Truth are master collaborators. Their Shadow People project with Youngsta earlier this year and regular link-ups with Taso, Joker, D Double E, Killa P and Sgt Pokes are just some of many examples of their co-operative mindset.
But if there’s been one particularly prominent collaborator over the last four years it’s been fellow New Zealand songwriter and singer Phoebe Leyten AKA Lelijveld.
Ever since appearing on Truth’s 2014 album Hollow World, Lelvijevld’s distinctive smoky, jazzy and subtly dreamy vocals have compounded Truth’s mystic, foreboding signature with an additional layer of soulful depth and introspection. From early collaborations such as Evil Eye and Recollections to the most recent track Crushed, on the Mushrooms EP, Lelijveld has appeared on every significant Truth release creating a consistency that borders on unofficial band member territory. This fact is heightened by the fact she’s only ever collaborated with Truth and no other acts.
Yet with a beguiling style that sits somewhere between Portishead’s Beth Gibbons and Little Dragon’s Yukimi Negano, you can be sure she’s had collaboration requests from across the scene… And in time she’s likely to appear on many other productions. But for now she’s Truth’s not-so-secret weapon. And this is how she got here:
What have we interrupted right now?
I’ve just finished my studies for the day. I’m doing a degree in New Zealand Sign Language interpreting. It’s hard but very rewarding.
What made you study that?
My mum is Deaf so it’s something I’m really passionate about. I’ve grown up signing with her.
Wow, so she’s never heard you sing?
To a certain extent through her hearing aids she can pick up on some of the frequencies. But nothing like the detail we can hear. She’s seen me sing though and my artist name comes from her maiden name; it’s Dutch, and translates to ‘a field of lilies’. I’m grateful for the perspective she inspires as I’ve always tried to think of music as something that’s more than just auditory.
Cool. Let’s go back to your earliest work. There’s some cool solo stuff from five years ago on your Soundcloud. Flying High and Paradox. Is that where it all started?
Yeah it is. I did a music degree in Christchurch and I make my own beats. They’ve pretty basic but that’s what I sung over. I’ve always loved music and played the piano since I was very young. Mum encouraged me to do that actually. Singing was pretty late on. I got into that around 2013.
It sounds like you’ve been brought up on jazz and soul. Is your dad musical?
Yeah he plays guitar and sings. He’s a massive Bob Dylan fan. Growing up my musical inspiration came from him, but I trained for a year in jazz piano so you’re right. When I studied I wanted to explore how to I could translate music in a more visual form so my mum could enjoy it too. Like with videos and vibrations, or through an artistic expression like painting which might reflect the music. To create an immersive experience. That’s one of the reasons why I took on sign language to study because it would be great if I could sign my lyrics while I sing. The expression of music and emotion is accessible in a more visual form that way.
That’s awesome. So it kinda feels like you’re Truth’s unofficial lead singer. You’ve brought a distinctive vocal consistency to their albums Hollow World and Wilderness Of Mirrors…
I appreciate that! I’m honoured to work with them. They’re amazing. Definitely since being in collaboration with them it’s established my sound as well. They’ve inspired me to go into deeper, darker places and develop how I sound and what I write about. It’s interesting; when I work with them I really enjoy adapting to their sound and exploring that side of my voice and side of my imagination. When I write my own music I find I have a different sound that comes through but I’m super honoured to work with them and explore this vastness of vocal styles.
How much of a role did dubstep play in your musical world before working with them?
I hadn’t listened to that much prior to working with Truth! But I was I friends with a good crew of people who had turntables and they would buy Truth vinyl to mix along with a lot of other bass music. Massive love for the local Heathcote crew. Without them I wouldn’t have had that influence back then. We’d go to parties where there would always be a good sound system set up. So I was exposed to it. I certainly knew who Truth were and respected their music.
How did you link up?
