After a steady stream of singles and EPs over the last decade, Phase’s debut album on Metalheadz is set to be released to the world later this week on April 22.
The immersive Shore To Shore features 13 tracks which explore a variety of club-ready moods within drum & bass and jungle, as well as some more downtempo cuts suited for home-listening. Featuring vocals from his long-time collaborator and girlfriend LaMeduza across three tracks, plus the unmistakable presence of Tyler Daley on Only One, the LP makes the statement that Bram Schrooyen is a producer who has versatility in the studio beyond what we’ve seen from him before now.
To understand more about how Shore To Shore came together, its concept and his experience working with the pioneering Goldie, we spoke with Phase who was also accompanied by LaMeduza from their home in Switzerland.
You last spoke to UKF in 2019 around the release of the Urban Angel EP. You mentioned that you’d been working on the album for nearly a year and that you were hoping to release it in 2020. Obviously 2020 was a weird year and now the album is out next month, was COVID the reason it was delayed?
Phase: It was one of the main reasons for sure. When we spoke in 2019, my album was nearly finished and we almost set a release date. Then the pandemic hit and we had to delay everything. I really didn’t want to release an album during COVID because there’s a lot of club music in there and I felt like it would all go under the radar. Also, I really wasn’t in the mindset of releasing and promoting an album whilst everyone was in lockdown. Those weren’t the only things though, you’ve probably heard that vinyl production waits have been incredibly long.
The timing seems unfortunate when you list it all out like that.
Phase: We waited for around nine months for test presses and the artwork also took a long time to finalise, which all had an impact on the vinyl. So all of the delays took up around a year and a half even though the album’s been ready since 2019.
Wow, you sometimes hear about some tracks from albums being old, but normally some are newer too.
Phase: Here everything was finished three years ago [laughs]. We couldn’t change the tracklist because the test presses had been approved, the vinyl was ready to be pressed and the tracklist had been finalised. But I’m still happy with how the album sounds and I guess that means it stood the test of time.
That is so important for your debut album.
Phase: Yeah, over the last year I’ve been making a lot of new music which I want to promote and play alongside the music on the album. Krizia [LaMeduza] has seen me play a lot of sets and asked why I keep playing these “old” tracks from my album because she lives with me and knows I’ve made new music after I finished it. I also sometimes wonder why I’m still playing it, but I often forget that not many people have heard it before. It’s a really weird scenario where I feel like the tracks are old but they’ve not been released yet.
Well I guess in a different scenario when an album has been finished for three years you’d have been playing the tunes in your sets for that whole time. But because there have been less gigs it really does still feel new for the crowds.
Phase: I did do some live streams from clubs so I could at least test tunes on a rig, but you don’t have a crowd. You can hear that a song sounds good but you don’t get that reaction. That demotivated me from making music during lockdown because I’m more prolific when I have these artificial deadlines. Like if I have a big gig where I want a new intro tune, I’ll just make one. Gigging is quite important for my productivity in the studio. So I didn’t mind waiting until clubs were open and I’m happy I didn’t just release the album during lockdown for the sake of it.
Well it sounds like your patience paid off! There’s quite a lot of variety within the album, it has the club-ready bangers, some uplifting liquid cuts and then a few downtempo tracks throughout. Did you always plan on having variety?
Phase: There’s actually a concept behind the album which is reflected in the artwork. You’re exploring this island that you don’t know, so every song is meant to reflect the emotions you feel whilst wandering around this unknown place. It begins with Shore To Shore, which is the start of the journey towards the island. It’s initially calm but then you hit a storm. Stress Out is about not knowing where you are … when you’re stressing out. Then Frameworks is about the feeling of realising you’re alone. I tried to explore this journey throughout the album and it was an interesting way to showcase my versatility as a producer.
Where did you get the idea for this concept from?
Phase: Nowhere [laughs], it just started with a few songs which I wrote and sent to Goldie. I think the first one I sent was Shore to Shore alongside Stress Out and Frameworks. Most of the tracklist is in the same order as the order I wrote the album. I felt like there was a natural progression because whenever I finished a track for the album, I wanted to do something different next and I knew what that was because of this fictional story I had in my head.
It sounds like the concept and production came together quite easily.
Phase: Every song that I finished for the album and sent to Goldie, he agreed with. It wasn’t like I sent 30 or 40 tunes to him which he picked a few from. It was more like me sending him a couple of tracks at a time and him understanding the idea and agreeing. There are of course more daring directions I wanted to take the album, like Thirds with LaMeduza and Riven, which I would never put on an EP but make sense in an album.
