Experimental pop singer/songwriter, Phia (aka. Sophia Exiner) is a real wonder, her music is so refreshing and thrives in its multi-layering of sounds, with the help of a loop pedal and a kalimba she can create something purely magical and distinctive. Her live shows have helped to increase her fanbase exponentially and there’s no doubt about it, Phia is a real artist with true style and bags of charm.
I caught up with Phia amidst her current mini tour around Germany and Czech Republic to talk about making the move from her homeland of Australia to Berlin, her music, touring and much more.
I got introduced to your music through another Australian band, called ME who are also now based in Berlin. Having said that I know Berlin is quite a hive for creativity, being the home of many artists, painters, musicians ect. Are there any artists based in Berlin that you’d recommend checking out?
There are so many! Berlin is such a transient, creative place, so there’s so many artists coming and going. Kat Frankie is an Australian who’s been based in Berlin for many years and is an amazing songwriter and loop artist. Go and check out her videos! My friend Julia who comes from Cologne makes beautiful, intricate, fragile music as “Entertainment for the Braindead”. She released a series of EPs online last year and they’re well worth a listen.
Your live shows have helped to create quite a buzz around you and your music. For someone like me that’s never had the chance to see you perform live, can you sum up what happens at a Phia show?
At a live show you’ll see me standing up on stage with a kalimba in my hands and a bunch of pedals down by my feet. I’ll start the songs by looping the kalimba and my voice – sometimes I beatbox or add percussion by tapping and scraping the kalimba. I have an octave pedal which I put the kalimba through to create fat bass sounds, and my guitarist Josh plays guitar over the top. And then I sing my songs. It’s a lot of fun!
What’s your favourite song to perform live?
That changes a lot. We’ve just added a couple of new songs from the upcoming album to the set which are fun. I also always do a couple of covers in my set, and right now I’m loving performing “Ragged Wood” by Fleet Foxes. It’s such a beautiful song and it’s fun doing it with the kalimba and loops.
I hear you’re finally about to release your début album later this year, what’s the process been like working on the record, any collaborations, and when can we be expecting it to be out?
My main collaborator for the record is my guitarist (and boyfriend!) Josh Teicher. He’s producing it and we have a really good creative process with that. I’ve put a lot of work into the live arrangements of my songs which I’ve been developing for the last couple of years. Josh is using that as the basis for the record and then enhancing and fine-tuning them, adding in beats and extra instruments when necessary and taking out loops and layers when needed!
We’ve just come of a 6 week break from recording as we were in Australia and I’m excited to get back into it. We will release a single and perhaps EP later in the year, and then release the album early next year I think. It’s still up in the air.
Can you talk us through your songwriting process a little? Where do you start and how do you put a song together, particularly in relation to Do You Ever?
Lyrics always come first for me. So I have tonnes of notes in my iPhone, which I often scroll through and find and try and work on. Once I have a chorus and first verse in place, then I move to an instrument. Often it takes months for a song to be properly finished. I’ll tinker with it, move one to something else, then come back. I think I started Do You Ever? when I was still in Melbourne. Then when I moved to Berlin I came up with the live arrangement which is the basis for the recording.
I’m always fascinated by song lyrics and phrases, you’re particularly good at writing the perfect lyric. So I wanted to ask, what’s your favourite lyric that you’ve written?
Thank you! I think the song I’m most proud of currently is “So Far, So Close.” It’s a song I wrote about my grandparents and I think captures best what I try and aim for with my lyrics – honesty coupled with an internal rhythm that makes a song sing even if you’re just reading the lyrics.
If you could collaborate with any artist, who would that be and why?
I would love to make a song with Tune-yards! She is a master at looping and so creative. She also has a real sense of fun in her music, which is so important to me.
Your music is very distinctive, predominately because you play an instrument called the kalimba, when did you start playing the kalimba?
I started playing it about 4 years ago. I started out on the piano – I actually went to university and studied jazz piano. But once I found the kalimba I knew that this was the instrument for me.
What did you grow up listening to? It would be great to learn about who’s inspired you to pursue a career in music.
Well as a child I was very influenced by what my parents listened to. So I listened to a lot of music from the 60’s because that’s what my Dad liked. The Beatles are still a huge (if not the biggest) influence on my songwriting. My mum introduced me to jazz music, which I became quite passionate about towards the end of high school. So the melodicism of Bill Evans and Miles Davis has been a big influence too.
Also pop music was very inspiring to me as a girl growing up – the Spice Girls, Britney Spears, Destiny’s Child etc. I went to Beyonce’s concert last year in Berlin, wow it was amazing! The dancing and singing and the whole spectacle of it was very inspiring.
You’re just about to go out on a headline tour across Germany and Czech Republic, any place you’re particularly looking forward to playing? Any possibility that you’ll be touring the UK in the near future? We’d love to have you here.
We’ll be playing in Prague this week, which is the first time I’ve ever been there. So really looking forward to that! I would love to play in the UK, and I’m hoping that once the album is done we’ll be able to tour it there.
Moving from Australia and uprooting your life to Berlin must have obviously made a significant change to your life. Do you feel at home now in Berlin? How long have you lived there for? What’s the music scene there like compared to in Australia?
I’ve been in Berlin for nearly 3 years now. I think Melbourne, Australia will always be home for me, mainly as that’s where my family is. There’s definitely a sense of familiarity about Berlin now and I love my apartment here in Neukölln, it also feels like home.
The music scene here in Berlin is a great place to develop your music. There’s so many small venues willing to take a risk on unknown artists, and so many creative people to collaborate with. Obviously there are so many touring opportunities in Europe available to you too. Melbourne’s music scene is incredibly strong, there are so many great bands coming out of there right now. The biggest difference is probably that there are just less people living in Australia, so therefore fewer opportunities.
A special thanks to Phia for this interview and for more info on her music, check out the following links below.