Stephanie Phillips – Nowhere

Photo Credit: Nick Paulsen

Stef Fi is the solo project of singer and guitarist Stephanie Phillips – probably best known for her work with the black feminist punk trio Big Joanie.  Her music is sometimes described as ‘post-punk’, taking the raw energy and DIY approach of early punk and combining it with various non-rock influences. 

With this track “Nowhere”, we indeed get the best of both worlds – music with a raw directness, yet so much musical interest.

Take for instance the vocal line for the verses. Here is the third verse:

I have nothing

Nothing

Nothing but faith and it’s hurting 

The insistence on repeating the word ‘nothing’ three times means she has to stretch the more conventional four bar phrase length into five bars viz:

This making the music fit the words, rather than the other way round, demonstrates the importance of words to this writer. The words are the priority. But the music is also important – and very interesting. The melody for the verse is in the key of F# minor. But notice the G natural at the very end. This hints at something more exotic and unusual. And we hear this developed further during the delightful guitar interludes between verses, where the music takes a more ‘Arabic’ turn, using a scale full of semitone intervals where you might least expect them. The guitar line sounds deceptively simple, sliding slowly up and down a single string, again putting me in mind of the sound of north Africa – the sound of the oud.

Then there is the contrast with the choruses, where Phillips stamps on the fuzz box and thrashes out an energetic, seemingly basic chord pattern. But again deceptive – five bars with the middle one having only two beats! And a key change to G major – so smoothly done you probably don’t even notice.

And there is more – much more. Listen to the way the bass part works with the guitar in helping to double the vocal line. (I’m reminded of another piece in our Spotlights series – Michael Dollan’s Attest). Listen to the quiet organ part also doubling the guitar instrumental lines. Listen to the richness and jazziness of Steph’s vocal delivery. And listen to the words – here is poetry. 

And then go on to listen to the other songs on this remarkable EP. There is much to enjoy and appreciate.

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