Phony Ppl’s Album “Euphonyus” Is Exactly What It Means
The five-member band breaks down the album process and what they’ve learned throughout their experiences in a band.
The genre-less and naturally groovy five-part band Phony Ppl’s newest album Euphonyus, a play on the word euphonious for all the music aficionados, is here. With its release, it’s making sonically the most pleasing to the ear sounds as of late. This album is a continuation of a new chapter in the band. Comprising of five extremely talented individuals, Elbee Thrie (vocals), Elijah Rawk (guitar), Matt “Maffyuu” Byas (drums), Aja Grant (keyboard), and Bari Bass (bass guitar), they come together to bless us melodically with every new project and of course, every performance. As concerts become more and more difficult to get to, Phony Ppl makes it worthwhile to jump through whatever hoops it takes to experience sensuous music that can’t be put in a box. From meeting in high school band practice in 2010 to having songs feature artists like Meg Thee Stallion and Kaytranada, Phony Ppl has grown to be the hottest band out. As the band developed outside of New York high schools, so did their sound, instrument talents, and lyrical abilities.
“One thing I value and I’m very grateful for just being able to learn with these guys. We’re still learning, still growing,” Grant shares with VMAN.
The melodious knowledge that each of them carry is what has gotten them to where they are now. Euphonyus may have taken a year and some change due to the pandemic, but it was worth the long process and perfected what was probably already a perfect sounding ensemble of music.
“The pandemic happened and a lot of things extended the time that it takes to complete this album,” vocalist Thrie reminisces. “It really just showed me personally how to move the feeling of being overwhelmed to the side and take that long list of things you have to do and just start attacking it one by one, and not be halted by the process of how much there is to be done.”
Ahead of their most recent performance at the Sounds of Brazil, one of New York’s most famous music performance venues where legendary artists have performed, all five musicians spoke with VMAN to break down the album making process and what it takes to make it as a band.
VMAN: What do you want people to take away from this album?
BB: I think what we want people to take away from this album is sort of the intention that we had going into creating it. Which was more movement, you know, uh being able to do dance and have a good time while also listening to some uh really different array… of you know, songs that had a blend of colors and vibrant sounds to them. You know definitely, that’s part of what we want people to take away from “Euphonyus.” It’s a different experience from mosaic and Yesterday’s tomorrow, where it’s a little more Introspective there. This time we kept A little bit of the introspectiveness and added more movement and flair.
VMAN: Speaking of more flair, with this album there’s a lot more of an R&B feel to it. How did you guys collectively land on that being the overall sound, cause you guys are kind of genre-less.
AG: I think for us we consider ourselves genre-less, but I think when some people hear the music, some people might say, “Oh it feels rock or it feels R&B. Initially when going into this album we wanted something a little more vibrant, more fun, more dancey. So you know, we had help from a producer named Ivan Barias from Philly. He helped us find the sound and helped us elevate where we were and able to take some of our ideas and turn them into a place where we couldn’t have taken ourselves. We are fire producers, but that’s kind of what it is. A little more fun, vibrant. That’s what the album is about.
VMAN: I’m sure being in a band writing probably comes really naturally. What was the writing process like with this new project?
ET: The writing process was all over the place. Sometimes we’re all in the same room, doing our thing, figuring out parts at the same time. Sometimes we were in smaller groups broken down, and sometimes it’d be a brainstorm or jams to come up with something from nothing. Starting from silence and making ideas come together. Then other sessions had more of a specific goal to take the idea that was already started, and bring that idea to completion, or those ideas to completion. So, some the writing happened in layers. Some of it happened all at once so, it was just like a big party.
VMAN: You guys identify as a genreless collective, over the past few years of being together, how have you learned each other’s individual sounds and quirks?
