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Phrase - The Clockwork Soldier

Author: Nina Bertok
Friday, 1 May 2009

It’s been a long time coming but Phrase’s sophomore record, Clockwork, is now out on the streets. 3D’s Nina Bertok talks to the Melbourne MC about working with Wendy Matthews, his love of Aussie rock and album delays.

MC Phrase [Harvey Webster] knows that nothing is ever quite what it seems. It’s no wonder then that Melbourne’s fastest-rising hip hop star describes his sophomore album as a bit of a mixed bag – in all sense of the word.

“It’s a personal album, but with a universal theme,” begins Webster. “There’s a ‘fuck the man’ undertone about it, but it’s not a political record. It’s hip hop, but it’s not just hip hop.”

By his own admission, Clockwork is one hell of a genre-blender that more so embraces Webster’s Aussie roots as opposed to American hip hop.

“I listened to my first record [Talk With Force, 2005] and I realised I was such an angry young man,” Webster recalls. “Obviously I was pissed off about a lot of things but I was also trying to prove that I was hip hop. At the time I felt that the media really pigeonholed all Australian hip hop as just a bunch of white guys trying to do black music, and I guess on that record that was me trying to fight against it. With Clockwork, it’s kind of the opposite. I’ve gone back in time and referenced my parents’ record collection, believe it or not. I’m talking about all the classic Aussie rock like Midnight Oil and Cold Chisel. I actually grew up playing instruments so a lot of those elements come into this album.”

And an album influenced by traditional Aussie rock couldn’t be made without guest appearances from some of our best-known and most talented musos, as Webster acknowledges.

“Some of the people on there are Bliss N Eso, Daniel Merriweather and Harry Angus from The Cat Empire, but I’ve also go Wendy Matthews and Kram from Spiderbait. I was really happy that Wendy wanted to be on the album because I was a huge fan of her song Day You Went Away. I remember being, like, six years old and watching the video – I had a huge crush on the girl in the film clip. I’ve always wanted to sample that song, so I bought the album and speeded up the tempo so I could do something with it, but the vocals then became all chipmunk so it wouldn’t work.

“I had a friend who was able to help me out in the end because we ended up flying Wendy out to Melbourne to re-record the song all over again on a grand piano, which totally fucking spun me out to be sitting there with her. I was like, ‘I used to watch your video when I was six years old!’ The other local guys that made an appearance on the album I’ve just met at things like the ARIAs and then catching planes back home all hung over and getting to know each other. I reached out to them and they ended up being up for it, so it worked out great.”

And it’s no surprise considering the level of dedication Webster invested into Clockwork.

“There are a couple of tracks on the album that I half produced with Jan Skubiszewski [Jackson Jackson] but the rest of the record is all him,” he says. “We just basically spent every day in the studio together for seven months straight. I was there for the entire process. I think a lot of MCs, when they’re making a record, they get this catalogue of beats and then they pick out the ones they want and then they write a rap and record it. I like to actually get in there and be physically involved in the whole thing, from the chord structure to the drum sound to the bass, everything. I wrote so many songs that a lot of them are still just sitting on my friends’ hard drive. I’m not sure how much of it is still usable but I ended up writing a lot, which I think is ultimately a good thing because you have a better selection to choose from. I did consider doing a double album but I realised it would cost more for production and you’re kind of shooting yourself in the foot if you have a four-album deal and you give the record company two for the price of one, you know- It takes you longer to get out of the deal that way.”

While Webster signed a deal with a major label following the making of his debut album, he claims Universal largely stayed out of his creative way when it came to Clockwork.

“I have final creative say on what happens but there’s always that point where a few people will give you their input,” Webster explains. “The only thing that’s pissed me off is that it took so long to finally get this album out. It was supposed to come out in October 2007, would you believe- It’s been that fucking long. It was a very stressful situation with problems with the label and then the A&R got sacked and the record just ended up sitting on the shelf for ages. That’s why there’s not a whole lot that I would change or readjust about this album when I look back on it. I didn’t listen to it for a very long time so that’s why I’m so pumped about it.”

Webster is just as pumped about his current run of dates with good mates Funkoars – not to mention his own headlining national tour.

“I’m really going to go to town with my album launch tour,” he enthuses. “I want to make it a big show, I’d like to make it more theatrical and much more of a performance than anything. I’ll try to get all the guests in the major cities and maybe have the string quartet that’s on the album play with my full band on stage. It’s been rad having a full band for the last seven or eight months and it’s going really well. It’s good to have the live instrumentation behind you, it translates really well live and it’s just heaps more fun for me instead of just having one DJ and that’s it. After the Australian shows I’m thinking about going overseas, to the UK maybe, and doing a bit of writing with friends over there.”

WHO: Phrase
WHAT: Clockwork through Universal / Plays Newcastle Uni, Bar On The Hill/ Waves, Wollogong / Come Together, Luna Park / The Roi Bar, Albury / The Capital, Saloon Bar, Wagga
WHEN: Out now / Friday 5 June / Saturday 6 June / Sunday 7 June / Friday 26 June / Saturday 27 June