Phildel: The Disappearance Of The Girl – album review and interview
Phildel – The Disappearance Of The Girl (Decca)
3 June 2013
Everyone is talking about her, but, what is all the fuss about? Louder Than War’s Paul Scott-Bates tells us about the new Phildel album, and, has a chat with the rising star.
Not only that but she writes and plays songs of quite startling quality. You should know the story by now – her songs were picked up by several companies for their TV ads before she had even officially recorded a track, then her world exploded. From Marks & Spencer to fashion shows, her songs are being played and you may not even know it.
At the age of eight she was to be deprived of music, radio and TV by her extremist father for the next ten years, and, only progressed her love for music in secret lunchtime sessions at school. Her remarkable talent flourished, and, at the age of 28 she produces, writes and arranges her debut album which Decca have had on ‘slow release’ for a few months.
The twelve songs here are nothing short of immaculate and should see the artist propelled into the spotlight within a very short space of time, or, there is no justice.
Opening with the title track the album confirms that this is indeed a star in the making. Swaying violins, and the voice of an angel. She sings of her enforced restrictions as a child and how the child inside her was barely allowed to exist. If this song doesn’t melt your heart then you have no soul.
You’ll probably recognise Storm Song. Starting eerily and gently enough, it soon rises into a catchy pop song racing along like the steam train it mentions, Phildel’s voice extraordinarily belies her age, belonging instead to a more mature artist. The arrangement is faultless and the voice cannot be underestimated. Incredibly catchy and likeable, and, early proof that Phildel isn’t just tied to slow songs.
Beneath the soft tones of the music are lyrics that really can bite, we’re not talking sugar-sweet pop here, we’re talking alternative pop is sheep’s clothing. We have true pop stomp on The Wolf, a track that begins slowly with lone voice, “And you once said, I wish you dead”, that sends shivers down your spine before moving into livelier territory. Synth basslines pump out with echoed voices and effects, moving along with walls of sounds and an infectious dark chorus.
It would be easy to describe every one of the tracks on the album, but, the easiest thing to do is just listen to it. It is an album of quite remarkable quality and displays a talent which surely cannot stay hidden for much longer.
Holes In Your Coffin is more black hypnotic pop moving along in an exciting and eerie fashion. There is nothing that can describe Beside You other than ‘beautiful’ – a song written in classic style in so much as to say it is a classic song that you will hear time and time again.
Album closer, Funeral Bell, has lyrics of pure poetry, “Mother I’m scared to die….Father I’m scared to live”, it’s slightly disturbing and gorgeous at the same time. A track that leaves you aghast at its end.
Not only should you own this album, you should buy it and you should love it. You should then give it pride of place in your CD cabinet and gaze upon it adoringly.
Not content with reviewing with the album, Paul also caught up with Phildel and fired a few questions her way.
Louder Than War: Do I call you Phildel or Zara?
Phildel: Definitely Phildel
Louder Than War: How’s your day been?
Phildel: So far – short, I’ve just woken up as were out until 2am last night recording nighttime sounds in a field.
Louder Than War: ‘The Disappearance Of The Girl’ is a superb album, are you ready for the inevitable attention that will come your way?
Phildel: Thank you – yes, I think so, I spent years working on the album so it’s lovely to be bringing it to the surface now.
Louder Than War: Will fame affect you?
Phildel: I doubt it…I live in my own little world to such an extent that reality doesn’t tend to have much impact.
Louder Than War: What inspires your lyrics?
Phildel: It all finds it root in how I’m feeling, but mainly the subconscious or the ‘dreaming mind’ – a part of my brain that I’m not really consciously engaged with….I just let the lyric fragments unfold without coming up with a formula or topic – sometimes the words don’t make sense at first.
But when I look at them after some time’s past – they make perfect sense in terms of what I was going through. I think our awareness as humans is funny like that. You don’t often realise the full extent of what you’re going through until you back on it years later.
But the subconscious or dreaming part of your mind, is always more connected to how you feel.
Louder Than War: When did you realise you had such a beautiful voice? Do you hear it yourself?
Phildel: I’ve never really thought of it as beautiful, I suppose I just try to make sure it expresses what I want to express. In fact, out of all the musical things I do – composing, arranging, playing instruments -my voice is the one thing I’m most insecure about.
Because I couldn’t really use my voice for so many years living in my mother and stepfather’s house – and when I first started to sing – I could barely make a sound.
It felt incredibly difficult and somehow, it still feels like a challenge to make a sound – after all the years of being told to be silent. I suppose it’s all quite psychological.
Louder Than War: Who were your musical influences, and, how much did you crave them when music was banned from your household?
Phildel: I was very young before music was banned from my household – only eight years old. So I hadn’t really formed any musical influences.
I loved the nursery rhymes I knew and I’d teach myself to play them all on my toy piano. I remember it clearly – it was one of my only real joys as a child. Learning to play the nursery rhymes by ear felt like solving a brilliant puzzle of sound. I never understood why nobody else in my family wanted to do it.
