Coming fresh from the Nigerian Scene, Phaemous is a sentimental soul. He delves into the depths of past relationships combined with the clean production of DJames on their new project ‘Boundaries‘. This EP is an Afrobeat collaboration, that is sure to make your summer. Peter Wellman spoke to Phaemous from his home in Lagos, and DJames called in from London.
So today, I am talking to the amazing Phaemous and DJames about the EP ‘Boundaries‘. It is a wonderful collaboration between the R’n’B and Afrobeats scenes. My question is, how did you two meet?
Phaemous: So I was in Lagos, for like a week to meet some people, play people some music. My manager actually flew me in. She was like, ‘Yo, come to Lagos. Stuff is happening right now.’
So I came in the week before. I think two days later, she says, come to Bolivar. So I came through, and there were vibes and drinks. We were just chilling. She’s taking me around; meeting people. We were talking to someone, and then James was beside them, and they introduced us.
Both of us are with EMPIRE, and she said you guys (should) link up and do something. And that’s what happened. We just met there a couple of months down the line, after I moved back to Lagos. (I found out I was moving to Lagos the week before.) I didn’t know I was going to have to move here for my 9 to 5. Then I go back to Abuja the following week. (Later, I) find out on Wednesday that I have to come back to Lagos the next day. So I’m back (and) coming to stay one day.
Gosh, that’s a lot of coming and going.
Phaemous: So we just connected over social media. He sent me some amazing beats. I listened, recorded a bunch of trash, and kept sending (them to) him. I was like, ‘Yo, we have a bunch of songs, might as well do a tape.’
DJames, what’s your side of the story? What were you feeling at the time when you first heard him?
DJames: Yeah, I mean, that was only my second time out in Lagos. We were at an event called Obi’s House, which has pretty much taken over Nigeria. It’s the biggest event on a Monday. I was there for the same reason, just networking. I’ve been DJing for 17 years, but I’ve only been producing for the last two, two and a half years.
So I was just there, networking and trying to let people know I’m a producer now. We got introduced through Eze from EMPIRE, who’s based over here. Also, shout out to Phaemous. I was only sending him a few beats, and (I) said, ‘Pick one’. He jumped on like eight, and I couldn’t say no to all this, it’s great music. So we ended up with a whole project out of it. It’s been great man.
I mean, it’s a great EP. It’s just so mellow and so gloriously relaxing. So when making this, was it a lot of you chatting between Lagos and London?
DJames: I have a studio here, and I work with a lot of different musicians; session musicians who come and go. They work for big artists too. They’re touring with Burna Boy, CKay, and Rema right now. I’m pretty fortunate. We’re making the beats here, and then I just sent them to him over WhatsApp. He was just sending me ideas back and forth, and we fine-tuned a couple of bits here and there. He pretty much nailed everything the first time, to be honest. So it was a pretty straightforward process.
Amazing. So have you met up in person?
DJames: Yeah. Since then, I came out to Lagos for two months. I was there from the end of November until the end of January. We linked up, and we did all the final touches in person. Just, you know, tweaks; arrangements; to get it exactly how we wanted. Then we filmed some in-studio stuff. (We) got to connect properly because we had a whole project together, but barely spoke for more than 10 minutes in person prior to that. So it was good to link up properly finally and hang out.
So Phaemous, you’ve sent these beats over WhatsApp. What was your process? Do you have any writing rituals when making songs?
Phaemous: Not really. I could hear the beat right now. If I’m with my equipment; if I am where I could record, I’ll just load it up and start recording. I record myself, but half the time I record ideas on my phone to come back to later.
The thing is, when DJames sent me these beats, like from the jump; the very first one I heard was like, ‘whoa’, I want to record on that one. It was like, you have to record this right now; this is mental.
So I just kept recording. I sent it to him, and he gave me his thoughts on what we should do. Then, I’ll record more. Yo James. I’m only just realizing now, that what was happening that day was at Obi’s House. Someone told me Obi’s House moved. I didn’t realize I ever went to Obi’s House in Bolivar.
DJames: (laughs) Yeah. That’s what I was saying. That was Obi’s House, man.
Phaemous: Oh man. That’s crazy
Sorry. As I don’t know, what is Obi’s house?