ER: I think it’s just the cliche– practice makes perfect. We rehearse a lot. We try to rehearse when we don’t necessarily have something to rehearse for. And a lot of those rehearsals, in those sessions will lead to exploration and improvising and trying different things. And over time, over 10 years, literally, you start to understand certain people’s tastes or patterns or maybe anticipate like, when Maffyuu is going to do a drum roll or something like that. So I think it’s just a matter of like, hours and hours of being with each other since high school.
VMAN: What was it like working with our queen Megan Thee Stallion and who else would you love to collaborate with?
MB: Working with Meg, like we actually got to physically work with her on the Tiny Desk situation that we did. I can’t remember the year.
AG: It was 2019.
MB: There you go. We were on the road in Germany somewhere. I think we just finished up “Messing Around” earlier that year. And then we just went on the road. We were talking to our label about getting another voice on it, but that’s not a male voice. We were just kind of spitballing ideas and it kind of fell on Megan and shout out to Salim he kind of just was like I know Megan,and she was like, let me jump on it. It was amazing. I remember waking up that morning being like, “Yo, we got this verse from Meg.” And we didn’t know what the verse was saying, we just know that she was flowing and she says something about a European Papi. And it was like, “Oh, this is hot.” And we can’t wait to like perform it and hear it in full, with speakers and everything. So, that’s how we first heard the song but we really got to work with her during the Tiny Desk performance in 2019.
BB: That was pretty cool. It’s definitely like working with your cousin. It was really interesting to hear how good she really was at singing and performing like she really is a pretty dope performer. And it was an honor to work with her for sure.
VMAN: Who else is someone you would love to collaborate with someone you really like and look up to as an artist and musician?
BB: I mean, I feel like if we could sort of go back in time a little bit and we’re you know, if there was like a huge mash up of like Phony Ppl and Jamiroquai, I feel like that would be a crazy record for sure.
ER: I feel like if we’re going into, like, our inner child in all of us, I think Pharrell was a big one for a long time.
BB: Yeah, and like Tyler the creator.
VMAN: I need that to happen, let’s manifest that one.
AG: You know something that I can somewhat see is we always want to work with The Internet. But then they’re all friends of ours. And it’s just a collaboration that I think a lot of people would want to see.
ET: I’m co-signing everything y’all saying–
VMAN: You guys are performing live in NY at Sounds of Brazil at the end of the month, are there any musicians you’ve looked up to that performed there?
MB: SOB is legendary. If you’RE performing in New York, you’ve definitely been through SOB. There’s no way you’ve performed in New York and you haven’t touched thaT stage. If you playing jazz, you playing samba, you a rapper, you’re a DJ, like everybody goes through SOB. So just performing at the venue itself we’ve been there since what like 2013. We’ve performed so many times at SOB’s, every time is great. Seen a bunch of different acts there. It’s a pleasure to be on stage.
BB: But you’re right, though. It’s like a rite of passage, almost. Like we’ve been playing SOB’s since like early days of Phony Ppl. And they’re always a venue that was open to so many artists like us, too. So, pretty much almost everyone who’s played there is someone to look up to.
MB: Facts, if you got to the SOB stage, then then you’re doing the correct thing.
VMAN: How does it feel to be back on stage there? How do you feel in comparison to last, the last time you’ve been? How long has it been actually, since you said since 2013?
AG: We played there I think it was last either last year or two years ago. During the pandemic, they had a livestream festival. I think it was. Oh, it was at Sotheby, so that was the last time we were there but that was last time we were there with people. It’s been a while.
VMAN: So this is another new experience then because you guys are coming back in front of a crowd.
AG: Yeah, It’s gonna be dope. I like SOB’s. It’s a great venue.
VMAN: What have you learned and where have grown as musicians collectively?
AG: Wow. I mean. What have we learned as collectives and individuals? One thing I would say we started this band as teenagers and with very little adult supervision. And one thing I would say I learned, and where I see a lot of other people kind of lacking is just how to work on a team. That’s one of the most important things I see when just given other friends advice. This is something that we chose, but it kind of fell in our laps being part of Phony Ppl and being in a band. So, that’s one thing I value and I’m very grateful for just being able to learn with these guys. And we’re still learning, still growing.
