Ask Phoebe Day how she developed her taste in music and she will point to her father’s record collection. “My dad was listening to old blues and jazz music, to artists like Nina Simone and Herbie Hancock, but also Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan and the Beatles, so I fell in love with all this music I was exposed to and all these vinyl records that he kept around the house”, she says. “I remember feeling so overwhelmed and saying that I want to be like that, to hone those skills and be able to do what they are doing”. Fast forward a few decades later, and she is pretty much where she wanted to be – a sultry songstress making high-octane jazz-infused soul music, with a nod to modern legends, like Melody Gardot and (inevitably) Amy Winehouse. On 1st September, Phoebe Day launched her first single, ‘Place in Time’, introducing herself to the world.
As Phoebe Day, that is. Because in their daily life she’s still mostly known as Phoebe Papatheodorou. In fact, it was her father who gave her her stage name. “He nicknamed me Phoebe Day when I was young”, she explains. “Billie Holiday is also an idol of mine so it was nice to also pay homage to one of my greatest inspirations; she inspired me to connect with my voice in a way that no other singer really has she taught me”, Phoebe explains. “The importance of not necessarily being the greatest technical singer in the world, but having the ability to connect to what you’re singing about and who you’re singing to”.
Phoebe Day’s musical journey starts in the backseat of a car, her Greek-Cypriot grandfather, driving her around in Sydney, when she was four years old. “We were listening to the radio and a song came on and I was singing along in the back seat”, she remembers. “And my grandfather was so moved that he started crying; then, when we got home, he said to my parents: “I think Phoebe has something special”. He was not alone to see this. The same remark was made by her teachers, which resulted her parents offering their full support, taking her to piano lessons when she was five years old and allowing her to blossom to this creative young woman “always doing school musicals and playing in a band”, who played her first jazz solo gig at 16, and then went on to pursue her dream at the Australian Institute of Music (AIM). It was there that she developed her own personal kind of soul-jazz blend. “This recording is an example of that sound”, she says of ‘Place in time’, the first of the three songs she’s about to release in the following weeks. “I started writing these songs 18 months ago”, she says. “I finished my degree at AIM in 2016 and I was ready, I had things to say that needed to come out. So this is all me finding my own voice and sharing my music and my stories in the world. My leading single is a tribute to the old-school jazz and soul sounds I grew up and fell in love with, but with a little contemporary twist. I kind of adapted the jazz harmony to suit a more contemporary soulful context and even included some elements of r’n’b music to give it a fresh flavour”.
Music and songwriting, of course, is much more than lessons and developing a sound. It all amounts to life experience. And that’s where the young songwriter’s material comes from. “It definitely takes a lot of honesty and a lot of vulnerability, as a skill, to be able to wear your heart on your sleeve and leave no stone unturned”, she says, describing her approach to songwriting. “All the stuff that I’m about to release comes from personal experience”, she says. “I went through a lot of changes in my personal life; I was about 15 years old when I had surgery in my lower back and I had been in and out of hospital for a long period of time. I couldn’t walk, then I had a bit of a limp and it was during that time that I really turned to music as comfort and a way to express the pain that I was feeling not only physically but emotionally, dealing with losing my youth to that time in my life and having to grow up. It was the first real pain I experienced in my life and the first hardship that I had to overcome. It forced me to accept being vulnerable and express myself”.
Her songs are a collection of these experiences and feelings, not only of the pain, but also of growing up, falling in love, creating her own path, setting goals and aspirations. “My main aspiration is to just create music that people can connect with”, she says. “I’ve always had this desire for human connection and I think of music as the purest way of doing this”.