Phiiliip, 2002


Last summer a very odd song was getting regular airplay on New York’s free-form station, WMFU. Phiiliip’s “(Inside the) Sleep Pavilion” mixed an absurd, sloping beat and swirling synth riffs with vocals that suggested Bowie’s Aladdin Sane slowly collapsing on Delaudid. Phiiliip’s entire album, “Pet Cancer”, is almost as uncategorizable: thirteen baroquely freaked-out tracks recorded alone in a Seattle basement when the artist was just nineteen.

Phiiliip is now twenty-one, relocated to New York, and building a fervent following in the post-electro music scene there. When we talked, he’d just come off a twenty-three-city tour of bars and youth centers with Momus

S: I got the new Bowie record on Audio Galaxy. It's supposed to be his big come-back, but the only thing that came back was the drum sound from "Scary Monsters". Was he an influence on you?
P: I was never really conscious of it, but I went back to it recently and realized how important it was to me. I mean, you can play "African Night Flight" in a club and it still sounds more radical than anything else you'll hear.

S: I wish the music coming out of England right now was as interesting.
P: But they do have the phenomenon of the one-off novelty hit. We're really cheated by not having that here — the ability for anyone to have a hit song. I lived in Berlin for awhile, too, and their Top 40 was interesting. People like Fischerspooner would be at the top of the charts. Germany is sort of like a nightclub.

S: With cheap drinks?
P: No, they're more expensive than the ecstasy. But they make amazing beer and it's only two bucks a half-liter.

S: Was X the big drug when you were growing up?
P: Crystal meth, but mostly glass — people were purists about it.

S: This was in ...
P: I grew up in Redmond, a suburb of Seattle that later became Microsoft. Then I lived in Olympia from age ten to fourteen.

S: Were you paying any attention to the Riot Grrrl scene there?
P: That was happening, but I lived a half-hour outside the city without a car. My friends and I were all into punk. Fugazi coming to town was the big deal, we'd talk about it for weeks.

S: Rural punks. I bet you all hated it there.
P: Yeah. My friends ran away to L.A. and posed for porn. I found it on the internet a couple of years later. One of them was a guy I'd had a crush on. But I deleted it later when I was on acid and had converted to Christianity. I kind of wish I still had it.

S: You converted?
P: I did momentarily. But he was naked forever.

S: Have you pretty much always been out?
P: Until I was about fifteen I was conflicted. Everyone told me I was gay before that, but I didn't really know. I liked boys and girls, but then I would just jerk off to catalogues with pictures of plants. I didn't think about sex in terms of other people.

S: That blurring of people and things is actually in a lot of your songs.
P: Well, yeah.

S: "Pet Cancer" got great, bewildered reviews when it came out last year. They all mentioned the weird ripped-apart sound.
P: It was actually a conscious attempt to do a '90s retro.

S: Really? You were nostalgic at eighteen?
P: I guess so. I'd just watched that documentary "1991: The Year Punk Broke", and I thought, why doesn't anyone do music like that anymore? I wanted "Pet Cancer" to be the next step in that music's evolution. So I drank a bunch of beer.

S: And listened to Sebadoh?
P: I never heard their stuff. When I was a kid all I had to go on was MTV's "120 Minutes". I was really into Pavement and the Buzzcocks.

S: Are you working on a new album?
P: Yeah. It's going to be called either "Free Shoes" or "Rock Sweat".

S: Does it sound anything like "Pet Cancer"?
P: When I did those teenage albums I was alone in my room and angst-y. But now I'm going out a lot and doing things, so I want the new one to be fun and up.

S: "Those teenage albums." [laughs] I do remember you telling me once that you'd recorded over a hundred in your adolescence. Did you make it through high school?
P: I graduated college three years ago.

S: You're kidding. How did you manage that?
P: It was sort of roundabout. When I was sixteen I had a bad situation with this guy. I'd had a crush on him for a year and a half, but I would never talk to him. He was the cool raver guy in my school. Eventually one day we hung out. We got 40s and took the bus back to his place. I was on Prozac, so I got really drunk. He hit on me and when I responded he started beating me up, wouldn't let me off his bed, called me faggot and shit. About an hour and a half later his mom came in and fed me rice and sent me home. The next day in math class he was telling everyone about it, so I walked out. I went to see my hippie counselor, who was in the closet and usually sympathized with me. But he said, "Well, it was very inappropriate for you to make a move on him." So I was disillusioned and took all my schoolbooks and threw them in the creek, went home and drove our truck into the garage to asphyxiate myself, but crashed it into a bunch of Coke cans instead.

