Interviews

P.H.F. on honouring his late friend Reuben with new record, ‘Purest Hell’

PHF

P.H.F. AKA Joe Locke has already made waves on an international stage, and now he’s back with his most intimate album yet, Purest Hell.

Tāmaki Makaurau/Aukland-based musician P.H.F. (Perfect Hair Forever) has already collaborated with some of the world’s biggest artists, including Clairo, Rew, and ARTHUR, making music that he hopes will “make you feel a little better.”

We chatted to Joe about his new record and tribute to his late friend Rueben Winter, Purest Hell, which he recorded pretty much exclusively in, or on his bed.

PHF artist

HAPPY: You’ve got such a unique style and have tapped into many genres over your career. Which bands have inspired your sound?

P.H.F: Growing up I listened to a lot of Blink 182, Deftones, Linkin Park, stuff like that. Then when I got older I started listening to lots of noise and grindcore type shit but also a lot of old pop music from the ‘50s and ‘60s, so I don’t really know if that adds up to whatever it is that I make now.

I’ve always really liked pop music, but definitely more so through a more experimental lens. I really like the dichotomy of having a really fucked up song but with a really catchy hook or something, but I think I have definitely chilled out now than when I first started.

HAPPY: You make experimental music. How does experimenting with different sounds play into the music you create?

P.H.F: I’m not really using much guitar anymore, so lately I’ve been using Alchemy on Logic and it’s really fun. I like being able to make music with just my laptop ‘cause of the convenience. Also, I’m usually awake at weird hours so the idea of being able to make something without being loud is real nice.

I feel like it’s less experimenting with sounds and more genres – also more just mashing different styles together is fun, otherwise I get bored. I think my attention span is non-existent so I get bored of what I’m doing pretty quickly.

HAPPY: This new album, Purest Hell, is described as a love letter to your friend, collaborator and renowned musician, Reuben Winter. How did you honour Reuben on this album through songs and sounds?

P.H.F: Well lyrically it’s very much about the grief process, but production-wise I was just using a lot of the sounds he introduced to me. Specifically breakbeats – he was the first person I ever heard use that combination. There are also songs like Plague Dogs which was me trying to make a Totems style song.

He was already just super influential to my music since we became friends and made a lot of music together, so long before this album his fingerprints were all over it. I always really respected how he was never genre-specific, in terms of having so many different projects and bands that were all different styles. After he died we counted all the projects/bands he had been part of and we literally lost count.

HAPPY: You have a background as a bedroom producer, what was the recording process like for this album?

P.H.F: It was exactly the same as all my other albums actually – the only two I haven’t just made by myself were New Metal and 9MM – which Reuben actually engineered and we co-produced together. I basically just finished the songs to a certain point then sent them to my friends – REW, 99jakes, forcefeeded and fantasyluv. Then let them record their vocal parts and send me the stems to mix.

Most of this album was recorded in bed honestly, with pretty much everything being samples or electronic apart from the guitar. Even the guitar was recorded just directly into my interface, then used amp and pedal sims, and vocals too. I think I made this entire thing in or on my bed, now that I think about it.

HAPPY: You don’t just produce music, you also produced the videos for Sabbath Shirt, Plague Dogs, and Skincare yourself. Can you walk us through the creative process behind that?

P.H.F: For the videos for Sabbath Shirt and Plague Dogs, I had found all this great free stock footage online and really liked the idea of using something like that in a different context. Those were kind of like a digital collage, and worked really well, especially Plague Dogs. I’m also a huge fan of music videos being completely devoid of plot, just being entirely visual. Skincare is the most important song to me on the album, and I wanted to make something in the same vein but really personal at the same time.

Most of the locations I shot were all something special or important to Reuben, with some being locations I had shot him at for a video we had made years earlier for Soft. Apart from the footage I shot of Grace (Reubens partner) I shot the entire thing with my friend Charlie. I didn’t really have any plan going into it and it just came together during the edit – I really liked the warp the wide-angle lens gave when you would rotate the camera on the tripod, so I just kept doing that at all these locations, trying to keep the speed the same as I was turning it – then just cut it together.

HAPPY: There’s a bit of a motorsports theme across your entire campaign. What is the significance behind that?

P.H.F: I hadn’t really realised that until now, but I don’t really know why that is. I guess I have kind of been super into drifting and car racing for the last few years, I especially love drone footage of that stuff, so I guess I just really leant into that aesthetic. We also shot some of the Skincare video out in Woodhill where they do a lot of bike racing.

HAPPY: Skincare takes on a bit of a different sound compared to your previous releases. What was the inspiration behind that track?

P.H.F.: The production on that song was heavily influenced by lots of UK electronic music, like garage. With that song being the main tribute to Reuben. I wanted to use a lot of the inspo from music he had introduced me to – He was a huge fan of Burial, so I think that was probably the main artist I was going for. That song is probably the most sparse of all the tracks, and in my opinion the most pretty – I wanted it to sound like something I had never made before.

HAPPY: Your label, Danger Collective Records are based in L.A. Do you have any plans to spend time in the US?

P.H.F: Yeah actually I’m here right now! I’m doing a tour with Dream, Ivory to promote the new album, and doing some side shows with some friends in a few other places, but mostly playing the west coast.

Purest Hell is currently streaming on all streaming platforms. Get a taste for the album below.

Photos provided

Interview by Lochie Schuster