INTERVIEW: Thandi Phoenix

Thandi Phoenix is on the rise, and she’s ready for people to get well acquainted with her soulful approach to RNB, dance, pop and house music. Creating a polished fusion that has become quite signature of her, the Sydney singer-songwriter has continually grown her sound and accompanying live show by a desire to continually better herself. 

Her debut self-titled EP is a collection of six diverse tracks that highlights her strong ability to write catchy hooks and empowering anthems that will come to life in her rhythmically engaging live show. While ‘Diggin’, ‘Say It’ and ‘Cleopatra’ are those bass thumping anthems that are ready to be dominated on radio, there are simple moments like ‘Again’ featuring Dan Caplen which hears her stripping everything back so purely and authentically. 

With more live shows coming up this year including appearances at Festival X in Sydney and Melbourne, Thandi Phoenix is excited to show the evolution of this new chapter. 

I recently chatted to Thandi Phoenix about the creative cohesiveness of the EP, the contrasting soulfulness of her artistry and the growth that has inhabited her impressive live show. Check out the chat HERE;

TB: Your debut self-titled EP is out now and it’s an eclectic collection of RNB infused pop songs with electronic and dancehall elements. So with your recent creative growth as an artist, what was it about these six particular tracks that you felt perfectly represented your artistry? 

TP: I think with these six tracks, the thing that just stood out to me was that they were just really strong and they all captured the message that I wanted to get across through my music. They perfectly represent where I’m at in life right now, how I’m feeling and the journey I’ve been on.

Most of the EP is about self love, empowerment, rebirth and growth. These songs just resonated the strongest with me and were the ones I wanted to share most with people and bring to the live stage.

TB: ’Diggin’ is a song that immediately stood out to me with it’s EDM meets disco synth pop melody and soulful and sparkly pop vibes that reminded me of Ella Eyre, Jess Glynne and Anne-Marie. So can we dive into the creative process behind this song for a moment because it is such a highlight on the EP? 

TP: I had a trip to London and I did some writing in Sweden at the end of last year, and I had just been listening to a lot of UK house, 90’s house and dance music at the time. I was just really loving those sonics; powerful vocals, piano driven and something that just makes you want to dance and has that amazing feel good bite to it. 

So when I went over there, that was definitely something I wanted to explore and it really was the right place to do that. 

‘Diggin’ came together pretty quickly. It was inspired by some very real feelings of mine and it felt so natural as I had a session in Sweden and it came together in an afternoon. Most of the songs were actually written in one session/day and then I worked on the production and building it from there. 

TB: In contrast, your collaboration with Dan Caplen ‘Again’ also stands out because of it’s raw intimacy and heavy vocal focus which has a bit of a different musical palette compared to everything else on the EP. So how did you tackle the authenticity around this track to make sure it stood out in it’s unique and raw way?

TP: This was actually the hardest song on the EP to finish because it was exactly that. It was that the beauty lied in the simplicity of it. It was so imperative to me that I didn’t over cook it and didn’t model it with so many layers that it lost the beautifulness that it had from being so simple.

I had a session with this writer from Los Angeles called Schmarx and the night before I was just having a fiddle on the keys and voice memo’d out the melody. When we went into the session the next day we started working it out more and put it to guitar and I thought it was okay. We did the demo just guitar and vocals and that’s where the magic was. 

For me it was so hard finding the right contrast as I wanted to add more layers and have strings but I didn’t want to over cook it because then it took away what was so great about it. It’s important to sometimes show the strength of a song from just having it stripped back to it’s pure form with just one instrument and vocals and that’s what we did. 

It was also important for me to showcase that side of me because that’s my roots. I started writing songs on the floor of my bedroom on guitar. And yeah it is really different to every thing else on the EP but I ain’t going to fit in no box, no lane, I’m gonna do my own thing *laughs*. 

TB: You recently performed with One Republic at the NRL Grand Final and in the past have performed and toured with Rudimental as well as worked on ‘My Way’ with them. So what have you learnt about yourself as an artist from working with musicians like these guys?

TP: Yeah the NRL performance with One Republic was a big one! Especially to be asked to sing ‘Halo’ of all songs. Like come on! That is one HARD song *laughs*. But it was so humbling and overwhelming to get to do it with Ryan Tedder and the One Republic guys. 

I think what it teaches you is to dig deep within and know who you are as an artist and as a person. Sometimes when you perform with artists of that status, it’s a little overwhelming but then you realise we are all people and they’ve got to where they are from doing what they love. So you just gotta remember who you are and do what you love. 

