conversations with bianca

Singer-songwriter Belle Phoenix: “I left Australia to find my musical soul group…to get away from all the finger pointing and analysing…”

Belle Phoenix is a self-described musical outlaw that’s travelled the globe living and performing in all kinds of places: UK, Germany, Finland, Canada, France, Thailand, US and more. From beginnings as a teen living in a punk rock commune “living like a rat” to going on shamanic journeys, joining a Sikh ‘cult’ and breaking a publishing deal contract her journey has been an interesting and exciting ride. With her many musical incarnations the name ‘Phoenix’ seems quite apt. Her latest manifestation is within duo, KNIFESHOPPE, currently back in Australia hiding out creating music in the Victorian bush.

What are you currently focused on?

BELLE PHOENIX: Currently ‘hermitting’ with my new guitarist in a cabin deep in the bushlands of Victoria Australia writing and recording demos for a new project “KNIFE SHOPPE”; eating too much lamb, drinking too much vodka, getting fat & sewing back together what’s left of a heart. The new album will be appropriately named “Chop Chop” because that’s what we do to the music, take the familiar and carve it up until it resembles chopped liver. Our aim is to make bad music, music that no-one will like, because it reflects our neurotic & chaotic personas and lives. Knife Shoppe began in Paris continued in Thailand, Sydney, Melbourne and now Omeo, Victoria.

You’re originally from Australia now living in the UK, how did you end up there?

BP: Correction! I’m now back from the UK. Osker and I met in London’s Bullet Bar in 2010, after a Belle Phoenix show. Osker and I didn’t think we would get the chance to see each other again as I was adamant about making Europe my home as I enjoyed the many shows and welcoming people. It turned out we caught up again in Paris last year 2011, I figured it would be a good stop over before heading to Canada to play NXNE festival in Toronto.

After returning to London from the 3 weeks away, I wheeled my small suitcase to my first destination off the plane ‘The Wheelbarrow” as I had a solo show booked there. Hungover and with no guitar, I made my way to the stage looking and feeling like haggis, wobbling around the place and hoping to borrow a guitar (The sound engineer happened to have one on hand, and a beautiful one at that). After the show I was invited back to my potential drummers place, I gave him two corsets as payment for all his effort and he lent me eyeliner and shaved my hair then we left to catch a friend’s band. 3AM moneyless and delirious I stumbled home two days after my arrival… Alas! the landlord had changed the lock on my apartment door and later I discovered he dumped most of my belongings into a skip, including all my writing journals and other sentimental items. You see, it was hard to pay rent on burger flipping wages in Camden Town. I left Australia to find my musical soul group, and also to get away from all the finger pointing and analysing of the sound I was trying to create, it was imperative to me to find the people who were open minded about the music I was trying to create, and there was no way I was staying in a place that did not embrace individualism, freedom of expression without rules and regulations, music to me is about having no boundaries, no rules and no restriction and no pigeon holes, all of that can be left to the listener.

You’ve also spent time in the US: L.A. and New York as well as Germany; what has your experience of each music community been? Are there any major differences or similarities?

BP: In Germany the audiences were very silent and respectful right until the end of the sets and then if they liked it they made a lot of noise, if people didn’t like it, they let you know. I love Germany, it seemed more open minded to all kinds of expression and especially if the music has depth.

New York was like being a needle in a haystack, full of individuals and welcoming souls, ran out of money ended up being helped out by an Australian guy running a hostel, the only thing was there were no blankets just a piece of plastic on the mattress (the kind that children have when they wet the bed). It was middle of winter and snowing in New York 2006, I mostly found myself talking and eating with the homeless, discovering their stories of how they got to be on there, it was all just bad luck stories and generally the system the way it is, things that could happen to any one of us. There was so much homelessness I was ashamed that I couldn’t do more than just offer a pizza.

Hollywood seemed to be the way David Lynch would depict it and in Las Vegas I got mugged and then we got a photo together, me and that wonderful criminal, he just finished doing time and was saddened that he couldn’t change his life. I didn’t really connect with anyone musically, although enjoyed the jam sessions and recording, the whole time away I realised that I missed a lot of the sound that comes out of Melbourne which seems to be a unique playground of alternative country, I really connect with Melbourne, Australia.

Is there anywhere that you’d call home? I know your father is from Finland and you’ve spent some time there and relate to the Finnish outlook on life.

BP: I’ve always felt the whole world is home, however, I’m thinking its ‘KNIFE SHOPPE’ –I’ve finally reached home. Been all around the world looking for ‘KNIFE SHOPPE’ and here it is, right here in Australia, so I guess I’d have to say Chop Chop Knife Shoppe is home. Home is where the heart is.

I’ve read that you were moved to first pick up a guitar and learn to play after being inspired by listening to records from your parents’ collection; what were the albums and artists you loved most and what was it about them that resonated with you?

BP: Actually, I picked up the guitar because I needed to play the sounds that were echoing in my brain and I found it extremely difficult to try to explain these things to people. I was obsessed with all kinds of music and lyric as a young child and for hours would practice singing to anyone’s and everyone’s collection of music. I did try lessons a couple of times as a teenager and had one teacher tell me I’d amount to nothing and never be a singer, because I smoked cigarettes and had a husky voice that refused to be tamed by songs such as ‘Autumn Leaves’ or ‘Danny Boy’.

Rodriguez that song about the ‘Sugar Man’ – I loved candy so much that it made me feel he was on my wavelength until I found out later what it really meant. Bob Dylan loved his story telling; John Lennon loved all of his songs; especially with and by herself Yoko Ono she was different to anyone I’d ever heard at the time and I liked her expression a lot. Iggy Pop, Blondie, Sex Pistols, Rolling Stones, LeadBelly, Ry Cooder, JJ Cale, NICO, Sonic Youth, Neil Young…too many. I can barely remember much else, too many events have happened between now and then it’s all becoming a blur. Currently I’m listening to Rowland .S. Howard, Tom Waits, QOTSA. I managed to catch Mj Halloran And The Sinners playing in Melbourne recently and Brian Hooper after seeing a live show, was honoured to receive his music on vinyl from him and since then not much else has been playing. Mostly we’re too busy creating to listen to too much music although it’s always fun to find bands I haven’t heard of.

I understand that as a teen you got into punk rock and for a time squatted at a rehearsal space/punk commune, tell us a little about that time in your life.

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