Exclusive: Frank Ocean, Michael Jackson, Emma Amos And The Ocean All Inspired Phoenix James

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Everything about Phoenix James feels approachable and accessible: easy to come to and even easier to come by. The 19-year-old artist has become a fixture in the growing alternative community in Miami through a deep, soothing voice weighted by questions that haunts her. Everything and nothing holds priority when the result in question is to fulfill your full potential. “Growing up might save me/I’m trying to be the greatest,” she croons on “Resolution” from her 2019 debut project AW(FUL)SOME to exasperated pleas for “music to save me” on “She’s A Scholar,” as realizes her lack of care in school might cost her career. Phoenix dovetails her creative ambitions with her real-world experiences, aiding in creating a welcoming aura that surrounds her. 

What tempts the lingering stares of onlookers isn’t her propensity for pleating different genres into her aborning sound, but how she removes herself from those experiences and plays the narrator to her own story. Her latest project New Stages touches on the debilitating effects heartbreak can conjure to the riddling anxiety of growth. Its atmosphere feels like an open-world video game set in the winter, so much space for such little life. Drums aren’t as groovy, strings no longer chirping like birds in the morning, and the only source of warmth, source of movement to be is the voice of the narrator who is too open about their shortcomings. The emotional details on the why succumb to the sheer force of a simple question: where do we go from here? Unrelenting, the story demands she walks forward. True to its nature, growth will always push you towards the uncomfortable.

Phoenix speaks on the EP influences, creative progression, and overall outlook that played a part in the making of New Stages. 

Goals

A goal of mine when making New Stages is really using my voice more than I did compare to AW(FUL)SOME. I was 16 when I made AW(FUL)SOME, and that was me just learning about song structure and how to put a project together. Now I can take those fundamentals and turn them into a concept with a vast amount of space and create this little world. Broadening my voice is a testament to my growth as an artist and as an individual.

Emma Amos

Emma Amos, Flower Sniffer, 1966. Courtesy: Brooklyn Museum, New York

I went to an art museum in Brooklyn, just walking around by myself for some inspiration on what I wanted to do for the cover art. I came across this piece done by Ema Emos, and the work was called “Flower Sniffer.” You see a woman holding a banquet of flowers, but her head slightly turns towards the camera and stares constantly in what looks like a break room. Visually it’s striking, and the dialogue surrounding the piece resonated with me.

As a black woman, she could never step into a room as an artist. It was always the color of her skin instead of her merit. That entire experience, seeing the painting, made me excited about the cover. I wanted to do something simple yet striking. 

Moses Sumney

One of the main inspirations for the project was Moses Sumney, and oh my gosh, if you listen to his most recent project Gree, you’ll definitely hear it. He has crazy composition, his voice is fucking insane, and I wanted to do something like that. 

Transformation

Transformation is a vital goal in my life. I don’t ever want to place myself into a box. “Heart Attack” is an examination of my first heartbreak. I’m undergoing a spiritual journey; that’s what I attempt to convey in “Heavy Eyes.” I want to reach another level in my life and reflect that into my craft. I’m looking at myself differently, bettering myself, breaking away from my perspective, and looking into the why. It’s an unbias outlook of who I am individually and who I want to become. 

Frank Ocean

 

Channel Orange is my favorite project ever. Admittedly, I’ve always been drawn to his voice and ability to immerse myself in his world through storytelling. It came out when I was ten, and at that point, I had never heard such authentic storytelling in that fashion before. Every night, I would go Hip Hop Genius, look up the lyrics, read breakdowns, and envelop myself in his world. For example, what he did on “Crack Rock” is fantastic—romanticizing drug use societally in low-income neighborhoods and making it sound like the most beautiful thing in the world is insane to me. It’s a sad yet beautiful story. I strive to do it in my music, where anyone who listens feels invited into my universe. 

Michael Jackson

I had an obsession with Michael when I was a child. I dressed up as him for Halloween, and I got scared because all of the other girls were dressed as princesses and stuff, and I was crying because I was the only one dressed as Michael. There’s a photo of me with a hat on, and I’m doing his famous pose. I try to embody a phrase he said in his documentary “This Is It” that says “Bath In the Moonlight.”

Legendary Performers

James Brown is another artist who influenced my performances. I love watching his performances over and over again. He is one of the most renowned performers ever, precisely what he is. Beyonce is another artist who, my God, knows how to put on a show. People like Little Richard and other old-school jazz musicians because the amount of skill needed back to get the audience’s respect is crazy. If you were not a good musician back then, you would not be put on. Knowing how to control a crowd, keep them engaged, the energy being at 100% all the time, and inviting them into my world is what I learned from watching the greats. 

The Ocean

I’ve been attracted to water ever since I was a baby. The ocean is vast and mysterious. When I look into the sea, I think of peace. Depending on where you are, go into a body of water, and the first thing you’ll notice is the silence. Whenever I feel sad or overwhelmed or need a recharge, I immediately get into the water. It feels like home when I’m in there. There’s a sense of safety. I literally could feel the weight lift from me, and I could finally breathe again. The sea has many assets to it that echo my experiences and emotions.

The Epiphany

I remember seeing my father bawling his eyes out after my first ever art show was the moment I realized that I could be great at this. Like this is a big guy, a 6’3 human being, crying like a baby, and he’s telling me, “I’m so proud of you,” and asking me what I’m going to do now. Maybe I had an epiphany, but something clicked in my head, “oh yeah, this is what I want to do.” I thought about it because before, I was just on autopilot, doing what I’ve been doing since I was a baby. I used to stand on the table banging pots and pans, giving everyone who came to my home a show, but it was out of pure passion. However, seeing my dad show that emotion made me take my craft seriously. That I can be the greatest if I do this consistently.

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