TB: In March you appeared on triple j’s Like A Version to do a cover of Portishead’s ‘Glory Box’. So with the highly coveted nature of Like A Version, what was the most important things for you that you wanted to highlight on this platform? 

TP: Honestly I just wanted to smash it *laughs*. It’s a massive platform but there’s also that risk where you’ve got to take a song and flip it and cover it your way. There was a lot of stress riding on that. But it was really important for me to take elements of what I love and infuse it in that song and as well as pay respect to that song while putting as much of myself into it. 

That was such a great experience and I have to give so much props and thanks to my drummer and musical director Andrew Boston who helped me put it all together. 

You get the call and it’s obviously something you want to do so you’re like “YES” but then you’ve only got 2 weeks to put it together so its just like … *screams*.It was a major moment for me, I needed to smash it. *laughs*. I wanted to make myself proud and I really wanted to push myself from adding the strings and horns section and elevating myself from my normal three piece live band. 

TB: In July you performed at Splendour In The Grass and I was LIVING during your set with how dramatic, rhythmic and fulfilling it felt and it honestly was one of my favourite sets of the weekend. So how long did this set take to refine and incorporate the guest vocalists and horns section? 

TP: That was a big moment! But to be honest the people I work with are complete professionals and we actually put that set together quite quickly and seamlessly. 

I met with the horns to go over the arrangements and figure out how we were going to bring everything to life sonically. But all together we only had one rehearsal and then we did the damn thing!

Everyone was just on it! And it helps when everyone is just incredible at what they do. 

TB: Well, it really was an incredible performance!

TP: Thank you! I mean, there is obviously still a lot of behind the scenes stuff that takes place. As I was saying before, my drummer/MD is really like my engine as he puts together all of the arrangements and pieces everything together for the show. He creates those special moments that are different to what is on the record from hours of experimentation. 

Now that I’m finally putting out my EP, people can get acquainted with the songs and when they come along to the live show they will be able to recognise the different arrangements and the flipping that we do with the live versions. 

TB: With your upcoming appearances at Festival X and some more live shows, how are you wanting to further bring this EP to life in the live space? 

TP: We are currently working on how the live show is evolving and I’m SO excited by it. For the Sydney show on the Festival X tour we are going to have the whole shebang baby! 

Live shows are so important to me because live performance is really where I see myself heading towards for the long run. Some people prefer to just write the songs and be a studio musician but for me I come alive when I’m on stage and I just love doing that so much. 

Bringing songs to life onstage is so important to me and I want it to be even better than it has been in the past! Having that connection and getting people to experience the music that way is how I originally fell in love with music. 

TB: Recently I’ve been hearing ‘Cleopatra’ being played a lot in shops which is so cool. So have you heard it played anywhere yet? 

TP: Oh my god, yes! When I was in the shopping centre one day I was buying tea and all of a sudden I heard the drums to ‘Cleopatra’ start and I was like “this song sounds so familiar” and then it hit me. I was like “Hold up, WAIT!” *laughs*. 

So there I was dancing through the aisles getting my milk and honey and I was like “I’m done, I can resign now” *laughs*. 

But seriously, it was so cool. I don’t think I will ever get used to hearing my songs being played in public. It’s such a cool feeling!

TB: Let’s play a little game of rapid fire questions where I’m going to ask you some questions that you just need to answer with the first thing that comes to mind…

TP: I’m always so bad at this stuff, but let’s do it!

TB: The emoji that best describes my debut EP is…

TP: It probably should be the dancing one but I’m so excited about it, so it will probably just be the smiley face with the stars in the eyes. 

TB: My pre-show pump up song is…

TP: I honestly usually am just running around making sure I’ve got my setlist ready and my vocals are all good. So I don’t really listen to much music. I’m either trying to get zen or rushing *laughs*. 

TB: I wish I could…

TP: fly! I keep having flying dreams and it’s just the best feeling *laughs*. 

TB: Pineapple on pizza is…

TP: Hmmm, not my thing! I don’t hate it but I’m just kinda like… why? 

TB: If I had to brush my teeth with soap or vinegar it would be…

TP: Probably vinegar because I used to shot like apple cider vinegar. But fuck, soap in your mouth would be so gross. Yuck! *laughs*. 

Thandi Phoenix’s debut EP is out now! And you can catch her in November at Festival X in Sydney and Melbourne!

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