A Look Inside One of The Most Creative Minds In Dance Music - EDM.com Exclusive Phonat Interview
Phonat is one of the more innovative producers in dance music, and I've often wondered how he is able to come up with amazing soundscapes he creates. With the Never EP being released last week, it created the perfect opportunity to pick the brain of the unparalleled Phonat. I ended up talking with him for 25 minutes, and I'm excited for you to learn more about the London-based producer through our conversation. While reading through our discussion, I highly recommend you play his Never EP in the background. I have embedded it below for your convenience.
(Phonat's words are in italics.)
What was the creative process like for your Never EP?
I like to take my time. I take as long as it takes to make things the way I want, which is normally what I like to call a constant remix process. I throw shitloads of sounds into the project, then I scrape away everything that's unnecessary to create this space between old layers. So you have lots of layers, but a lot of space at the same time. Especially with "Phase to Face," it was kind of a different thing because it's more of a pop song, so I was trying really hard not to fuck it up.
For the description of the track "Never" on your SoundCloud, it says that you took a lot of time to put that together. How long did it take?
The original concept of the chords and melody are almost a year old now. I've done a few different sessions. I'll be working on it for two or three weeks, and I'll leave it for about a month. I'll come back to it with fresh ears. I always like to leave things for a bit and come back to them. I don't get overexcited with things that are too fresh. I want to make sure that after a long period of time after hearing it, it feels right. Especially because that song was meaningful for me, and I wanted to make it right. I wanted it to have the exact amount of feelings. I try not to rush things. I don't think there's much point in releasing billions of things. There's so much good music out there on the internet already that I feel like if you don't really have something to say, then there's no reason for you to do it. There's already a lot of content out there.
Yeah, put in the time to make some quality songs instead of just working on quantity and pushing out as much music as you can. I agree with that concept.
Yeah, I mean it's kind of hard because purely from a business perspective, the more stuff you put out there, the more your name circulates, and the easier it is for you to get gigs. I don't know. I try to make things the right way for me, and what happens, happens. If people like it, good. Otherwise, I'll just carry on and make another one.
People have a hard time describing your music and putting it into a genre. Is there a certain way you would describe your music, or would you rather just let it speak for itself?
I find it hard to describe it myself when people ask me, "What kind of music do you make?" I've been living in London for years, so I've gotten a great deal of influence from London sounds and textures. I'm from Italy though, just outside Florence. Although we have sort of a great history with classical music and stuff, we're not very up in the game in recent times. When I was a kid growing up in Italy, I didn't have many influences in terms of environment like there can be in the UK or the US where music is more like an everyday thing for everybody. In the UK and US, everyone knows a lot about music. Where I come from, it's a bit different, and I had to look for my own influences. I took a bit of French house, a bit of 80s pop music, a little bit of heavy metal, and I just found little pockets of things that I liked and mixed them all up. I think that's why what I produce is so various. I'm not like a Drum & Bass producer like a guy who's born in London and has been absorbing those jungle sounds all his life. It's quite hard for me. I never know what to say when people ask me, "What kind of music do you produce?" I just tell them to go to my SoundCloud page, and it'll probably be easier for you.
I love your music, and when it comes time to write about it, it's really hard to properly describe it.
Yeah, I could imagine it's a hard job for you as well.
Definitely, but I love it. I really enjoy listening to your music, as it's like nothing else out there. So what have been the most influential things in your life? This doesn't have to be solely limited music.
Overall, moving to London has been the most influential thing as a life experience. It has been overwhelming. It's a place that has so much history and culture--especially in music and in relation to what we do. It was game-changing for me. Nothing else comes close.
You recently reposted Culprate's indiegogo fundraising effort on your Facebook. What do you think about producers taking more experimental steps in creating completely original music for their fans?
He's a good friend of mine, and I think he's an awesome and talented producer. I found this to be an interesting way to make the activity of a music producer to be more sustainable. It can be quite hard these days to sell music. It's not necessarily a bad thing, but the market is changing. The internet has opened a lot of possibilities. People like me probably wouldn't be working in the music industry if it weren't for the internet. At the same time, it makes it difficult to generate revenue. I like that Culprate is trying to explore new ways of making it sustainable as well as seeing if there's real interest in his music. He's seeing if his product is in demand and seeing if what he's doing is something that people will want to buy. This is a cool way to determine if people are willing to listen to what you do and see if it is a useful product. It's a step forward, and I'm really looking forward to seeing how it goes for him.
