Popping Up is our recurring look at new artists making noise on the music landscape. Because, hey—Madonna and Britney were once unknown, too.
Phlo Finister suffered such self-doubt as a child that, when forced to perform at her family church, she would sing to the faithful with tears streaming down her face.
Now 20, the Hollywood-based singer is watching her star soar — but this time, she’s wearing it well. And why not? In the last couple of years, she’s worked as a model, a fashion editor for Persona and music industry stylist, shaping a sound that re-interprets the 1960s youthquaker cultural movement embodied by Edie Sedgwick and Jean Shrimpton.
Phlo’s sound draws in equal measure from back-in-the-day R&B and futuristic dark pop, with her honeyed vocals rising over polished original productions and ingenious mashups (Garbage’s “#1 Crush” + 2Pac’s “Hail Mary”?). She just released the six-song EP Crown Gold, her second collection of the year, and we’re expecting her to be popping up all over the place in the months ahead. Learn more and grab a free download below.
HOMETOWN: Born in Oakland, Finister has lived in and around Los Angeles since she was 5.
MUSICAL BACKGROUND: Raised on gospel (at the insistence of her grandfather, a pastor and an opera singer himself), Phlo says she developed a deep love for classical music. “I listened to a lot of opera because I was a ballerina. I did that for 12 years of my life, it was pretty extensive. I love Bach. That’s what my grandmother would play for me. I’d be in the car and she’d, like, turn on the classical music station and then take me to Taco Bell and I’d eat my burritos, and I’d just be chilling in the backseat, I was a little kid. It’s kind of crazy. As I dig deeper into the past of my life, I understand why I’m the way that I am.”
As she found her own voice, she also closely studied her aunt DeDe O’Neal, an R&B singer who sang backup for the late Teena Marie and recorded for hit factory LaFace Records (including “What’s Up”). “She had this sadness and this pain in her voice, you could just feel it… I want to sing to people that way, and leave that impact where they just feel my pain, and I don’t have to express it or talk about it. I would want them to listen to my voice and see my pain as beauty.” Phlo has also soaked up the culture of the Hollywood club scene, where she runs with a crowd that includes photographer Niko The Ikon, pop Lolita Sky Ferreira, and her own one-time roommate, British model/artist/host/socialite Peaches Geldof.
BIG BREAK: After dropping out of high school, Phlo scored herself a job as a stylist working for Def Jam Recordings artists, including R&B girl group Electrik Red (“Drink In My Cup”). “At that point I kind of just wanted to get involved in the industry, I wanted to see what it was really about.” Along the way, she hobnobbed with an array of influential artists, including fellow fashion cop Kanye West.
BIGGER BREAK: At 17, she met Los Angeles producer/songwriter Daniel Luttrell, who helped distill her varied influences and soulful vocals into her first EP, the swirling Silver Hill, named for the psychiatric hospital where Sedgwick was institutionalized in the 1960s. (She’s now working with the 3|4 collective, home to LA’s buzzworthy rap crew Odd Future).
WATCH OUT FOR: The video for “Bang Bang”, the first song from Phlo’s new Crown Gold collection. Directed by Camille Benett and shot in luscious black-and-white, the video follows Phlo as she cruises the streets of London, singing “Bang Bang” (originally recorded by Cher, covered by Nancy Sinatra, and resurrected previously on the soundtrack of Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill, one of Phlo’s favorite movies). Phlo’s version adds a twist — she sings over the beat from Mobb Deep‘s street classic “Shook Ones Pt. 2″.
Phlo says she chose the song because “I was thinking about a point where I was so sad about my breakup, and I felt like the guy I wanted to be with didn’t want to be with me… I wonder if that’s how Nancy Sinatra felt. She felt so love-lost.”
FACTORY ORIGINAL: Phlo first discovered the youthquaker movement when she saw a photograph of Sedgwick a few years ago. (She famously appeared in a Vogue piece about new stars). “I started reading her story and everything about her. I just have so many connections to her as a person, without the fame and the fortune and all that… in an emotional sense. I just started unlocking pieces of the puzzle to a whole movement, of an era and a time. It was just like a progressive obsession that turned into this world.” She grew fascinated with Sedgwick’s connection to Bob Dylan and the scene around Andy Warhol’s Factory studio. “Everyone always asks me, ‘Are you a fan of Andy Warhol?’, and I’m like, ‘No, I’m actually more interested in his muses and the people he was working with.’”
FASHION ROCKS: Phlo draws a parallel between the 60s mod style she embraces and the new generation of musicians she sees emerging today. The original youthquakers, she says, were part of “this musical fashion movement that went on with these teenagers, and these kids that were rebels. Mod fashion wasn’t created in the couture houses, it was created in the streets. See how a person like me can think that that is relatable to the life of a person who’s lived in the streets, and [who's] been around all these cultures? All they know is that, to do things the raw way… more alternative, where its not so polished.”
Listen to Phlo sing it the raw way on Crown Gold‘s “Wrong Number”:
WHAT’S NEXT: Armed with supple vocals and a keen talent for bridging genres, Phlo is already dreaming of releasing her debut full-length (to be called Youthquaker) next summer.
Hit up Phlo Finister on her Tumblr or Twitter. Let us know what you think on Facebook, Twitter or in the comments below. And to discover plenty of other emerging artists, check out Logitech’s Artist To Watch site.