DJames: So Obi is a friend of mine (DJ Obi). He’s one of the biggest DJs out in Lagos. He ran an event that he started a couple of years back. (It was) at a place called Bolivar, like an outdoor bar. The place is pretty big, but he just outgrew it, and it’s become this monster. If you look it up online, it’s crazy. They’ve got a little stage in between two gardens spreading across two venues because it’s so big. It has to be across two. But now, it has become the place where artists will go and showcase their music. So, you’re getting everybody from Davido to Fireboy (DML) and Burna. They’re all pulling up there and premiering stuff and just vibing. We were there at the old venue (during) the early days kind of thing.
I mean, that sounds incredibly cool.
DJames: He’s got something amazing there. There’s nothing like it.
That’s the real music coming out through grassroots, which we don’t get as much nowadays. Certainly not in London. That’s kind of special.
DJames: It’s something I am keen to build out here as well. I think now, as everyone’s obsessed with TikTok and everything. I don’t know what the reason is, but people don’t tend to break music as much as they used to. They tend to wait for someone else to break it and then jump on it. I’ve always been someone that likes to push new artists and new music. I want to have that place where someone like Phaemous could come to London and pull up, and airdrop me a song, and I would play it. You have to build that vibe and that crowd. You couldn’t just do that (on) any standard club night because everyone would turn and look at you like, ‘What on Earth is this?’.
They’ll be like, ‘This is new. I haven’t heard this on the radio’. You have to build a crowd like that. They have to be receptive to wanting new things.
DJames: That is difficult as a DJ. It takes a lot of guts to press play (on) a song and stand there while they’re looking at you. After you get through that first 30 seconds, people are like, ‘Okay, we’re going with this’. Then they vibe with it, and within two weeks, they’re asking you for it anyway. So, that’s part of your job.
Let us take a moment to talk about ‘Boundaries‘. You’ve got excellent songs on there, like ‘What is Love?‘ and ‘First Time‘. They both talk about young love and unrequited love. Why did you choose that to bring up?
Phaemous: Oh, because I’m young.
Well, next question then!
Phaemous: I mean, most of the songs I make are love songs, breakup songs, or talking about the chase between boy and girl. You know, trying to find themselves in that relationship setting. So, it’s really off the top though. It’s not like things have happened to me personally, but some of them are. That is pretty much it. ‘What is Love?‘ was me trying to make that song that was a mixture of Afrobeat and that fusion that hits.
It has a catchy hook. I wanted that feeling of, you know, having a hit song. Here in Nigeria, a hit song is defined as a song that has that thing that everybody relates to, and it just goes viral. Everybody’s singing it.
What are your inspirations when it comes to singing?
Phaemous: Michael Jackson.
Of course, the King.
Phaemous: Yeah, of course, the King. He’s the first person I remember listening to. When I close my eyes and go back in time, it was MJ. My parents had all these CDs. It wasn’t just listening to the music. I was watching the videos as well. I would sit there in front of the TV and download everything in my brain. So I started off dancing, and then I started writing their songs back in high school. I was also in the choir. Funny enough, I joined the church choir and then the school choir. Most of my inspiration behind the music is channeling what I feel into the music.
That’s why I like to get inspired off the beat. I want the beat or the instrumental to move me. That’s why I’m big on the producers in my life. I’ll hear some beats, but I could start on anything you play me and do a great job. But there are some beats that you’d hear, (and) the songs that come off from them are amazing. So first thing, the beat inspires me. Once I hear a sick riff that has a cord or a string, I think I’m going make something beautiful from that. Most of the time, (they come) from things that have happened to me. Maybe past experiences with people, or relationships, and movies. Movies inspire me a lot. You know, I could watch a movie, and one single line that happened in the movie will make me write a whole song related.
So DJames, with the beats you were making for this, were there any big inspirations behind it?
DJames: Well this project has a specific sound, but I make everything. I grew up on a really weird mixture of music. Everything from garage to R’n’B; Dancehall, and rock. I’ve lived all over the UK, so I’ve had a really weird mishmash of influences from electronic music throughout my DJ career. So this was just me in my R’n’B stage.
Just taking inspiration from the early 2000s R’n’B, mixed with African percussion. It wasn’t a thought-out thing. Like, I’m gonna sit and make an Afro-R’n’B crossover project. It’s just a mixture of sounds I like. Some of the musicians I work with are exclusively R’n’B musicians, in terms of the shows and stuff they do. They kind of bring that flavor naturally as well. It was a real natural fusion of two things I love. Fortunately, Phaemous is the perfect guy to jump on these because he can hear the Chris Brown influences in what he does.
Phaemous, if you were to partner with a film which would explain the vibe of this project, what do you think you would choose?
Phaemous: Let’s see. It has to be like a really old rom-com. I think, Runaway Bride.
