“We’re big, we’re heavenly, and we’re ethereal.” So say Phoria, the Brighton-based five-piece who are about to play their first gig since August of last year, headlining the Brightonsfinest Alternative Escape showcase at the beautiful St Mary’s Church on Saturday 19th May, joining the likes of The Fiction Aisle, Her’s, Trudy and The Romance, SJ Brett, Charles Watson, and Wild Front.
Venturing up The Drive in Hove, I enter the spacious, tall-ceilinged, and natural light-filled living room that the band are currently camped in. Instruments galore (including an upright piano – “That’s Sheba. She’s a babe.”), cables, mics, electronic gizmos, and various musical paraphernalia are strewn in every corner, the band obviously very much at home in this rather lovely room, a far cry from the “dungeon” they used to inhabit. I venture that bands are often in small, black, low-ceilinged boxes with no windows and no air. “That’s exactly what we were in,” says Trewin Howard, band leader of Phoria. “We used to be in what was a public toilet, underground, in the Marina. It was hell. Literally hell. You lose a little bit of quality, but we’re happy to swap pristine audio for sanity.”
Conversely, this room is heavenly. It also features a lot of antique-like, expensive looking furniture, and chandeliers. Plus a very old looking lounge chair. “Look at that chair!” I exclaim. I then notice the beer, rolling tobacco and soya sauce, all within striking distance of all this lovely stuff. “It’s okay. We just juggle with it,” they laugh.
However, while making notes of my surroundings, and getting comfortable, the arm of a chair I am sitting in breaks off. The band literally fall about laughing at my expense. “That’s our icebreaker.” It works.
Phoria are a bit of a mysterious lot, something they are not averse to playing up to. Yet, Trewin, James Cheeseman, Seryn Burden, and Tim Douglas (plus Ed Sanderson, who is absent) are enjoying some down time, in-between what looks like hard working rehearsals and recording sessions, as they gear up for the gig and also a new release or two. Although they aren’t giving much away about that. Is there a plan, I ask? “We’re working on a body of new music. There is a plan, although we aren’t really supposed to say what that is. The method is mysterious. We’re mysterious,” they laugh.
A little potted history; formed about eight years ago in Brighton, Phoria released their debut EP Yourself Still in 2010, followed by Bloodworks, and Display. In 2016 they released their debut album, Volition, an acclaimed work that saw them gel the gigantic with the intimate; a mostly electronic soundscape that dripped with atmospherics and emotion, all carefully thought out and crafted.
More recently, one of the tracks off Volition – ‘Evolve’ – was used for the Netflix series Magicians. They also dropped a low-key “Deconstructed, re-imagined, neo-classical thing” in the form of ‘Mass’, also originally off Volition. However, they haven’t gigged since the summer of last year, and Phoria, it seems, have been a little quiet up to now. “The album took a huge amount of energy,” says Trewin. “It was a big deal and it ran us ragged. We’ve spent the time since then re-establishing ourselves. But there’s already an ocean of music that we’re now whittling down.”
I try and turn the tables on the band, asking them how they would describe what they do. “Pre-Sagitarian smash bliss,” offers Trewin. That’s a new one. “Need we say more? Of the romantic era.
“A lot of journalists ask us, ‘What’s the message beyond your music’? ‘What!?’ ‘You know. The message,'” they laugh.
A lot of people talk about Radiohead when they talk about you, I venture. “They do. That’s fair enough. They are a big inspiration. As well as Joanna Newsome, Bjork, Sigur Ros, Mew, Cooper Temple Clause.”
The band then give me a sneak preview of a new track, which is almost finished. It’s brilliant, an epic journey that further illuminates their gigantic-yet-intimate approach. Moreover, they eschew a completely clean sound, rather allowing and enabling a little distortion here, a moment of warpedness there, and almost imperceptible crackle on occasion. “The first album was an explosion of youthful bang. Some of the songs were five years old, that had been brewing. Everything we’re working on at the moment is brand new.”
You must be gagging to get up on stage again? “We’re all chomping at the bit to do a live show. When the five of us get on stage it’s very important that we go hell for leather with everything. Whereas the recorded tracks are a very painstaking process.
“We tend to focus on Europe and the rest of the world. We play in the UK but they often do a terrible job of it. People in Europe want to give themselves to good music, and not just get drunk and have music as a side dish.”
However, they really like St. Mary’s. “We’ve played there before. It’s an amazing space. It’s a big space, but if the rig is good and it’s pushing enough air around…. We’re big, heavenly, and ethereal, and it sits quite well in a church.
“We’re also taking the chandeliers to the gig.”
Up for a laugh, but also deadly serious about what they do, Phoria are the perfect band for St Mary’s Church. If not already so, expect to be converted.