When NYLON.com wrote that his new single “belongs on the ‘Stranger Things’ soundtrack,” artist Wons Phreely came up with a good idea for his music video: to make it the strangest he’s ever seen.
And true to his word, he did. The Australian-born, Los Angeles-based musician’s music video for his single The Night Has An Alibi features his disembodied singing head being carried around the city.
“The video is the story of a man who is born into this world with one very strange physical difference, but this concept was more than just a weird visual accompaniment to the song,” he tells Lost At E Minor.
“It’s about recognizing your own strange or unique qualities and running with them, rather than trying to diminish or obscure them.”
Growing up in Perth, the most isolated capital city in the world, Phreely felt a little out of place, and so he moved to Los Angeles to pursue his music dreams.
It’s the feeling of finally finding a place where he belongs that he found the inspiration for the song. That, and a few influences from 80’s rock, that he was able to put out a single that showcases his unique beats and emotive pop vocals.
“His songs have the potential to fill the vacant indie poet laureate void, rooted as they are in social realism but with a wry wit replete with the kind of joyful melodies that make you think you can take on the whole damn world,” said The VPME. “There’s a hint of Springsteen meets Jamie T at a Beck gig.”
We were lucky enough to get a hold of Phreely for a quick chat. In this interview, he talks about growing up in Australia, the making of his new single, and what awaits his music (and acting) career.
Please tell us more about yourself. How’d you get started as a musician? How would you describe your brand of music?
“There was a lot of good music in my house as a child, and people in my family liked to walk around the house singing, so I guess singing never felt like a distant idea. I kinda suspected I’d be a singer from a young age. So I started making up songs.
“I like to call my music Rock & Roll, but it gets called all sorts of things like indie or synth rock, and that doesn’t surprise me because music genres are always pretty open and broad terms. I mean Chuck Berry and The Rolling Stones are the most Rock & Roll artists I can think of, but my music doesn’t sound like them, though I think there is a similar spirit we share.
“Of contemporary artists around today, my stuff sometimes gets compared to Future Islands, War On Drugs, Ryan Adams, Declan McKenna or Twin Shadow.”
You moved from Perth to LA to pursue your dreams. When it comes to music scenes, how are the two cities alike/different?
“I think the Perth music scene is so strong and creative because a lot of people there are making music to express themselves or have fun, and are not so much thinking about how it might lead to a career.
“LA also has that vibrant strong creativity too which seems to live in places east of Hollywood like Silverlake, Los Feliz and Echo Park.
“But it also seems to have this other scene where people have come here to become rock stars or something, they seem to congregate in West Hollywood and spend a bunch of time thinking about how to dress like rock stars from a time gone by, but I haven’t heard many songs from them.”
Let’s talk about your new single, The Night Has An Alibi. What was the inspiration behind the song?
“Like a lot of my songs, this one came to me in a dream. Sometimes in the dreams themselves, I’ll have a guitar in my hands and workout the chords and I’ll be figuring out the words and the music, so then I have to force myself to wake up so I don’t lose the song, or it’s gone forever.
“But usually the excitement of a new song is enough to wake me up. So I woke up and sung it on my phone, and then the next day I recorded the synth line on my computer, and sang the chorus over that.
“Once a rough bed of music was created I started singing the verse words into the computer, and listening back to the emotions that had come out of me. They revealed to me the song’s themes. It’s the best when a song tells you what it’s about.
“I realized I had been writing a song about how sometimes we grow up feeling like we kinda don’t fit in the place we are born, and that its kind of up to us to try to find our place or people or we will shrivel up and die inside. So the words that came to me in the dream were about that.
“For example the line that says: ‘Sister I know we should settle but I can’t live a lie… I just get this feeling like I might explode inside’.
“And with the music, I wanted it to feel like you were in your car, all packed up and ready to leave, starting out at dawn, hitting the open road on to the place you are meant to be, where maybe you’ll find more people who want to talk about the things you like to talk about.
“So another line in the song says: ‘these conversations where it’s like there’s nothing to add, there must be something else’.
“And as the song grows I wanted it to feel like the driver in that car had maybe found that place, or was feeling like they were on their way, so that’s when the song really starts pumping and the saxophone solo kicks in, and the drums are relentless.
“As I was writing this part, I started dancing, and then singing in falsetto. I still love dancing to this song. In the falsetto part I start singing: ‘to find that one place we can be really something’.
“I thought about the driving beat and the drum sound I wanted, it really anchors the whole song, I wanted that big expansive echoing snare. My producer David Skeet is an encyclopedia of music history and sounds, and he was great in helping create that sound.”
The single’s music video is definitely something. Could you tell us more about how you came up with it, as well as how you made it?
“I have always designed my own artwork for my singles and EPs, and I’ve done it for other bands too, and one of those bands really liked the artwork I was creating for them, so they asked me to direct a music video for them. And it made me realize how much I love creating visual worlds, and since then I’ve been really trying to create surprisingly unexpected music videos.
“When the audio single for The Night Has An Alibi was first released in November last year, it premiered on the website NYLON.com and they wrote the headline The New Wons Phreely Single Belongs On The ‘Stranger Things’ Soundtrack. So the idea of doing something ‘stranger’ got me thinking. This story started appearing in my head and it wouldn’t go away, but it was going to be a lot of work to make the vision in my mind come to life.
“So I started thinking how can I make this, fortunately since I moved to LA, I’ve also been doing a bunch of acting in stuff, so I’ve met a lot of talented people on set, including my buddy Laffrey Witbrod who is a brilliant cinematographer. He was down to collaborate, which was amazing and I ended up directing and producing as well as creating all the slightly creepy and fun digital VFX.
“The video is the story of a man who is born into this world with one very strange physical difference, but this concept was more than just a weird visual accompaniment to the song; it’s about recognizing your own strange or unique qualities and running with them, rather than trying to diminish or obscure them.
“It could’ve been any kind of thing that makes you feel different in the world, and slightly removed from the people in the world you find yourself in. It’s really what’s inside your head that’s what makes you feel different sometimes, not how you look.
“But either way, it’s about finding the place, the people or the things that you like to do, and going with them, that’s when you start to feel like you belong, buts up to you to try to find those things. So in this video this weird guy discovers that he’s good at singing, and he connects with the people who appreciate his singing.”
Apart from The Night Has An Alibi, what else should fans eagerly expect from you in the near future?
“I have an album coming out. M friend Joseph, who is an amazing piano player and songwriter, and I are just working on the last songs right now.
“Then we want to play them live for a few shows, just to make sure we love the live arrangement and dynamics, then once we have that down, well record at least one more song, and then the album is finished.
“I even think I have a title for it, but it’s too good to share here, it would probably be stolen by some professional Hollywood songwriter and then appear as the title on the next Justin Bieber single, or on Rihanna’s next album, she will no doubt be putting out five new albums this year, before I get the chance to release mine.
“I’m also directing music videos for myself and others, and I’m directing a music documentary. I’m writing some pop songs for other artists. Doing more acting, which is obviously a cliché for musicians, but it’s fun, and they pay you, but no one wants to hear about that!”