Members of Hooded Fang and Doldrums have teamed up to create this delightfully eccentric art project that’s setting the blogosphere alight.
Who: Though Phèdre surfaced in a haze of self-created mythology, claiming to be “Lovers from Monaco, raised in a cave of gold,” they are, in fact, an amorphous, delightfully eccentric Toronto-based project.
At the band-cum-art collective’s core are April Aliermo and Daniel Lee, also members of surf-rock indie band Hooded Fang, and frequent collaborator Airick Woodhead of Doldrums fame.
Loosely inspired by both Greek mythology and the brilliantly warped Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazelwood duet “Some Velvet Morning,” Phèdre took root during late summer nights in 2010.
“Phèdre started off in our old attic bedroom, where I got April to sing and write on a recording [the woozy “Love Ablaze”],” explains Lee. “We were just hanging out, drinking wine and making songs. Then we did “Ode to The Swinger.”
“Airick stopped to visit us for fun, right in the middle of us recording the end of that song,” continues Aliermo. “We were really, actually recording, and he just came in on the mic and started chanting ‘I really need a babe like you’ with us. Then next thing I know, I’m scribbling lyrics down for “In Decay” while Daniel was polishing off the beat. And they were both like, ‘Yo, talk-rap that shit!’”
The decidedly bent, orgiastic video for “In Decay” announced Phèdre’s official arrival in the early days of this year. The infectious song paired with NSFW visuals made it an immediate blog hit.
What: A blend of beats, lo-fi synths, and melodies that call everyone from Aaliyah to Jesus and Mary Chain to mind, the music of Phèdre is twisted yet decidedly danceable.
“Phèdre is a rotten, decadent fantasyland for us to live out our dreams in, and travel the world,” states Lee.
“Lucid dreams, yo,” Aliermo adds. “We take whatever we find exciting and fly with it.”
And so Phèdre’s debut album was brewed, then left to sit while Aliermo and Lee focused on other projects.
“But in those years, we were always in love with Phèdre, and never got sick of it,” offers Aliermo. “We always talked about putting it out.”
Last month, Phèdre released their self-titled, thirty-minute digital album via Daps Records, the gutsy indie Aliermo and Lee run with friend Ian Chai. The release may be short, but it’s a doozy. Shimmering, sensual and strange, it references decades of pop music history, borrowing liberally from new wave, hip-hop, noise rock and ’60s dream-pop alike. It gets under your skin and reveals new ideas with every listen.
“I’ve always been a producer first, and we are all very A.D.D., so it’s great to work in a way that was free of all responsibilities and pressures,” Lee comments. “It was a wonderful collabo, and a chance to get back into dance music and experiment with concepts rather than a traditional band.
“Writing for Hooded Fang or our other bands is different because there is an actual band involved. We have to think of the people who will play the songs live, and how we can play them. But with this, there are no sonic or practical limitations, and it is essentially a studio project with a live art aspect. We are more like rappers in a sense.”
“You can really go with whatever excites or inspires you, do what you want, and you’ll make intergalactic waves,” agrees Aliermo. “You can take that entity of inspiration and become the hell out of it. We made that whole record in less than a week, out of pure joy. I only wanna spend my time doing that.”
Outside of the album, Phèdre shares inspiration with other free thinkers, recently swapping remix duties with fellow Daps artist Beta Frontiers.
Why: Although some reviewers have suggested that Phèdre may want to tame that A.D.D. to focus a little more (“Phédre is the sound of a band trying to do too many things at once in too short of a time,” summarizes a 6.7/10 Pitchfork review, most, like me, have been charmed.
“Their sound combines a lot of ‘80s pop tropes into a mélange of lo-fi synth patches, hazy ambiences, chintzy drum machines, and deep-voiced croons… The result is a well-sculpted musical idea that is probably a bit out-there for the mass market, but a perfect candidate for blog glory,” reads a May 25 post on MTV Iggy.
Influential blog Gorilla vs. Bear has, in fact, been a champion of Phèdre, singing the band’s praises on numerous occasions. Phèdre even made the blog’s list of 20 favourite albums released thus far in 2012. I’m with them.
When & Where: Phèdre makes for a theatrical live show. Their debut Toronto performance at The Great Hall this past February featured everything from a mass drop of glitter-filled condom balloons to a stage packed with boisterous fans, all dancing in delight.
Since then, Phèdre has hit a handful of other cities, including Montreal and New York, and now returns to play a Daps Records NXNE showcase tomorrow night (Friday, June 15) at Sneaky Dee’s (431 College, #COL). Also taking part in the eight-hour show are Beta Frontiers, Odonis Odonis, Cartoons, Hellaluya, Hussy and Times Neue Roman.
What to expect from Phèdre?
“A lot of wild energy,” says Aliermo. “I don’t actually know what’s happening when we’re playing; it just happens so fast. I think that’s a good thing though.”
What’s Next: Phèdre gets to chance to build their performance chops while touring with Ariel Pink, an artist they’re frequently compared to, this September. They’ll play Philadelphia, Boston and Montreal together before returning to play Lee’s Palace on September 19.
“I’m looking forward to really polishing the live show,” says Aliermo. “It’s sort of still an experiment. Airick was playing DJ, but he’s not really going to tour with us, as he is mad busy with Doldrums. So we’ve got Beta Frontiers on the ones and twos right now, and I want to slowly start taking over some of those mechanical duties. We’re still figuring out how to do this best. It’s like a blank canvas that can be covered in whatever we want, so it’s all very exciting.”
She and Lee will remain the core of Phèdre, but they look forward to collaborating with Doldrums and others as time permits. Lee also makes mention of yet another side project.
“I’m producing tracks under the name Lee Paradise, and plan to DJ and perform under this as a Phèdre alter ego,” he offers. “If we’re not enjoying something, we’ll just switch it up and make it how we want.”
“We have a zillion songs, and video ideas for days,” enthuses Aliermo. “We want to put them all out into the universe. The great thing about this project is that it can go however we want it to.”
If Phèdre has a mass message, it’s to dream big, live large, and do the things you enjoy.
“You can make anything gold,” says Aliermo. “There is magic everywhere. Everyone, come and party!”