A MEETING WITH MAVI PHOENIX - CRASH Magazine
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A MEETING WITH MAVI PHOENIX

By Alice Butterlin

Austrian prodigy Mavi Phoenix comes from a generation that mixes music on computers, track by track. Since early childhood, she has fought off boredom by layering her voice on top of beats she crafts herself, first on Garageband – the intuitive software preinstalled on every iMac – and later on Ableton. No longer just a hobby, music has become a total passion for the producer, who released her first EP My Fault in 2014 at just nineteen years old. Situated at the intersection of pop and rap, her music is emblematic of an era that blends genres to achieve hybrid sounds. We caught up with her ahead of the release of her second EP Young Prophet, a compilation of addictive tracks.

When did you start making music?

I started when I was like eleven or twelve because my dad gave me an old MacBook. He used to work at a media company and that was my Christmas gift. At the time, there were no computer games on Mac, but I discovered the GarageBand program. There I could make my own beats and loops. It was like a computer game to me, it was my hobby. I also learned a little bit of guitar and made my own songs from that.

You started very young, but when did you really start to be professional about music?

I remember there was a time when I thought: “Ok, I really want to do this seriously now”. But the thing is, I was completely alone, I knew nobody in the music industry because I was in a small city in Austria called Linz. I was only fifteen or sixteen. I actually went on the internet and googled “how to produce a song like the ones on the radio”. (laughs) For the first time I learned that you need to mix a track and master it. I didn’t know about all that! I was always frustrated that my songs didn’t sound like they could have been played on the radio. Then I actually teamed up with a producer who I met online. He told me I needed to get away from GarageBand and start producing with Ableton. I took Skype lessons with him to learn about that software. He’s a really cool guy. Then I made my first EP, My Fault.

What were the first platforms you used to share your music?

The very first was MySpace. But nothing ever happened there. There were only ten plays on my songs. I wanted that platform to launch my career but unfortunately it was not the case. (laughs) I think when I joined MySpace, it was already over. People had moved on. I was also on YouTube at the very beginning, when I started making music around 2009. Soundcloud also. But I remember Spotify was very important for me when it launched.

It seems like you understood the importance of music videos right away. Nowadays, they are almost as important as the album itself, since they provide a window to your music. Did you think about your visual presentation from the start?

Yes, definitely. To me, as a fan, it’s very important. If I listen to anyone, I want to know who these people are. Who is singing to me? How does the person look behind the song? I’m a big fan of music videos. Although, if you have a shit song, a good music video could help, but the music should be the priority.

When you were growing up in the mid-90s, what music videos made a particular impression on you?

Honestly, Britney Spears’ music video for “Lucky” was one of the first music videos I remember seeing. It was like a short film. There was a real story. I also loved the Michael Jackson music videos, for sure. What I really watched as a young teenager was Hannah Montana and other Disney Channel shows. Disney stars were on the rise at that time, like the Jonas Brothers for example.

At the time, did you dream of being on Disney Channel?

Oh yes! You know how on Disney Channel they always have the stars of the TV shows draw a Mickey Mouse outline in the air with a wand? When I was home alone, I pretended I was the one on the screen doing that. “My name is Mavi and you’re watching Disney Channel.” (laugh) Now the secret is out!

Your music videos ranged from extremely DIY to more elaborate. Were you alone on those early projects?

I was alone and I still am. I always look for a new team when I’m making music videos. I’ve had a manager for two years and now it’s easier to put together a team and to have everything settled. For the track “Love Long Time” the music video is really DIY. I even cut it myself. I also did the cut for “Aventura”. Artists have to be really sure of what they wants to be. Especially in the beginning, people will look at you and say: “Oh you’re this cool pop girl with hipster street style…” But maybe you don’t want to be that, and you need to take full control over your image before someone does it for you.

Did you ever have bad experiences with people from major labels telling you what to do?

Absolutely. Not only majors because we have our own label, but even at photo shoots or video shoots. You have to be careful. People don’t necessarily know what you want. How should they know? You have to be very strict about what you like and don’t like. Otherwise, artists become very interchangeable. It’s cool to have your own aesthetic.

As a woman, do you sometimes feel misunderstood in the music industry?

Absolutely!  Some photographers tell me that since I have a nice body, I should automatically show it off. I completely disagree with that. It makes for awkward situations.

For example, women are not always heard during sound checks before a show.

I was just talking about that the other day. When I’m on tour, I’m surrounded by 99% men and I’m the 1% who is a girl. In this business it’s hard to find musicians – or anyone really – who are not male. I’m actually the boss of my whole crew because I’m the artist and they’re working for me. I don’t want to be arrogant, but that’s the reality of it. When we get to a venue for the sound check, the people there automatically talk to the guys. Then the guys look at me to ask how I want it to be. I feel like I have to apologize for wanting full control over my show. Like I have to prove I’m a legit artist. Guys would hesitate much less to assert their position.

As a woman, you sometimes have to do twice as much to be recognized. Still, do you feel that women in music are less stigmatized nowadays?

Yes, I think so. I get asked about it a lot in interviews and I don’t know if it has really changed, but people talk about it more and acknowledge the fact that there is a double-standard. That’s happening for sure and that’s good.

You’ve been using autotune for a long time, making it a part of your creative process just like any other instrument. Why do you think people have had such a hard time accepting that?

