Interview by Kris Smith
Where are you right now, and what are you up to?
I live in Finland during the COVID-19 pandemic and I’m writing loads of demos with online collaborations.
You’ve recently released the fantastic ‘Glorious Dead’ EP on bandcamp, please tell us all about it. Are these recent recordings from a current band, or the fruits of a previous collaboration?
So glad you like the EP, it was a labour of love that took years to write. Glorious Dead was inspired by personal crisis and transformation and major world events such as what’s happening now with the Covid pandemic. At the time of the economic crash. The crisis began in 2007 with a depreciation in the subprime mortgage market in the United States, and it developed into an international banking crisis with the collapse of the investment bank Lehman Brothers on September 15, 2008. I guess the people on the poverty line, like myself, really felt the impact. I was working a 14-hour-day job as a waitress getting half-an-hour break a day and then at night penning songs and lyrics that would later emerge into a recording. I guess the defining moment was the COVID-19 crisis which once again inspired me to finally create the ‘Livin’ Life Blues’ video which would complete the ten year journey. I guess when we look at the past ten years, it’s been a slow economic decline into darkness.
The wonderful Dave ‘Soulfingaz’ Williams on hammond/mellotron/piano really added the ska flavour which I adore. He had the biggest hands of any man I know. He was tall, dark and handsome like a beautiful, Jamaican ‘Lurch’ and he held my hand so gentle, a caring kind musician. He passed away not long after. [The ska element isn’t foregrounded across the EP, but you can hear traces of it in ‘Livin’ Life Blues’ – Ed]
A couple of songs are available to buy as downloads but are there plans for a full release? Are there other releases in the works such as the Blossom of Love/Devil’s Son single, or an album on the way?
I’m releasing both the EP and a single hopefully by the end of the year. Meanwhile I’m working on a new album “Like Driving Drunk Through A Blizzard”. I have in process an eco-friendly vinyl being printed for both the Glorious Dead EP and also an 8″ vinyl record for the two polar opposite songs I have given the label Dark Tropical; ‘Blossom Of Love’ which sounds like a gothic holiday and ‘The Devil’s Son’ which resembles early delta blues vocally with dark classical and stoner-rock elements. Both were recorded in Melbourne at a small studio with some amazing musicians who I felt would be a good fit for the sound I was hearing. ‘The Devil’s Son’ was written on a greyhound bus in Sacramento passing the cotton fields when an announcement over the radio speaker came on about a shooting in the area.
The EP has a classic melodic post-punk/alternative rock sound, with centered chorus and vocal: no noodling, grunge or shoegazing here; it reminded us a little of bands like Flesh For Lulu and Lords of the New Church, or maybe slightly that mid-period Billy Idol, Siouxie, Danielle Dax sound. Does there any of that resonate or are we way off the mark?
Yeah I think you picked the fusion. I don’t plan what the songs will sound like, they kind of lead the way as well as the chosen band members who also have a say in the sound. I guess it’s more of a feel thing. It’s how the songs make us feel. Vocally, I felt like Iggy Pop in The Stooges. Musically, I felt like a mix of Little Richard, Byron Lee and the Dragonaires, Bowie’s Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps), The Cramps and possibly Queens Of The Stoneage. I guess it’s epic in the way it resembles the wall of sound. What can I say? One person I know described the sound as The Glorious Dead sound… It was, for the band, natural to end with a fusion. I prefer rock and roll together. We basically jammed in a room together and then recorded the whole thing old-school in one room to get the big sound.
You have a strong core vocal style, but you’ve also recorded in a few different genres and moods; was this EP aiming for a particular sound, as a project, or was it more an organic result of who you were playing with?
I like to let the sound evolve organically and kind of enjoy the ride and see where it takes us. For me, I think that is the best part of being a musician, is not knowing exactly where it will end up.
I like to see it as an adventure holiday. If you’ve got more to say and you haven’t felt like you can be free, you need to get it out and maybe be in another project, because I know the strangulation process too. But in the end it all leads to new places.
I don’t like my voice at all. I hear a man inside but it comes out like a woman so it’s a real headfuck. I have been mostly influenced by male bands and I hear things in a masculine way. So I kinda get a bit sad and confused at the whole process. I feel like Tom Waits inside but it doesn’t come out like that.
