• Luana Spadafora

Phoebe Day, Singer

Melbourne-based songstress Phoebe Day is an old soul with a penchant for classic and minimal style—effortlessly cool and unapologetically feminine with a nod to fashion icon Audrey Hepburn. Her dreamy sound blurs the lines between RNB, neo-soul and jazz, reminiscent of Sade and Erykah Badu. In anticipation of her upcoming EP ‘When Flowers Bloom’, I interviewed Phoebe and delved into her musical journey so far (with a couple of sneaky foodie questions, of course!)

Tell us more about yourself and your journey in music.

I don’t really remember a time when music wasn’t such a huge part of my life. Both my parents are music-lovers and my father raised me on classic jazz, blues and soul music. Coming from a Cypriot background, we always had Greek music playing too. I learnt to sing in Greek as a baby and could speak fluently when I was young—I’ve totally lost it now! I guess it really started with classical and jazz piano lessons when I was 5 years old. A few years later I found a teacher that encouraged me to improvise and explore making different sounds. That really changed everything for me and I started writing my own music. I used music to voice the thoughts and feelings I didn’t know how to express otherwise. It really helped me to get through some dark times.

I became obsessed with jazz instrumentalists, like Miles Davis and Oscar Peterson, and I would spend hours learning to sing their solos. I just loved their melodic playing and phrasing. I don’t think I really started to grow as an artist until I finished studying at the Australian Institute of Music. I had just met my partner, producer and saxophonist Joel Sena. He was putting together a project and asked me to be part of it. Writing and recording with Joel really inspired me to get into the studio and record my music properly. Almost 5 years later and we live, write and play together and Joel is a huge part of my creative process. We moved from Sydney to Melbourne a couple of years ago, to devote ourselves to our music. I’ve been fortunate enough to play with some of the country’s best musicians at festivals like the Melbourne International Jazz Festival and regular underground jazz club shows. The move to Melbourne really changed things for me as an artist. It gave me a place to shift my focus and work on creating and playing my music. I found my band and started to build a team of creatives around me.

'I used music to voice the thoughts and feelings I didn’t know how to express otherwise. It really helped me to get through some dark times.'

Foodie question! Does your Cypriot heritage influence what food you like to eat and cook?

Undeniably, without a doubt, most definitely, yes! Ha! Greek culture is so centred around food. It’s how we socialise, celebrate and show we care. I’ll always have a soft spot for my grandmothers’ and mother’s cooking. Dolmathes, Yemista (stuffed peppers and tomatoes) and of course the classic charcoal Greek BBQ (with grilled octopus at the top of the list) are some of my favourites. I’ll never be able to cook like them, though!

What's your favourite cuisine and dish? Are there any foods or concoctions especially good for singers? I hear pineapple juice helps!

See, that is probably the most difficult question of this whole interview! Ha! It would sound pretty bad if I didn’t say Greek food…So Greek food and Japanese food. I’m obsessed with sushi, gyoza and okonomiyaki. Anything that is light, healthy and tasty will keep me happy. I haven’t eaten any dessert or sugar for around 7 years now. I’ve actually never tried pineapple juice, I’ll have to give it a go! Green tea, honey and lemon water are my go-to for looking after my voice. I’ve also recently gotten into steaming with hot water before and after a show. Works like a charm!

How would you describe your sound? What are your influences?

I’ve definitely grown as an artist in the last 12 months. My sound is somewhere between RNB and neo-soul with heavy jazz influences. I’ve been flirting with dreamy, electronic production whilst keeping my roots in classic acoustic instrumentation. I just love blending old with new, vintage with modern. Think lush string arrangements, chilled beats, shimmering piano and hushed percussion. My biggest influences have been the jazz artists I was raised on—singers like Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday totally changed the game for me. In recent years, I can’t stop listening to Melody Gardot, Erykah Badu and Sade. I’m also heavily inspired by Japanese composers like Jo Hisaishi. Jo’s orchestral arrangements significantly influenced the sound of my last single, ‘Glow’. I’ve been exploring a more minimalist approach to music lately. I’m drawn to artists that can make me feel something using the art of simplicity. Sometimes less really is more.

'I just love blending old with new, vintage with modern. Think lush string arrangements, chilled beats, shimmering piano and hushed percussion.'

Your look is timeless and classic and matches your sound perfectly. Where do you find fashion inspiration?

Oh, that’s so sweet! Thank you! I think I'm a bit of an old soul. I wish I was born in another era! Audrey Hepburn is probably my style icon. She was so elegant and beautiful. I love classic, feminine styles (and a good winged-eyeliner!). As strange as this probably sounds, my mother in the mid-80s to early 90s is also my fashion inspiration. Ha! She’s a visual artist and I love looking at all the outfits she would wear to art school. Mostly, I look for fashion brands that are thoughtful, not massed-produced and high in quality. I would much rather have less in my wardrobe that lasts for years.

You've also recently released prints of artworks online on your website. Can you tell us more about your art making process?

Yeah! I was so nervous to get my art out there properly for the first time. I’ve done a lot of private commissioned artworks for people, but it’s different putting your own art out there in the public eye. Drawing with ink and pen are my favourite mediums. Although, I’ve recently experimented with digital art and mixed media. I’ll start with a drawing and scan it into my computer. I’ll then paint and work over it with digital media. Much like my music, it’s that blend of a classic medium with modern technology. I’ve always loved portraiture and the challenge of capturing someone’s personality in an artwork. I’ll always draw people that inspire me and usually that’s other musicians and artists.

What advice do you have for other artists who are launching on Melbourne's music scene?

That is the million-dollar question! I wish someone would answer that for me! Haha. The music industry, both locally and globally, is always rapidly changing and difficult for anyone to keep up with. If you’re doing it completely independently like myself, I would say start with focusing all your energy on creating the best music you possibly can and then turn your attention to making real connections with your audience. These days it’s so easy to pay for Spotify playlisting or a PR campaign that is focused on boosting your streams or likes. Never underestimate the power of personally connecting with someone who has discovered your music. I’m the first person to hang around after a show and talk to my audience. I’m also not afraid to respond to messages or comments I’ll get online. One fan who listens to your music over and over and comes to your live shows regularly, is worth far more than a thousand faceless people who have streamed your music once online and have no idea who you really are. It’s so important to make time to connect and accept that it takes time to build a sustainable career.

What's next on the cards for Phoebe Day?

At the moment I’m getting ready for the release of my biggest recording yet. The EP is called ‘When Flowers Bloom’ and it’s due for release in the coming months. I’ve also got some really exciting live shows coming up, including my debut at the Melbourne Recital Centre with Invictus String Quartet and a full band show at the Kew Court House as part of the 2020 Boroondara Arts Program.

Hear and see more of the delightful Phoebe Day on her website:

As featured on Onya Magazine.

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©2019 by Luana Spadafora