Phosphene Interview: “It took a great deal of focus to resist inertia”

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Phosphene’s new album Lotus Eaters is out now!

Portland, Oregon dream-pop outfit Phosphene are back. Their second album Lotus Eaters was just released at the start of July and it is a charming and chiming beauty of lilting melodies and jangling guitars. At first listen the album is beautifully unassuming, but repeated listens reveals a humanity and dark sense of humour in the lyrics that is wonderfully subtle.

Over here at Overblown, we’ve been on the Phosphene train for a few years now and so wanted to catch up with them to chat about Lotus Eaters. They graciously agreed. Have a read and listen below.

Buy Lotus Eaters via Bandcamp!

Overblown: The album title Lotus Eaters is from Greek Mythology. How did you come across that title?

Phosphene: As you mentioned, the title Lotus Eaters is loosely derived from Greek mythology, which describes a person in a peaceful but apathetic haze from continually eating lotus fruit. A similar, escapist notion was pervasive across the U.S., and it certainly impacted each of us personally. It took a great deal of focus and fortitude to resist that inertia and move forward as a band.

Overblown: For me, a highlight on the album is ‘Spiral’. What inspired that song musically?

Phosphene: “Spiral” is a song that revealed itself during a dreary winter day at our practice space in Oakland, CA. Weather always has a subconscious effect on our songwriting, and this tune came from that source, despite sounding more on the summery side.

Overblown: What inspired ‘Spiral’ lyrically?

Phosphene: Thematically, “Spiral” is about seeking solace and peace during hard times, whether that’s in the form of an escape with someone dear or reconnecting with nature. We aren’t an overtly political band, but this song came about after the 2016 election, so lines like “this world run by cartoons” reflected the state of affairs.

Overblown: The writing and recording of the album took place before and following the 2016 American general election and that had a huge impact on the music. What are your feelings about the 2020 election this year?

Phosphene: America has a very narrow version of democracy, so being stuck with a two-party system and no ranked-choice voting is a tough pill to swallow. Our choices are to vote for the centrist geezer who babbles about malarkey or the Grand Dragon geezer in office. We’d prefer the former win this November, although we were rooting for the more radically progressive candidates in the primaries.

Overblown: During the writing of the album, Rachel (vocals/guitar) was also writing and illustrating She Can Really Lay It Down, a musical anthology celebrating fifty influential womxn musicians from the past century. What impact did that have on the album?

Phosphene: Rachel’s writing process absolutely had a sonic impact on the album. While writing the biographies and illustrating the portraits of each musician, she’d often listen to their music simultaneously. Listening to such a wide variety of genres during the time really broadened the range of vocal melodies across the album. Instrumentally, you can definitely hear the influence of Kim Gordon from Sonic Youth and Janet Weiss from Sleater-Kinney, who are both included in She Can Really Lay It Down.

Overblown: On the new album, you incorporate spoken word poetry. Were there any spoken word poets, in particular, that inspired that?

Phosphene: That spoken word outro in “Cocoon” consists of various lines Rachel selected from my own poetry. In regards to our favourite poets, I’d say Pablo Neruda, Mary Oliver, Saeed Jones, and Ani DiFranco are among our most beloved.

Overblown: How have you kept occupied during the lockdown?

Phosphene: We’ve kept ourselves occupied with writing new music albeit in a reduced capacity. Our practise space has been off-limits for roughly four months due to the pandemic, so Rachel and I are writing acoustically in our apartment. It’s been a productive stretch—we wrote a new song front-to-back and put the finishing touches on two additional tracks. We’ve also fulfilled our millennial status by baking bread at least a few times, but aren’t hip enough for sourdough (yet).

Overblown: Another song that I think is a highlight on the album is ‘Incinerate’. What inspired that song musically?

Phosphene: “Incinerate” originated from an arpeggiated riff that I wrote on classical guitar. Rachel took that riff and built upon it during a jam at our old practice space in Oakland, CA. At the time, she was on a Sonic Youth binge, which inspired the pummeling sequence of this tune.

Overblown: What inspired the song lyrically?

Phosphene: “Incinerate” details a toxic relationship that the narrator is now severing. It’s about empowerment and moving forward by shedding dead weight. There are bits of humour in there that poke fun at superficiality and chauvinism, too. “You didn’t even hear my set / what’s the name of my band?” “As if I’d like to be a curtain on your stage / to be bound in a corset / just a wife with a cleft”

Overblown: What are you planning for the rest of 2020? Is it even possible to make plans at the moment?

Phosphene: Everything is impossible right now! We’re trying to take things day by day as they’re always changing. However, it’s our hope that we can get in the studio this winter to record a follow-up EP and release it next year. We have the material ready—four songs in the can—and would love to share them with the world. Rachel is also in the midst of designing our first shirt, which I’m particularly jazzed about since we’ve never had merch like this before.

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