BB: I would definitely say what I learned, personally, I definitely learned a lot more about music, being in Phony Ppl, starting on the bass when the band started and throughout the years, just improving every single day. Then also, just taking care of your finances and learning about the business side is such an important part of it, too, especially if you start as teenagers who don’t know what taxes are things like that, you find out so much about what goes into being an artist more than just being on stage or recording and putting out an album, it’s more than just the album covers there’s a lot that goes into it that. Sometimes you either learn it really fast, or take your time and you stumble into problems and find solutions. It’s all about working together. Especially when you’re in a group and figuring out those challenges as they come.
MB: I would say things that I’ve learned individually, and I think we’ve all put this into practice is just patience with each other and just just any kind of issues or situation at hand. I think we all have learned to be more just solution based. With a lot of a hard hooks thrown it’s Alright, how do I not just get hit? Like how do I be safe and we just learned to be more solution based and just discourteous. Talk, things out, Bari and Aja said, you’re all on a team, you don’t want to be beefing with the person that you scored with,, it throws off the balance. I think we’ve had so much success, because we’re able to talk it out and hash it out and make good music, based off conversations that we have amongst each other and things that we see places we go. These are my friends, the people that I grew up with.
ER: I don’t think there’s a substitute for real world experience. So, I think what a lot of us have learned, has come from either succeeding or failing and trying something. There’s kind of no substitute for the time that goes into that. So, I’d say collectively and individually, it’s something you learn is how to not make a mistake again, or how to do something that worked well over and over, try to reinvent that.
ET: Bari set the template. It feels different to accomplish a goal that could be accomplished overnight, than it does to accomplish a goal that’s a long term goal. And I won’t say overnight, but as quick as we hoped this album process would be living the life as the people who are controlling the steering wheel and the gas pedal of this in a lot of ways. And then the pandemic happened and a lot of things extend the time that it takes to complete this album. It really just showed me personally how to move the feeling of being overwhelmed to the side and take that long list of things you have to do and just start attacking it one by one, and not be halted by the process of how much there is to be done. That’s just because we’ve worked on things that take a long time to complete. We’re no strangers to working hard and working smart but this project definitely took way longer than we thought and today to wake up and say, “Oh, this is finished”. My older brother book was just rocking the album today. And I was like, here you go, again, another time where I could say, on to the next we don’t have to focus on that anymore. So that’s what it feels like to complete that long term process. That’s what I learned.
BB: Yeah, it’s funny, because that definitely is what the quarantine and pandemic did it, it definitely threw a big wrench into not only just our process, but a lot of processes. I would definitely say that Zoom meetings became a very big part of something that we got out of that that we didn’t do before, just meeting up virtually with something that seems trivial, but it actually goes a long way to getting things done.
VMAN: What are the core themes? And what does this album mean to you?
BB: This album, it’s the next chapter from mō’zā-ik and Yesterday’s Tomorrow. A lot of the songs were created before the pandemic. So, it sort of has remnants of life from that time period but then as we’re in the pandemic, I feel it took on more meanings as we lived with and continued working on it from there. I think some of the themes that are addressed is about boundaries, about loss, how on a wide spectrum, you can tackle a lot of emotional concepts and all while the same while you can dance to it too and songs like “take it easy,” where you can just be with it be in an emotional place, in a more relaxed place. Songs like “been a way,” where you can be in a more emotional place and be in a more introspective mindset when you listen to it. I think it has a lot of ranges of what encapsulates being a human being in many ways. It hasactually has a very deep meaning when you really sit down with it but, then it also has fun jovial things like “messing around” and then hopeful with “nowhere but up.”
