Swedish singer-songwriter and producer Pheeyownah combines ethereal beats and poetic lyrics to create music that is both sentimental and empowering. Rare Candy chatted with Pheeyownah about the release of her debut album, SILVER, during a break from her internship as a software engineer. We learned more about her creative process and lyrical style, as well as her struggle to avoid conforming to mainstream sound.
By Grace Whitmore
Rare Candy: Do you notice any crossover or connection between your work as a software engineer and musician?
Pheeyownah: My mom was a single parent, so I took on a sort-of parental role by helping out in the household. Whenever the computer would start acting up I’d say, “I can take a look at it!” Even though I had no experience whatsoever. I became the computer technician at home when we were kids. Being around computers and exploring new software made me very curious about that field. My interest for computers stuck around, but my interest in music and dance was so much bigger. I worked as a dancer for around 15 years, so music has always been in the picture. 2012 was when I decided to switch lanes and pursue music.
RC: What is your process for resisting the pressure to conform to a certain sound or aesthetic?
P: Man, it’s really hard. With social media, it can be hard to stay focused. During the beginning of the creative process, when you have to dig deep and are most vulnerable, it’s so easy to be affected by what’s happening around you. So when I first start writing music, I kind of have to go offline and log out of all of these places that can affect me. It becomes a wake up call and reminds me why am I doing this.
RC: Tell us about your most recent album, SILVER.
P: I am so happy with the results. It’s like Pheeyownah 2.0 but still with my signature elements, which is nature sounds and the fusion of harmony with hard beats. SILVER in general, is more direct and more heartfelt. It’s less intertwined with poetic metaphor, which is my primary style of writing lyrics. That was also a challenge since I’m so used to hiding behind my words and using poetry to do that. I’m not hiding because I’m afraid of speaking my truth… it’s just the way I enjoy expressing myself. SILVER feels almost like drafts from a journal. But there is still a lot of poetry, and it’s probably a little easier to digest than some of my previous stuff.
RC: I love how the SILVER album cover has so much power and movement. What was the creative process behind the photo?
P: It’s taken in Central Station, underground and right next to an escalator [laughs]. I wanted to show a vulnerable side, but kind of mysterious at the same time through my posture and the whole feel to the photo. Everything is silver and black, because those are my colors.
RC: Tell me about the released single, “Scent/Sweat.”
P: “Scent/sweat” was actually a poem before I transformed it into a song. I have a pretty big archive with lots of poems and voice memos. That’s where I go to get my topics. I think it’s kind of a feeling about an ex or a former lover, or even a bad energy or a feeling that lingers and haunts you. Even if you’ve said goodbye to that person or that energy, the scent of it lingers on. And the only way to get rid of it is to sweat it out of your system. You sometimes need to physically get rid of it to release yourself from that energy. That said, I want my audience to interpret my music exactly the way they want to.
RC: I noticed that many of your songs have themes of nature in the lyrics and audio, which is something that you mentioned earlier. What encouraged you to include this in your music?
P: I’ve always had a thing for cool song titles; it kind of goes along with my love of poetry. I love nature, and I have huge respect for it. It scares me and if fascinates me at the same time. I’m scared of deep water, and for probably twenty years I never went swimming in the ocean because of an accident when I was nine. But I love the sounds of nature, waves, the ocean, birds, the wind—it’s so powerful and there’s so much life in it. In Sweden, there’s a lot of nature everywhere, even in the middle of the city there are huge parks. Growing up, the woods were our playground. The natural elements enhance everything, including my style and my lyrics. Many of my lyrics are meant to paint very vivid pictures.
RC: Are there any people in particular who inspire you?
P: I really look up to the Icelandic artist, Bjork, and I actually end up mentioning her in most of my interviews. Her music catalog is kind of like a bible to me, and she has been a super big source of inspiration. The first time I saw one of her music videos, I think it was “Wildly Happy” (this was back when MTV was a really big channel!), I was amazed by her energy and how she just looked so comfortable in her own skin. She was 100%. She didn’t give a f*ck. And I just thought, WOW. She is the person I turn to when I feel like I’m losing my way. As soon as ghosts come into my mind that make me think I should play music a certain way, I always turn back to Bjork.
RC: Who are you listening to these days?
P: So right now I am listening to Charlotte day Wilson. Beautiful, beautiful voice and lovely lyrics. Her album is on repeat, pretty much every day.