Transcending boundaries imposed by genre, LA-based queer indie artist Phem invokes deeply personal experiences to connect on a universal level with listeners. Coming from a background in jazz drumming, her music contains elements of hip-hop and pop with a stream of consciousness lyrical style that explore themes like sexuality, religion, and isolation.
With streams in the millions, a recent cross-country tour with Lil Xan, and several major collaborations with artists like G-Eazy and Machine Gun Kelly, Phem’s upcoming single “Self-Control” continues looking inward at the conflicts between relationships and personal growth, which has taken on new meaning as we continue grappling with the coronavirus pandemic.
We got the chance to chat with Phem about the inspiration behind her new music, what she’s planning for the future, and how she’s using self-control to make the most of her time in quarantine.
What do you want to tell your fans about your new single “Self-Control?”
Self-control, if you are able to control your behavior, you can literally rule the fucking world. It is the most important skill to learn. I think the whole point of the song was basically me talking about a relationship where I knew I had to get out of bed, I knew I had to do all these things. And you know that line, “Another stupid Sunday, traded God for sex.” God is you. Sundays are a day for me. I’ll go to the beach, I’ll go meditate. When you trade yourself in for a relationship, or for what another person expects, you feel like shit. That’s what that line is, I traded myself in for sex, which is a cheap thing that goes away in a couple minutes, and then you don’t wanna leave that person. It’s chemicals. It fuckin’ blows. But I think that quarantine is good, it’s detoxing us from all those chemicals that we get from being around other people, so we are able to figure out how to get those on our own, which is fucking hard, but also a good thing to know. That’s the essence of what I’m trying to get across in Self-Control. The worst feeling is when you’re lonely in a room full of people, or you’re lonely but you’re in a relationship. What the fuck is that?
How do you feel your music has evolved, and where do you see it going in the future?
I definitely think the music I’m about to put out is the best music I’ve ever written, from a songwriting standpoint. I also think that it’s brutally honest, to the point of like, maybe freaking people out, which is good. I think I need to take a little bit of a step back after this project with the heavy [stuff], because I do think that people are gonna wanna dance and feel good after all this. Maybe there’s a way to do that lyrically and put that with music that’s upbeat. I just feel like I personally will probably want to make music that will [convey] the feeling of positivity, of hopefulness.
You’re so open about your life through your work in a way that helps people connect with you, which is such a powerful thing. Is that connection with your fans what motivates you?
Honestly, I don’t really have a choice. I didn’t really know what was expected of me when I first started dropping music. It was this song called “Blinders,” I always talk about this song, because I literally wrote this song for no one to ever hear. Then I ended up putting it out, and it was just like, everyone fucked with it. And it was about being queer, and liking guys and girls, and aliens, and not knowing who I was. After I did that, I was like, okay, so you’re being rewarded now for your openness. I was just like, fuck, okay, I gotta come with the realness, because it’s an undertone of my art, and it’s part of it. The song is not separate from helping people feel safe and shit. It’s wrapped up in this whole other thing.
Has the current situation we’re all in with the pandemic changed the way you’re looking at your music?
Going back on the theme of self-control, if you’re gonna be home all day, you need to have self-control, because you could just literally eat everything in your fridge, you could pick apart your face in the mirror, you could not work out, you could think about all the things that are wrong with you, you know? It’s easy to spiral out. I think self-control is probably one of the hardest things to figure out. It’s a skill. I’ve been trying to make music, but all this stuff was recorded pre-quarantine. But it’s all becoming more and more clear to me the actual meanings of everything. I’m starting to get the subliminal context based on my reality now, and I’m like “Oh, that’s what I was trying to say. Got it.”
So when you write a song, do you feel like you don’t necessarily know what it’s about right away?
Yeah. Definitely. I’ll just get up on the mic, or I’ll just be in my notes on my phone, and I’ll just type a bunch of random shit, or I’ll just freestyle, and then some of it will be gibberish, and I’ll sort through it and be like, “Whoa. That’s crazy. That’s what my subconscious was saying.” I like to let the atmosphere and the heavens above kind of guide me, because to be honest with you, dude, I don’t even know what the fuck I’m writing half the time. I feel like I just channel shit.
What have you done to combat that fear of being alone in this time? Does it bother you, or do you feel okay about having to be sort of isolated?
I feel like I’m purging. I feel crazy. I’ve literally been in relationships always, I’ve never not been with someone. This is the first time that I’ve really been single, and I’m literally doing so much work on myself. It’s scary. I’m just learning to love being with myself. It’s really difficult, but I know that it’s required of me if I wanna be what I wanna be. I gotta just go through it. With quarantine, these things that help me ignore these parts of myself have now been stripped away. I’ll come out better, and you’ll find out things about yourself. Everyone will be okay after this, but it’s scary on multiple levels. With that fear, [you have to] look that shit in the face, like I see you, let’s go. I gotta defeat you if I wanna keep growing.
Phem’s new single “Self-Control” comes out August 28th.