Brooklyn, New York has birthed some of the most legendary artists known to the music world, and now somewhere in between the mix of Hip-Hop, Soul and Funk lies one of its new-bred creations, Phony Ppl. A contemporary band comprised of young spirits and wise and innovative minds whose pioneering talent is massively appearing on the biggest music networks, blogs and tours. I sat down with Elbee Thrie, Temi O, and Ian Bakerman, one-third of the nine-piece band at Brooklyn’s Trout Studios to find out more about Phony Ppl. After informal introductions and few minutes of casual conversation we started candidly getting down to business. As a group with such a unique sound, clear love for music and collectively innovative creative process, I wanted to know where each seed was planted.
With roots deep in instrumental involvement, a combination of private lessons, parental inspiration, art schools and practice from an early age, music was a way of life from the beginning. Unlike other large groups, Phony Ppl is no label-designed band comprised of members who were simply placed there; the union was organic. Elbee explains, “There was never any auditions or anything like that, if it felt right and everything was exciting in regards to the music, it just always worked out that way.” Mutual middle and high schools were the common grounds for coming together of various band members; it’s just wild that all paths crossed with some sort of divine direction to “Phonyland”.
The most genius creations usually come from a fusion of positive energy and authentic chemistry which both seem to be at the core of their creative process. Ian broke it down to me,
“A lot of it is just how we’re feeling, that’s exactly how we were formed and vibing just with each other. Usually we’ll go to Casa De La Phony which is Matthew’s house and we just end up hanging out there, we just vibe and then Matthew makes a drum track, Rob makes a drum track, I make a drum track, Temi makes a saxophone part, it’s whatever someone’s feeling. Like a lot of times, someone may be feeling my part, Rob will feel it so then me and Rob will make something or Aja and Rob will come up with something, so I mean overall it just starts from one person, we just get into it and transform.”
You figure, with all these concepts bouncing in space from vocals to instruments, there has to be some sort of clashing. Elbee admitted,
“Do we clash? Of course we clash, but it’s always so effortless to work it out. It’s like okay, there are nine of us so it’s like a billion ideas times nine you know what I mean? Plus fifty-thousand, but all open-mindedly we try each others ideas seeing what’s the best. So the kinks really aren’t like huge mountains, road bumps, we’re all friends, we’re brothers, we’re cool with each other. Everybody respects everyone’s creative process, intelligence and our roots. We just try everything.”
Aja Grant, a member and co-founder of Phony Ppl, as well as keys player and composer, wasn’t at the studio however, his wise words were quoted, “Let the idea kill itself.” It is no doubt that their tracks possess so much musical greatness as a result of their cohesive patience and consideration for one another. Temi added, “Because we’re such a huge band, a lot of times we’ll write a song with another one of our band mates in mind.”
Phony Ppl has come a long way from their first album WTF: Is Phonyland? Which debuted in 2009 while the group was still in high school. Even though experience and time has matured them creatively and musically, the album is still a testament to the potential that lives within the band and their ability to tap into it as middle-aged teenagers. Elbee laughed, “I cringe when I listen to it, just because there are so many things that I’m like oh, this could have been so much better, as far as mixing, but there’s still such a beauty in the fact that we were doing that at such a young age.”
So one might ask, how did the band of nine teenagers go from selling out concerts in Brooklyn filled with high school friends to just a few years later being the opening act for Theophilus London on a five-city tour? Theophilus discovered the guys during their performance at a show at Colgate University and decided he wanted them for backup. He ended up choosing bass player Bari Bass and guitarist Elijah Rawk to go on tour to play for him. After taking the two under his wing, he brought the rest of Phony Ppl on board to open for him over the course of five shows during his Tour de Roses. Temi reflected, “The love was real, we learned so much. I would definitely say it built up our work ethic even more. It’s like you’re touring, rehearsing for shows, performing, partying all night long and then you have to get up and do it all over again. It really helped us grow stronger as a band we grew as far as everything.”
In his relaxed tone Elbee added, “I learned a lot about humans. The nature of people, space, learning people to the fullest. I got a lot wiser on the tour. It was crazy you realize like, wow people really f*ck with us, you go to other cities and their singing our songs.”
Their album that dropped in January 2012, Phonyland was a true exhibition of their growth since their last major project. It was released after three years of hard work in the making, reminding the old fans and schooling the new on the dopeness of Phony Ppl. Phonyland allowed the group to not only reel their consistent supporters back in but also extended their fan base in all aspects with a refined and older sound. They’ve been riding out the album at their shows so far but they’ll have a whole new list of songs to play at their upcoming performances which include a show July 24th at NY’s S.O.B.’s as well as the legendary annual AfroPunk festival August 25-26th, featured on the same line-up as artist such as Erykah Badu, Janelle Monae, Toro y Moi and more.
Last week they leaked a track “I Told You So” from the new summer EP Nothing Special that drops Monday, July 15, 2012. Temi shared his excitement about the project, “It has a lot of stuff that either people aren’t doing or aren’t doing enough of it.” Elbee also shared, “Any artist who really makes natural music, their music is going to change over time but this is still us, it’s still Phony Ppl. It’s just us getting to know more of ourselves, we’re growing and making better music.” You can look forward to more funk, soul, ill verses and crooning tracks as Ian describes it, “It’s all about love, that’s all it us.”
It doesn’t get much realer than Phony Ppl. They may be young in age but they have a dynamic and an understanding of music and one another that goes beyond many seasoned artists who have been in the game for years. There is absolutely no way any being who loves music, appreciates artistry or just has any inkling of what good music feels like could refute their dopeness. Do yourself a favor and become apart of the Phony Ppl movement.
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AfroPunk, Brooklyn, Funk, I Told You So, Nothing Special, Phony Ppl, Phonyland