Phaemous: Runaway Bride with Julia Roberts.
DJames: I don’t know what I was expecting, but it wasn’t that.
I was not expecting Richard Gere.
Phaemous: I told you, my parents had all these CDs. They had the CDs of Michael Jackson, and they had all these old movies. They had Runaway Bride. I watched that movie more than once, probably three times, if not more.
I kept trying to figure out why she ran away, but she wanted to be with him and the whole church scene was always mental to me. I think that’s the movie that made me fall in love with rom-coms.
Oh, what an answer. I might be here forever if we start talking about rom-coms. What about you DJames? What were you expecting after that? If you were to try and partner with a film to kind of explain the EP, what would you go with?
DJames: I honestly don’t know. I wasn’t involved in the writing side. I’ve always joked, (that) I feel like he (Phaemous) seems to have a lot more pain than his years. I do not know where all this inspiration comes from for someone so young to be having all these breakups and stuff. I’m more of a thriller-horror guy myself. So my rom-com knowledge is very limited, unfortunately. So I’m glad, Phaemous had to take that one.
Thriller producer, rom-com singer. That’s where we wanna be in.
Phaemous: I’m getting to learn new things about James right now.
DJames: Yeah. I’m not trying to watch love in films, man. I’m sorry.
Phaemous: He’s so dark.
DJames: I need a thriller any day.
What are your plans for later in the summer, both of you?
DJames: I’m just working on music all the time now. I don’t wanna dial on this. (I) just want to keep following it up with more. In terms of live shows, I have a bunch of stuff. It’s mostly outside London now. I’m also working on my first headline show here, which is going to be a live remix show with a band. It’s kind of an extension of what I do on TikTok and Instagram.
I just wanted to have something bigger than me just standing there playing songs on the decks, as good as a DJ, as I think I am. I don’t think it’s entertaining enough to be on a festival stage. It needs to be bigger. So that’s kind of what I’m working on now.
On the live side, again, just so I can have that platform (where) an artist could come through and just jump on, and we could jam. That’s kind of my pet project for the summer. To get that off the ground and focus on production. The next two months for us are just about championing this project and trying to get as many people as possible to hear it. We’re not here for a quick hit with this one. We’ve made music that’s not of the time. It’s just music we like. So we can still be pushing this in two years if we want. It’s not gonna sound dated. It’s just an easy listen.
All right. And what about you Phaemous? What are you doing for the rest of the summer?
Phaemous: I mean, just more (of) what James said. We keep promoting this because right now, we just dropped this slow burner, which shouldn’t take our time. I said this the other day to my friend; if we drop every song on the tape at different times of the year, they would all do amazing. So these are five amazing songs that we need to let the world hear.
You know DJames is big. DJames could probably be in Mexico tomorrow or in Sweden. So it’s great to have music with him. Now, he could just play the tape on any of his shows. Crazy. (He can) put the whole world on. But I’m trying to, (later in the year) do some more shows. Right now, I’m just promoting this. On Sunday, I have a club gig, (an EP listening party). Someone said I should come through. So we’re doing that. You know, stuff like that. Just get out there, go out and meet people. Tell them about ‘Boundaries‘.
So you’ve worked together. I mean, you’ve worked together once. Is there gonna be another collaboration? I know we wanna focus on this EP, but is there another collaboration in the future?
DJames: No never again.
DJames: Nah, for sure.
Phaemous: He knows. He knows.
DJames: I don’t wanna big him up too much, but there are a lot of good singers in the Afrobeat scene. But, the hardest thing to find is good writers, and Phaemous is a good writer. I’ve already sent in more beats. Literally, two weeks ago, I was like, here’s the next batch. I think it’ll be a longstanding collaboration. I hope so. Unless Phaemous blows up or you never know.
And if you need writing inspiration, just send a whole box of rom-coms.
Phaemous: Facts! Really sad ones too.
DJames: Our next project is gonna be a thriller project. It’s my turn.
I mean, if it’s ‘Thriller‘, Michael Jackson, then we’re covered. Just to round this out as we’re coming to the end of our time. It’s been so lovely to talk to both of you. It’s just immaculate energy. It’s a Sunday afternoon and you can put on one album to relax to, what are you putting on?
Phaemous: For me, ‘Royalty‘ by Chris Brown.
DJames: I was just trying to think, there are so many people. But, I’m trying to think who I want to shout out. But yeah, let’s go with ‘Boundaries‘. Well, one final plug.