Phil Fresh arrives with debut EP ‘L.A.T.E.’ and “a sound that’s way more refined and confident”

The Sydney-based singer and rapper details mid-20s romantic malaise on his ambitious debut EP, out today

Today (August 27), Phil Fresh has shared the EP ‘L.A.T.E.’

Though billed as his debut EP, it is not his first release – it follows on from his 2017 debut album, ‘Excursions Of Love’, recorded when the singer and rapper was still in his early 20s. Following a string of singles and collaborations in the ensuing years, the Sydney-based artist has recalibrated his sound and found a new sweet spot in the midst of modern hip-hop and future-soul R&B.

In the lead-up to the EP’s release, Fresh – real name Phillipe Lemoto – spoke candidly to NME about schools of songwriting, his bond with rapper Kwame and the art of a great backronym.

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Were the periods in ‘L.A.T.E.’ an aesthetic decision, or did you have a plan for it to stand for something the whole time?

“It was always going to be called ‘Late’. I’m not too sure why, but at some point I was like, ‘oh, it’d be really cool if we could make it an acronym’. I remember mentioning it to a couple friends, but I was so stumped as to what it would become. I knew it had to have something to do with love and timing. That was my L and T, so I was thinking about the A and the E – just sitting there like, ‘Love, something, Timing, something’. [laughs]

“Not long after that I was talking to Rewiti [Brown], who’s done all of my videos. He just drops this on me out of nowhere – ‘How about ‘Love Ain’t That Easy’?’ It was like, woah. ‘Man, you’re right! It’s not!’ [laughs] That was a lightbulb moment right there.”

What would you say are the key things that you wanted to focus on with the ‘L.A.T.E.’ EP that either weren’t present on ‘Excursions Of Love’ or were, but in an undeveloped sense?

“‘Excursions’ was my very first project. I was maybe 21 or 22 when it came out, and looking back on it I definitely think it was pretty bold to just put out an album like that. [laughs] I didn’t really know what I was capable of yet, or how I wanted to do things. With this EP, all I wanted to do was come in a bit more confident. Having experienced all these different things, and having written and put out so much more music, I was really able to learn.

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“One of the big things, for me, was the ability to find my voice. Even after ‘Excursions of Love’ dropped, I still didn’t like the sound of my own voice. I just didn’t. I could tell that it wasn’t the finished product that I wanted to put out, once I did some reflecting on it. This time around, I wanted to make sure I was coming back with a sound that was way more refined, and way more confident. Comparing those two releases, I think I was able to achieve that.”

Was there more of a sense of intent with how the guests for ‘L.A.T.E.’ were curated? Were you hearing your demos back and thinking who would be a good fit for them?

“That was definitely part of it. I had this core group of people that I was working with on the EP, going over everything. The team was me, Nikos [Smallman], Kwame and Xiro [AKA Matt Fioravanti]. Everybody would meet up maybe once a week at the studio, and we would flesh out the ideas together. I would make the beat on my laptop, usually on my bed, then go to the studio and play it for the guys. We’d bounce back and forth, and once we’d gotten it past that demo phase we’d have more ideas of who would sound good where.

“A good example of that on the EP is a song like ‘On The Low’. Originally, I recorded two rap verses on that song, and that was it. Then, when we reflected on it, the idea came about that maybe this would be really nice with a female vocalist. For a song like this, I thought it would be nice to have that female perspective. When we landed on Rissa, everything clicked.

“In that same vein, when we were working on ‘Honey’, it felt like it needed this Ty Dolla $ign R&B-style vocal. I remember I was messaging BOY SODA at the time – we hadn’t really met at that stage, but we were sending DMs back and forth. It made so much sense to get him on this record.

“Credit to both those two – we sent them the songs, and they were both 100 per cent in. When they came into record, they nailed it. I didn’t have to do too much directing or dictating or nothing. They both knew exactly how they wanted to attack it, and they killed it.”

You mentioned Kwame, who’s been a huge part of your world the last couple of years – you featured on his track ‘TOMMY’S IN TROUBLE’, he features on ‘IG Luv’ on this EP. What would you say defines the bond between the two of you? What makes you work so well together?

“We know what we’re both capable of, for one. It’s not even an issue – if he sends me a song, I’ll give him my honest opinion, whether I like it or not. The same thing goes for him. We both know our potential. I think having that like relationship that’s built on that trust of one another is what does it. I mean, that’s my brother. That’s the homie right there. We get along, we chat about whatever. When it comes to music, though, it’s straight up when we tell one another something like, ‘Nah, you can do better. I know you can do better.’ We continue to work together because it just makes sense.”

A lot of the songs on ‘L.A.T.E.’ are directly personal, especially when you’re delving into the ins and outs of your love life. Was that a difficult process, reaching that point of vulnerability in your writing?

“That kind of goes back to what I was saying before about being more confident with this EP. Obviously, I put myself in a vulnerable position here. I was way more honest with this record when compared to ‘Expressions of Love’. Not that it was impersonal on purpose, but I put that album out under the guise of being a conceptual album. It’s a story with these characters.

“This time, this is the story where it’s what I was dealing with at the time. These are real stories, and this is the only way that I could process those feelings and emotions. Through writing it out, making the songs and putting myself out there. That’s how it had to be.”

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