Your Girl Pho is dominating Perth, and now the whole country is catching on
With a unique approach to sparkingly, R&B-infused pop, the Perth musician-on-the-rise is blossoming into one of our favourites.
Photos by Annie Harvey.
Your Girl Pho isn't someone who needs an introduction in Perth. Over the last three years, the eclectic performer has become one of the west coast's most exciting and welcomed names; her unique, genre-spanning sound capturing and captivating basically who has somehow fallen upon her music or one of her live shows. She's consistently grown and evolved with every release, bringing an artful approach to music which is sometimes lost amongst the rush to be the biggest and best. For example, every single one of her steps - every floating vocal, every snapping percussion hit, every hazy synth chord - feels as intricate as it is warm; her soulful voice often found above twinkling keys and subtle rhythms inspired by her knowledge in jazz, soul and R&B.
At times, it feels like no two Your Girl Pho songs are the same. Her 2017 break-out single At Lunch unites soul with the quick percussive pace of UK garage but without the storming kick drums, her voice soaring above glitching rhythms and hazy synth. Sinister is more upbeat and seemingly hip-hop-inspired, with clunky beats and jazz meeting her vocals which this time around, keep up to pace with the single's groove. Feelen strips it right back to soulful R&B nostalgic of the early 00s but brought forward into the future; I Can't Take It brings a dancey vocal together with thick bass and deep synth, and Manipulate dazzles in its ability to bring together Kaytranada-esque grooves with R&B tones. Then, there are her features, which showcase her ability to adapt and mould her voice around glitchy house rhythms, thick future bass synth and more.
In 2019, however, it seems the rest of the country is catching on. Her latest single, Five-Thirty PM, has been just as warmly received on the east coast as it has the west, with shows in Sydney and Melbourne building off the traction that's come with increased national media attention and triple j spotlighting, and it's not too hard to understand why. On its surface, Five-Thirty PM represents Phoebe Gunson's most upbeat and electronic-centric work to date, with a delicate piano opening quickly falling away in favour of pulsing synth, swelling bass and percussive break-downs which keep things crisp and uptempo as the track draws on.
In saying that, diving beyond the quirky percussive kicks and warm synth presents something a bit deeper, darker and vulnerable, which we'll hand over to Phoebe to explain: "Five-Thirty PM was written during (now a distant memory) a time I experienced my first more intensive depressive episode, where I would struggle to get out of bed most days," she says. "I was feeling the most pressure from a new job, and everything else that came with transitioning into Adulthood, and expectations to be 'with it'. Social media was definitely impacting on my mental health too, promoting the idea that everyone is 'getting it' and are succeeding in all their plans and goals. Especially as someone with long term aspirations, this meant I felt like things weren’t coming together for me as quickly as I hoped/expected which all contributed to the spiralling down. The song is a fun take on actually quite a common human experience most adults can relate to."
Off the back of a national tour and shows in Toronto for Canadian Music Week (which is absolutely monumental, by the way), and with a home-town victory lap soon approaching for SOTA Festival, we caught up with Your Girl Pho to talk about the single and her growth as an artist, the evolution of her live show, and some other WA acts she's keeping an eye on, including one name we're particularly sure is going to explode over the next twelve months.
To jump straight into this, let’s talk about Five-Thirty PM. You mention that the song speaks of experiencing depressive episodes, and how it can be a struggle to get out of bed sometimes when you’re battling mental health problems. Can you expand on this, on the thought process behind putting out a song about it?
Five-Thirty PM is a song I’ve had in the demo bank for a few years actually, it was a demo that came to life on stage and the way audiences reacted to it made me realise it was worth a release. I’ve always held this one close to my heart as it was recorded during the most relevant time. I was house sitting a really dark and eerie house, where I would sleep all day and only get out of bed at five in the afternoon. While I ate toast in a dark dining room I pulled this demo together. The words just flowed out of my mouth, it was as special as it was real. I think now it was YGP telling me “hey you’re hell unhappy haha”. It wasn’t really until after the lyrics recorded I could understand why.
Despite the somewhat heavy theme, the single is still quite light, upbeat and fun. Is there a particular reason why you decided to put a fun twist on quite a deep theme, or was it just so it reflected the rest of your music and what Your Girl Pho releases?
I suppose YGP has always been upbeat as it is fun, as I’m often writing with a live show in mind. This beat from OTXHELLO drew me in from the start as it’s got such a nostalgic feeling for me. There is a theme in this song of reminiscing, of a simpler time before “adulthood”. The Synth lead line reminds me of a video game and the rhythm is playful like childhood to me. It’s longing for a time when there were little expectations and responsibilities. A happier time. So while the lyrical content feels dark the instrumental tells its own story about a nicer time.
It’s obviously a moment of vulnerability – being so open and writing about a topic which can be deemed so personal. Is there any hesitancy in writing about such personal topics, or is it something you really want to bring to the table more?
It’s absolutely something I want to bring to the table with a garnish and dessert and I want us to eat it with our hands. My music in the past has been quite simple in regards to lyrical content following contemporary pop themes and structures. But over time, as my listening catalogue has diversified and my live show has grown, so has my taste for more meaning and depth in my songwriting. Storytelling is actually challenging when you’re working with more electronic top line material - which is what my catalogue was heavy on. While my songs have always been personal, they haven’t been delivered by such a personal version of YGP. Your Girl Pho for so long was just a persona/alter ego I would put on and perform for the stage, but over the years, I have grown into her skin/costume and she is not so different to Phoebe anymore. So it really brings me back to a vulnerable state when releasing music and performing as it’s not my project anymore - it’s authentically me.
You’ve been a mainstay in the Perth live scene for a while, but you’re currently in North America for Canadian Music Week. What was that experience like, and were there any big takeaways from your time there and the shows you did?
I have been so overwhelmed on this trip, harbouring inspiration and ideas. One of the most popular things over here is backup dancers! I saw the most incredible artist called Zaki Ibrahim, she had two backup dancers moving in sync with her who also flawlessly sung harmonies. It SHOOK me. All this time I’ve been telling myself it’s okay to not be doing 99 things on stage while playing an instrument while singing, had gone to shit. I think I was wrong haha I need to have dancers and I need them to sing and I need them NOW!
Another thing myself and my manager Hayley found over there was the shameless hustle! People will elevator pitch themselves to you at the first moment you meet. This confirmed to me the idea that even if you’re talented and “want it” there will always be someone who wants it more. I ought to be coming back with a new work ethic and it’s far from humble.
Your live show has grown quite a lot over the years, and now that you’ve wrapped up a few gigs in support of the single, you’ve now got SOTA Festival on the way. Can you walk us through how your live show operates now, and what people should expect from your show?
YGP is still operating with what works best and that is drums, tracks, vocals and now TWO saxophones (tenor and alto). It’s thickened and enriched the sound so much with such a simple addition we’ve been adding new songs over time with newer storytelling elements, but still has its YGP dance classics.
SOTA Festival has been a big part of Perth live music culture for a long while now, and a bit of that is thanks to its space spotlighting Perth/WA artists. As someone quite active in this space, are there any acts worth keeping an eye on/shouting out?
In terms of SOTA, Reija Lee, Flossy and Hyclass are a must see.
In Perth generally, Sakidasumi. She is ten steps ahead of everyone in the game in terms of her branding, visual art and her music. Umi was also the first artist in WA I experienced the concept of backup dancers too.
Your Girl Pho will be performing at this year's SOTA Festival, which moves to an all new location on June 3rd. Find more details HERE.
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