Photo by Cassandra Hannagan
INTERVIEW: Los Angeles-based synth/pop artist Wons Phreely
Hi Wonsly, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?
I’ve been just fabulous! Thanks for asking.
Can you talk to us more about your new single “The Night Has An Alibi”?
Like a lot of my songs, this one came to me in a dream. Sometimes in the dream itself I’ll have a guitar in my hands and workout the chords and be figuring out the words and the music, so then I have to force myself to wake up so I don’t loose the song, or its gone forever. But usually the excitement of a new song is enough to wake me up. So I woke up and sung it into my phone, and then the next day I recorded the synth line on my computer, and sung the chorus over that. Once a rough bed of music was created I started singing the verse words into the computer, and listening back to the emotions that had come out of me. They revealed to me the songs themes, it’s the best when a song tells you what its about. I was singing about my feelings, about the life situation I had found myself in, about who I am and about how I’d always had this feeling.
Did any event inspire you to write this song?
I realized I had been writing a song about how sometimes we grow up knowing we don’t fit in the place we are born, and that if we try to stay in that one place and just live the life that’s expected of us, we will shrivel up and die inside. So the words that came to me in the dream were about that – “Sister I know we should settle but I cant live a lie… I just get this feeling like I might explode inside.”
And then with the music, I wanted it to feel like you were in your car, all packed up and ready to leave, starting out at dawn, hitting the open freeway on your way to the place you are meant to be, where maybe you’ll find more people who want to talk about the things you like to talk about – “these conversations where its like there’s nothing to add, there must be something else.” And as the song grows I wanted it to feel like the driver in that car had maybe found that place, or was feeling like they were on their way, so that when the song really starts pumping and the saxophone solo kicks in, and the drums are relentless. As I was writing this part I started dancing, and then singing in falsetto. I still love dancing to this song. In the falsetto part I start singing “to find that one place we can be really something.”
Any plans to release a video for the single?
There is a music video that is unquestionably set to make its existence known to the world very soon indeed. I was fortune enough to collaborate with an amazing cinematographer friend of mine named Laffrey Witbrod and we shot the video over six days, plus a bunch of days of planning and testing too. I encouraged all my actor and musician friends in LA to turn up to various locations and we created a story about a man born into the world with a rather unusual physical uniqueness. I got to direct it and play the lead role, and after it was shot I taught myself After Effects and spent many many many hours creating all the digital effects.
How was the recording and writing process?
I thought about the driving beat and the drum sound I wanted, it really anchors the whole song, I wanted that big expansive echoing snare. My producer David Skeet is an encyclopedia of music history and sounds, and he was great in helping create that sound. With the singing I already had my rough vocal part that I’d sung into my computer at home, but when it was time for me to sing the real vocals with at Skeet’s studio, he encouraged me to sing the song while I played guitar, which is not the normal way I sing in the studio. I usually sing without the guitar, and then if I’m playing guitar on the song I will record it separately. But this time he encouraged me to do both at the same time. It helped me loose myself in the singing, and not think too much about how I was singing, which resulted in me really letting go and singing with more heart. Sometimes I think if I’m just singing into a mic I might be thinking too much about what I’m doing, which for me can mean I might hold back. So on this recording I just let go and didn’t think about how I was singing, maybe playing guitar at the same time made me feel more natural. But when I first heard the vocal I thought it was too earnest, like I sounded like I cared too much. But after a while and with some encouragement, I got used to it, and I think it works much better, its more passionate, and less cool. That’s a big thing for what I’m trying to do now with music. Think less, and forget about being cool, or clever, I only want to hear real heart now.
Another thing that came from signing with a guitar in my hand was that it also created this unexpected lucky accident where the guitar playing sucks up into the vocal mic and swells in this louder volume in the breaks between the verses I’m singing. Because of the type of compression we put on the vocal, you can hear the guitar spilling in the vocal mic in the breaks between singing, which we decided to leave in because we thought it sounded unexpected, energetic and really fun. Happy accidents are in the recording studio are the best!
What role does Australia play in your writing?
Nothing too consciously, that I can pinpoint, but I do like some of the classic Australian rock like Inxs and Cold Chisel. Crowded House are pretty great too, but they were kinda half from New Zealand.
How has Costello and Springsteen influenced your music?
I used to listen to Elvis Costello when people told me that I had a similar lyrical grace, I guess he was an example of a guy who was kinda angry and had created a bit of a style and presentation that worked for a singer who wanted to say a lot of words in a pop or rock song, he also wrote a lot of ‘clever’ lyrics. I guess that was interesting to me at first, but being clever or angry isn’t that interesting to me anymore. I relate to an artist like Springsteen because he isn’t trying to be cynical, he seems to be singing words that are direct and relatable about things that really matter to all of us. Behind the tough and cool facade that some of us want to show, we are all just trying to get by and make some kind of happy life.
Does the new single mean we can expect a new album – how’s that coming along?
It’s almost done—myself and Joseph who is an amazing piano player and songwriter are just working on one more song, maybe two. Then we want to play them live for a few shows, just to make sure we love the live arrangement and dynamics, then once we have that down, we’ll record at least one more song, and then the album is finished.
Any tentative release date or title in mind?
The album will be out this year. I do have a title, but it’s too good to share here, it would probably be stolen by some professional Hollywood songwriter and then appear as the title on the next Justin Bieber single, or on Rihanna’s next album, she will no doubt be putting out 5 new albums this year, before I get the chance to release mine.
Any plans to hit the road?
What else is happening next in Wons Phreely´s world?
Lots, I’m directing music videos for myself and others, and I’m directing a music documentary. I’m writing some pop hits for other artists. I’m also acting in stuff, it’s a cliché for musicians, but its fun, and they pay you, but no one wants to hear about that!
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