Phil Fresh chats his new EP, ‘L.A.T.E’, keeping motivated, being inspired and wearing his identity on his sleeve
Sydney/Eora based artist Phil Fresh has recently released his stunning new EP, ‘L.A.T.E’. Since his 2017 project, ‘Excursions Of Love’ Phil Fresh has continuously evolved and experimented with his sound, with every subsequent release sounding more and more authentic to him as an artist. Now, and with this EP, he fully explores the territories of his sonic boundaries, toeing the lines between pop, ballad R&B and the occasional rap verse.
One thing we’ve come to know and love from Phil Fresh is his ability to where his heart and identity on his sleeve. On his earlier works such as ‘Jonah’ and ‘I’m the Man’ he tackled his Tongan identity and its reflection in Australian society. Now, he has deep dived into exploring the ups downs and rollercoasters associated with pursuing love. He does so across 6 tracks, each with their own respective gorgeous chords, vocal deliveries, and bounce and head nod worthy beats. The features on the project include the likes of Kymie + Kwame, BOY SODA and RISSA.
Speaking on the EP, Phil Fresh details; “L.A.T.E., which stands for Love Ain’t That Easy, is a project that explores the relationship between love and timing, whether it’s about someone getting back to you too late, hitting someone up too late or being too late to realise that this person wasn’t right for you. I think people put so much focus on the late timing of things that I realised that the right thing for you will always be on time. I often refer to this EP as the soundtrack to being single, and I think the lyricism and instrumental arrangement shows this cycle of feelings and emotions really well. This project technically took two years to make, but we really made most of the records during lockdown last year. I’d start some of the ideas from my laptop in my room and then go to Matt ‘xiro’ Fioravanti’s studio with Kwame and Nikos and we’d refine the track all together, bouncing ideas off each other and sharing our thoughts and opinions.”
To get to know the project even better, we were fortunate enough to chat to Phil Fresh, taking a deep dive into his mindset as a creative and the creation of this new EP.
How’s this past new lockdown period been for you. Obviously had to cancel shows, which is never easy? How have your motivation levels been?
The obvious effects are that I’ve had to cancel shows, video shoots. That was tough. It sucked. All artists thrive on performing. On the other side, I’ve been making a lot of music. There’s nothing else to do. I’m trying to figure out what next year looks like for me. I’m looking at it from a bigger perspective. What’s my next project going to look like? What angle do I want to make music from? I’ve been working a lot on that. There’s definitely both sides to it.
There’s a lot going on outside the music with the Phil Fresh project. Whether the title, the artwork. When do these come into the creative process? How important are they in telling the narrative of the music?
It came afterwards. This time around i just wanted to make the music first. It wasn’t that I went in with a direction of where I wanted to take it. I was just writing about things I was dealing with at the time. When I was looking at it as a whole though I realised, ‘Oh True, this is what the EP is about and what I want it to be called’. So once the music was done it all fell into place quite organically. I didn’t go in with tunnel vision thinking, ‘I need to make a project that looks like this and feels like this”. I wrote about what I was dealing with at the time from different perspectives, and it all just made sense. That’s how L.A.T.E came about.
Do you think it’s more freeing working with that creative process? Not having to confine to a strict guideline?
The first project I put out, was very much the opposite. It was very much a process of knowing exactly what I wanted to create within certain limitations. It’s a good thing because it refines the finished product. But also, why would I apply all this pressure on myself for no reason. I definitely learnt from that when writing this EP. I’m not going to go in one lane or direction. Going in with a full spectrum and making whatever comes out. It almost always ends up as sweet and working really well together because of how natural the formulation is.
I saw on your socials about some potential writing trips? Was the EP born in one of those?
We had a writing trip at the start of the year. That was with Kwame, Kymie, Tasman Keith, Xiro, Nikoss, Swindail, Kapital J. Before that trip I had a rough skeleton on the EP. Then going on that trip we nailed it and fleshed it out. It was there we really honed into the sound that was created and finished it. We had that rough frame, and having nothing else to do on that trip other than make music really put us to work. It was super fun, and cool.
6 tracks, half of which are jammed with epic features. RISSA, Boy Soda, Kwame, Kymie. What as people do you think they all have in common? Why do they make sense to sit on a Phil Fresh project?
They all have true senses of who they are and what they want to bring to the table. They’re quite passionate. When I met RISSA for the first time it was for the song we made together. She came in and was so precise with everything that she did. I didn’t have to do too much direction, she knew what she wanted to do. Everyone had that mentality. They knew their lane, the knew how they wanted to approach it, and looking back on it makes so much sense. I think thats the common thread with all of those features. I was very grateful for that.
IG Luv is with your close personal friends Kwame and Kymie. What positives come out when writing with people that your close with personally? How do you think that elevates your own performance?
