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Robyn Phillips discusses David Lynch, gender equality and her band, Vallens

Louise Burns

After being an active member of the Toronto music scene for the past few years, guitarist and singer-songwriter Robyn Phillips has finally branched out on her own with Vallens, which releases its debut full length Consent this week.

Removed from any one genre, the album is a confident experiment in shoegaze pop noir. Recorded by both Josh Korody (Beliefs, Nailbiter) and Jeff Berner (Psychic TV), Consent is layered in a cloudy haze of dusky guitars over mysterious melodies, dreamy synthesizers seemingly taken from the lost tapes of a David Lynch film score, and shadowy, post punk grooves.

Phillips fearlessly takes on heady subject matter through her lyrics, confronting everything from sexual assault, eating disorders, addiction, and the experience of being a woman without sugar coating it for easy consumption.

We caught up with Phillips to explore the inspiration behind Consent, the idea of persona and what happened to gender equality in the music industry- if it was ever really there at all.

You've been an active player in the Toronto music scene for many moons now. What sparked the inspiration to finally release a solo record?

When I started playing around toronto when I was 19, I was just too shy to front my own band and show people my own songs. It was always my goal to eventually start a project like Vallens [which features Colin J Morgan, Marta Cikojevic and Devon Henderson]. I just needed to build confidence and territory.

Your guitar playing is top notch, and a huge part of Vallens' sound. What's your set up, and who are your guitar heroes?

[My] set up is forever changing, but currently I am using my JC 90 amp religiously. I try not to play a show without it because I find it so essential to the sound I'm into at the moment. I am ever-changing my pedals but currently I'm using, in order after TC Nano Turner, Cusack Tube Screamer (with Fuzz mod), DBA Fuzzwar, Dual Rat, Space Echo, Line 6 Space Chorus, Phase 90, Joyo Tremolo, EHX Freeze, and TC Nano Ditto Looper! Believe it or not I actually use them all at some point through an entire set, ha!

Given that your songs not only have a strong lyrical backbone, but also intricate sonic arrangements, what comes first for you, lyrics or music?

I would say I more so go through phases where the lyrics come first or where the music comes first. It depends on what I am being inspired by at the time.

You recently contributed to an article in Vice's Noisey on the lack of gender equality in Canadian Music, specifically the media's apparent obsession with adding on the "girl band" tag to female artists. How do you think this problem can be fixed? What do you think needs to be done to bring more females to the front and centre?

It's a mentality that the industry has to change. Something I think is very important is language, and dropping gender from all genres, bios, etc. for female identifying folks' art projects and bands. I think in order for more females to come front and centre, wherever they want to be in this industry, women need to continue to not take any shit in any way that makes them feel unequal. Some misogynists have critiqued myself and most likely others that feminism has become trendy. I find this very frusterating. I don't believe its possible for equality to be a "trend". For it to be labelled a trend or used as "clickbait" is actually a huge problem that belittles us. I hope that this conversation keeps going and changing the trajectory.

Can you talk a bit about the idea of the persona in music? Yours being a Lynchian inspired character?

The name came from the character in my favourite movie, [Dorothy Vallens in] Blue Velvet. I liked her mystery, darkness, and flicker of fear. That feeling never really went away when I sat down to write stuff. Initially it was much more clear to [me] that I was taking on a persona. Especially in the early writing stages, it gave me the confidence to be more outspoken.

Should you find yourself locked in The Black Lodge for life, what record would you play into eternity?

Oh wow, my first reaction is Nina Simone Sings the Blues, and a Roy Orbison compilation, and the song "Hurt" by Timi Yuro.

Consent is out how on Hand Drawn Dracula.