Friday, April 24, 2009

Interview: Phrase for Tom Magazine

For, and,


Melbourne hip-hop artist Phrase splutters, in the middle of a coughing fit, that he really doesn’t like doing interviews. Followers of his twitter page will know he’s "so sick of talking about myself!", but with his second record, Clockwork about to be released, the media-shy Phrase is busy doing just that. The album would have been out over twelve months ages ago if it wasn’t for record company dramas...

"It’s been ages - it’s just been sitting on the shelf. I’m really anxious to finally get it out there," Phrase - born Harley Webster - said.

The album takes a completely different direction than his first record, Talk With Force, which was written when Phrase was just 19, and, he says, "in a completely different headspace".

"There was a young male aggression coming through; I felt like I had to prove something to myself and to everyone around me. The new album is coming from a much calmer, more mature place."

Clockwork, which features a number of winning collaborations, was modelled on old Aussie releases, like Cold Chisel, that Phrase dug out of his parent’s collection. The record focuses on some very anti-government and anti-authority sentiments, which Phrase puts down to his troubled childhood.

"Growing up, I didn’t fit in at school," he recalls. "The schooling system doesn’t fit every kid, you know, you’re either academic or you drop out; you fit in, or you don’t. Life’s like that too - so the album represents being in control, and inspiring other people to do their own thing."

Phrase collaborated with a number of artists on Clockwork, creating an overall sound most unlike a typical hip-hop offering. Contributing artists include Spiderbait’s Kram, Jackson Jackson, and Bliss n Eso. For Phrase, working with Wendy Matthews on a revamped version of her hit, "The Day You Went Away" was the highlight.

"We sent her a demo just hoping she’d give it a listen, and she got back to us and was excited about what we were doing. I spent my childhood listening to her sing, and there she was in the studio, singing right next to me; it was really amazing," he said.

Phrase grew up listening to his father’s music, like Stevie Wonder, as well as popular acts like Nirvana and Rage Against the Machine, giving him a fairly liberal acceptance of all genres of music.

"If it’s good music, it’s good music, you know? I’m pretty open to experimenting. I like putting it all in a melting pot."

An authentic local influence is recognisable in Phrase’s music; one that doesn’t seem to rely on US styles and themes. Not surprisingly, he is enthused about the current strength of the Australian hip-hop scene, which really appears to be coming into its own.

"A lot of the first album, production-wise, borrowed from US hip-hop; there wasn’t a lot of Australian stuff to model it on. Now there are so many acts that are really touring hard - there’s so much stuff out there that’s really at a good place," he said.

"It’s not just about keeping it local, because we want to be of a world standard, but it’s definitely important to keep local influences in there."Phrase has seen quite a bit of success since he released his first album, the best part of which, he says, is taking his music on the road.

"You take for granted where you’re at, and you’re always worried about what happens next, but things have been great. It’s awesome how my music translates from what I write in my bedroom to out here - when there’s a bunch of people in a small country town who’ve learnt all the words to my songs."

Phrase, while still taking in the release of Clockwork, is already moving on to his next project.

"I just started writing again. I want to go overseas, do some writing in the UK with some friends. I have some ideas, but you never know where it’s going to end up."

Clockwork is out now through Universal.

By Anna Angel

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