INTERVIEW: Synth-Centric San Francisco Bay Area Artist PhasesLM

Hi P, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?

Hey – I’m great. Thanks for asking.

Can you talk to us more about your latest single “Mechanical Dogs”?

Sure. It’s also the only song on the EP that features vocals in a typical pop song way so I thought it would be a good single. I think of it as anxiety-fueled dance music.  

Did any event in particular inspire you to write this song?

There was this big lightning storm that hit California in August of 2020. It was very surreal because we rarely get lightning in this area. Anyway, I sat up for part of the night just watching the storm, and the next morning when I got up it felt like we’d come through something – like the storm had been a passage into whatever was coming next – and it wasn’t going to be good. I heard this weird sound coming from outside, off in the distance. It sounded like a mechanical dog. I recorded it with my phone and that recording became the loop that makes the dog barking sound in my song.  Interestingly enough, what was coming next were the fires that the lightning storm sparked. In September, we had a day of dark orange skies due to all the smoke. In the “Mechanical Dogs” video, around the 1:35 mark, there’s a shot of the mechanical dogs marching through a photo that I took from that day without sun. 

How was the filming process and experience behind the video?

It’s very DIY as you can probably tell. I had discovered webcamtoy.com and I knew I wanted to use the video effects on there, so I filmed all the footage of me singing on my laptop. The nighttime shots were filmed with my iPhone while walking through my neighborhood. There’s one shot of a coyote crossing the street and I got so excited because the song mentions coyotes . . . I filmed that and then I ran after the coyote to get more footage! I was lucky I didn’t make headlines with “Woman Mauled by Coyote While Filming Music Video.” All the robot footage was collected online and then processed in Adobe After Effects. I have some experience in editing and film making so making music videos is just part of the creative process for me.    

The single comes off your new album Out At Night – what’s the story behind the title?

The title Out at Night came to me during one of my nightly walks through my neighborhood early in the shutdown. I’ve always gone for walks later in the evening, like after 8 or 9 pm, and it’s usually quiet. But during the shutdown in spring of 2020 it could be absolutely still – no traffic, nothing. And sometimes I would think of how this compared to what going out at night had been just a few months before. I used to go out for drinks and dancing or to see movies and shows, but now going out at night meant walking through the neighborhood and seeing the occasional coyote or deer sharing the street with me.   

How was the recording and writing process?

I had previously been working on an acoustic album and I had been very fixated on writing in a singer/songwriter framework – and then that production fell through. I could have kept going with the material, but I was really crushed that some key people had backed out on me, and I couldn’t even listen to the songs without feeling sad. I decided to go back to my roots, which are in ‘80s New Wave. I just started playing around with drumbeats and synthesizer riffs and not worrying about lyrics or standard song formats. I never got as unconventional as I was hoping to be with the songs, but I’m pretty happy with how they work together.  

What role does San Francisco play in your music?

San Francisco is the center of my musical universe! I’ve had the opportunity to play with so many talented musicians by being part of the San Francisco music scene. The city has changed a lot in the past few years – some of it due to how expensive, and now the pandemic. I really hope the clubs and venues I love, like the The Cat Club and DNA Lounge, survive. I’m hoping to film a video for the title track “Out at Night” in and around some of those places as kind of a love letter to San Francisco’s nightlife and music scene.  

What aspect of 2020 did you get to explore on this record?

I tried to explore the uncertainty brought about by the fantastic and catastrophic events of 2020, but as experienced on a very personal level. We had political unrest, protests and riots, natural disasters, the pandemic – all of it was happening, but not exactly on my street. You still feel the anxiety and a sense of foreboding or helplessness.  So I think all the songs have a unifying sense of uneasiness. It was also important to me that the last song, “Everything’s on Fire,” which was actually written about the Black Lives Matter protests, but fits in neatly after the song about the lightning storm – ends with some sense of resolution. But I think the resolution is more about taking a breath and sitting with the world as it is before you move on, rather than everything getting fixed and going to back to how it was before.

Where else did you find the inspiration for the songs and lyrics?

I love using loops of recordings I’ve stored on my phone. I tend to go around recording interesting ambient noise just as a hobby. I used some of the recordings as a starting place for a couple of the songs. For example, “Station Interlude” was inspired by a recording of being in a train station in Japan. 

What else is happening next in PhasesLM’s world?

Well, I’m planning to make a video for the song “Out at Night.” I’m also working on new material and I hope to release another EP towards the end of the year. Other than that, it’s day to day life- work, family, cats, art, maybe some roller skating.  

Watch “Mechanical Dogs”

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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