Phoebe Green has been on our lists of buzzy new acts for ‘quite a while’ now. Embracing new horizons, her debut album ‘Lucky Me’ takes all that potential and sends it stratospheric.
Words: Martyn Young. Photos: Em Marcovecchio.
It’s always enlightening to discover what our fave pop stars enjoy beyond the music. What do they obsess over when they’re not making great music and ‘stuff’ like that? For rising Manchester pop legend Phoebe Green one of those passions is astrology. Pretty cool, you might think. Sadly Phoebe disagrees. “I’m not that much of an interesting person,” she laughs self-deprecatingly. “I’m very into star signs and shit. I’m a Scorpio, and I feel you’ve got to have a pretty intense star sign to be interested in them.”
It’s said that Scorpios (a water sign, dontchaknow) derive their strength from the psychic and emotional realm, forging deep soulful connections while displaying empathy, depth and passion. So really quite interesting, actually, and fortunately a perfect descriptor for the emotionally resonant music of Phoebe Green, currently taking things up a whole staircase full of levels with her debut album ‘Lucky Me’.
We’ve known for a long time that Phoebe Green was special. Blessing us with indie alt-pop bangers with a deep emotional core, Phoebe has always stood out from the crowd. The release of a debut album is a big deal, though, and the singer-songwriter knows it.
“I’m very nervous about the album release,” she begins. “It’s a very exposing body of work. It’s very personal. I’ve been thinking about it a lot recently. I’m so nervous because people are going to be critiquing my deepest thoughts and feelings. Not even just the music itself, but people are going to be hearing such deep, dark things about me and forming opinions.” For all the people who might be readying their critiques, though, there will be way more thinking it’s the greatest thing they’ve ever heard. “I bloody hope so!” she laughs.
“I’m so nervous because people are going to be critiquing my deepest thoughts and feelings”Phoebe Green
That’s the thing with Phoebe. She’s a deep analytical thinker, but she’s always incredibly engaging and super funny – a perfect pop star in many ways. She wasn’t always going to be this way, though. For years, she chafed against it while emphasising an indie sound and approach that, while still great, turned out to be not quite her. It wasn’t a harsh pivot, more a gradual realisation that maybe there was a different way to do things. “There wasn’t any lightbulb moment, but I started to realise that my skills on guitar were quite limited,” she laughs. “I didn’t enjoy it enough to push myself further. I was just like fuck this, I’m going to try something else. I love dancing. I love dancing around. I’m quite a theatrical person, and when I was playing guitar on stage, I found that I was really stationary, and I really didn’t want to be.”
Following the desire to switch things up came a new way of writing that would build the vivid electronic palette of ‘Lucky Me’. “I didn’t want to write songs on guitar anymore because it really did limit me,” continues Phoebe. “Even though I did music for A Level and I did all my theory, I found it hard to apply it. I started using Apple Loops on Logic, finding a beat and just getting a bassline and typing it into the computer. It was so much easier to do everything on my laptop without using actual instruments. The whole sound just shifted, probably because I was fucking lazy. The songs I was starting to write all started to sound the same, and I felt like I was starting to outgrow that sound. I was listening to more pop music. I was in an indie scene for so long and touring with indie bands that I absolutely love, but I was so surrounded by it that I didn’t think there was any other option. I realised I could still do what I want, and no one’s going to think I’m a traitor.”
The change in sound soon opened up a change in dynamic in Phoebe’s songs. “I was trying to fit around the band sound and see where I could slot myself in,” she says. “The songs I wanted to write were very personality focused, and I wanted to be the focal point of the song. Something clicked when I started to fit the instrumentation around me. The sounds really do reflect the mood of the song and what I’m trying to say.”
“My writing has changed a lot through personal growth,” she continues. “I used to be such an observer of other people, and I still am, but the older I’ve got, the more I’ve thought about myself and my behaviour and patterns I slip into. The music has become more of a personal thing about my relationship with myself rather than the way I interact with other people. That comes across in the new music. There isn’t as much to hide behind or point away from.”
“I’m never the same person for very long”Phoebe Green
Some of the emotional centrality in her songs at least partly comes from her most formative musical experiences. “I grew up in a very small seaside town called Lytham. All of my musical experience was at school,” she explains. “We had a really good music department, and as soon as I got to high school, I was encouraged to pursue that. Inspiration wise I watched a lot of musicals and Disney films and stuff. That’s where I started associating music with emotional storytelling. That’s where I got the idea that you sing about your feelings. Musicals are quite visual. They set the theme and then go into detail about a situation. That’s what I first started writing about, and that hasn’t really changed. I guess it’s just got a bit cooler.”
