Meet textbook Scorpio and Chess Club-signed Phoebe Green, who makes DIY pop built on a strong work ethic.
Phoebe Green stands before a hall of mirrors, surrounded by ghosts that look just like herself: a face doll-like and expressive; a shock of red curls; a guitar with a leopard-print strap slung over her silk dress. “This wasn't what I've been dreaming of / I wanted to feel like I was good / You make me feel like I'm alone”, she confesses, as her reflection distorts and melts, trying to clutch at an identity that has become bound up with someone else.
The music video is for “Dreaming Of”: Green’s technicolour daydream of shimmering synth and finely-spun guitarwork: a song that interrogates and rediscovers her own self-worth. Though it has become a staple for her set-list, tacked to the same stages as Swim Deep, The Courteeners and Mac DeMarco, the track is only a page in a whole diary’s worth of music.
Since the release of her 2016 debut album, 02:00AM, which she’d written when she was only 16 years-old, Green’s music has been a form of self-release. The record was a teenage snow globe, containing a blizzard where falling in love is like suicide, and nosebleeds taste like rubies. When I ask if the now 22-year-old can listen back to it, she squirms: “No! It makes me gag. It cringes me out that people are still listening to it. I’m like, ‘Oh my god, no, I was a kid! I was just chatting shit’”.
“A lot of growing up has happened,” Green explains. “[02:00AM] made me very self-aware, very reflective. I think I had a lot of time to think and a lot of time to get to know myself when I was younger. I spent a lot of time in my own head.” Hailing from the small seaside resort of Lytham, growing up felt suffocating. If she was ever going to leave the small-town drudgery, she knew she would have to write her way out of it.
“I think I have a completely different perspective on things than I did back then. The first album was written from the point of view of a kid who was trying to get out of a tiny seaside town. I wasn’t really around people who shared the same mindset or the same thoughts on anything, really. I had my best mate, and that was it.” But there came a point where late night chats were no longer enough.
“I had so much to say, and no one to listen… Woah!” she laughs, “What a quote! So deep.” Even in jest, Green is nothing if not self-aware: “I think any musician is,” she says. “I think it's hard for someone to be self-aware without being self-critical.” She manages herself and her career with a hawk-like attentiveness: relaxing was - and never will be - on her agenda. “I think, for me, I’m a massive control freak, so I really like being in charge of everything. I like running it all myself and knowing what’s what. The hardest thing is the fact that a lot of the time, it’s impossible to be in control of everything. You do have to rely on people sometimes - it sounds so cynical, but I hate it. I like to do it all myself.”
“No matter what career I’m in”, she confesses, “I’ll never switch off. I always feel like there’s more I should be doing, It’s just my personality type. I always feel like I could be doing more. I hate not being productive; I hate just sitting about.” Green’s manager is the first to commend her on this: “She’s literally like, ‘You are so on it all the time!’” Green scorns her friends’ idea of binge-watching a series brainlessly easy on a down day. When it comes to rest, she does feel she needs to. “I could relax, but I don’t want to.”
Hers is a work ethic that is fundamental to being an independent artist in the DIY epoch. It would be insulting to attribute Green’s successes to something as flimsy as luck; each achievement was sized up and sought after – and she did it herself. Arriving in Manchester, however, was a turning point. Until then, the performing outfit, Phoebe Green, comprised of herself, her keys player and sister, Lucy Green, and Nat Johnson – her now bassist who began as her drummer after a chance meeting at a 1975 gig. University expanded that circle to bring in guitarist Charlie Marriott and drummer Bibo Webb. For an artist who fiercely protects her independence and her creative control, the dynamic between them is something special, she tells me, to feel comfortable sharing with them her most personal asset: her music.
“My songs are obviously very personal to me, and knowing that I'm basically handing them over to people to have their input in them is hard. I mean, I'm always going to write the lyrics, but when it comes to sharing songs with the band, it’s difficult because it feels like if they don't like it, they're basically criticising me, as a person. I think because they're my best friends, they always know what they're about, so that's really difficult - but it's so rewarding when the songs that are so personal to me are brought to life in a way I never could do on my own - and they are my best mates, so it just makes it all the more special to me.”
