Pheno: A thick coating of Krautrock, a dash of West Africa and a sense of transcendence

TRANSCENDING: Pheno brings her Afrobeat, indie rock and jazz laced pop to the Candelo Village Festival this weekend. Picture: David Burke
TRANSCENDING: Pheno brings her Afrobeat, indie rock and jazz laced pop to the Candelo Village Festival this weekend. Picture: David Burke

Armed with a new single, and an ambiguous new persona evoking what she describes as a sense of mystery, guitarist Pheno (pronounced fee-no) AKA Jess Green is fusing her own sound.

Inspired by 70s Krautrock and the music of West Africa, her music as a hybrid child of indie pop and a style she describes as Afro-Sci.

“I’m really interested in merging futuristic sounds with a tribal element, and I’m particularly interested in what the Germans were doing, ” the 37-year-old said of the music behind her new catchy, fun induced identity.

“African music is about transcendence, and I’m combining two worlds that are interesting to me.” 

Pheno recalls being introduced to experimental German rock group Can by guitarist Arne Hanna, who sparked in her a new found love for artists such as David Byrne and Kraftwerk

“He opened my ears to the long extended jamming and rhythmical loops,” she said.

Pheno performing at TEDxCanberra in 2016.

Three months spent teaching English in Togo and time spent in Ghana and Botswana exposed her to not just new cultures but a new lens to gaze at life through. 

“It left me with a feeling I can’t put into words,” she said.

“One thing I came away with was how ingrained music is, there’s no divide between listener and musician.

“It is part of the human condition that we are around music, and this is why I love things like the Candelo Village Festival, because of the sense of community.”

Pheno knows the southern coastline well, and has fond memories of being invited by Red Hot Chilli Peppers bass player Flea for a cup of tea at his Congo home as a 16-year-old.

“I remember he put soy milk in my tea and I just drank it because I couldn’t tell him I didn’t like it,” she said with a laugh.

“He’s a very down to earth.”

Her musical journey down the rule-free path of jazz began as a small child, while singing around a piano with her grandmother.

After graduating with first class honours from the Canberra School of Music, she quickly turned her academic prowess into a career in the Sydney jazz scene as both a musician and a composer.

Her new identity however, seeks out something a little more experimental.

“I like music to be as danceable as possible, and give the audience a sense of transcendence,” she said.

As she delves into the world of pop, she feels there is space for different time signatures, beyond the 4/4 realm, in the world of mainstream music in Australia.

“It’s about introducing it and seeing that there’s more room for different measures,” she said.

“It really depends on what the mass culture is exposed to.” 

Her new single Dragon Year is a homage to her four-year-old daughter Frankie.

“It is poppy, short and sharp, with a blazing guitar solo in the middle of it,” she said.

“It talks about superstition and the way we twist things in our mind to make them what we want them to be, whether it is luck, or signs that things are alright.”

It also tackles first-time motherhood, and the social pressures placed on mothers by society.

“Being a mother has changed me artistically, but having much less time you have to be efficient when you work which gives you more focus through necessity,” she said.

“When I was writing these songs I had the pressures of feeling too old, so it’s about exploring prejudices and why we take them on.

“You can create your own world and avoid the social pressures.

“There is nothing more rock’n’roll than pushing your baby out of your pelvis.”

  • Pheno plays the Candelo Village Festival on Saturday, April 22 and will host a free workshop for children aged 8 to 12-years-old on Sunday, April 23.