Thandi Phoenix on the 5 albums that shaped her sound

Interview by Eliza Sholly

Plus a brand new single.

It’s a special kind of sonic evolution that emerges when you reflect on your favourite albums. Especially if you’re someone that creates music for a living, it’s a personal epiphany to discover an artistic arc that’s been there all along, slowly burbling in the background.

It’s the same with books, memories, the way we tell stories. All these different outlets reflect you and your position in the world, and with it comes some introspection about your character and taste.

For Australian soul singer, Thandi Phoenix, good taste comes from being both inspired and reflective.

“There are so many female vocalists in that realm that I connected to; Aretha Franklin, Nina Simone,” lists Thandi. “But I’m influenced most by the music that touches me. I was constantly making my way through different genres to find my sound, and I still am.”

Thandi’s favourite albums reflect her connection to other women of colour, honest art, and a musical tradition that honours live performance. Each album is connected to an emotion or a revelation about her identity, and paints an intimate portrait of an instrumentalist who is consistently determined to evolve.

Here she shares those that have shaped her person and her music, starting where all good musical discoveries start — with the Spice Girls.

Spiceworld, Spice Girls
“Spiceworld is the first album I remember learning all the words to. I still have vivid memories of me and my best friend making up routines and dancing on tables to these songs when we were kids. It was probably the first sense of joy I got from music. As a mixed-race child in Australia, having Scary Spice as a musical role model was really amazing. She had a stage and a platform, and she also had brown skin and curly hair. For a girl of my age to have someone in mainstream music to relate to was really cool. And you know, girl power, having fun, those kinds of messages were really powerful to hear.”

Frank, Amy Winehouse
“Around the time I started listening to Frank was actually when I picked up a guitar for the first time. I remember going out and buying the music book just so I could learn how to play the songs. Amy taught me how to play, really. She was such a character. Everything she goes through she just lays out there, and I really connected to that kind of honesty. I think it’s really one of the best things about music, if you can listen to a song and think, ‘Oh shit, I’m not alone, they’re going through this as well.’”

As I Am, Alicia Keys
“Obviously Alicia Keys needs no introduction. Her voice is so raspy and textured, it gives me goosebumps. That and her incredible piano playing. So many of the songs on this album are love songs, but she just has this way of taking each track and making it about so much more. There are also some iconic producer and performance collaborations, the one with John Mayer specifi cally. Seeing a powerful woman of colour giving it her all was really formative for me.”

Settle, Disclosure
“When I first started creating music, having a soul background meant that I always produced and performed with live instruments. Hearing Settle was a turning point for me musically, because the production was so strong. Every single song is such a tune; you hear them and all you want to do is dance and move. They’re hypnotic, infectious and you get stuck in the groove. I remember seeing them on tour at The Forum in Melbourne and my mind was blown, witnessing how much everyone got into it and how they were transported was incredible. It was so different to a soul show. This album really inspired me to move in a new direction, into more of the electronic genre. It’s timeless.”

Home, Rudimental
“Again, hearing this album initially was quite a new sound for me, but Home is just something special. When I saw them live on this tour, I remember standing in the crowd, watching Gorgon City open for them and thinking ‘I want to be the before act for Rudimental.’ Call it manifestation, but aft er that I was chosen as their main support act on their 2015 and 2016 tours. Then we released ‘My Way’ together in 2018. If you think about it, there are soulful elements in their music; they have so much heart in what they do.”

Thandi Phoenix just dropped her debut, self-titled EP, featuring an emotive duet with Dan Caplen you can check out below.

You can also catch her live at Festival X in Sydney on November 30 and Melbourne on December 1. Tickets are on sale here.

This article was originally published in Fashion Journal 192. You can read it here.
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