As she came to write and record ‘Lucky Me’, a newfound clarity and lucidity emerged. “I wanted it to represent where I’m at now,” she says. I’m a very inconsistent person. I’m never the same person for very long. I don’t feel like my identity is very concrete. I’ve embraced the fact that the most consistent thing about me is that I change. I didn’t want to make something that was easy to pigeonhole. That’s why I’ve embraced the pop label because it’s so much broader than a small section of a smaller genre. It seems so intimidating because it’s so massive, and there’s so much room for growth and exploration. I’ve kind of grown into it.”
One of the themes Phoebe talks about is what she calls “emotional suppression”. “It started with the EP ‘I Can’t Cry For You’. I’d been through so much shit that I couldn’t cry anymore. It was all too much, and I couldn’t feel anything,” she explains. “This album is the journey of me learning how to be vulnerable again. It starts with ‘Break My Heart’, where I’m saying you’re never gonna break me as effectively or easily as I can. It’s quite defensive, not wanting to let anyone in. By the end, it gets really emotional and is quite open. I start to accept that feeling things is way better than feeling nothing.”
We all know pop music is at its best and most transcendent when artists immerse themselves in their feelings and embrace every emotion. Good or bad, happy or sad, throughout ‘Lucky Me’ we experience Phoebe doing just that. Be it on dancefloor banger ‘Crying At The Club’, or an intense sad heartstopper like ‘Clean’, every emotion is ramped up to the extreme. “I’ve always been such a sensitive person. I feel things to such extremes that I can’t remember ever not being that way since I was a kid,” reflects Phoebe. “Half of the reason I tried to suppress it was because it was inconveniencing me. I always felt like no one else would ever feel things as deeply as I was. It made me feel quite isolated. That became me not feeling anything. I got so scared of my own feelings that I numbed myself completely. It worked, but now that those methods have stopped working, I’m feeling things more than ever. Writing this album was a godsend because I was able to channel these super intense emotions into something that felt like an extension of me and my emotions. ‘Clean’ is the only slow straight-up sad song on the album. That was really freeing because, for a long time, I was trying to write catchy pop songs. That’s everyone’s goal, and at that point, I’d been trying to write upbeat songs for months. It just wasn’t happening, so I was like fuck it, I’m just going to write a sad song. As soon as I got all those feelings out, I was able to relax enough to write something upbeat. That was one of the first songs on the album that I wrote.”
The record also finds Phoebe embracing a collaborative approach working with producers Kaines and Tom A.D as well as the very in-demand Jessica Winter. “I surprised myself with how open I was to doing things differently,” she exclaims. “I’ve always been quite rigid in wanting my music to sound a certain way. I was trying to meet this brief that I’d set myself, and it got old and felt like I was stifling something. I was so sick of that that I thought, as long as I get to keep my lyrics the way I want them and say whatever I want to say, then with the production, I’m going to be very open and see what suits my dialogue the best. I’ve always been so resistant to collaborating. I’ve always hated the idea of it. I was so precious about it because they were going to take it away from me and turn it into something I didn’t want. I accepted that collaborating doesn’t necessarily mean compromise. I always just saw it as a threat. I realised everyone is just trying to focus on what I want to do and encourage what’s already there.”
“I surprised myself with how open I was to doing things differently”Phoebe Green
The result is a special debut album worlds away from her lo-fi first project, ‘02.00 AM’, back in 2016. Could Phoebe have made an album like this back then? “Not a chance in hell,” she laughs. “I was too stubborn. When I was 21, I was convinced that I knew everything. I thought I knew more then than I have accepted that I know now. I’m much more willing to learn now and accept that I don’t know everything. I’ve been able to accept help and support from the people around me. I did the first self-released album years ago and wrote it completely alone, and I thought I could just do it again. That’s not how it works. Yes, that album is ok for an 18-year-old, but that’s not what I want to do. I just have so much more ambition now.”
That ambition has led to an awakening that puts her in the same conversation as fellow inventive and hugely creative musicians like Self Esteem, whom Phoebe toured earlier this year. “The reason I was resistant to pop originally was I thought it had to be really generic and really easy to connect with but not in an emotional sense,” she admits. “I thought I might have to simplify my lyrics or make them more digestible in order for it to be pop music. Seeing MUNA and Self Esteem and Lorde and all these pop artists saying things in such interesting ways that can sometimes be quite abstract yet still resonate made me realise that this is doable. What makes good pop music is when someone has a really specific experience, but is still able to connect with people who might not be able to empathise.”
It shows how far Phoebe has come that she can legitimately be mentioned with artists of that calibre, but the album also shows how far Phoebe can go. Now that she’s all in and fully in touch with exactly who she wants to be, there are infinite possibilities for a new star blossoming into pop’s vast galaxy. ■
Taken from the September 2022 edition of Dork, out now. Phoebe Green’s debut album ‘Lucky Me’ is out 19th August.