Phlo Finister / A Conversation with the Poster Girl / The GROUND Mag
Read it on The GROUND Magazine
It is yet another rainy summer day in London when I head inside of the Soho House to meet with Phlo Finister and the moment I see her, sitting in a corner waiting for me, I suddenly feel like Owen Wilson in Woody Allen’s “Midnight In Paris”. As she walks through the crowd in search of a quiet spot, I feel like time is running backwards.
I knew this young Californian artist, who is set to release her very first EP “Poster Girl” this month, found a strong connection with the Youthquaker movement of the 60′s and “Mod” sensibility but as I follow her, dressed in a Felder Felder black beaded mini dress and Prada shoes, the noise around me disappears and what I hear is modern jazz, British R&B, and The Who. Phlo Finister instantly walked me through the day and age she embodies in her style and music, and I’m about to find out why she deserves to be a Poster Girl just like Twiggy, Penelope Tree, and Edie Sedwick.
© EP Album, ‘Poster Girl’, Phlo Finister,
Born in Oakland to half Portuguese and Irish parents, Phlo strikes me with her sparkling smile and though she only has a hint of Egyptian blood, when you look into her eyes you immediately feel the Cleopatra glamour.
“There is a lot of history in my blood, just like in my tattoos”, the way she laughs is real, funny, and young but from singing in a church choir to being a singer, Phlo’s ride towards the definition of “self-made American” was not an easy one. Her debut EP is inspired by her spiritual mother Diana Vreeland, the iconic and groundbreaking Vogue Editor of the 60′s, who first coined the term “Youthquaker” to convey this cultural movement where teenagers dictated the fashion and music scene. This is why on the cover of the EP there is the date 07.16.65 but Phlo wants to embody the Poster Girl combining simplistic, progressive, industrial beats with a new R&B wave.
“TLC and Destiny’s Child had a big influence on me but in my music you can hear it only in the melodies as the production is totally different. I think more of Portishead and industrial beats. I work on production as well, I am so hands on and I literally stay for hours drowned into different sounds until I find the right one. I have to be a bit freak about it otherwise I don’t feel like it is mine”.
She has already been compared to Lana Del Rey but instead of merely singing about dangerous liaisons, Phlo is more explicit in portraying a bad girl. In “Coca Cola Classic” she sensually sings about money, abuse, and Jack Daniel’s shots while in “Hotel Miami” she says, “Baby I should be your call girl / meet me at the top floor room 2012.”
“It was 2012, I was in London and I used to watch “Secret Diary of a Call Girl” the one starring Billie Piper. I watched it for hours, I loved the British style and feel to it but I was in Miami when I recorded it so I got influenced by that as well. As an artist you can get hooked up by anything and create it according to your vision. The song is just a story for me, being a call girl and making money got me thinking about being alone and trying to make my way into the business.” As we cheers to that with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc I ask if her music is a way to rebel to her past where she was banned from listening to hip-hop and R&B. “Definitely, my ethereal side is to be found in my childhood when I was singing in church and training as a ballerina but regarding my dark side, well… I get really dark, I need it and this is why I tell stories.”
Coming from California, the tale of Phlo has a chapter called Hollywood, full of extravaganza, excess, but also broken dreams that helped her staying focused on her career. “Can you imagine growing up there? It is unreal, seriously! People come from all over the world with a dream that fails to become true and you see them walking up and down Hollywood. I was privileged because I grew up in California and I saw every part of it, from Beverly Hills’ lifestyle to the poorest places. This made me more cultured in a way but when I traveled to London I realized how much culture and art history there is in Europe. We don’t have that in America and you see it, everything is so new but growing up I was really able to see through everything and understand certain things.” The most important of course was not to be seduced by the alluring lights of the city and remind herself, “Don’t get caught up because you saw it and you can really end up that bad!”
It is clear to me by now that Phlo is everything but naive and when asked about her decision to become a singer she surprises me once again,”I had a master plan all along! I did all these things in preparation so that when I was going to be 18 I knew I was going to be Phlo, an entertainer.” Her mother left her when she was 15 and growing up without parents only pushed her to survive and create. Instead of wasting time she knew she was on her own and determination never failed her, “I worked as a stylist for a while and when the time to make my own decisions finally came, I wanted to put everything I was putting into styling other artists into myself. I knew I had more talent so I did it and the rest is history!”, she jokes humbly but with a deserved hint of satisfaction.
The next step in the making of Phlo was her admiration, or obsession, for Diana Vreeland but how can a modern girl be so nostalgic? “I am because we don’t have these sort of cultural movements anymore, picking up a Vogue back then was so relevant, right now everything is so accessible. I loved what Diana did with the magazine, she was aware of the influence Youthquakers had and this movement of fashion and music was amazing.” She tells me about Penelope Tree and Edie Sedwick but when I ask her about any inspiring women at the moment she sadly gets silent, “Today?! No one I am sorry. I like Fiona Apple, she is amazing and ultimately I admire everyone who is really dying for their art.” In this cultural crisis at least fashion is still giving some hope, “I am obsessed with Miu Miu and everything Italian like Dolce&Gabbana and Prada. They always hit the spot and it’s amazing how they can be so classic and edgy at the same time, just like my music.”
Phlo Finister – Hotel Miami (Official Video)
“America’s Most Wanted” opens her EP and Phlo sounds like the girl of a mafia gangster who is on the run. We follow her along the dangerous and seductive melodies but isn’t she scared at all about being a woman in this business? “I try to have that voice that won’t be compromised by labels and budgets. I’m not at that point yet but when it is going to happen, it will at my terms. A lot of people compromise for success but to me success is not fame. I want to be iconic, I want to be remembered and do something good.” Phlo does not seem to take things for granted and she is also aware of the impact she may have in the future on her fans but most importantly on her brother, “I also think about my family and I do it for him, I don’t want to be commercialized, I want to be the girl that makes you see reality for what it is. Certain people dismiss the responsibility of being a role model but you just can’t when you have millions of people who look up to and analyze you. You have to be a positive influence when you have that power and think about the next generation.”
“Last Winter” is her most romantic track since she often speaks from a male perspective, saying things that women won’t usually say. “And that’s power! I don’t like labeling people, especially women but let’s say I am a masculine woman, it is the best way to put it.” Behind her strong façade, it is not a weakness that the song is about love, “Love has always something to do with this, I am not gonna lie. Love is the root of everything, thank you for pulling that out of me!” and since there’s no more inhibition I ask her if she’s in love. “I’ve been in love for the past six years but I just wrote about it. Let’s say it was a silent thing.” After laughing on this she continues, “Music helps me to survive but what makes me really happy is having a normal life and people who I truly care for. This is the best thing and being in love makes me happy.”
© Phlo Finister live in London
“Music played, and people sang / Just for me, the church bells rang” is a line from Nancy Sinatra’s “Bang, Bang” that Phlo covers to open her intimate set at the Soho House few days after our interview. She is excited about her upcoming gigs at London’s Wireless Festival, Germany’s Melt, and shooting the video for “Coca Cola Classic”, “I think you guys deserve a video, it is about time! I will work on that.” On that rainy day, as I was leaving the venue, I was back in 2013 from the 60′s. The rain had stopped and despite an extremely fun conversation, I hadn’t quite figured Phlo out, just like the unpredictable weather. It took me a second though to realize that she fulfilled her intention all along. “When people think they had me figured out, I am already working on the next thing and… you’ll never figure me out.”
Phlo Finister releases her debut EP “Poster Girl” on July 29
Night Beach www.nightbeachrecords.com