“I wish that you could break my heart,” laments Phoebe Green on the chorus of her forthcoming studio album’s opening track. It’s a line that encapsulates much of Phoebe’s coming-of-age in recent years. She’s learnt to shed a hard exterior, drop a youthful tendency to bottle things up. Open her heart to the elements.
Instantly recognisable for her orange-curled hair and deadpan gaze, 24-year-old Phoebe will be the first to admit she’s not always been great at dealing with her emotions – something that’s both shaped, and been soothed by, the creation of the album, Lucky Me.
“I’ve definitely always been someone that feels things quite intensely,” she tells me in her soft, Lancashire lilt. “I used to deal with that by suppressing it and would write more about other people and my relationships with others because that’s what I felt comfortable doing.
“But over lockdown, my emotions and mental state fucked me up and I was forced to acknowledge and deal with what was in my head. So this album was very much me writing about myself and my relationship with myself.”
Speaking from her parent’s house in Lytham, Phoebe’s catching some respite before the heady onslaught that comes with dropping an album. That said, she’s been here before; only her debut, 02:00 AM, was first written when she was around 17, (and released on her 19th birthday in 2016), when she was comparably unfazed.
“It cringes me out to listen to [02:00 AM] now,” she admits. “I sound like a child – and that’s fine, because I was. But musically I had no clue what I wanted to sound like… I didn’t even know guitar pedals existed. “But,” she adds with pride, “I love that I did that. That takes a lot for a kid to do a whole album; even to write a whole album at that age is a lot, because I was doing my A levels.”
Around six years ago, Phoebe made the move from Lytham to Manchester, where she was consumed by the city’s prestigious indie scene. Inevitably, this induced a shift in her sound; surrounded by “a very alternative scene” who listened to indie and post-punk, Phoebe felt the need to “write heavier music”.
“Sonically, I’d gone from making an album [02:00 AM] on my own that was very clean-sounding, indie pop. And then, to hear all these bands with guitar pedals doing shoegaze, I thought, ‘I’m not cool enough…’. So, it made me want to be more obscure.”
What we’ve since heard from Phoebe – and what’s frequently marked her out as a ‘One To Watch’ among major outlets – is an ode to indie, with a smattering of synth undercurrents. But as is the title for one of her most popular tracks from this period, ‘Reinvent’, Phoebe has an ability to construct something new.
With the help of producer Dave McCracken (whose credits include The Stone Roses, Depeche Mode and Florence & The Machine) and Jessica Winter, Lucky Me takes a leap into a swirl of pop with a particularly personal approach. Winter even made it her “mission… to make the poppiest pop songs” with Phoebe, from which ‘Crying In The Club’ and ‘Just A Game’ are the end-results on the album.
Although for Phoebe, much like those darn emotions, this was an aspect that was in fact always there. It was simply hidden, waiting to be unleashed.
“I realised in some ways I’d been writing pop songs this whole time. I think the connection people always have to my songs is to the lyrics. I thought, if they’re accessible, it’s a shame for me to try and be more obscure just because I think it’s cooler. I don’t even really listen to the most obscure stuff. I love pop music.
“I think I can also often hide behind the instrumentation. And because this album is so lyrically bold – and it’s so about me – the pop production compliments it much better, because the vocal is the main aspect, not a guitar solo or crazy effects. There are some of those in the album, but the vocal line is the centrepiece of everything.”
Released in a matter of weeks via Chess Club Records – who have more than a penchant for producing compelling new artists – it’s the kind of relatable record that makes you both want to go on a night out with Phoebe and console her in equal measure. We’re let into her world with all its ‘Sweat’, subsequent ‘Clean’ and ‘Crying In The Club’ that it entails.
There’s self-effacing introspection, from the telling-off of “Don’t talk like that / You’re such a brat” on the titular track, to the warbling admittance that ‘I Wish You Never Saw Me Cry’. There is, of course, still talk of others, including the sexual liberation of ‘One You Want’ and ‘Won’t Sit Still’ (with its cheeky line, “I don’t want my body / But I wouldn’t mind yours”). Yet, as Phoebe says, this is from a position of “how I am within a relationship with another person, rather than just all about them”.
In fact, the concept of selves and perception, the oscillating view of ourselves and how others see us, is something that weighs heavily on Phoebe’s mind – which comes to the fore, and is near-impossible to escape, during an interview.
“I’m hyper-self-aware. I don’t even think I’m necessarily self-critical–” she pauses, ironically stopping herself in her tracks. “Well, no, I am very self-critical. But I’m more just very aware of everything… I’m so aware of all my actions, my behaviour, everything I say, is going to make up someone’s version of me in their head. I think about it so much. It’s terrifying.”
Many of us can be stunted by such self-consciousness. Psychologists refer to the myriad of differing perceptions we have of ourselves as ‘self-concept’ – a kind of part-real, part-idealising house of mirrors where occasionally others are watching. Many regard the most important aspects to be our ‘ideal self’, our ‘self-image’ and our ‘self-esteem’.
So it’s with a hint of irony that Phoebe, who considers this a considerable amount, was part of a huge run of shows earlier this year, supporting recent Mercury Prize-nominee, named after one such aspect: Self Esteem. This experience was an education in performance.
“I see some artists that don’t interact with the audience because it breaks the fourth wall perhaps. But Rebecca [Taylor, aka Self Esteem] really makes it work. It really made me strike
a balance between the idea that yes, you’re performing, but you can take a minute to actually connect with the audience outside of that.
“It made me feel able to be vulnerable with the crowd. And be funny too – sometimes I’m scared to be too light-hearted or make jokes about things because I think no one will take me seriously. But she’s so good at being hilarious, and making people cry, and delivering an incredible performance.”
Other supporting shows this year included with Baby Queen and Everything Everything (Phoebe has a longstanding partnership with producer Kaines, aka Alex Robertshaw, lead guitarist for the Manchester band, as well as renowned engineer Tom ‘A.D.’ Fuller).
These have all ensured Phoebe is continuing to cut her teeth with live shows, alongside her younger sister, Lucy, on keys, and her drummer-turned-bassist, Nat. And now a full headline tour of her own awaits in November. Although, Phoebe rather pithily admits, “I’m shitting it: what if no one turns up?”
Perhaps it’s the pre-album nerves talking; nerves which are in fact magnified by the personal expression Lucky Me is filled with.
“I think [releasing this album] is so scary because I’m completely exposing my feelings. And if it flops,” she chuckles, “I will literally just be like ‘ahhh.’ I don’t think it will, but it’s funny to think that so much emotional work went into it.
“So it’s scary to think people are going to be critiquing it; my intrusive thoughts are going to be reviewed… If the lyrics were just very surface level, I wouldn’t feel as assed. I guess I feel like I’m going to be attacked because it’s so internal.”
“But it’s all good,” she catches herself once more, “it’s my fucking job.”
Lucky Me is out on 19 August via Chess Club Records.