A lot of answers that I come up with, I wonder whether they are concrete differences, or rather, changes that have come about because my mindset/attitude has changed somewhat from moving overseas. There are some obvious differences of course. I love the travel I’ve done over the last eight months as everything is so close and affordable! I’ve been to Iceland, Poland, around Germany, the UK. In fact, last month someone from the south of France was in Berlin and saw one of my shows and invited me to play at their birthday party. That was fun! I also love not owning a car. It’s an easy city to get around. I ride my bike a lot, and also ride my bike to gigs which is so great. Now that I always play solo, I can fit my gear in a backpack. I’ve had some beautiful serene bike rides home at 3 am on a weeknight, riding down cobble-stoned roads, past canals and bridges, and some seriously old buildings.
You call your music pop, which is a term that’s almost fallen out of favour in recent years. Why do you embrace it?
Because I love pop songs! I grew up mainly listening to the Beatles and then got into contemporary music in the late ’90s, a really great period of mainstream pop music, in my opinion! Those early Britney Spears songs, the Spice Girls, early Destiny’s Child. They had some great songwriting teams. Now I listen to tune-yards, Lykke Li, Fleet Foxes, Grizzly Bear. Pop is such a broad church, and, at least, the first two have a hint of some of those ’90s influences. I’m not aspiring to be Lady Gaga, but a pop song is defined by being catchy, having a clear message and a hook.
Also as I was writing this I realized another reason I love pop is the diversity of great female artists who are out there making pop music, so inspiring.
What makes your pop music different from the stuff made the term such a dirty word?
When I’m describing my music to people, I do always feel the need to add a precursor to the word “pop” with another, like “experimental-pop”, or “art-pop”. People often hear “pop”, and think you mean disposable music, or at least heavily produced. The songwriting of my music is pop, but the sounds I use are more diverse and intimate, a bit playful. I loop my kalimba on stage and layer my voice, which includes beat-boxing, hand claps and finger clicks, so it’s a bit DIY and a bit experimental at the same time.
You’ve just returned to Poland after touring there in February supporting Myrra Ros. What was it about the country that made you want to go back so soon?
Well we met Rafal, our tour manager, in Iceland last year when we did a tour there. He is Polish but currently living in Reykjavik. He’s not a musician himself, but really interested in being involved in the music industry. He makes live music videos, and has started booking tours and managing bands. So this year he was organising a tour for Myrra and asked me if I’d like to support. At the end of that tour he asked me if I’d like him to organise a tour for Josh [AKA Mez Medallion] and I – I said, is that a trick question?! That’s one of the things I’ve loved about living in Europe – you meet people who are so passionate about the music industry who are really interested in helping and supporting smaller artists. People who like to collaborate in lots of different ways, whether making a film with you, or booking you shows, or helping you put on events. It’s so great. It’s a really dynamic, vibrant environment to feel a part of.
You’re touring with Mez Medallion [Joshua Teicher] who’s a fellow Aussie. How did you connect with him?
Josh and I met five years ago when we were both studying music in Melbourne. We got placed into the same ensemble at university and well, one thing led to another.
It must be interesting playing to crowds that don’t have English as their native language. How is that for you?
Well the universal language of pop music is English really, which is lucky for me! A lot of German bands here write and perform songs in English, so it’s not that out of the ordinary. I am trying to learn a Polish song, to put in my set for the tour though. People appreciate that, and it’s a fun way to connect to people in a new country. It’s really hard though. Even after having it written out phonetically by a friend, Polish is tricky!
You’re documenting this tour using various social networks includingFacebook and Twitter. How important are those outlets for you?
They’re really invaluable. It means I can stay in touch with people back in Australia and let them know what I’m up to, as well as connecting with new fans over here in Europe. I can post photos of the gigs in Poland, updates about the journey. I love when people I have only met once at gigs comment back. It’s so lovely being in touch. As a totally independent musician it’s an incredible resource.
I hear that you’ve got a new release planned for later this year. Can you tell me anything about that new music?
I have a limited edition live EP that I’m selling on this tour that was recorded at a show in Berlin and Josh quickly mixed before we left. I’ll be putting it up on Soundcloud soon. When I get back I’ll be seriously getting into recording the songs in the studio that I’m performing live now in my set. I’m excited to be working that way – working out how to recreate the energy of what I do on stage in the studio, which is the opposite of what I did with my last EP, where I wrote a lot of it at the computer and then we had to figure out how to play it live. Both ways are good; I’m just excited about this new challenge!
Do you have anything else in the pipeline?
The next few months will involve recording, and more touring in Europe. Then in November, Mez Medallion and I will be heading back to Australia for a few months to release some music and play shows, and get some beach time! I’m excited to be back in Melbourne and show everyone what I’ve been working on.