I feel like the voice is the greatest instrument there is because every one of us has it. It’s actually really difficult to manage because you have tone, volume and all these factors that can modify the voice. I’ve always been fascinated by playing with mine and putting effects on it. I’ve been doing it since I started. At the time, I was pitch-correcting my vocals. When I was thirteen I could sing, I knew I had a talent, but I was not ready to properly record. To be honest, I used it just to sound better. The thing is, every song you hear today has pitch correction on it, but you don’t necessarily hear it. It was always my style to over-exaggerate it because I like the sound of autotune. I like how it flows but people really have a problem with it. No matter what I do, people get pissed off easily about me – especially men. I just need to use autotune at a live gig and people will get really mad. Coming back to how men are picturing women, this goes to show that some men can’t handle the fact that women are free to do whatever they want. A lot of people think that female artists have to sing beautiful ballads, in a soft and sensual voice. I was at the Austria Music Awards last year and was nominated for Best Female Act. To announce the nominees, there was a video with a person saying: “Female artists:  beautiful voices, emotional lyrics, here are your nominees.” I didn’t fit that description at all and I don’t want to fit that description. Women are allowed to be way more than cute or beautiful. A lot of people don’t want to allow women to get a little bit crazy, say “fuck you” in a song or use autotune.

In your songs and music videos you seem very confident. Did you have to develop that confidence?

Yes, for sure. My manager always likes to remind me of the first video shoot we did two years ago where I was so stiff and uncomfortable. (laughs) I gained a lot of confidence through the live shows because all of a sudden you’re alone in front of people and it’s really hard.

In your song “Prime” you say: “Our generation is in its prime”. What did you mean by that?

I’m not used to being political in my lyrics. I am a very political person and I care about a lot of important issues. With this song, I wanted to have a very positive vibe because a lot of stuff is going wrong right now with the rise of the right wing everywhere. I actually wanted to empower myself and anyone who listens that we actually can take control over more things than we know. We tend to think we are too far away from what’s actually happening to make a difference, but I think anyone can do anything. I just wanted to give a little hope or a little kick in the ass to my generation.

Is there a cause in particular that you want to defend?

Feminism is really important to me as well as gay rights. Racism is another issue that troubles me. Those problems are happening every day, every second and everywhere. It’s far from being behind us, a lot of issues are at their peak.

You are vocal about gay rights in your song “Love Long Time”.

Yes, that’s true. I have a girlfriend, I’m gay. When I started making music, I wasn’t very open about it because I didn’t feel comfortable with it. But “Love Long Time” is my first real song about it, about not feeling accepted by the whole society. You love someone but you’re not allowed to. It’s crazy if you think about it. A lot of people tell me I just have to go out and kiss who I want, but it’s not that easy because people look and they let you know how they feel. With every person you meet, you have to ask yourself if you need to come out or not. It’s hard and I think it could be way easier if people were more open.

Did you get a good response to that music video?

Yes! Did you see the music video for “Ibiza”?

Yes!

That one was very important for my fan base. My real fans already knew I was gay, or at least they supposed I was. I was receiving messages to know if I was or not. (laughs) “Ibiza” is a real love song and I wanted a music video that reflected that, but I wasn’t going to do it with a guy because that’s not my reality. I did it with a girl and felt really good about it. It was very exciting. Of course, there are some internet trolls that hated it, but overall I got a great response.

How did you meet the producer Alex the Flipper with whom you’ve collaborated on almost every track?

It was through my manager, when he signed me in 2016. He thought he’d put me in contact with this producer who is also from my hometown Linz. I was living there at that time and we just met up in a studio. I wasn’t sure about him in the beginning but then a month after I started listening to the demos again and thought they were really cool. Then for a year, we made so much music. That’s when “Aventura”, “Love Long Time” and all these other tracks came out. We’re best friends now and he’s my DJ on stage.

Do you ever think about collaborating with other musicians?

Yeah, I’ve been working with other producers a lot, but Alex is my best friend. Anything I make I send it to him and ask for his advice. When he makes music for his solo project, he always sends it my way. We value each other as artists and musicians.

You released your EP “Young Prophet” on vinyl. Are you attached to physical releases in music?

Yes, I love having a product. I don’t do CDs just because I think CD sales are decreasing everywhere. In a few years, nobody will listen to CDs anymore. I don’t want to invest in something that won’t last. Vinyl has lasted through many decades and is still going strong. I also like having something to give people when I’m at a photo shoot or an interview. I think the fans like it, too.

How much of an impact did the internet have on your music?

It had a huge impact. I’m 100% an internet kid. I was online way too much in my childhood and teenage years. I think my sound is very international and has inspiration from all over the place because of the internet. You have access to any sound you want at any given time. I could google anything right now and make a song out of it.

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G-Star Raw – Cotton track drop zip through knit, Cotton knit Léo – Faux leather pants

G-Star Raw – Cotton shirt Mavi’s own necklace

G-Star Raw – Cotton pants
Gamut – Shirt dress
Both Paris – Leather and rubber GAO Mid Boots Falke – Cotton Socks
Mavi’s own necklace

G-Star Raw – Cotton Bomber, 3301 baggy boyfriend jeans Wilfried Lantoine – Crop Shirt
Petit bateau – Cotton top

Léo – Cotton sweat
G-Star Raw – Cotton bristum shorts
Falke – Cotton Socks
Both Paris – Leather and rubber GAO Mid Boots

G-Star Raw – Nylon anorak, 3301 baggy boyfriend jeans Mavi’s own necklace

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Photographer : Bertrand Jeannot

Stylist : Pauline Grosjean

Make up : Cécile Paravina

Hair : Cicci Svahn @calliste

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