Phoebe Green is a Scorpio – “the epitome of”, she adds, if you hadn’t guessed already. In an age where astrological charts are maps to our personalities, one of Green’s earlier songs, “Sagittarius”, proved she had a discerning eye that made her wise beyond her years. She took aim at his bitten nails, skinny jeans and fear of girls far smarter than he was, and yet, she sighs, “I promised myself I'd never kiss a Sagittarius / I promised myself I'd never fall for you / I knew one day I'd probably kiss a Sagittarius / I knew one day I’d probably fall for you”.
“Scorpios are really intense”, she explains. “They’re very emotional; a bit spiky - very in touch with their feelings.” Since being a child, Green has always presented herself as an extrovert, but she is quick to stress: “I fucking love being on my own. I really love my own space.” She embodies a sort of liminal state; she is not shy, by any means, but she often withdraws into herself, waking up early in the morning to walk around Manchester alone, clearing her head. She is neither exclusively extroverted nor introverted, instead inhabiting both extremes passionately.
Another facet to her Scorpio-like tendencies is obsession. “I never see it as a bad thing,” she confesses. “It means I get shit done.” Her moniker as “The Shirley Temple of The North” was something she’d inherited as a child: “I looked like her as a toddler, and everyone wanted me to impersonate her as a kid. And now, I’ve stuck with it.” Being a performer has always been her lifeblood, just as much as being a songwriter. “I love my ability to express my emotions and be open about the way I feel. If I wasn’t a musician, I’d struggle to know how to say things.”
Her songs are her experiences with others, perfectly distilled. But her upcoming release - which she is dutifully tight-lipped about beyond promising a “body of work” later this year - takes a different approach. Her new work will be more “personality-driven”. Rather than focusing on her relationships with people around her, Green tells me that the songs will be “more of an observation of the way I am, which is a bit of a change. A lot of this has been self-reflection, and looking at myself from someone else’s perspective, which is going to be really interesting, actually.”
Green wants to keep her new material in the same vein as “Easy Peeler”, her latest track written with Chess Club label-mate Juliette Jackson, frontwoman of The Big Moon. Unlike the soft, vanilla skies of “Dreaming Of”, “Easy Peeler” is an altogether grittier confrontation, as impactful as the score to a film noir.
The song-writing process is something she treats as sacred. When their manager decided to force them both out of their comfort zones to see if they could write a song together, at first, the two song-writers were firmly opposed to the idea. “It's such a personal process,” Green tells me. “When there's stuff on my mind, my way of processing it is to write music, and to think of doing that process with someone else in the room - and even receiving criticism of my thoughts and feelings - is so daunting. But if you click with the person, then it can be so beneficial because they can offer so much insight, and because they're not as attached to the topic as you are, they’re more likely to explore certain things that you probably wouldn't have been able to see yourself.”
After a day at Jackson’s house, not only were the pair “dead good mates”, but they created a beat and a bassline that Green was “obsessed with”. At first, the track was going to be a glance back to her days in Blackpool, but since having left for Manchester, Green discovered there was something of a creative chasm between herself and her home city. Despite having an instrumental she fell in love with, Green put the prototype on the back burner. But while she was willing to let go of Blackpool, she wasn’t letting the song itself escape so easily. “I loved what Jules had done so much that I just needed to use it. I ended up writing, instead, about the modern sort of perception of relationships, where everyone's so obsessed with being perceived as perfect and having a perfect relationship - it's all about keeping up appearances. It’s about the way you can become infatuated with the idea of something, rather than the thing itself.”
The idea of success is a little spectral for Green. She flits from dream to dream: be it to have her music feature in a movie, or simply to be known for her music – irrespective of her carefully crafted, colour-coordinated Instagram feed. Success isn’t a fixed goal, but a moveable feast; she wants to taste and try everything her career has to offer her. “Oh, there’s more I can do”, she promises. “There’s always more I can do.”