You've produced some great remixes during your career. Are there any producers who you would particularly like to remix in the future?
Let me think...Very recently, I discovered Wave Racer from Australia.
Yeah, he's one of my favorite producers at the moment.
I was totally not aware of him until literally last week. Since then, I've listened to everything. I think it sounds really fresh, and I'd love to work with him. This is just what comes to my mind right now, and I'm on a Wave Racer binge.
In your interview with Nest HQ last year, you said you were going to be spending time in LA soon. Did that ever happen?
I went last year from October until Christmas for about two to three months. I'm thinking of moving there this summer. It was great. I loved it there. Reason number one is the weather of course. I've been living in London for seven years, and LA was really refreshing in terms of weather. I was actually waking up in the morning and being happy. I was opening the windows and going, 'Ahhhh, nice!"
Yeah, I live two hours south of LA in San Diego, and I couldn't imagine moving away from here due to the weather.
I can imagine it must be really difficult going anywhere else when you're used to that. I also loved the musical vibe there. I found that people are a bit more relaxed about music. They're more up for anything. If it's good, it's good. It doesn't have to be this genre, or this genre. In Europe, there's always a lot of debates over whether it's right or wrong, whether it's cool or not what you're supposed to. I understand Europe is where the music comes from , and people are really passionate about it. They know their shit, and they are very vocal about it. That sometimes creates the opposite effects where everyone is too constrained because they don't want to upset anybody. They're going to do what's cool, otherwise people will look at them badly. In LA, I found it to be a lot more relaxed. It was just like make something great. I found it really refreshing as an approach to making music. I was just thinking I've been in London for seven years, and it's been the best thing I've done. Now, maybe it's time to do it again?
Yeah, I love what Skrillex has going in LA with the collaborative musical environment he's created. All of the people he's associated with are down for whatever.
Yeah, all of the OWSLA crew...I really had such an amazing time with them. I love working with them. They're just passionate about music, which is great. It's not very common in the music industry to find people like them. I'm really honored that I'm a part of the team and can work with them. It's been a pleasure from day one. It'd be pretty awesome for you to move to LA. I think a lot of stuff could get done in terms of creating new music. I found LA really inspiring instantly. Every time you change your surroundings, you instantly have something to say. I felt like LA was a bit of a special place. I was there for a few months, and I came back to London with a thirst for more. I want to see more of the place and soak it up a bit. Hopefully, I going to move there this summer and see how it goes.
Sounds like a great plan! So, I've listened to some of your mixes, and they seem to almost have a cinematic or narrative quality to them. Do you ever draw inspiration from film scores?
Yes and no. Not on purpose, but I like dynamics in a mix. I like to create different atmospheres and different moments. Like at one point it's dark and moody, then it's more happy and uplifting. I think not many people do that. I feel like there's a lot more to explore in that direction as opposed to making a house or a disco mix where it's the same from the beginning to the end. I think there's a lot of dynamics to be explored in a mix where you can literally use the songs as if they are sounds and create a track with different moments in a mix. I want to do more of that actually, and it's something I've started to explore more recently.
This is the last question I have for you. What was the difference in your mindset when you created the Identity Theft EP and the Never EP?
When I was creating Identity Theft, I was more focused on the textures of the sounds, sort of finding a specific mood, style, and space that was in my head. I was concentrating on the production a lot. I had these ideas of space and silence to be filled with reverbs and delay. There were some techniques that I wanted to master, so I was focusing on how I was doing what I was doing. With the Never EP, I was focusing more on the sound qualities and what I was saying in the songs. More specifically, the language of the content if that makes sense. Before, with Identity Theft, I was more concentrated on how I was doing things. With Never, I was more focused on the content, what I was saying in the songs, and the feelings I was generating.
Awesome, thank you for sharing that difference. That's about all I have for you. I really appreciate you taking the time out of your schedule to speak with me.
Thanks a lot. It was a pleasure to talk to you. I hope you have some decent answers. I have to thank you for your time. I hope maybe this summer that we can catch up if I move to California.
Definitely, I'd love to head up to LA to see what you're doing with all of the OWSLA producers. I look forward to it.