Was that part of the appeal of an album for you? To experiment with things that you wouldn’t do in an EP?
Phase: Yeah, I’d done three EP’s with Headz and Goldie is a really big fan of albums because it challenges producers in a different way. Finishing four tracks can be easy because you don’t need a theme, but making an album interesting to listen to for 13 tracks is a completely different beast to tackle. You need to be in a different mindset. I think this is why Goldie likes albums so much, because you get to see different sides to the producer.
It’s great that you’re working with someone who’s pushing you like this. Did you intentionally start writing the album?
Phase: Goldie told me that it was the next step. I started working on it even though I didn’t feel I was ready to make a body of work that was interesting enough. But once I switched into that mindset, it came so naturally to me and wrote itself. The whole album was written in seven to eight months which is around the same time it normally takes me to make an EP. That being said, I don’t see myself going into that same mindset for a second album any time soon. But I also said that about the first album so we’ll have to see.
Do you think you’d take your second album in the same direction when the time comes?
Phase: Rehashing the same formula wouldn’t be how I’d like to approach it. It would be easy and comfortable but I don’t think that’s what people are waiting for. I don’t have an idea for it yet so I’m focusing more on singles and EP’s for now before getting into the mindset. Plus, if I started writing it now then it probably wouldn’t be released until 2026 [laughs].
I think giving yourself a break from all of the admin and sticking to shorter releases for now would be a welcome break. The artwork for the album is incredible and it fits in with the concept perfectly, how did that come together?
Phase: The artist is Matteo Saccò, he’s a designer I met on Behance which is a portal to find artists. I had this idea of floating islands and when I found his work I knew instantly that was it. I did some mockups myself based on his work and asked if he was up for doing the cover for my album. He was super interested and excited to work on it, he came to me with a load of sketches and asked if it was the direction I wanted to go in. I told him the story behind the album and sent him the music which he used to paint the artwork by hand.
On Spotify you have canvases, which are moving loops of art, and I made animations of the artwork for each song which reflect how that particular track fits with the concept. It’s going to be interesting to see if people go through the canvases and understand what I intended with each tune.
It must be nice to be so involved in the whole process of the album. What does the title Shore To Shore mean?
Phase: There’s a deeper meaning to it from Greek mythology, the River Styx. When people die and go to the afterlife they have to pay the boatman, Charon, to cross to the other side of the river. In the video, we took that idea and filmed a shipwrecked boat to show the difference between the living and the dead. We used both black and white sand in the video to highlight the contrast between the two sections of the song, the light and the dark.
Shore To Shore implies that you’re on a journey, which is what I’m trying to achieve throughout the whole album. The first and last tracks both end with the same sound effect of a rope hitting the docks which closes the loop of the album.
Krizia, how involved were you in the album?
LaMeduza: He often plays me tracks that he’s working on and I’ll give him feedback.
Phase: She’s really good at picking up details and pinpointing things that you sometimes can’t or don’t want to hear as an artist.
How did you find working together on such an important body of work like the album?
Phase: My first ever release was with Krizia on Demand Records in 2013, so she’s the vocalist that I’m used to working with the most. It felt natural because we both know how the other works, there wasn’t any pressure. The nice thing with Shore To Shore is that it was the first time we’d recorded and produced together in the same studio, there was a much more natural flow.
LaMeduza: It was so nice to get direct feedback which meant we could work quickly and efficiently.
Normally you have to send files over online, wait for them to listen and send something back over.
Phase: You don’t even know if they’re working on the track whilst you’re waiting. The funny thing about the collaboration with Tyler Daley is that he was meant to be on a different song, but then I sent the instrumental of Only One as a reference. He liked that more and sent a sketch of his vocals over the track. When I heard it, I told him to forget about the other song and we went with Only One because it was perfect.
That sounds like another part of the album process which seems like it came together really naturally. Did you intentionally only work with vocalists and no other producers?
Phase: I didn’t want my debut album to be linked to any other producers. It should be a showcase of who you are, so if you get others on there you start to hear the qualities of different producers which makes it less cohesive. I like working with vocalists, but wanted the production just to be me. I didn’t want to overcrowd the album with a lot of different voices either, so I just stuck to Krizia on three songs and Tyler on one. It felt right. All of the previous EP’s I’ve done for Metalheadz have always had at least one other producer, so I wanted the album to showcase just me. The tracklist is very clean!
