words by trevor elkin
Sacramento-based songwriter Darci Phenix doesn’t live in a fantasy world, she just sees the magical nature of the ordinary. Her debut album ‘Blue Period’ unfolds like a delicate paper doll’s house, revealing its rooms one by one.
Phenix was raised in the acoustic traditions of American country and folk, but somewhere along the way she developed the wide-eyed gaze of a poet, which makes these songs even more intriguing and elusive. On ‘Anthill’ and ‘Toothbrush’ she spins dramas and secrets into the fabric of everyday events and objects, while ‘Connect The Dots’ beautifully arranges memories, personal objects and fleeting emotions into cohesive love-letter. Their pacing and presence recalls Bright Eyes’ more intimate moments, but Phenix’s arch, porcelain voice adds a certain distance between us and her introspections.
‘Blue Period’ was a DIY project, assembled with help from friends (Scott Reams, Michael Rowe and Kameron Hansen) and it’s crafted with a kindness and attention to detail that grabbed us immediately.
Find out more about Darci Phenix in our Q&A, alongside the album streaming in full below:
For people who are yet to meet you, how would you describe what you do?
I would describe it as a homage to the power of vulnerability. I initially started writing and making music to express this piece of myself that I wasn’t completely comfortable with and was critical of (I thought I was too sensitive, over-reactive) but in expressing it, I have come to see its beauty.
On which instruments do you mostly compose and where/how are you most inspired?
I mostly play and compose on guitar and piano. My usual writing process involves writing in the notes on my phone while I go through the motions of my day. When I see average things in a new way or when I’m inspired I take note of it. Then if I do that for a week or two, I usually have enough material for a song or a poem. I also will sit down with the intention of writing something, or there will be something that I feel I need to get out immediately; my process for writing varies.
It feels like you place as much importance on your words as on the music, but which comes first naturally when you create?
The words definitely come first naturally. Before I wrote the album, I wrote a book of poetry called “Everything Doesn’t Wait Until Monday.” When it comes to composing, I feel that the words have already decided what the melody will be and it is my job to find that melody.
What was it like putting the album together, getting it out there? What kind of support have you had so far?
Putting the album together mostly involved a lot of late nights, organization, and patience. I was very meticulous about everything because working on each song was like furnishing a house and you don’t want to accidentally buy the wrong curtains; so it was stressful, but I learned a lot. Getting it out there was tough because everything I say on the album is so personal that it kind of felt like I was getting ready to stand in front of a crowd naked. That’s when I was most thankful to have such great support from my family and friends. My mom used to be an attorney but stopped in order to teach music to children, so she has been a huge inspiration and support throughout the whole process.
What else do you do outside of music that inspires your songwriting?
I become the most inspired through my experiences, by reading books or by listening to music. I recently read Bluets by Maggie Nelson and heard Black Moss by Johanna Warren and I can’t stop thinking about them. Also, I live in Sacramento, which is only a couple hours away from either the beach in San Francisco or the snow in Lake Tahoe. Lately I’ve been driving up to the snow and going to this tea shop by Donner Lake to people watch. There are these yellow lights on the highway, so when I drive home at night they look really beautiful. I’ve also been getting ready to graduate high school, so this idea of everyone dispersing has been impacting my songwriting lately.
What is your relationship to music in general?
Ever since I can remember my mom has been singing Kate Wolf or John Prine in the kitchen while cooking, and since I was 4, my mom, my sister and I have been going to a bluegrass festival called Strawberry Music Festival. High school, though, is really when the music I listened to started to not only shape who I was becoming, but really impact me in general. I was in a bad relationship for awhile and hearing Oberst say, “Every time you feel like crying, I’m going to try to make you laugh. And if I can’t, if it just hurts too bad, then we’ll wait for it to pass and I will keep you company through those days so long and black,” just really changed everything for me. That music was there when I needed it to be and I’ll always be grateful for that.
What’s your go-to album?
Lately I’ve been listening to Courtney Barnett, Mount Eerie, Johanna Warren and Sun Kil Moon. But my go-to album will always be ‘Fevers and Mirrors’ by Bright Eyes.
The video to ‘In Years’ is a lovely Wes Andersen tribute (Moonlight Kingdom) – what do you like about his movies and style?
I’m a huge Wes Andersen fan. I really like the way the directing, the colors, the costumes—everything— work together to acknowledge the absurdity and awkwardness of so many things. It’s impossible to see a Wes Andersen movie without knowing it’s a Wes Andersen movie, and that philosophy of self expression to the point where you can’t imagine anyone else expressing the same thing has influenced me in the way I write, the way I think, and the way I dress. One of my favorite bands, The Front Bottoms has so many distinct and unique characteristics that I always relate them to Wes Andersen.
Both Andersen and Oberst have that knack of making self-contained worlds to tell their stories, is there a fantasy element to your songwriting?
I perceive the emotional atmosphere of the world in front of me and then my brain translates that emotional atmosphere into something like a movie that plays in my head. I wrote the song Anthill, while I was sitting under a tree watching a colony of ants, but my brain translated my perception of this into a story to convey my fear of abandonment. So I guess the answer is yes, there is a fantasy element to my songwriting, but not one I am actively conscious of. I would say the majority of the time the stories I create just pass through and then I start thinking about something else.
The Blue Period is out now, you can buy it via Bandcamp here