By Marta Troicka

Phia is the joyful music project of Sophia Exiner. She’s recently returned home to Melbourne from a multi-year stint in Berlin, where she spent time writing as well as honing her live performance. And now Phia has released a new single titled “Heartstrings” ahead of an album “The Ocean of Everything” due out later this winter.

Phia’s newest track “Heartstrings” is delightful: it features playful duets between voice and instrument, and a catchy chorus that’s easy to learn and hard to stop humming.

Sophia studied jazz at VCA – though on first listen, the genre of improvisation seems to have little to do with her indie-pop melodies. But it’s like how learning a new language teaches you to utilise your native one in a new and deliberate way.

“To improvise you have to understand what you’re doing,” Sophia explains.

“You also work on your ear, your aural training. So studying jazz has really influenced my approach to writing music, and to arranging – I’ve got the tools to talk about it and deconstruct it and put it back together again. I don’t think you can hear any jazz music in my music, but there’s a real concern with the sound and the quality of the sound.”


Phia 2

The sound is light-hearted yet percussive, and layered in clean harmonies. And of course, there’s that dreamy kalimba.

The kalimba is a handheld African instrument, consisting of metal keys attached to a wooden block – it’s what gives Phia’s music an ethereal-pop feel.

The sound can be mistaken for a xylophone, but its tones fade away more quickly: it sounds clearer and more pure. Plus it’s portable – which may be convenient when you have to haul gear from gig to gig.

But it’s also easier to lose. Sophia had bought a backup kalimba, however, it turns out the new one wasn’t quite the same.

“[It] just didn’t sound anything the same as the first, even though it’s from the same people. I think the wood’s different. That’s made me much more anxious about making sure I never lose or damage the original one,” Sophia says.


Her kalimba has traveled a long way: feeling restless in Melbourne five years ago, Sophia left to make music in Berlin.

Berlin isn’t known for its indie sensibilities —you may be acquainted with its electronic vibe— but it offers musicians a deluge of venues and there’s a “DIY-folk scene” as Sophia calls it, “with lots of people putting on tiny tiny shows”.

Playing at small bars every week, she became comfortable taking her voice, the kalimba, and a looping pedal on stage.

Often, you have to leave home to really appreciate it. After four and a half years in Europe it was time to come home, where a thriving music community awaits to hear her new tunes. She admits, “The quality of music here is so high, and I really took that for granted when I left”.

Phia will be celebrating the release of her single “Heartstrings” at the Gasometer on 3 July, 2016.

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