If you look up “totally nailing it” in the dictionary, you will see a photo of Phoebe Ryan next to the definition; the LA-based songstress has been blowing up over the last year, and for good reason when you consider her longstanding history of writing and performing music in various capacities. I caught up with her over the phone last week to talk about her writing process and what we can expect to see from her over the next few months, and (perhaps most importantly) I also fired off a series of CHRISTMAS LIGHTNING ROUND questions about midway through the interview (because that seemed like a great idea!), which she very graciously agreed to answer! So find out Phoebe’s stance on eggnog, the ancient art of gift wrapping and MORE, then be sure to follow her on Facebook and Twitter for all the latest news. (And THEN stay tuned for her live dates with The Knocks in May!) HERE WE GO:
So first of all, have you eaten your breakfast yet? Because I feel like whatever YOU’RE eating, WE should all be eating. [Laughs]
ACTUALLY, I’m eating fairly well right now. I’m having chamomile tea and Pop-Tarts, so I’m twelve years old today. [Laughs]
Amazing. (I still haven’t eaten, so I guess we’re moving into brunch slash not-gonna-happen territory over here in Brooklyn.) Now, you have quite a history of collaborating with other people on writing music, so I’m curious to know how really going heavy with your own music has affected that; are you still writing with other people as much, or has that taken a backseat for now?
I’m kind of doing a little bit of everything right now; I’ve still been actively writing for other artists even though I’m also in the zone with my own project right now. It’s kind of a weird switch that flips on and off. When I’m in the writing mode for myself, something different happens and I put out a different energy than if I’m writing for someone else. It’s kind of hard to explain, but there’s definitely a difference.
Well that’s fortunate, because I know it can be really tough for some people to compartmentalize and switch between the two easily. But in terms of your own song repertoire, what’s your plan of attack at the moment? Are you just kind of building up an arsenal of songs to start and then working on an LP down the line?
Right now I’m definitely focused on getting an EP out; that’s priority right now. But I’ve definitely started writing and working with a full album in mind. So far I’m just trying to experiment with different sounds that fill in the idea that I have going on in my head, but I am definitely in full album mode.
Now, do you have a preference for writing over the actual performing part of the process? Or do you kind of view the two as separate but equal components of what you do?
Well, my background is actually in performance; I was a drama major in high school and was obsessed with Shakespeare, just studied Shakespeare at all times, so the stage is kind of my background. I’ve been a studio rat for so long that I’m still trying to get my legs back on the performance aspect of things, but it’s definitely the most fun thing I could ever imagine.
And did you ever consider going with a moniker as opposed to using your own name? (Not that there’s anything wrong with using your own name, I just think it’s interesting when people choose to do that or not.)
I’ve gone by monikers before, but in high school I was just a weirdo and had different names. One of my more popular names was Meat Blood. I’m not sure why that happened, actually, but people just started calling me Meat Blood and I thought, “I could make music under that.” So that was like a MINUTE that I thought that that was a good idea, and then I was like “No.” I don’t know, I’ve probably tossed around other ideas, but (I forget who said it to me) somebody was like, “Just use your fucking name.” [Laughs] So I was like, “Okay.”
You’re also lucky, because you have a name that sounds nice, you know? There are other people with nerdy-sounding names or awkward-sounding names, but Phoebe Ryan really just flows. Now, I know you gained some well-deserved hype for those Miguel + R. Kelly vibes; would you ever consider doing a giant remake of Trapped in the Closet? Because that would be AMAZING.
Oh my god. You’re opening a can of worms. If I could just to R. Kelly covers for the rest of my life, I feel like that would be fine.
“R. Kelly cover band starring Phoebe Ryan coming to a city near you!” (I’d go.)
Exactly, exactly. So many deep cuts.
Totally. Okay, so now that I have (maybe) gained your trust with that first set of questions (which were all just a giant trust fall exercise), I am going to test our five minute phone friendship by asking you to participate in a CHRISTMAS LIGHTNING ROUND. Because I just feel like I’m kind of missing Christmas-y vibes today, you know? So are you down with that?
Oh my god, yes.
Amazing. Great. Okay, so first of all, do you celebrate Christmas? And if so, do you have any weird family traditions?
Yes I celebrate Christmas, and I think the weirdest tradition is probably just getting us all in the same room together at once when everyone’s schedules are so crazy.
I feel you. I come from a pretty big family, and everyone is really different to each other, so it’s always interesting to say the least. Okay, and what was the WORST Christmas gift you ever received (if there’s one that stands out) versus the BEST one?
So the worst presents that I ever get are the ones that involve clothing. I think that clothing is SO BORING, I can’t even handle how boring it is. But the best Christmas gift I ever got was this huge, six-foot inflatable ball. It was really bouncy, and sometimes my brothers would pelt me with it and it would really hurt, but I would watch TV sitting on it, I would take it outside…it was like a pet, it was so weird. We loved it.
