The Kaje talks the music industry to Petra Jean Phillipson

2011 has been a busy year for Brighton based songstress Petra Jean Phillipson. Not only has she completed work on her second solo LP ‘Notes On: Death’, but she has also launched MONTPATRY PRESS, got involved in film making, jam making, studio building and sound installation. On top of all her solo projects, Phillipson has also managed to somehow fit in production work on M.N. Hoppwood’s debut album ‘And To His Last’ as well as agreeing to score Philippe Vartan Khazarian’s ‘Deviation’. Yet despite her hectic schedule, Phillipson is only too happy to jump on a train and meet The Kaje for a quick tea in London’s Hyde Park and talk candidly about the state of the music industry…

You are a lady of many talents – how do you manage to fit everything from jam making to musical composition in?

When you ask the question I think ‘goodness, it is incredibly complicated’, but really it is incredibly simple. It all stems from being an art school student. I think it stems from having a very busy mind. The way I always used to work at art school was I would be to just physically make a record – do all the artwork, make an outfit for performances. I would always parody love songs, I would just take the piss out of them in a feminist kind of way. It was really great fun. In actual fact I still do just that. I love to work on lots of different things at the same time. I really love to keep things fresh and flowing naturally. I get bored very quickly and easily, so I tend to do a bit of everything.

Your career has been embraced by the mainstream, yet you stick rigidly to your DIY roots… Is there a reason for this decision?

I kind of prefer making to buying things. I think it is the way the record market is going. People want to be self-sufficient. But it also helps with self-esteem, to be able to sell actual hand-made records. I feel quite strongly about that.

It is all a kind of reaction to having been impersonal and to having been reasonably successful. When that happens you are just shifted around in a bottle. It found I didn’t really love the music industry very much, but what I do love about it is people. I really make music to connect with people. I love just bringing people together. It comes back to a tribal instinct. As I get older I understand these things intellectually. It is about connecting with the people around you who you work with, not being hidden away by all these people around you doing all that stuff for you.

‘Notes On: Death’ is the follow-up to ‘Notes On: Love’ – can you tell us what your goals for the record are…

My first reaction is that my goal is a trilogy, ‘Notes On: Death’ is the second in the trilogy. I don’t really have a goal for it other than to spread it as much as we can. I will come back to you on that…

The trilogy was the first idea, which was really easy and really clear. I think I was really influenced by Rothko, and maybe other painters. But actually making the records, ‘Notes On: Love’ was very much about a personal journey to working out my own personal dysfunction with how I relate to love. Throughout that record I asked lots of questions and found the answers to them. It resolved something personally within me. It was a personal journey of grief, loss and heartbreak really. That is what love was to me.

Then ‘Notes On: Death’, I just experienced so many really sad experiences when I was younger, but also my father experienced three strokes and a friend of mine died, which led to a lot of questions within me as to ‘what is death?’

Also it has a religious context, as to where I fit in society if I am not Christian, I am not C of E, I am not Catholic.. They were all questions I was asking myself. They are just things I am just pondering and they end up being answered in my songs. It is just me and my life in my work.

Have your intentions with your recordings altered through the process of realising them?

At the beginning I thought it was all just quite self-indulgent. I thought I should not be doing this, that I should be a nurse and do something useful in the world. Actually when I started getting feedback from fans who’d say ‘Notes On: Love’ saved their life or helped them through the worst break up ever, I thought it was a good thing to actually write sad songs. When you are sad you do not want to listen to happy songs, they make you feel shit. But if you listen to something sad, you connect with it and don’t feel alone which is a positive outcome.

‘Notes On: Death’ is out now.

Words and Images: Jeremy Williams

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