Meet the Australian singer taking on Beyoncé and Adele
Like everyone else, Thandi Phoenix has learnt one important lesson in 2020: plans can prove fickle. A regular fixture on the Australian electronic music scene since 2013, Phoenix had paid her dues in clubs and on the festival circuit, building her fan base and playing to increasingly large crowds.
She was all set for big things: more gigs in autumn, then a trip overseas to work on writing songs for the follow-up to the self-titled EP she released last year. But by mid-March, as the coronavirus pandemic clamped down on the country and the live music industry shut down overnight, Phoenix found herself spending any time she could get out of her home at hardware stores as opposed to nightclubs.
"I've been sanding and painting and doing up the bedroom," Phoenix tells Stellar. "But I've also been doing home workouts, which involve a lot of dancing. I've missed dancing and going out so much, I just have dance parties at home, jumping around to gems like Chic, as well as the new Dua Lipa album. Finding moments of joy has been important."
If having to stay put - or at least dance in place for the foreseeable future - threw her for a loop, it also gave Phoenix a new perspective. "It's not that you're validated by achieving things, but it is good to tick off your goals," she says. "I had to keep reminding myself how fortunate I am to have a roof over my head and food on the table and good health. I was really happy with how my career had been going; I had so much more I was ready to do, but moments of reflection are important and I've been able to do that in the comfort of my own home. You can't complain."
Beyond her renovations, Phoenix has managed to be musically creative during lockdown. She's turned to Zoom to write songs remotely, taken part in the Isol-Aid Instagram music festival, and collaborated on 'Freefall', a song with Canadian electronic artist Pat Lok.
"There's so many facets of this job. I adore performing, but there's also songwriting and this period of time has given me a chance to hone in on that more. I'm putting the final touches on my next single. It's been a bit harder to get things done, but I have a lot of stuff I'm sitting on and some exciting collaborations with other artists. There is new music on the way."
Slowing down after seven years of hustle also gave the 26-year-old singer time to recalibrate, particularly since her last two major shows before shutdown were also two of the biggest of her career. As a teen, Phoenix and her mother would attend WOMADelaide, the popular South Australian festival; this time, she was on stage as a performer. "It's a festival where the people who go there have a real love of music, they're not there to be seen or get a photo for Instagram," says Phoenix, the Sydney-born daughter of an Australian mum and a South African father. "There's a level of respect from the audience. People are going off, but they're also listening to every word you sing."
Phoenix also joined Melbourne-based rapper Illy to provide vocals on his hit single 'Catch 22' in front of 75,000 punters at the Fire Fight Australia bushfire charity concert in February. "It was mind-blowing," she says. "I don't think I've ever seen that many people in one space. It was surreal to step on stage and see a sea of bodies."
She'd gotten a teaser at that venue months earlier when she joined US band OneRepublic to play the NRL Grand Final and sing 'Halo', the chart-topper its frontman Ryan Tedder had penned for a certain global superstar. "I mean, I sang a Beyoncé song with the guy who wrote it," she marvels. Supporting the band in Melbourne a few days later, she was invited onstage at Tedder's request to sing that song as well as 'Rumour Has It', the smash-hit he wrote with Adele. "Hang on, let me check my diary…" she jokes. "Yep, I'm free! That was a no-brainer."
While the pandemic may have pressed pause - for now - on Phoenix's steady rise, reflecting on those moments keeps her hopeful. "You wouldn't necessarily expect to see me with OneRepublic, but that's the beauty of music," she tells Stellar. "There are no rules and unexpected things turn out amazingly." And perhaps 2020 still can, too.
Originally published as Meet the Australian singer taking on Beyoncé and Adele