Phoebe Go’s Solo Debut Is Years In The Making, Cataloguing Desperation and Dissociation

16 May 2024 | 2:33 pm | Claire Dunton

“I’m now just going all in, balls deep with an idea. I find that I can say the thing I am scared to say a bit more.”

Phoebe Go

Phoebe Go (Credit: Arjun Sohal)

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Melbourne (Naarm) singer-songwriter Phoebe Lou will release her debut album as Phoebe Go, Marmalade, tomorrow (May 17). Previously making music as a part of Snakadaktal and Two People, Lou’s decision to step out as a solo alt-pop artist has been highly anticipated by many, but none more than Lou herself.

Lou says, “I mean, it was a bit of a leap those two or three years ago when I set out to write my first EP solo. In another way, I think it was always just a matter of time until I did something solo. Honestly, I am so happy that I did, and I’m so... with hindsight I can’t imagine not having done this.”

She continues, “It felt like the right time and feels like where I’m meant to be – creatively, and everything just feels right and the parts that I did find daunting about it originally, have become now so... liberating. It’s just so exciting because I can do what I want.”

As is her style, Lou’s new music is heavy with emotion and reflection, perfectly captured in her recent track Leave, even surprising herself in its desperation and dissociation. She says, “There was a break-up theme going on for a period of writing that album, definitely present in a few of the songs – one of which is not out yet. Something You Were Trying had a bit of that kind of way and a bit more playful tone – it was in there still. I think Leave has so much dissociation, and I think more than I even knew when I was writing. Listening back I'm like, ‘Woah, yeah, that was a moment in time.’ That's its whole identity I guess – the whole point of it.”

Leave is a nostalgic treat that will have you racking your brain to place the ‘90s cult classic movie the track appeared in – although Lou’s solo music is not only new but a culmination of a long career in music that dates back to her tween years. “I have always been sensitive and feely,” she says. “But I guess it was listening to other songs and finding the power in songwriting and music and feeling that effect that it had on me, that made me want to do it. I was young when I started, and a lot of the songs were rubbish – and that’s cool too! I can't really imagine not doing this, so I don't know what that means.”

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Lou entered the music scene in high school at age 15, singing and playing synthesiser in the Snakadaktal group, which won triple j’s Unearthed High competition in 2011. Their self-titled debut EP reached #26 on the ARIA charts. Two of Snakadaktal’s singles, Chimera and Air, were fast favourites on triple j, with Air reaching #22 in the Hottest 100. The group went on to sign a record deal with I OH YOU Records and released their album Sleep In The Water in 2013. In 2014, the group parted ways and Lou went on to form Two People with bandmate Joey Clough, releasing their debut album First Body in 2019.

Now, after earning her stripes as a chart-topping and Hottest 100 ranking artist, Lou is now writing music that is intrinsically her own and based solely on her experiences. She acknowledges that this has changed her process significantly: “The main thing is that I’m finding that I’m able to be, and wanting to be, way more honest in what I am saying. And kind of sugar-coating things a little less than I would with a band, because in that context, you know, I’m not just speaking on my own behalf, I’m speaking on behalf of other people.

“So yeah, it’s very, very different. I guess where I would usually draw inspiration from in my life, and use elements of it for a song – I’m now just going all in, balls deep with an idea. I find that I can say the thing I am scared to say a bit more and I find it very rewarding in crafting a song.”

Lou has surrounded herself with friends and peers in the industry, enjoying the freedom to engage with who she wishes in the music-making, or choosing some pieces of work to be solely her own. Fans of her 2022 LP Player are in for a treat as collaborator and friend Simon Lam also worked with Lou on Marmalade.

Lou says, “It’s been really important for me to be cool with the idea of asking for help and finding the areas that I want to ask for help in. I made this whole album with Simon and my friends, we have a very mutual understanding and respect for each other. He knows the areas that I don't want to touch, and he knows the areas that I don't want him to touch. A lot of it happens naturally. I think when I first started Phoebe Go and this whole thing, I didn't know how lonely it would be and I didn't know what to expect in terms of collaboration.

“But I guess that's the thing, you just make your own rules. I have been able to identify what I want from it – and I love that it's my own and that it starts and ends with me, but I love asking my mates for guidance, advice and feedback. And I love being able to write a song with Simon or someone else – and a couple of the songs on this record I have collaborated with people and that's been really fun and rewarding. And a bunch of the songs are me on the floor with the guitar. Old school. It can be a combo and I kind of like that.”

With big themes like desperation and dissociation staining the album, Lou says songwriting has always aided her healing process, and has long sought to understand her own feelings through other artists and their music: “I think it's my way of moving forward in life and in my experiences and making sense of them. And it's cool to be able to listen back to a previous state of mind, previous pain, joy or whatever. And see it with humility and self-compassion to know that's where you were.

“I've spoken about this to other artists about this too – you can listen to a song and feel embarrassed, like, ‘Shit why did I think that?’ You kind of want to cover it up and prove you are somewhere else now – but that's the price you pay for honesty. It's also a really cool part of it – it's like a journal entry.

“I think that overall it’s pretty raw, kind of like a confessional record. And I didn’t know I wanted it to be that but it was just the headspace I was in when writing it. I wasn’t overthinking what I was saying or trying to make it too poetic. I was just focused on saying it how it is. That was where I was at in my life. And I grew so much from that, a huge learning curve. The songs are mostly pretty sad and introspective but I also think there are so many smirks and winks throughout it. And moments of release and letting go. More Phoebe Go energy.

“That’s the ultimate compliment or end goal: to find connection. I know that other songs helped me understand myself and my feelings – and to just feel them, full stop. I find there are songs that kind of dig in. I mean all art does.”

The album release tomorrow will be followed by a tour in June, with three shows scheduled in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. In the past 12 months, Lou has shared the stage with Arlo Parks, Chet Faker, MUNA and more as a special guest. She will also be supporting Teenage Dads on their August tour and says she would love to play at a festival soon. No stranger to performing with a band on stage, Lou has been playing a number of support shows in the lead-up to Marmalade dropping, but has also done few solo shows.

She says, “So I’m really stoked to kind of celebrate the songs and the album itself. And to engage with folks and fans and get some vinyl slinging. Mark the moment a bit and also play a few songs I’ve never played live before. I’ve never played Leave live – I’m pumped to get that out there.”

Lou’s rich history with music, starting at age 11, has meant she has built a significant list of artists she hopes to one day collaborate with. Having learnt as a solo artist how that process can occur, she says the process has to be organic: “I mean Christian Lee Hudson is a good example of someone who would have been a dream collaborator, and we ended up becoming friends through my last EP and wrote a couple of the tracks together on this album. It’s a cool kind of example of how that stuff can happen.

“I would never want to force any collaboration. That spooks me. I think the ones that are right and meant to open just end up happening somehow.”

Lou's early success with two groups and now on her own cannot be called a fluke. The artist speaks with authority and deep introspection as she considers her career and even wrote herself a manifesto when she took the solo leap. The aim of the manifesto was to keep herself accountable.

Lou says, “If there is a desire to do it – go for it. The important things for me were to write myself a manifesto and work on it throughout the early stages to put on paper what it is that I wanted to do, and what I wanted out of it. And why I wanted to do it in the first place. Getting that stuff clear for yourself I have found helpful – it set my expectations. For me, it was just important to stay really true to who I am. For that to just be a foundation for it to live forward sustainably. You want to be able to sustain yourself through it. It has to take care of you too. For me, it was important to figure out why and how it would take care of me, regardless of any other measure of success.”