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In Conversation with Phoebe Hall

Last Friday (11th November) saw the release of my flatmate Phoebe Hall’s debut EP, Runaway. Signed to indie label Fear Records, who are based in Manchester, Phoebe is juggling the road to pop stardom and the commitments of a 4th year Philosophy and Theology student. Phoebe began to gain considerable traction in the pop space when she was noticed by Josh Noble and Karl Ziegler (SOAP.), a talented production duo from Manchester, in the summer of 2021. Together with her best friend Jonny, Phoebe has performed over 20 times in the last year, including on the festival circuit at Great Escape, Latitude and All Points East. I sat down with her last week to talk about the EP and her experiences in music so far. 

Anouk: If you were to summarise the kind of music you make in a sentence, what would it be?

Phoebe: Bedroom pop with edge, big noise but lyrically hard hitting. 

A: Is there a central message that you wanted to get across in this EP?

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P: Whether it was intentional or not, as you know more than anyone else, I find it impossible to be anything that’s not me. I think I’ve always been like that but pretended I wasn’t in wider settings, and I think there’s a sort of unapologetic-ness in the music which is really exciting, as in a lot of my life, I can be quite apologetic. I’m me completely but then feel bad about it, whereas I don’t think that’s what’s happening here. I think it’s very bold; I don’t think any of the songs in that EP are particularly shy at all. 

A: What is your favourite song on the EP?

P: Ooh, if I was going to say objectively, the best pop song is ‘Runaway’. But my favourite is ‘Sometimes’ because that got me into the situation that I’m in now. Jonny and I wrote ‘Just the Same’, kind of led by him really, and then we started writing another EP in the summer of 2021. He came round to my house to stay for a week, and we created this thing, but I’d written ‘Sometimes’ before. I’d written it as a really stripped acoustic thing about something that was happening right at that moment. It’s quite interesting, I can find videos of that song in its first form in April of 2021, and it’s just wild to see that. The song’s changed in a lot of ways, but the core of it’s still the same, which is really exciting. Words have shifted a bit and it’s become much more powerful, but the bare bones of it I can still hear, and it was something that I’d brought in [to the studio] with me. I posted a bit of the clip that me and Jonny had done on that song, and that’s where Josh appeared. That song may not be everyone’s favourite…

A: It’s my favourite! 

P: …but it’s also my favourite live. 

A: It’s mine too!

P: I think when people hear it live, it just feels special. I’ve just heard it grow and develop a lot, like all of the songs have developed from when we first wrote them, but I was a completely different person when that was first written. That’ll be a year and a half old. 

A: Well it’s like you can track yourself through the music. 

P: Yeah, I can kind of recognise the person who wrote ‘Through the Phone’ but the person who wrote ‘Sometimes’ is totally different. So definitely that one [‘Sometimes’]. 

A: Which song was the hardest to write/put together?

P: Probably ‘Secrets’ because I hadn’t allowed myself to be angry about any of the things I was writing about, and then I was really angry, and went through a whole process of feeling bad about that. I think sound wise it’s quite different to some of the other stuff that I’ve done and it is just quite angry all the way through, which is quite interesting. It stretches my voice a lot as well so physically it’s quite difficult. 

A: Do you feel like there is unique pressure on you as a queer person in music? If so, how do you cope with it? 

P: I went in thinking I’ve got to talk about this [queerness] because this is how people are going to notice me. I think that’s how queer people are made to feel: either you don’t speak about it at all, or it’s your whole thing and you sell it. Obviously it [my queerness] is part of the package, but I want people to like the music above everything else. 

A: Of course, and that’s the bit that they’re going to know and connect with. It’s only the people who are close to you in your life who are going to know you. 

P: Exactly, we came up with this thing where it’s an artist who’s queer, not a queer artist. That isn’t anti anyone who chooses to put that [queerness] at the forefront of their art, and it’s very much at the forefront of mine, but more like if you’re going to ask me, I’ll talk about it. I think it’s relevant, we’ve done a little artist doc to go with the EP and I think it’s important to address…I wouldn’t want to not address it because I feel like I would be shying away from it. I feel very privileged to be in a position where I feel very comfortable in who I am and a very nice support network, friends and family, people who don’t care, really, and just support me. I feel like it’s important for me to talk about, whether that’s right or not, that is the case. I remember playing a gig last year and someone came up to me afterwards and they were like ‘Even just the pronouns you are using that are referring to female identifying people, that doesn’t seem like a big thing for you to do and it’s probably subconscious, but the fact you’re just writing about it’…what I write about is going to be queer because I am queer. I’ve found that it’s quite a difficult battle because there’s all these things about how I present myself and how I want to dress androgynously, and it’s quite weird because all of those things are things I want to talk about but I don’t want to market. Ultimately they’re who I am, but I think it’s a balance because I really want to connect with fans and create some sort of community.

