The artist known only as Phileas – French-born, Berliner by choice – has been impressing people wide and far with his sonorous, rather sombre music over the last few years.
His 2022 debut album was described by Rolling Stone as “almost flawless” and was “Album of the Week” at SWR2 and BRF1 while also being nominated for the German Record Critics’ Award in the category Folk and Singer-Songwriter.
Having played a lot on the streets in earlier years, Phileas is a confident and consummate performer, a deliberately broken voice that seems weirdly to impart a confident demeanour, and a way of visually embodying his lyrics with their Cavesque looming darkness.
So we decided to have a chat with the man:
indieRepublik: Tell us a little bit about your musical background
Phileas: I started by playing the Cello when I was five. When I was about 11 years old, I started putting the Cello sideways on my lap and finger-picking Vivaldi’s Mandolin concerts. It became clear that a change of instrument was needed, so I switched to the guitar. After a couple of lessons, I taught myself the rest. I also learned the piano, but had to realize that the great works of classical music were beyond my skills. It was Schubert’s Impromptus that tolled the death knell to my classical ambitions and after months of arduous training and effort I reverted to the simpler world of chord-based pop music.
indieRepublik: Phileas isn’t your ‘real’ name…How did you come up with the name?
Phileas: Phileas was the name my parents meant to give me initially, but then decided against. When I was looking for a new moniker, I remembered the name and thought it was a good fit. The main reference that comes to mind is Phileas Fogg in Jules Vernes’ “In 80 days around the world”.
I took this as a starting point to organise my own trip in 80 days, across the US by bicycle, from New York to Los Angeles. Having done that, I realised that I might have overthought this thing and that I might have taken the literary and conceptual connection to this fictional character a little too far.
All that is left from that whole experience are some intense memories of the trip and the name, which I still like.
indieRepublik: What music do you listen to when you’re touring?
Phileas: Whatever album just grabs my fancy. I become obsessed with albums and artists I discover and spend weeks on end listening to their works. To me, discovering a new artist and their works is somewhat similar to falling in love. After a while, the passionate obsession of the beginning gives way to a deeper and more familiar connection to the works.
indieRepublik: What was the last concert you went to?
Phileas: Gregory Alan Isakov at the Tempodrome. He is one of the few artists whose trajectory gives me hope for the future of musical creation within the music industry. His voice, compositions and lyrics are unique and the live shows with his band are memorable and beautiful.
indieRepublik: How do you feel about covering a song?
Phileas: Good, if I cover it for the right reasons. Which is not to please an audience but manage to find a way to completely make it my own and improve certain aspects of my own performance (mainly vocally).
In my early years of busking, I lost myself to the sirens of easy money and developed a system by which I could scan my audience and adapt my repertoire to maximum financial benefit (Beatles for the old chaps, Oasis for the young lads, Robbie Williams for the younger female members of the audience etc).
While I made good money, this system and playing Wonderwall ad nauseam eventually saw me lose all joy and motivation. It took me a couple of years to get back to busking, but today I mostly play and cover the songs I want to.
indieRepublik: How do you think Covid – and the lockdown – influenced music and the music scene – both recording and live? Whether negative or positive, or both?
As the saying goes, “it is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society“, and strangely enough, during the Covid lockdown I felt more at ease with myself as a musician than ever before or after.
For the first time it seemed like we were collectively grasping the madness of our ways, acknowledging our sickness and questioning a system reliant on the live industry to sustain itself, while all other aspects (distribution, creation, promotion) are no longer economically viable for the artists.
The various schemes, funds and financial aid that were offered to musicians suddenly put into stark focus what is possible and necessary to allow musicians to continue creating. But today it seems we’re back to “business as usual” and the lessons of the pandemic have been quickly forgotten, leaving musicians no better, if not worse, off than before.
However, I do think that, just as in our society at large, everything is not all bad and that there are outstanding people doing amazing things everywhere and all the time. I do feel, however, that it all could be much better if we collectively got our priorities right.
indieRepublik: How would you like to see the music industry changing?
Acknowledging that there is a deep-rooted and systemic problem would be the first step. Moving away from capitalist monopolies and concentration of wealth and influence would be next. But ultimately, it is my firm belief that nothing short of a universal basic income will solve the many problems that ail the music industry. It will free the creative energies that have for too long been smothered by the absurd and unrealistic demands of the system.
indieRepublik: a. What is your preference and b. Where do you think the music industry is headed: NFTs, mp3s, more streaming, less streaming, CDs, vinyl, cassettes, something else entirely?
I personally think that once we reach a point of saturation (maybe ushered in by the use of AI for creative purposes), the natural backlash will be for the audience to revert back to more intimate and humane connections to the artists (smaller venues, physical records, sustainable and organic growth). All the things that AI and formatted music production cannot offer, sincerity, uniqueness, humanity, will be the true means by which artists and audiences will connect.
indieRepublik: How would you define indie? What do you personally think it means?
As the opposite of mainstream, indie is an approach to creation that aims to avoid shortcuts, easy solutions, and short-term thinking. Though it can take many forms and apply on different levels (creation, structural entourage, strategy) it is foremost the belief that the music, rather than the public persona or brand, should be at the centre of things.
indieRepublik: What do you like most about indieRepublik?
When I first arrived in berlin, indieRepublik/indieberlin.tempurl.host was the first outlet that gave me an insight into the vibrant, lively and hugely creative Berlin Indie music scene. I got my first taste of what an amazing city Berlin is for musicians and audiences.
Featured photo and photo in article of Philease Copyright Lukasz Polowczyk