The first thing you notice about Thandi Phoenix upon speaking with the 26-year-old is her warm personality. Speaking over the phone from the HQ of GRAZIA, it felt like I’d known the artist for years. The second striking aspect of the Sydney-based creative is her powerful and soulful voice after listening to her latest, namesake EP. Released in October, the singer/song-writer has been dubbed as one of the country’s most promising new artists and after collaborating with internationally-acclaimed artists including Rudimental and Tinie Tempah, she’s on her own way to stardom.
GRAZIA caught up with the artist to speak about her first ‘big-break’, how to express yourself in 2019 and an important lesson about relationships, found within her latest track ‘Again’.
GRAZIA: Can you recall what would have been your ‘big break’? Have you always wanted to become a solo artist?
Thandi Phoenix: “That’s a good one, I don’t know… The big, big thing would have been working with Rudimental I’d say. When I first started putting music out, I remember seeing them just as a punter and being like ‘Oh my goodness, they are such an awesome band’. And they’ve had incredible success all over the globe and I thought ‘I would love to be their support’… I ended up being their support and working with them – that was amazing.
I first started playing the clarinet, and then I went to a performing arts school and I picked up guitar when I was there – I would always sing around the place. I was shy with my singing in high school so I would never really think of it as something that I would do… It wasn’t until I left high school that I started going to gigs and seeing people performing and I was like ‘I want to do that, I want to be on the other side’.”
You appear to exude confidence not only through your sense of style, but your performances. What does it mean to have the freedom to express yourself in 2019?
“There are so many ridiculous things that are happening in the world where I still go, ‘Oh my gosh, this is happening and it’s 2019.'”
TP: “In this day and age, it is so easy for us to have a platform to express and to share and it’s so important for people not to be afraid, not only of who they are but what other people think. I think it’s so important. There are so many ridiculous things that are happening in the world where I still go, ‘Oh my gosh, this is happening and it’s 2019.’ The only way for there to be change is for people to speak out, and for people to make their own change from within and then it starts happening around them. It’s so important to express yourself, but the only way to express yourself is to learn to love yourself and know who you are, so that’s the first step.”
What has growing up with South African heritage taught you?
TP: “I think having that South African heritage has given me that love of music and that innate, the rhythms, the sounds, it’s something that resonates with me. There is so much great music that comes from South Africa and music is the celebration so it’s what I get from it.”
Which artist, living or dead would you like to collaborate with and why?
TP: “I would love to collaborate with Mark Ronson, he’s amazing. I first heard his stuff when he was obviously working with Amy Winehouse, and she is such an idol of mine. And no matter what genre he works on or artist he works with, he just seems to bring out the best in people.”
Talk to me about the focus track ‘Again’. What was the inspiration for the lyrics?
” ‘You know what, despite all the sh*t we’ve put each other through we had something really beautiful and something so pure and joyous.”
TP: “It’s all about when a relationship comes to an end and unfortunately a lot of the time that happens, it’s ugly, it’s messy, it’s not the best. But it is coming from a positive place and looking back and go, ‘You know what, despite all the sh*t we’ve put each other through we had something really beautiful and something so pure and joyous. I’d do it all again for that amazing love that we did have.’ To respect one another and see the beauty that we did have.”
What has been your most memorable performance so far?
TP: “Ooh, so many just flashed in my head. I’d probably say for me personally, my Splendour [In The Grass] performance this year. That was so much fun… to be on the main stage with a full band, it was better than I could have ever expected.”
Do you believe it is a help or hindrance coming from a country like Australia?
TP: “That’s a good question. The industry here is definitely smaller than it is in say Europe or the States. It works in both ways. There’s a smaller industry here, not as many people. That’s good because people are looking in, but it’s hard if we’re trying to break out say to America or Europe. It’s a good question, I’m going to be thinking about this one for a while now. I love Australia and I love the industry, I love all the musicians we have here and I love what we’ve got going on but I’m not sure if it’s a help or a hindrance.”
Is there any advice you’d give someone looking to make it in the industry?
“Don’t try to change, don’t try to do something for someone else.”
TP: “That it’s your craft and understand what you love. Know what you love and just continue to do it. I think, the more you stay true to who you are and your artistry, that’s the best you can do really. Don’t try to change, don’t try to do something for someone else. Do the best you can and do what you love and what feels right.”
You’re now 26. In 26 years-time, what do you have hope to have achieved?
TP: “Oh my goodness, you’ve got me planning for the future! So many albums, I hope to tour the world. I want to take my music everywhere, I want a fully-thriving music career…”
Thandi’s latest EP ‘Thandi Phoenix’ is available now. For more, visit the website here.