• Phonseca
  • 2019-01-15

Bristol-based artist Matthew O’Connor, aka Phonseca, releases debut album Between a Dream on Friday, February 15th. It will include tunes from the Afterglow EP which gained airplay on Gideon Coe’s BBC 6 Music show and mixes electro beats, intelligent pop sensibilities and minimalambient textures. We caught up with Phonseca to find out more.

It’s a mixture of everything I’m into, I hope. From left field electronica, pop, classical, ambient, indie and film soundtracks.

First up, tell us bit about yourself - what first got you into music?
I’ve been into music for as long as i can remember. I think because i was the youngest child and my older brothers and sister were all into music, I grew up in a house filled with all sorts, literally blasting out of every bedroom and stereo in the house. Everything from metal, punk, disco, Elvis to classical too.

I’ve never been without music in my life and have always been around people who are either into it or playing it so it was kind of inevitable. I suppose you are naturally drawn to whatever interests you too.

**Were there any particular bands or artists you took inspiration from? **
Absolutely, New Order and Joy Division were big ones, but I’m constantly taking inspiration from new and established artists. That’s the appeal of music to me, there’s always something new to be heard and something new to learn. You can never know it all and it never ends.

How would you describe your style?
It’s a mixture of everything I’m into, I hope. From left field electronica, pop, classical, ambient, indie and film soundtracks.

Why ‘Phonseca’?
It’s taken from the Napoli footballer Daniel Fonseca and the London record shop Phonica which I think is a great name for a record shop, so I mixed the two. Also Phonseca sounds good and looks great written down too.

If you could collaborate with any living artist, who would it be?
One! I could name at least 10 straight off and that’s probably just vocalists. Ask me tomorrow and it would probably be someone different again, but today I’d say Ryuichi Sakamoto, his track ‘Full Moon’ from the recent async album is pure minimal genius.

Your EP Afterglow gained airplay on Gideon Coe’s BBC 6 Music show. How did that feel?
It felt brilliant, such a thrill that my music is being heard and appreciated outside of my circle and after all the hard work it was definitely a high point. Radio airplay really puts the wind under your feet. I also had really good feedback from strangers who’d heard it which was just as inspiring.

Tell us about your debut album Between a Dream. What’s the concept?
There was never a concept as such. Initially I intended it to be an album of very minimal ambient instrumentals with lots of space, no beats, no vocals etc, like something you’d hear on a Kompakt pop ambient release. As time went on it began to develop and take on a life of it’s own and I found certain tracks demanded something extra. You can hear the difference between the first and last tracks I wrote for the album which were ‘Your Favourite Film’ and ‘Maybe Tomorrow’. respectively. They’re two very different instrumentals.

Then there were the two tracks that needed vocals which meant lyrics of course, which was something quite new to me, but I had a clear idea of what I wanted and am extremely pleased with them, especially the lyrics to ‘Wait For Me’. I’m very proud of the whole album, and, even now, my favourite tune on it keeps changing which is a great sign.

When did you write it and where did you record it?
It was written over a few years and recorded mostly in my home studio. The tracks I felt weren’t good enough or didn’t know what to do with I passed on to Library Music companies which were being accepted and synched on TV which was inspiring in itself.

Kristina’s vocals and some production tweaks were done at Geoff Barrow’s Invada studios with Stu Matthews engineering. At that point it felt right to get another viewpoint and another set of ears involved. Everyone at Invada gave great advice which helped a lot either with a subtle change or just to confirm and support something I was doing, but wasn’t totally sure about.

How does Between a Dream represent your style?
It’s the right mixture of all the styles I’m into at the moment, electronica, classical, pop and film soundtracks.

Can you talk us through each track on Between a Dream?
‘What Would You Do’
The first piece of music I wrote after my brother’s death. Music can be extremely therapeutic, the title says it all.

‘Don’t Stay In’
My 80’s electro inspired track. One of my favourites on the album. I love the bass and drums on this and the subtle dynamic changes.

‘Frozen Music’
This is another of the earliest tunes i wrote for the album and it remained an instrumental for a long time but as the album developed i began to hear vocals on it. It’s interesting when an album takes shape how some tracks change with it. You always know when a track is complete though. I wanted Kristina to go against her natural instinct and sing in a more subdued, disinterested style which is what the track needed and she did it so well.

‘Your Favourite Film’
The first track I ever wrote that convinced me I had an album in me. I’ll never forget writing this. It was all done in a week, at the most, and written in exactly the order you hear it from beginning to end, which I’ve never done since, with very little tweaks and changes. If only they all came that easily and clearly! I was listening to a lot of Craig Armstrong at the time.

‘Bizarre Love Triangle’
Originally intended to only have a synth pad and vocals similar to Sinead O’Connors version of ‘Silent Night’ or U2’s ‘MLK’, both of which I love, but it moved away from that quite quickly and it kind of reminds me of The Pet Shop Boys now which is great. Another beautiful vocal from Kristina, cutting through and crystal clear right from the first syllable, also subtly making it her own. She wasn’t a big fan of New Order and didn’t realise it was a cover first of all, which I think helped make it what it is and find it’s own place.

‘I See Stars’
I wrote this for a friend after being asked for a lullaby inspired track for a compliation album, which luckily for me never materialised, so it made it on to my album, thankfully. Thanks Mia!

‘Wait For Me’
This was an instrumental for a very long time and probably the first one that I sensed needed vocals. I made the lyrics fit the instrumental which is why it has a unique structure, the chorus only happens once, and it works, which I love because I can’t think of a single song that does that.

I’m very pleased with the piano parts too. Kristina’s vocal performance was exactly what I wanted. Intimate, like a lullaby sung in your ear, like singing someone to sleep. It’s a heartbreaking performance. We had a fantastic day recording the vocals for this, and I found it quite emotional. Stu Matthews got exactly the vocal sound I was after. The breaths between the phrases are kept in deliberately to add to the intimacy.

don’t want to dissect the lyrics too much because this one is quite personal but they took a long time and were based on an almost fictional scenario which much later actually turned out to be almost prophetic. I kept them vague too so they could be interpreted differently. A lot of effort went into them with many changes, even to syllables and phrasings. I’m extremely proud of them which is why they’re printed on the cover of the CD version of the album.

‘Maybe Tomorrow’
Because of it’s nature, I felt the album had to have an optimistic, big, closing track so ‘Maybe Tomorrow’ was the obvious choice. It has a lot of my favourite musical elements too. I can almost see the sunset and credits rolling every time I hear this so just have to turn it up!

‘I See Stars’ (Scanner Remix)
What can I say? What an incredible remix. I love Robin’s work and was so happy when he agreed to do it. I hear new things every time I listen to it, there’s so much going on and such a dense sound. You can tell he put a lot of time and effort into it. Such a lovely person too, natural and very humble.

What are your hopes for Between a Dream?
I hope I can get it to its audience and in front of people, which is probably the most elusive part. I believe the audience is out there, but they need to hear it so help spread the word if you can, please, readers.

What else do you have lined up for 2019?
As many live concerts as I can do promoting the album. It was always my intention to play live and make it as special as possible with visuals, etc. More composing too, and maybe some additions to the studio. The next album is already half-written, but for now Between A Dream has it’s own star to follow.

Finally, if you could wish for one thing to happen for you this year, what would it be?
For Between a Dream to have the same impact on others as it’s had on me.

Listen to ‘Wait For Me’ on SoundCloud below. For news and tour dates go to Phonseca’s Facebook page.

Images by Sarah Davis.

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