ET: One of the themes I see is the way that we used syncopation rhythmically, which is accenting the off beats rhythmically. Percussively, meaning, drums and syncopation in ways that extend beyond percussion. So as far as every other band member, every other instrument that’s played on the album, there’s a level of intentional syncopation I feel that separates this album from the previous Phone Ppl albums, because with motion and intention for movement of the body to be one of the results of this music, that just plants a certain type of movement in your body alone. Even when the room is silent before you can make a sound and that is transferred into the music creates a certain type of push, a certain type of pull that I feel like this album intentionally has, to me, what does that mean? There’s our view of the album and what we intended for, and then there’s the hearing back from the people who get to experience the album. So far what I’ve been hearing, I think it’s been a little more than a month that it’s been out. People are dancing, and people are moving. So I think that to me, it just means that we’ve achieved the result we’re looking for, as far as having people move in a away that the previous albums didn’t really inspire, movement of the body. So, that’s what it means it means we hit the target.
MB: The album like exactly what everybody said honestly, we really went into this with intention of having a lot of movement happening, a lot of dancing, being jubilant was pretty fresh, when I heard Bari say that there are a lot of these songs were made before the pandemic, and a lot of them were worked on during the pandemic. I remember recording “been away” in this room with Elbee, during the pandemic, and just the feeling of not being in the big studio, and having to pull together all of our resources from all of our homes to make it happen. It was it’s also just perseverance, the album kind of speaks about how it may take a long time and you could get hit with a lot of rocks and slip up mountains but you get it done by any means necessary. You kind of don’t quit on it, you don’t give up on it. So, along with everybody dancing and listening there is a story to be told just about how long and what happened during the time of Euphonyus and euphonious being a real word, like Aja said pleasing to the ear.
VMAN: What’s your favorite song on the album for each of you guys?
AG: It changes for me personally, because I think I’m still at the moment of the album process where when I listened to the album, it still feels like work. I’m still like critically listening to it. So I would say for me, the song that I’m enjoying the most right now is is “nowhere but up,” because of how it’s doing. I still feel just the youth in the creation of that song and it was really fun to make.
ER: I think right now because we’ve been like rehearsing and performing it, “don’t knock” is my favorite.
MB: We’ve been we’ve been putting these songs to the test taking them on the road. We’re gonna be playing them at SOB’s,” take it easy” is a real slap live. We’ve been playing it so much rehearsing it. I’ve been really diving into the song, trying to get all the parts right I’m like, wow, this is really a beautiful song. Elbee did his thing on that, and we all did our thing. Lyrically that song makes you feel very glossy.
BB: You know, what’s funny? We haven’t gotten to this one live yet, but I know we will. It’s more of the reason why I like it, it’s that pat on the shoulder, but I love to “get home”. I just enjoyed listening into. I love listening to the baseline on that when it comes out. I’m like, oh, snap. It sounds crazy. So, I know that once we start playing that I’m just gonna jump on stage and get funky with it.
ET: Mine switch every few minutes because it’s such a momentary thing for me.. I just feel like each one of the reasons why I love the album cover so much is because I think it’s a beautiful representation of the spectrum that the music highlights or that the part of the spectrum that the music emphasizes. It’s just a momentary thing. You might be feeling like Elijah’s shit one moment, then you might be feeling like Aja’s shit one moment. It’s each day, so I can’t really choose like one thing but I think it’s a beautiful bouquet of flowers. One moment you might appreciate the rose next moment, you might appreciate the –somebody say a different type of flower, please.
VMAN: A musician and a florist, okay. Did everyone know they wanted to be musicians?
MB: Elbee did you ever play in church?
ET: I was a church drummer for nine years of my life.
MB: Yeah I think Elbee is the only one person that play in church.I’ve been playing music my whole life. My dad is DJ Jazzy J Zulu Nation. My mother is a classical pianist and flutist. So I was born into this. I had no other choice. My sisters are both musicians here. I would have been, I had no choice.
