How unsigned artist Sam Phay went from a songwriting session to Sydney Opera House in four months
When Sam Phay booked his flights to Sydney to kick off the national ‘Stop The Bleeding’ tour with his band Club Yorke, he could never have predicted he’d spend most of his time experiencing career highlights as a solo artist.
While his band carried out promo duties and put the final touches on the tour, Phay was onstage at Sydney Opera House with electronic producer Kuren, performing, ‘Never Enough’, a track the pair co-wrote just a few months prior.
Two days later, Sam Phay was performing the coveted Like A Version segment at triple j. Following in the footsteps off global acts like Halsey, Haim, and Childish Gambino, Sam Phay was at the national youth broadcaster to help Kuren take on French Montana‘s ‘Unforgettable’, and to lend his soaring vocals once again to ‘Never Enough’.
Watch Sam Phay and Kuren perform ‘Never Enough’ at triple j:
“It was pretty crazy,” he says. You can tell he’s still in the bubble of it all when this interview takes place just hours after his triple j performance. “I think it’s just like that sort of pilgrimage of an Australian artist or musician”.
Sam Phay is an indie-rock band frontman, a guitarist and songwriter. That final epithet may not be his best-known, but it’s undoubtedly his calling. He’s already worked on tracks for Universal Music Australia, helping to develop an emerging act he can’t even name yet.
He was also handpicked by the major label for a songwriting camp in Adelaide – “They literally put us up in a church that had been converted to a studio” – and is set to work with Dutch double-Platinum-selling singer-songwriter and producer Dotan – all whilst remaining a wholly independent act.
“What I’ve found recently is the passion I have for working with the artist themselves and not being the guy singing or solo writing,” Phay says.
It was that passion that lead Matt Tanner, Head of Creative Services at Native Tongue Music Publishing Australia, to pair Phay with Kuren for a writing session.
Following an email to Tanner from Phay’s co-managers Elizabeth Browne and Tamara Georgopoulos, Phay had written with Native Tongue signing Lindsey Jackson at the Specific Music’s 2016 50 Songs in 5 Days camp. So when Kuren said he was looking for a few key collaborators for his debut album, Phay’s name came up.
“We’d been impressed with Sam in a few different writing sessions that we’d bought him into,” says Matt Tanner. “I thought Sam might have been the type of collaborator that Kuren was looking for, so we set them up in a session together. They clicked in the studio and wrote a great track which is always the result I’m looking for.”
That session back in February took place at Native Tongue’s Sydney writers room. The pair had never met, but when they opened their laptops, began dragging the coloured bars into place, and let the lyrics flow, something just clicked.
Kuren remembers it well: “When your doing heaps of sessions throughout the week with people you are literally meeting on that day, it can be hard to connect or it seem awkward sometimes,” he says. “I was so surprised of Sam’s chill personality we just clicked and it felt real.”
It was in that same first session in February when Kuren revealed he needed a vocalist for his track ‘Never Enough’ after the last feature artist was pulled. Kuren sent him the track the following day and Phay set to work in what is now his mum’s sewing room in Geelong. One week later, Kuren had added the track – sewing room recording and all – to his debut album Melting Conceptually (out June 29 via ONETWO).
“It was really quick,” says Phay. “Which never happens, like, I’ve been doing the co-write thing for a year and a half, and there’s songs that I’ve written that will never see the light of day. And songs that I’ve written maybe six months ago, that will see the light of day in a year or something.
“The timeline is never this condensed,” he adds. “I really got on the end of it at a crucial time, when they were trying to lock down this album.”
Phay is clearly modest. One only needs a cursory glance at his songwriting credits and stage presence to understand his chops as a songwriter and performing artist.
“Sam is easily one of Australia’s most talented singer songwriters, vocalist and performers,” says co-manager Elizabeth Browne. “Our focus is to continue developing him as a producer and songwriter, and to be honest, he makes our job very easy because he’s just so talented, even if sometimes he has no idea just how incredible he really is. I couldn’t be more proud of him and more excited for the future, this is all just the beginning!”
Interestingly, at the ripe age of 24 Phay is more drawn to helping other artists’ shine than adding fire to his own flame.
“Getting a vibe for how Kuren works was a big thing,” says Phay. “Getting to know him that day or two before… now I know how to bring me to it but then also make sure that it’s got the things that he will love and sort of get behind as well.
“I think that really helped, getting to know him and understand maybe what he’d want to hear on one of his records,” he adds. “It kind of came pretty quickly and I had enough autonomy to write whatever I wanted but enough knowledge and background of him to know how something might work.”
At 24, Phay seems to have already hacked the music industry, by asking what he can do for others over what they can do for him.
“As unique and amazing as Sam’s voice is,” Kuren praises, “it really reminds me of Dave from Gang of Youths. I’ve always loved crossing vocalists from different music genres and seeing how they go over an electronic song.”
When Phay joined Kuren onstage at the Sydney Opera House late last month for VIVID’s First Nations party, the pair had never performed live together. Now, Kuren and Phay are permanently bound, their names strewn across our social feeds and Spotify playlists as one enterprise.
“[Kuren]’s got this really strong idea about how he wants his music to be remembered and thought about, and that’s really great,” says Phay.
“[…] It comes into that artist development thing and helping these young artists find their sound. I was talking with another writer friend of mine, Demi Louise – we do a lot of writing together – and she said, ‘If you can come out of a session and that artist has any more clarity on who they are or who they are going to be, or maybe want to be, that’s kind of your job’.
“Whether the song is a hit or whether it’s track nine on the album, or it’s never heard of again is kind of irrelevant,” he muses. “Your job is to help them find the right song and if that session actually gets them a step closer to it then we’ve done our job.”
Stream ‘Never Enough’ below:
CLUB YORKE TOUR DATES
Thursday May 31 Waywards Sydney
Saturday June 9 The Workers Club Melbourne
Thursday June 14 Karova Lounge Ballarat
Saturday June 23 The Workers Club Geelong
Saturday June 30 The TAH Hobart
The article was originally published on The Industry Observer