A: Is it bizarre to be a signed artist and a full time uni student? Do you feel like those parts of yourself contradict each other or can they coexist peacefully? 

P: Erm, I think I gaslight myself a lot because I do make myself feel like I’m busier than I am, and then also have moments where I’m like ‘People have juggled more’, do you know what I mean? And like, ‘Is it really that hard?’ Like ultimately, I’m signed to a really nice label, it’s quite small and indie, and I know everyone who works there. Luckily, if I’m struggling, I can very much say I am, but because of the kind of person I am, I normally try and do everything to a really high standard. A lot of the work I do is in Manchester but I live in Edinburgh to study. I don’t mind travelling around that much but I’m finding this year a lot harder to not feel like I should be in Manchester, writing and working, and playing more gigs and being more involved with the label, and doing more work, and showing myself more, and that’s a bigger pressure than I felt last year. And I’m like, ‘Oh, I’ve got life in Manchester now’, but also my best friends, my girlfriend, so much of my life and studies are in Edinburgh as well, and it’s like when I’m in the other place, I’m thinking about the other place. But what I do find really nice is I completely switch off from everything when I’m in Manchester, it’s just full on music, which is really nice. It does mean that when I come back to Edinburgh, I’ve given everything to music, and I’m like ‘Oh shit, where am I? I’ve got to settle in again’. Like I’ve just had two weeks in Edinburgh and that’s the longest stint I’ve had here, all academic year so far. So I find that quite disjointed, and I’m finding it harder to engage with uni as much. I’m in the studio for five days, then I’m in the library for five days, going to Lidl in the dark and then going to a seminar about Jesus in film. It’s just quite disorientating, but I wouldn’t change it. Like if I wasn’t this busy, this is not a healthy mindset, but I would be really sad. 

A: Yeah, because it’s stimulating. 

P: Yeah, I have a few days of feeling really on top of it and a few days of feeling absolutely not. It does feel like I’m running two full time jobs. I don’t really feel like I should be having much time off because music isn’t so much of a regimented, ‘I’ve got these deadlines, I need to do this’. It’s more like ‘I’ve not picked up a guitar in two weeks, oh my god, I’m a failed musician’. But a lot of that’s self-inflicted. 

A: How do you think living in Edinburgh has influenced your writing or view of music, if it has at all?

P: I met Jonny here, through acapella at Edinburgh Uni, and that’s saved my music journey. Because I wasn’t going to really carry on doing it and then I met him and he’s been here for the whole of this process, which is really nice. Even though he’s not here this year, that’s kind of what I will remember about uni. There’s a lot of creative people around because you’re in a student space, and there is a really good music scene and live set ups and live venues here. For me, I associate Edinburgh with living here, with you, in the past two years, and I don’t think I would be able to do the extent of music that I’m doing without a home like this. Are you going to cry?

A: Yeah, buckets. 

P: If I got home on a Sunday evening from Manchester after travelling for six hours, and then had to cook my own dinner and take the bins out and all that menial stuff that you don’t think about…if I just texted you and was like, ‘Do you think…?…I wouldn’t even need to necessarily because you’d be like ‘Oh, she’s coming in late, so I’ll make dinner’. And I think we’ve managed to create such a homely environment and that’s what I think of Edinburgh as now, and I didn’t even think that was possible. I don’t worry about where I live anymore, and I think that to me means I’m able to do a lot more creatively because I’m actually in a place where I’m comfortable. 

A: You’re in safe hands!

P: I’m in safe hands, so I write fewer sad songs, but what can you do!

A: Who is someone who is making really exciting music or that you think we should look out for?

P: My absolute king Harry Strange is making some gorgeous music and he’s got an EP coming out. He’s brilliant and just one of the nicest people I’ve met, so you should listen to Harry Strange! 

Runaway is out now and available to download on all major streaming platforms.

Image courtesy of Henry Beach.