ET: Yeah we all had no choice. Parents. It was something that we were around at an early age, all of us in different ways .Some of us in our school, public school has had a big hand in that. That’s actually the links that connect how we met in a major way. The arts program might have been just a band class whether it’s orchestra class or jazz band or chorus class in school, we all met through a web of that. Our parents supported that, they would let us mess with their musical equipment, when we were little kids, and that just really planted seeds for us to want to do this when we have the resources ourselves. We got to the age where it’s like, I could do what I want, like, let me make some music. We all had that love, I feel, at an early age.
MB: I had no choice, but like, they were just a big support, like, they would have supported anything that any of us wanted. It’s a big support. So I’m just using this moment to shout out my parents because facts. You always got to use the moment to shout out to parents. Shout out to all of our parents.
AG: I would say that I did have a choice because, well one of my parents didn’t see music as a job and because they didn’t see music as a job, because they’re immigrants.
VMAN: What’s your background?
MB: My parents are Trinidadian. Bari and I are brothers by the way. Their vision of just America and work was so different. My dad is a drummer. Mmy mom, she said she played music, but she wasn’t really in it in it. So just the idea of music, we had to prove ourselves, even when Phony Ppl we started. We had to do a lot for her to be like, “I’m telling all of my family about this back home, this is great. You guys have gone on tour. You guys have travel plans I’ve and you guys have songs on iTunes” With exposure, that kind of made family just open their eyes and be like, “Wow, this is great. Like, this is my favorite song” and listening to lyrics. It was a choice for Bari and I, we kind of had to prove ourselves a little bit. I think it was just after we’re like, “Hey, we’re good at this. People like our recordings, people like our live shows.”
ER: I started in middle school, because it was a better way of getting in a class early because all the jazz band kids got to practice more. Then that led to meeting some friends and during school of rock and having just a standard of friends around me that were great at something, that made me want to be great at something too. Just youthful drive of practicing and it led to meeting more people and more friends and I met Aja on the first day of high school and I started playing guitar because of Phony Ppl. So, it’s just been like Aja said, like falling into your lap kind of journey after a while.
VMAN: What are you guys hoping for the future? What’s the next 10 years looking like for you? Or what do you want it to look like?
AG: One of my things is I’d love to play bigger shows. I love playing shows. I’d love just to expand on creativeness and just be able just keep making music, keep making keep creating if it’s music, if it’s clothing, if it’s set design, just being creative and being able to just afford rent or buy a house or you know own a studio and have a great team.
MB: What I see and in the near future for for all of us is like some kind of museum situation happening here with a big art exhibit ending with a crazy show. I don’t know, there’s something happening here, but I know that we’ve all been dabbling into extracurricular activities and all of my guys been getting really really good at it. So in the next 10 years like you never know, obviously bigger shows, a tour around the world but some kind of crazy museum exhibit art piece.These guys are creative.
BB: I pretty much agree with both what Maffyuu and Aja just said, of course, bigger shows. Everything heightened and nowhere but up to go. Pun intended.Then also, through our external avenues of exploration on creativity and just the creative mind. I think there is something that’s brewing for the future maybe like a Phony Ppl experience type of thing but we’ll meet that bridge when it gets there. This is the era of Euphonyus for sure but there’s a lot of creativity between the five of us that I think we’re we’re getting ready to explore even further.
ET: Everybody’s answer was so good. I agree, I’ll just add on. In addition to all those amazing things,I would like to keep space and time to keep creating and keep experimenting. Under the absence of pressure, just based off of circumstances of particular times that we say, “Hey, let’s go, let’s go make some music, let’s just go jam, let’s just go record it and see.” Just doing that and saying, we’re all pretty open all the time, unless there’s like something that has to be done a certain way for the end result or the vision. I just want to keep that openness and just keep creating and Euphonyus was one album that we made that is unlike other albums that we made. At the same time, we could see the thread of consistency of identity through it and I’m just excited for the next album to come and curious about how different that’s going to be and how similar is that going to be to Euphonyus and then what comes after that and after that and after that. Because you said ten years so it’s not just one album but to be continued of what does the following Phony Ppl album sound like and what Phony Ppl show look like and feel like. That’s what I’m all about.