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10 Questions With... Phia Sky

We all have had certain nightmares that stick with us. They're not easily forgotten, intruding on our thoughts for a long time after we wake. Sometimes it leads to overthinking, sometimes it leads to reflection. In the case of Manchester-based producer Phia Sky it led to artistic inspiration, and her best song yet.

fosn (standing for Fractured Onslaught Sunken Nightmare, in one of my favourite song titles of the year so far) is her newest single, following on from last year's Baby's First Computer. Dark themes have always been present in her work, but they're more prevalent than ever this time around, with her hauntingly angelic voice complementing the relentless drums and fervent synths perfectly. It's a powerful track that's going to be equally at home on both introspective playlists, and sweaty club nights.

fosn takes Phia Sky's music to its most powerful extremes yet, resulting in a haunting banger that's not left my mind since I first heard it. If you have even the slightest interest in hyperpop, chiptune, or just straight up great pop music, don't miss this.

We recently got to catch up with Phia Sky and chat about field recordings, vintage hardware, video game soundtracks, and her future plans.

1. Hi Phia! Can you tell us a bit about your upcoming single, fosn?

Hey! fosn is based on this nightmare i had about the state of social anxiousness where you’re trying to drop very subtle hints of discomfort which aren’t quite picked up by the people around you. Hence the door analogy in the chorus; it’s like I’m trapped in a dingy, dusty waiting room of some sort, knocking an old wooden door, rattling the handle around, trying to find the key - but to everyone on the outside that fractured clattering just comes out as regular speech. I tried to make the production reflect that too, with the contrast between simple, catchy vocal lines and tangled, overlapping synth melodies.

2. The single feels a lot darker in sound than some of your previous singles like Baby’s First Computer or Are We Friends Or Not, What inspired the change in direction?

I’d say being forced inside all winter maybe had something to do with it! I never deliberately set out to make something have a certain mood in particular, but it’s impossible to create art in an emotional vacuum. The song started life as a throwaway synth sketch that just happened to sound quite foreboding. The plan was for it to stay as a PilotRedSun-style instrumental track until I had the aforementioned nightmare. Everything then slotted together quite nicely.

3. All your released music, including fosn, are entirely written, performed, and produced by you. What is it like to take on so many different roles in your music?

Challenging, but I’m a control freak so I like it that way. Seeing something grow from a micro-idea into a finished product is an amazing outlet for me. It sounds cheesy but it is something i literally have to do in order to function comfortably and stay sane, whether it even gets released or not. fosn features a voice memo recording of this battered old drum kit someone just left in Vernon Park in Stockport. I didn’t really need to add it in but I just love creating a time capsule in that way.

4. What first inspired you to make music?

Video game soundtracks. My very earliest musical sketches would be layers of KORG DS-10 on Nintendo DS, my “beatboxing” and various wind instruments - trying to recreate an approximation of what I heard in Sonic/Mario/Zelda etc in a kind of Gorillaz-esque style. It sounded horrible, but I must've one day subconsciously realised I’m rubbish at everything else so I pushed with it as hard as I could until it got less horrible.

5. Who inspires you as a producer, and why?

It’s a bit obvious but I’d still say SOPHIE. It was her music that made me stop constantly making pastiche 80s-tinged pop (not knocking that though) and look at sonic textures through a more microscopic lens. I really do think, even in her now huge popularity, we’ve still only seen the start of what she set in motion. Our whole conception of how polyphony is handled in pop music will continue to shift seismically.

6. How has lockdown affected your musical process?

For a huge amount of last year I was out of work so I had a lot of time to try out weird/sometimes stupid ideas with no quality-control whatsoever. Which sounds like a waste of time but looking back it allowed me to really flex the limits of my composing/mixing skills hugely. It also taught me that I want to collaborate more! I sorted my studio setup all super nice over lockdown but had no-one to share it with :(

7. What is it like to work with vintage hardware on your songs?

Fun but not essential. fosn features some percussion that came from a cheap old Yamaha RX17 - underwhelming on its own but mangling and re-sequencing it in software allowed me to create the blippy, modulated sounds in the outro. Conversely, there’s a lot of stuff I initially created within software that I ran back out through a Pocket Operator PO-33 to add some beefiness. I’m definitely not a purist - it’s the ping-pong movement between physical and virtual that interests me.

8. Are there any artists in particular that are inspiring you at the moment?

Really really obsessed with Yellow Magic Orchestra currently. I know they’re one of these pivotal electronic bands that everyone’s supposed to know but I just never did a deep-dive until now - all their solo projects too, especially Haruomi Hosono. Their fluid, playful approach to genre is fascinating to pick apart and is at the core of so much music we take for granted now. They basically invented the concept of chiptune for fuck’s sake! Mind-blowing.

9. Picture this. It’s summer 2022, festivals have returned, the sun is shining, and you’re given the chance to book an amazing all-dayer. Who have you got on the bill?

Stevie Wonder while we still have him around, Oneohtrix Point Never, Rokia Traoré, Jpegmafia, Ween, Death (the proto-punk band), AG Cook, Little Dragon, Caroline Polachek, Air, and lastly Tyler the Creator because I was meant to FINALLY see him for the first time in 2020. Bit of a mix there but they all exude a summery vibe in one way or another. I just miss any form of live music desperately - tbh I’d be happy seeing U2 at this point.

10. Do you have anything else in the works?

Always! Got some collaborative stuff coming up - bits of production for other Manchester artists and doing synths for a shoegaze project called Ideal Husband we formed over lockdown (early days on that but stay tuned). As for PHIA SKY, I’ve got a big backlog of tracks ready to go, including some revamps of my older stuff - including a certain song you mentioned about being unsure whether you’re friends with someone or not. :-)

Phia Sky's new single, fosn, is available on all platforms from 26th April.

Find out more from Phia Sky here:

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