Initially, getting into a session is so easy. Sometimes we will just sit in each others reasons for no reason. We are just there kicking it. It’s quite easy straight away. We all know what we can do. We know what we are capable of. We know how great we can be. For example, Kwame helped a lot with the record. He’d give feedback constantly. ‘You gotta do it like this or like that’. He was there directing and inspiring and trying to get the best out of me. ‘You know when we are in the car and we are dumb shit, you need to do that stuff on the record Phil’, he’d tell me. He pushes me hard. I’m very grateful for having that relationship with Kwame for example.
What type of stuff were you doing in the car?
Freestyles, or just classic singing like Ty$ runs. We are just be goin for it. He pushed me to do that on the record, especially on ‘Honey’ with Boy Soda at the end of that track.
This EP has a wide range of sounds. Do you see it as a rap EP? Are you a rapper? How do you feel about these terms? It’s easy right now in Australia to name an artist a rapper based on their identity.
I don’t find it restrictive for me, but its more just for the wider public. As soon as people label you as a rapper, people have a certain idea or stereotype of what you look like, what type of music you make. I guess for me too, I’ve rapped before, I wouldn’t call this project a hip-hop project, its more pop/R&B. People like organising things into categories. It makes no sense to me. For myself, I’ve always adored pop music. All the white boy pop, the boy bands, thats what I grew up on. That’s me. I just want to do that. The rapping still comes with it, because I like to rap but I dont wanna be put in a box. I just want it to be from a musician/artist perspective.
With your influences like Pharrell, Tyler, The Creator, etc toeing that line too, how much have they helped or inspired your mindset?
100%. Listening to Tyler while I was still in highschool. Seeing him put out a project like Goblin. Now he drops a song like EARFQUAKE. Him being able to do that stuff has broken down so many mental creative barriers for me. I want to be able to sing about girls and then rap. Nobody else was really doing it like that.
Especially in Australia.
Especially as a Polynesian artist. When you say you’re a Polynesian musician people assume you’re a driller. And obviously, I’m not trying to claim that, but there’s so much more to it.
The people you put on your project really reflect that vision too. I think that’s super special. There are a lot of good voices from multicultural backgrounds breaking down stereotypes. Showing that other side is so important and so exciting.
You’ve got BOY SODA who is half Samoan, and Rissa who is half Tongan, and having that connection on there, just shows there is so much going on. We aren’t just doing one thing, its deep.
One thing I love about you is that you’re breaking down rap stereotypes in this country. From your identity, how honest you are on records, your sound, its extremely refreshing in this climate. How much do you think about that in your goals as a Phil Fresh? Is it front and centre, or is it an awesome byproduct of you just being you?
I think it is something I do think about. I’m trying to be an example of someone who is doing what he wants to do. Whether creatively, or just being able to put out the music I put out. With everything going on now, you don’t know whats going to happen next. I’m just trying to do whatever I can, with the time that I’ve got for the next generation. I think it’s something I think about, but not actively pursuing, so it’s definitely subconscious. I’m just trying to make my moves and do what I want to do, and hopefully someone catches onto it, and gets inspired in one way of another.
The EP is raw in the way that love is difficult. It’s a hard thing to master, and the EP draws a lot on being peaceful at that fact. Lyrically the EP is extremely raw and literal. Is that a difficult part of the creative process, is it something you had to learn to do?
Initially, it was difficult to open up on records when I was a teenager. I just cruised through school, kept to myself and did my thing. When I wanted to do music properly it was a big thing to get over. Being comfortable with the music and what I was saying. Now 4 years in, it’s the only way that I can express myself. It’s the purest way I can get my thoughts out. It’s the only way. It’s so easy now. If I’m dealing with some stuff I’ll make a beat or write something in my voice memos. You have to output those feelings somehow and it’s through music for me. If I write a song about heartbreak, hopefully someone who is dealing with it can listen to it and channel it.
There has been a lot of musical progression and depth added to your music over the past 2 years. From raw hip-hop now to a melting pot of a range of genres, it feels like the musically has definitely gone to the next level for this EP. What do you credit that growth in your sound to?
It was around the time of ‘GLOW’. Earlier on I was too caught on comparing my stuff to other artists. That’s just part of the game, but it’s so detrimental. At some point, I realised why am I comparing myself to other people. I can only control what I’m putting out. I have the mindset of always trying to make something better than the last one. From Glow, to IG Luv, To Never Know, I think that’s the best song I’ve ever put out. I’m just trying to put out something better than the last, something that’s more confident, refined and detailed.
Another thing too, I try to go back to the mindset of me as a teenager, to me listening to my favourite artists. I wanted to put myself in those shoes and think, is the music I’m putting out now, is someone listening in year 9 or 10 getting that same sort of emotion as me when I was that age? The same sort of motivation or inspiration? I just try to take myself back to that moment. It’s a tall task of course, but it’s what keeps me going.
Words by PARRY TRITSINIOTIS