S: Oh, man. I don't suppose you went back to school?
P: They let me go to community college. I basically smoked pot there and wrote papers and got good grades. It was okay. I just did my own thing, bro.

S: That story is so Dennis Cooper-y.
P: [laughs] Actually, I found his writing when I was in this acid fallout period. I believed I was permanently scarred. I read "Guide" and thought, this is me. I knew we'd be best friends, so I sent him some of my writing and told him I thought I might be his ideal. Apparently it scared him off.

S: Your version of Tyrannosaurus Rex's "Elemental Child" is amazing. How do you know so much obscure '60s pop?
P: My dad would play Jimi Hendrix and the Beatles, things like that. They drove me to investigate further. It was like a chain. I found out about the Beach Boys, the Byrds, then Van Dyke Parks and Tim Buckley and on and on. And I would read the biographies. I basically read everything until I was able to reconstruct time.

S: You've performed at clubs like Luxx, which is kind of odd since you're music isn't electro. Is it?
P: Well, when I recorded "Pet Cancer", the drum pre-sets I used were basically electro pre-sets…

S: What about Yesandno, the side project you're doing with DJ Snax of Bedroom Productions?
P: With Yesandno we're doing a version of electro that ends up not electro at all. It's our attempt to make a lifestyle out of a bootleg.

S: Yesandno's Janet Jackson cover is a weirdly compelling crack-up.
P: When I lived in Amsterdam two years ago, my boyfriend and I had no money so we'd eat at MacDonald's once a day, and then just stay home and smoke pot. But they had this really great oldies video show on TV. Like they would show "Shoot Your Shot" by Divine, or things by Janet Jackson. I was on mushrooms one time, and I'm not sure exactly what happened, but in one video there was a minute-long intro of a DJ in a club. Herb Alpert shows up and gives him a new record. The DJ takes a bite out of it, spits it out and says, "It doesn't taste like a hit." The whole club seems like everyone's on crack in some alternate world, in an '80s that I never knew existed. Eventually Janet Jackson comes out, but she's a midget. She sings "Diamonds", she's a midget, and everyone's on crack. I thought, if this is what everyone else is doing, I want to do it too.

S: Snax is definitely the guy who could take you there. He's the one who told me that you've written a couple of books.
P: I wrote a novel. A teenage novel. I went through about five drafts a day. I planned on finishing it eventually, but I'm so far from it now that to rewrite it would be like starting from scratch. Then I did another book that I actually finished, but I showed it to people who said it's good but there's no way anyone's going to publish it. I ended up sending it to a few different places and got rejections. It really frustrated me. I thought it was good, but even the people who liked it wouldn't publish it. I realized that what I'm trying to do with writing is make it more like music. But if I can't get away with that, get paid for it, or get recognized for it, then I'll just stick to music.

S: Is recognition important to you?
P: Basically, all my work has been done to please myself. I make what I want to hear, what I want to read. So "Pet Cancer" was the album I always wanted to hear. What everyone else wanted to hear was irrelevant.

S: Lately, I keep seeing you in all these magazines. And in L'Uomo Vogue this month there's a four-page Steven Klein spread with you in your banged-up apartment. Do you have a publicist or something?
P: No, Steven saw a Ryan McGinley picture of me shirtless on a roof and was interested. I stopped by the studio, handed over a disc, got polaroided, and waited. A few days later I shut off my alarm, ate a banana or three, and allowed my bedroom to be invaded by a giant crew.

S: Did you get paid?
P: Steven told me that he'd give me a print of a shot that failed to run. It was me in boxer shorts and a Mended Veil necklace. I'm still waiting for it. [laughs]

S: What about your doppelganger at the Warsaw show? Hair, clothes, exactly like you.
P: I heard about him, but my friend Kent said he was 36 hours behind. I already had a new look. Supposedly there was a double of my old boyfriend too, and he and "Phiiliip" were spotted talking. I just thought, I hope they have better luck than we did. But I find imitators amusing. I find detractors amusing. I like flattery and hate mail.

S: Was America ready for Phiiliip when you went on the tour with Momus?
P: America wasn't properly warned. But then, Phiiliip fans probably don't exist yet.

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