Louder Than War: How big a part was the musical silence when writing such haunting songs?
Phildel: I think the experiences and trauma of the ten years I spent in that household, not just without music, but without any freedom at all – the sweeping changes to my cultural identity, what felt like imprisonment for a decade – are absolutely central to the songs on the album.
In the safe haven of my album world – the world of my own imagination – I was able to confront all of those issues and say things I couldn’t ever say in reality.
Louder Than War: Twitter or Facebook?
Phildel: Both…but I think Facebook allows me to share art and music easier and allows others to discuss things with me easier.
Louder Than War: You’ve made a video for every track on your album. What’s the thought process behind that?
Phildel: I wanted the videos to show the album’s visual journey I have in my mind.
One video however, “Holes In Your Coffin” I’ve asked the public to contribute footage for. I wanted to give my supporters the chance to get really involved. It’s gone so well and the submissions have been excellent.
My label didn’t give any budget for the videos – so I shot and directed them myself using £300 I had to spare. It took me about seven months to complete them all.
I think with art and music if you have a vision, you just need to get on with it and find a way. No matter whether there’s outside help or not. Just bring it into existence, no matter what it takes.
Louder Than War: Do you listen to your own music?
Phildel: Yes, I have to re-draft and spend a long time sculpting the arrangements when I work on music so I listen to the tracks quite intensively for the few years that I spend working on them.
Once the album is finalised I stop listening for a few years and move on to writing the next songs…
Louder Than War: You’re very complimentary of producer Ross Cullum, and, partner Chris on the album notes. The perfect team?
Phildel: Yes – along with the engineers, programmers and musicians who also worked on the album. I was so lucky to have had such an excellent team for “The Disappearance of the Girl”.
Ross Cullum is such an intuitive and supportive producer – he completely supported my vision and the process was entirely free and without any creative restriction.
Ross said he felt that for him, the role of a producer is to support a great artist and the strongest album emerges from an undiluted artist’s vision. Many producers I’ve worked with have imposed their own vision and ideas. For me – that approach never worked out, as I have a detailed vision for what I need an album I create to sound like.
Chris Young – my long-standing (long-suffering!) partner supports me in everything I do musically. He’s amazing, I don’t think I’d have the confidence I have without him.
In the years gone by, I’d come home and say…”Oh, this person thinks I should do this…and I don’t know, maybe they’re right…” And he’d just sit me down and say – “Yesterday, you told me that for this track you saw choirs of ethereal spirits and ruins in a countryside valley” – you know exactly what you think this should be – and everytime you work with someone who thinks they know better – it never works out. You need to believe in yourself”. He was always right and I’m so glad I held out for a producer like Ross Cullum and programmers like Sean McGhee and Marky Bates who really got into the mindset and built on my album vision to create an album that surpassed my own expectations and that I am so proud of.
Louder Than War: Have you ever wanted to scream halfway through a performance?
Phildel: Haha! No.
Louder Than War: I don’t watch many TV adverts, but I believe several of your songs have been ‘borrowed’. Would you turn down any offers if you didn’t like their product?
Phildel: Yes, I’d turn things down if I just didn’t like the way the advert looked or if it advertised a product I didn’t personally think much of. I’ve always been a customer of the things my music’s been used on.
As a musician of my particular kind of music, I have a positive perspective on advertising – because in the music industry today, radio stations don’t often give airplay to music that’s not genre-specific or hard to categorise…it’s actually advertising people who are most likely to give that kind of sound a major platform. I think they’re more creative and courageous in the way they work with music.
Louder Than War: I’m coming over for a meal, what are we having?
Phildel: My darker side immediately gets a bit Silence of the Lambs and says ‘you’. But my more balanced conscious mind suggests salmon teryaki, pak choi and rice noodles – my favourite dish at the moment…
Louder Than War: Beneath the calm of your music are some quite incisive lyrics, how intentional is that?
Phildel: The contrast isn’t intentional at all…we just tried to find the best sounds to serve the spirit of the song. And the cards fell as they fell…
Louder Than War: What are your plans for the rest of the year? Maybe a holiday?
Phildel: No chance of a holiday as such…I’m playing live dates around the UK later this month, including the Bristol and Manchester legs of Dot-to-Dot Festival, followed by Hay-on-the-Wye “How The Light Gets In” Festival.
Then I’ll be off to the USA in July for a month of collaborations with a brilliant US artist called SLEEPTHIEF. Followed by a trip to Vancouver to work with the wonderful Bill Leeb of Delirium, then a performance at Vancouver Folk Festival.
And straight back to the UK in time to play the Secret Garden Party, which I’m so looking forward to. I’ll also be playing Edinburgh Fringe Festival on 5th August, which will be fun!
All words by Paul Scott-Bates. More of Paul’s writing on Louder Than War can be found here. Paul’s website is Heaven Is A Place On Pendle. Paul has been working hard to save Radio Lancashire’s On The Wire, easily one of the best radio shows on the BBC. Follow him on twitter as @saveonthewire for all On The Wire news or follow his personal twitter, @hiapop.