A friend of mine Samuel linked me to a post they put up about Hollow World and asking for singers. He tagged me in and suggested I send them things. I thought ‘no way am I ready for that!’ But then later in the day I thought ‘why not?’ So I sent them a message with some details and a link to my Soundcloud but realised I’d accidentally sent them a link to Samsara – which is a beautiful cinematic film so I sent another message with the real link but told them to check the film out anyway! (Ya’ll should definitely check it too!). I didn’t expect a reply at all. But they got back later that day saying they’d checked my music, liked my voice and looked forward to working with me. I owe that connection to Samuel. I danced around the house all night after that. They’re awesome to work with and amazing guys.
Truth are very provocative with their titles and concepts. Is that a place you can relate to?
Yeah it’s something that resonates with me a lot. I want to make an honest connection. Examining concepts such as the shadow sides of ourselves for example, has undeniably been stirred since working with Truth. It may not be the easiest thing to connect with at first, but it comes from a raw place. Like delving deep into yourself and expressing something that isn’t easy to express. The truth isn’t always easy to swallow in life. But it can show us some serious perspective and inspiration. I absolutely love Truth and Youngsta’s post-apocalyptic story behind their ‘Shadow People’ album for that reason. Brainstorming lyrics to relate with their messages has definitely been eye opening. Sometimes I think, ‘woah I’m not sure where these creepy lyrics are coming from’!? But I really like to try and get comfortable with stuff like that too. Or learn to be vulnerable in that creative space and see what emerges, maybe in order to grasp a difference between your true self and whatever else possesses you “Inside Your Thoughts” per se. I also often gain influence from nightmares for those deep, dark and dangerous concepts of Truth.
Sure. The lyrics for Crushed on the Mushrooms EP, for example, reflects on the sleep paralysis feeling people may sometimes get in night terrors. Kinda scary but I like to think when I’m writing about concepts such as this, that it’s a way to confront darkness: allowing light to transform anything that haunts us. Simply by giving it awareness instead of being oblivious. “I’m crushed by something” is the idea of being paralyzed by this heavy entity that you can’t see, feeding on the human psyche, or life, if you will. Like the Dementors in Harry Potter haha -those spooky buggers. “Am I living to live, or am I dying to die?” plays with the idea that our life essence or power is lost if we’re not (sub)conscious of it. Like the Native American story of two wolves (good and evil) Which one do we feed?
It’s about how to harness our inner power I suppose, instead of giving it away unconsciously. I’ve definitely found keeping a writing journal, or even a dream journal can be really insightful for these reasons. Or simply cranking up the volume whenever a Truth track drops can be extremely insightful too.
I was going to ask if you write to the vibe of the beat or if you write any way and see what works when you have a session with Truth?
I do both. When they send me a beat, it definitely inspires me to take things in different directions. But, yeah, I write as much as possible anyway. It’s always fun doing a live studio session with Tristan in Christchurch, we will sit for hours and jam. Sometimes we nail a tune. Other times Tristan might take a vocal clip and flip it. Or we might even start a whole new track from scratch with fresh ideas. The creative process is always changing, depending on how much coffee we’ve drunk. Tristan’s pretty good at coming up with lyrics too.
You recently did the track with The Upbeats and Truth. Dream Again. Is it. Is it more challenging to work on heavier, denser tracks?
Yeah I think it can be more challenging, for sure. I love having as much space as possible to roll with. But the process is estranged from the actual production in that way. So I’ll record something but then they might take that recording and put it on a completely different track. So it’s often an exciting surprise for me when I hear the final product. Hats off to the masters of production here.
What happens next? Are you working with other artists?
I’ve had a few people ask to work with me and feedbacking they love the tunes which is very humbling. My studies leave little space for creativity right now, so I’ve put it on the back burner a bit for now. I’m going to delve more into writing and collaborating next year. But working with Truth keeps me inspired and keeps me engaged with the creative process. I’m still stoked they wanted to work with me in the first place. It’s been an incredible experience so far…