How did you end up working with Tyler Daley then?
Phase: It was through Goldie. I always wanted to work with him and Goldie is the person to go to if you want to collaborate with anybody. They worked together on The Journey Man so they’re quite close. Tyler messaged me saying that G spoke to him about my music and that he wanted to do something together, so it was all pretty easy thanks to Goldie.
It sounds like he’s the one of the best people to go to if you’re looking for a connection! I saw that LTJ Bukem closed his set at the last Headz night with Only One. How was it to see that tune being played on a rig by Bukem?
Phase: One of the first artists I really looked up to was LTJ Bukem, the first label merch I ever bought was a Good Looking t-shirt. The day after the event, Goldie called me and said that Bukem asked him if he was allowed to play the Tyler Daley song and that he really wanted to close with it. Hearing about those words from Bukem to Goldie was incredible. I wasn’t there so I only heard about the moment. But then a week later, someone sent me a video and it was nice to actually see it.
Now you have the evidence!
Phase: Yeah! Goldie always tells these crazy stories, and sometimes you don’t know if that’s how it actually happened. Then I saw the footage and it was crazy. It’s easy to have the fear of missing out sometimes, especially when there are these massive Headz lineups in the UK and you can’t be there.
LaMeduza: There’s so much going on there…
Phase: It’s sometimes hard to not be in the UK as a drum and bass producer. All of the crazy stuff happens there.
Even during the week! Is there much going on in Switzerland?
Phase: We’re happy to have one gig here in Geneva every year [laughs]. On the German side, you have QZB and Ground doing a really good job in Basel with their event, RANDOM. FD just started his own event with Carlos from Demand Records in Zurich. But here on the French side there isn’t much happening. It’s still a good place to be because it’s so central in Europe so most countries are pretty close.
I guess you’ve also got scenery that other places couldn’t compete with. I’m sure if we compared what’s outside of our windows right now then you wouldn’t be so jealous [laughs].
Phase: I realised when I was living in Antwerp, before I moved to Switzerland, that I’m not really a city person. Just going outside and hearing birds tweet … it wasn’t nice when that became a rare thing. I’m happy here for sure.
How’s it been working with Headz for the album?
Phase: Goldie is the best mentor you could imagine. He’s always there for you. He’ll call you in the middle of the night and doesn’t really care about timezones.
LaMeduza: I do… [laughs]. It can be like three or four o’clock in the morning!
Phase: He doesn’t sleep so it can be any hour of the day. But when he does call, you drop everything because he always has something to say which ends up motivating you. If you send him a new song and don’t hear anything for a few days, when he calls you’ll know the real verdict. He makes you think about music in a new way. He pushed me to become a different kind of producer when I went into album mode by getting me out of my comfort zone to do something different.
He recently said that he’s waiting for my next ambient album and that made me think if I should actually do an ambient album [laughs]. Tom and Ant have also been amazing to work with, they’re a good team for sure.
What tunes got that infamous Goldie phone call?
Phase: Shore To Shore was one, I’ve got so many videos of him around the world where he’s filming himself screaming on stage which was really cool. He’s a really big fan of Thirds as well because that reminded him of 4hero. Then there’s Stress Out and Only One too, so basically all of the singles. I also made a song for my next EP on Metalheadz which is impossible for him to pronounce on purpose, so everytime he says it to people he can’t say it properly and it’s pretty funny.
How do you say it?
I’m not even going to bother to try and repeat that … Now you’re close to the release date, what’s been keeping you busy?
Phase: Over the last month and a half I started a new job, which has been really busy. So that on top of the album promo has put me off making new music because I want to see how the album is received. I feel like it’s my resting period until it’s released, then I’ll start again. But I also have a lot of music forthcoming after the album so I don’t have to push to get tracks out now.
Are these EPs coming out on Headz too?
Phase: The first EP after the album is on Critical which is a collaborative project with a producer I’m not going to reveal yet. The music really fits Critical more than Metalheadz and I’m really excited for it to be released. Other than that it’s mainly Metalheadz music. The schedule is pretty packed until mid-2023 so it’s good to have time now to reflect on what’s gone well and what I want to do next.
Any final mentions?
Phase: To everyone who’s collaborated on the album, Krizia and Tyler. Also Goldie, Ant and Tom. A special shoutout to Matteo too for doing all of the art which took the album as a concept and package to a whole new level.