Interview: M-Phazes discusses stepping away from hip hop and his new LP
Your favourite pop star's go-to producer is branching out with his material and making some of Australia's best music in the process.
The art of writing highly-accessible, chart-topping pop music is something regularly discussed in music journalism, to the point where I've read so many long-forms on names such as Max Martin, Ester Dean and Stargate that I could probably recite their signature production techniques with examples without blinking. Without turning this into another discussion on pop music and songwriting, one thing I will say is that on paper, M-Phazes is Australia's Max Martin, Stargate and everyone else combined. Over the past eight years, M-Phazes - the production alias of Queensland-raised Mark Landon - has been the name behind some of Australia's biggest singles, co-writing and producing radio hits from Illy (Tightrope, Papercuts, Catch 22), Amy Shark (Adore) and a multitude of other names including Kimbra, Guy Sebastian, Meg Mac, KLP, Allday and more. In addition to this, Landon has been one of the crucial brains behind tracks from international heavyweights such as Eminem, Madonna, Zara Larsson and Lupe Fiasco, which is barely scratching the surface of his impressive resumé.
However, in 2017, M-Phazes is directing his time to his currently untitled sophomore album, which is shaping up to be one of the year's most highly-awaited. His 2010 debut Good Gracious united some of the biggest names in Australian hip-hop for the occasion and judging from the teasers of his upcoming album, it's heading in the same direction. Messiah - the album's first single - sees the production powerhouse team up with Alison Wonderland for a charged, club-ready single that's a leap away from his previous original work, something he continued to step away from with the recent release of Golden Years. Featuring 14-year-old R&B wunderkind Ruel, Golden Years takes this energised electronic sound and contrasts it with a warm and welcoming, R&B-infused vocal line from the young up-and-comer, who has enlisted M-Phazes to produce his forthcoming debut EP. In support of the single's release, M-Phazes is resurrecting his former days as a hip-hop DJ for a returning tour across Australia in solo mode, which will see the producer glide through previous productions and tracks from his forthcoming sophomore, as well as some sneaky unreleased tracks from his back catalogue which is sure to please any fan of hip-hop. To celebrate, we caught up with the producer to talk about his impressive resumé of productions and co-writes, branching away from his hip-hop upbringing, and what he's planning for his long-awaited returning album - out later this year.
Hey legend. To set the scene here, you’re a long-time producer whose worked behind-the-scenes with some of the biggest names in international (and local) hip hop and pop – what triggered you to put yourself in the limelight and release solo work too?
I love working on other people’s projects, it’s definitely my main focus, but while bringing other people’s visions to life is fulfilling, I always want to make my own music. I’ve always done remixes, the Camden Arc stuff, instrumental releases, this time it’s just more official and it’s more of a showcase of where my heads at musically and what I like to work on.
Have you had any trouble in the past balancing production work for other artists and working on your own projects? How do you decide whether to keep a song for yourself of giving it to the artist to use?
Oh yeah, there is a huge imbalance. I’m always struggling to find the time to work on my own music, but that’s by choice. I really need to be in the right head space to work on my own music, it’s easy to work on someone else’s song and not get too attached, but every song of mine has gone through 20 revisions at least, constantly second guessing and changing things, it’s a nightmare sometimes.
Your upcoming album is your first in a relatively long time, has anything changed in your production style since your last record? Has producing for people like Amy Shark, Illy and Lupe Fiasco changed your approach to producing music?
My production has changed a lot over the last 5-6 years. Kimbra was the first artist I worked with who really set my on a different path musically, I was basically a hip hop producer who dabbled in other genres prior to working with her, but working on her first record made me realise that I wanted to branch out beyond hip hop for the most part. I’m definitely more involved in the songwriting process, the arrangement is very important - none of that mattered too much when I was making strictly rap music.
The new album has already been teased by singles featuring Alison Wonderland and Ruel, but what can we expect from the rest of the record? More big name collaborations?
I have some exciting features on the album, and most of the artists are good friends of mine which is a bonus. Some interesting combinations and surprises as well which I’m pretty hyped about.
Coming from a background heavy in hip hop, many were surprised by how electronic and club-ready Messiah (the Alison Wonderland collab) was. Is this the direction you’re planning for the album sound-wise?
Not particularly, this album is a snapshot of the last six years production wise. I’ve listened and been influenced by so many different genres and while I do think there is a consistent tone to the album, there’s no strict genre the project abides by. There’s a lot of mash-ups of different influences and sounds - the record is pretty diverse I think.
And on the topic of branching out away from hip-hop, some of your recent successes in Amy Shark and Zara Larsson are some of the most ‘pop’ productions you’ve done yet. What made you start to diversify away from hip-hop and work with people like Amy?
I love hip hop music and I love working on it, but after doing that for 10-12 years exclusively I feel like I needed a change. I love challenges in music, and some of my first non-hip hop stuff sucked, but I would still try. I would make a dubstep track here, an acoustic indie song there and they would usually suck, but eventually, I would get better. Same with songwriting - I was terrible at first, but the more sessions you have the more you improve, and I would make sure I was the worst in the room working with these amazing writers and producers, but I would learn so much and it would make me so determined to improve.
A big part of your upcoming calendar is your forthcoming club tour – which will see you hop around the country in DJ set form. What can we expect from your return to the Australian touring circuit?
I just want to have fun and play some music I have worked on along with songs I love. I stepped away from touring as Illy’s DJ a few years ago, so I’m pretty excited to get back out on the road and showcase some of my music and meet lots of people!
Follow M-Phazes: FACEBOOK