What motivates your songwriting?
Well it’s always been there since I can remember. I was always since maybe age 5 years old fascinated with singing, performing, music. I had an small old tabletop keyboard run with a fan inside to cool it down, really loud! I loved it; I spent hours with music and singing and then lyrics from around 7 years old, fascinated with words. [Later] all I had was a shitty casio to write music with, and I thought well, what’s wrong with that? Why not? No limitations. It’s hard to tell when inspiration will hit.
What was the first music you bought? Are there any influences/inspirations you’re happy to talk about?
I didn’t really buy a lot of music. Instead I completely absorbed all of my parents record collection. My father was a huge music lover and wanted to be a guitarist but for some reason couldn’t find the chops. I cherished and devoured all kinds of music I could find from everyone. My favourite music seemed to be of the darker kind that described life and all its chaos, hardships and struggle. I really wanted to also be able to write about fun things but instead I ended up writing about my dreams of fun things. I could never afford music. I stole an Igor Stravinsky box-set and that was one of the most treasured things I owned.
I am fascinated with experimental music at the moment, because I am feeling it. At the moment I am trying to create the new sound for the next album I am currently labeling ‘Like Driving Drunk Through A Blizzard…’ but it’s a difficult sojourn as I am also not so aware of the trajectory I am on with this particular style of music. I guess it’s close to Swans, Einstürzende Neubauten, Rowland S Howard. I guess Waits is a slight influence only because I recognise myself in him. Leonard Cohen. Not to copy or be them but more of a recognition of kindred spirits. I guess somewhere in that territory but who knows, so far it’s ethereal with elements of psych-rock. I try not to be influenced by anyone other that my own expression and the people I work with.
Who else are you listening to?
I am listening to music almost 24/7, all kinds. So much. Neil Young (Crazy Horse) is always a stayer along with Leonard Cohen. A lot of old blues which I return to a lot: Howlin’ Wolf, John Lee Hooker, Robert Johnson, all those brilliant pioneers. Loving Keith Richards right now, finding a kinship there. Nick Cave. Ian Lowery. Once Upon a Time. Popol Vuh. So many bands that I don’t know and discovering..
What are you reading at the moment?
I have once again started reading ‘The Divine Comedy’ translated by Allen Mandelbaum, it begins in a shadowed forest on Good Friday in the year 1300. It proceeds on a journey that, in its intense recreation of the depths and the heights of human experience, has become the key with which Western civilization has sought to unlock the mystery of its own identity.
What’s on your mind right now?
Where is humanity heading? Are we doomed? Will we ever leave our houses again? What happened to Julian Assange?
You’re from Australia originally, you’ve lived in the UK, you recorded in the US and Canada and currently you live in Finland. Does this speak to a certain.. restlessness?
Inspiration comes from many different places and people and I have moved either out of necessity or because I have found amazing musicians to work with that can create the sound I am feeling.
What’s next for Belle Phoenix?
I haven’t sent any of my music to any labels yet, so I am 100% DIY and funded via donations. Rock ‘n’ Roll is like an exorcism, it’s about unveiling self and being content with whatever emerges from within the moment, i.e. Iggy Pop with the peanut butter. We don’t know what will happen, it’s always in the moment so whatever I do is a reflection of that; I have always just done what feels right. It’s really hard for me to think third person about the music because I just feel it. Can’t really hear it, if that makes sense.
All I have here now is a uke so I use that to write the demos and now a new sound is forming from that. But if I was closed minded I would wait until I had my perfect guitar or pianist or whatever, but I like the unknown. And before my cousin gave me this uke I couldn’t play it. It was a wonderful challenge to break my own ideas. It’s completely opposite to everything I have released so far. Actually I just got the idea for the new song from the upcoming album like NOW. I finally settled on a foundation sound. It’s like dreaming in an opium den floating on a vast sea… I guess I really need a holiday, a real one, so I made one in the song. It’s a strange mystery tour of self via the vehicle of songwriting. New adventures on the horizon!
Thanks for speaking to us. Anything else you’d like to add?
So glad you didn’t ask that generic question ‘What are the highlights..?’ Hah! I would have said “There’s no highlights, only low lights and lowlifes”.
Find Belle Phoenix on Bandcamp, Facebook, YouTube or at www.bellephoenix.org