Phrase begins new chapter
The Aussie rapper has been in a dark place recently but with his new album’s release the artist looks set to put his demons behind him, writes Nui Te Koha
CLOCKWORK, rapper Phrase’s 2009 album, almost killed him – twice.
First, it had a hellish gestation. Phrase made the album in 2007 but it was put on hold indefinitely.
Depressed and desperate, Phrase ( pictured) asked Triple J music director Richard Kingsmill for support and got it.
Kingsmill green-lit airplay for songs Clockwork, Skylight and Spaceship, forcing Phrase’s record company to release the album.
But two years of touring to support the album took its toll.
‘‘ I partied too much and was outta control,’’ Phrase, born Harley Webster, says.
‘‘ The shows went from packed and amazing to less people and sh----y.
‘‘ I was getting wasted because I had nothing else to do.’’
And other thoughts began haunting Phrase.
‘‘ I hadn’t written a new record. There was nothing,’’ he says.
‘‘ This was after promising myself I wouldn’t leave myself without new music. I’d promised myself I’d be prepared. Once again, I didn’t have s---.’’
The professional lows were countered by personal highs. Phrase married singer Jade Macrae late last year.
‘‘ It was emotional and intense,’’ Phrase says.
‘‘ It was a milestone for me in terms of moving on, like starting a new chapter.
‘‘ I feel like I’ve started to become more responsible not in the sense of paying my bills . . . but as a young man.
‘‘ I have people who rely on me my wife, for one, and my family and friends.
‘‘ I am trying my best to be a good person instead of the idiot thinking about myself only.’’
Soon after the wedding, Phrase travelled alone to Bali to write his new album, Babylon.
It is a revelation, not only for its indie rock swagger, but Phrase’s disclosures about a life of addiction. He is now seeing a psychologist to deal with those issues.
‘‘ He has helped me join the dots on a few things. I had a drug addiction and that addictive cycle has become part of my personality,’’ Phrase says.
After touring Clockwork, Phrase felt trapped in a funk.
‘‘ I couldn’t get out of that headspace. Even when I was happy there was this underlying feeling of unhappiness,’’ he says.
‘‘ So, for the first time ever, I’m seeing somebody to work through all that . . .
‘‘ I was embarrassed. I kept thinking: ‘ I’m not a psychopath. I’m all right’.
‘‘ Now, I’m aware of my own behaviour. I’ll call myself on that.’’
He is also learning to detach from the Phrase persona.
Harley Webster recently signed a songwriting deal with EMI to work outside the rap realm.
Babylon is the perfect start, but not surprising.
Spaceship, a jagged little thrill from Clockwork, got huge reactions at the live shows, so Phrase knew it was a good jumpoff point for the next album.
He soaked up garage rock influences and started rapping over Kinks songs in the car. But is it hip-hop? ‘‘ I don’t know what it is,’’ Phrase shrugs. ‘‘ I wouldn’t call it hip-hop. There is rap on it. But I feel like, more than ever before, they’re actually songs.’’