Monday, February 7, 2011

And Where do you "Where To?": Phonte of The Foreign Exchange

With every calculated step, Grammy-nominated The Foreign Exchange redefines what it means to be versatile, influential artists. The unusual way in which the duo created its first studio album – with Phonte the vocalist in North Carolina and Nicolay the producer in The Netherlands never meeting once – proved that trivial matters like face-to-face interactions were irrelevant when it comes to making thought-provoking music.

And now, with nine years behind them, a Grammy nomination, a third studio album Authenticity released last October and wrapping up a European tour, Phonte and Nicolay are at it again, preparing to release the music video for their 2nd new single, “Authenticity.”

Over the weekend, I had the chance to drop by the FE “Authenticity” music video shoot. Housed in the vibrantly urbane Papillion Institute of Art in downtown Los Angeles, the set’s flashing lights, billowing clouds of smoke and exposed brick walls made the perfect backdrop for some steamy nightclub scenes.

I got a sneak peak into the music video’s deviously entertaining plot and I also had the chance to talk with Phonte to find out more about what “Authenticity” is all about, what he and Nicolay had been up to and – of course – where he likes to hang in L.A.:

Miss Wilson (MW): For someone who may not be familiar with your work with The Foreign Exchange, how would you best describe it?
PHONTE: Just really soulful music. Really soulful, with like a kind of electronic edge. That’s probably the best way I could describe it. But it’s based in soul – you know what I’m saying? – with more of an electronic 80's pop kind of edge to it in a lot of ways. That’s probably the best way I could describe it.

MW: You and Nicolay had worked together for a very long time and even completed an album together before ever meeting. So when and where was it that you two met, and what was it like meeting him for the first time?
PHONTE: The first time we actually met in person was in 2004 in Holland, in Amsterdam. We had a show – a Little Brother show – and I went over there and we met face-to-face for the first time. But that was after our album was done. It was cool. I had been working with him for like a year and a half, so by the time we met, it was just like, “alright.” It wasn’t as crazy as you’d think.

MW: "Authenticity" is the name of the song that you’re shooting the video for today. How did you come up with the title? What is it about?
PHONTE: "Authenticity" was actually one of the first songs I wrote for this album. And the song is kind of about… Well I don’t really like saying what the songs are about because I like people to judge their own meaning. But it’s just definitely about the search for truth and how a lot of people say they want the truth, but they really don’t want it.

MW: What was the creative process behind it?

PHONTE: Nic had sent the track to me and I sat around with it for a little while. And then the lyrics just came to me one day and I started writing to it, and that was it. It was a pretty simple process.

MW: Did it take a long time?
PHONTE: No. Once I actually sat down and focused on it, it didn’t really take a long, long time. Sometimes Nic will send me a beat and I’ll just ride around with it for weeks, for months before I even write, just to get a feel for it. But once I actually sit down and get a lock on, it comes pretty naturally.

MW: Could you tell us a little about the concept behind the music video?
PHONTE: The concept behind this video? It’s about secrets and a guy that is having to live with his secrets and eventually having to confront his secrets. And so that’s all I’ll say (laughs).

MW: You had been touring in Europe last month, so how was that?
PHONTE: Europe was a lot of fun. That was our first time really going there as The Foreign Exchange. It was a lot of fun. The crowds were really good. We sold out London twice. We sold out Paris. It was dope.

MW: Was there a particular song that fans seem to gravitate towards?
PHONTE: "Come Around" is always a good song. The first single off of Authenticity – "Maybe She’ll Dream of Me" – that went over good every night. "Take Off the Blues" was another fan favorite. Every night people loved that one.

MW: Do you personally have a favorite song off of Authenticity?
PHONTE: One of my favorites is probably "Laughing at your Plans," which was a joint I did with singer Chantae Cann out of Atlanta.

MW: That’s actually my favorite song as well!
PHONTE: Oh, well thank you, thank you! But yeah, "Laughing at your Plans" is probably definitely one of my favorites just because we stepped into a genre that we really don’t work in – country – and we did it our way. So that I thought was kind of a milestone for us.

MW: Since you just came off of a tour in Europe, do you have any plans to return to LA to perform?
PHONTE: Yeah, we’ll be back. Probably sometime in the summertime. We get love in LA – LA shows us a lot of love.

MW: Also, is there any place in particular that you like to go out in LA – any restaurant, nightclub or bar?
PHONTE: Worldwide Tacos on MLK [Martin Luther King Jr., Blvd.]. I fucks with Worldwide Tacos. That’s what I’m fuckin’ with.

MW: I haven’t been!
PHONTE: That shit is like that. Worldwide Tacos. Shout out to my man, Fred. Worldwide Tacos. That’s the spot.

MW: What would you recommend getting?
PHONTE: The raspberry chipotle shrimp. You need that. Or the barbeque chicken or the barbeque shrimp. But the raspberry chipotle? That’s what it is. That’s winning football.

MW: Thanks so much for your time - I really appreciate.PHONTE: My pleasure.

For More information:

2419 W. Martin Luther King Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90008

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