Yeah, it’s like a family member! We had a trampoline like that and one day it just broke. Total devastation. Nothing was the same. But back to Christmas questions, are you good at wrapping presents? Because I am not at all. My strategy is usually just to get drunk before I attempt to do it so that I feel less like a failure.
Actually, I am! My mom used to work at a department store, and she was in charge of gift wrapping, so she taught me exactly how to do it. I’m a master.
Amazing! I’ll have to enlist your help next year, then. Okay, and what is your FAVORITE Christmas song versus LEAST favorite Christmas song?
[Laughs] Okay, my least favorite is definitely that “Little Soldier Boy” [hums “Little Drummer Boy”]…oh, it’s “Little Drummer Boy” not “Little Soldier Boy”! [Laughs] Yeah, “Little Drummer Boy” is definitely the worst, and then I think my favorite one is just “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire” OR “White Christmas”. I think “White Christmas” is baller.
Total classic. Eggnog: yes or no?
Strong answer. Yeah, I feel you…I’ll have a glass of it every year, and every time I do that I kind of remember why it’s only available seasonally.
Anything liquid with eggs in it…just PLEASE stay away from me.
You guys heard it here first! Do NOT EVEN with the eggnog. Okay, and FINALLY, in terms of Christmas tree lights, do you prefer the white lights or the multi-colored lights?
I like the white ones that twinkle.
GOOD CALL! My mom is pretty intense about the Christmas tree decorations, but the lights are one thing she’s willing to go democratic on every year, and we all get a vote. (Great system.) But okay! Great! You survived the Christmas Lightning Round! I feel closer to Christmas now even though it’s months upon months away! But in the MEANTIME, what have you got coming up on the immediate horizon that you can and/or would like to talk about? You’ll be releasing an EP, and then shows I’m assuming as well?
Yeah, I’m doing a short tour with The Knocks in May starting in New York City, and we’re going along the West Coast and hitting the major cities like Portland, San Francisco, LA, San Diego…I’m looking forward to that, that should be really fun. And that’s what I’m kind of prepping for now; getting the band ready and all that good stuff.
So how do you generally maintain your sanity when you’re on the road? Is there anything you do in particular or take with you to make that process more bearable?
Well, I haven’t been on tour for a minute, but the last time I was on tour was when I was in college in my crazy folk band. I did most of the driving, and honestly, for some reason the only thing that could keep me awake when I was driving was popcorn. So I’d go to 7-11 and just get like three bags of popcorn, pop them and then throw them in the front seat to eat while I was driving. [Laughs] So gross. [Laughs] But it was the only thing that could keep me awake! Oh, and also sunflower seeds. (I know it’s all food-based, but those are important.)
I’ve actually never tried that method, but maybe I should? You could really be onto the next 5-hour ENERGY scheme here, you never know.
It’s definitely probably not healthy, but I also don’t drink too much caffeine, so I guess that’s the compromise.
Right. And when you’re not on the road, do you have a set writing schedule? Or do you try to let it be a little more free-flowing than that? (I feel like since you said you’re still working with people it must be a bit of a mix.)
Yeah, I definitely have to keep to a schedule, or else I’d feel like I was just floating around in the atmosphere, being weird and artsy and not focusing on anything. So I definitely like having a schedule, but then there are some days where I just don’t feel like doing anything, and so to be honest, I’ll just call the other writers and be like, “Hey guys, I think I’m going to take the day off!” [Laughs] It doesn’t happen often, but every once in a while you need that.
Absolutely! That’s with ANY job! Okay, so you’ve got a fairly scheduled writing routine, but how about hair coloring routine? Maybe you’re sick of people asking you but I’M GONNA DO IT ANYWAY // is your hair still green right now?
Yeah, right now I’m rocking an ombre look with dark green up at the top, and then it goes into a lighter shade, like lime green, at the end. But I definitely plan on keeping it green because I love it. Green is the most fun.
I fully support that! But is your family into it? Or are they like, “Dye it back to normal!”
Well, they were horrified when I first did it, and now they’re actually down with it. My dad wants me to be a blonde for some reason, but I’m just going to stay green, because that’s ridiculous.
It’s funny, I’m twenty-seven and I still care SO MUCH about whether my family will approve of things like that or not. I was recently at a weird tattoo party where there was a guy giving out those prison-style tattoos, the stick and poke ones, and there was a moment where I thought, “Maybe a small one!” But then I imagined my mom’s reaction if she ever found out, and I was like, “NOPE NOPE NOPE!”
My parents would actually kill me if I got any tattoos. They wouldn’t let me in the house ever again.
And I mean, to be fair, I know a solid percentage of people who have regretted their tattoos. (I guess I’ll just never know if I’d be among them in that regard.) Okay, before we go, do you have any #HashtagsOfWisdom to impart?
Oh my god, #DGAF.