Named after the bird, Phainopepla from Oakland features swirling smooth vocals that buoyantly flutter into your ears and kindle a sort of laid-back sunniness. The project is a solo effort from Jake Morris, a Tuscon-native now residing in Northern California. His debut album from 2018, How to Remove a Bee Stinger, contains a sublime blend of pop and jazz, mixed with some electronic elements that give the album an advantageous added dimension that really defines a sound for the artist, while still allowing for plenty of sonic flexibility.
Jake of Phainopepla answered a few questions about recording his latest album, samples used, and new music coming soon.
So, (embarrassingly) I didn’t know that a Phainopepla was a species of bird until I googled it. Why did you decide to name your project that?
Don’t be embarrassed, literally no one knows that it’s the name of a bird! I’ve probably had 2 or 3 people tell me they like the name because of the bird, although most people just think it’s a made up word and tell me it’s too hard to pronounce. It’s phonetic but I guess the “ph” throws people off.
In high school, I took this environmental class where we each had to study a different local bird. During class, we would walk around the desert and try to find our birds and record their actions. My bird was the phainopepla, and I always thought it was a really pretty name. And I’m sure as you saw in your google search, the phainopepla is this black bird with red eyes and feathers like a mohawk on top of it’s head – it’s sorta metal. I felt like the darkness of its appearance juxtaposed with name was fitting for the music I was trying to make. Another fun fact: The phainopepla migrates from the Sonoran Desert to California, which is basically what I did! I thought that was cute coincidence.
Were/are you a part of any other musical projects?
I played bass in a few rock bands growing up, and in high school I got really into jazz and gigged around town a bunch.
When I moved up to Oakland, I started playing music with the guys in Pistachio, this awesome local dance funk fusion band. I met them through the drummer, Zach Briefer, who I grew up with. Through them, I played a bunch of gigs with Pistachio and their side projects – Life in Maps and The Beloved Stranger. I was mostly playing bass with those groups, which was a blast. I haven’t been in any other bands recently, since I’ve been mostly busy playing shows with the Phainopepla band.
What was the process like for writing/recording your 2018 album, How to Remove a Bee Stinger? What was the biggest challenge you faced?
Some of those songs had been bouncing around for a few years, but I wrote most of them in 2017 and recorded the album at the end of that year. My friend Zach Briefer and I spent two months living in a cabin in the Sierras with his makeshift home studio. Zach engineered, co-produced, mixed, and played drums, and I played just about everything else. My good friend Collin D’Aloisio also visited for a weekend and recorded some bass, keys, and vocals on a couple tracks. Up until that point, I had mostly just played rock and jazz, so I gained a ton of new experience producing electronic music and experimenting with different genres.
It was a huge, growing experience for me. When I recorded this album, I wasn’t actively playing much music, and I was mainly just trying to cross an item off my bucket list. After I completed it, I gained more confidence in the songs and decided to put a band together and start playing out. Since then, we’ve been playing regularly in the bay and have gone on two small tours.
The biggest challenge arose when dredging up all of the feelings that inspired the songs on the album. Most of the songs are about anxieties I was feeling at the time or had already worked through – just your run of the mill quarter life crisis stuff. When I was in the studio all day every day recording and mixing, I felt a lot of those feelings seep back in, especially since we weren’t able interact with others too much. I made sure to take breaks and head back to Oakland every week or so, which helped me out a lot. You gotta watch out for that cabin fever!
Photos by Alexander Karic.
I was also curious about the samples used throughout the album (beginning of Public Works, Poppy & Plain). What’s the context of them?
They’re from all over the place, but the Public Works sample is by far my favorite. That was the first house song I ever produced, and it’s named after a club in San Francisco that my friends and I used to frequent when I first moved to the Bay. A couple years back, we went there the Friday after Burning Man, and it felt like we were the only ones at the show that didn’t go. I had a very strange interaction with some burner dude that got super elitist with me about the whole thing, and I thought it would be funny to poke fun at the smug burner caricature in a song. I recorded some audio of my girlfriend, Lindsey (who is one of the funniest people I know), riffing on that character, and spliced together some of the highlights. Everyone that has heard the song (especially burners) have commented on how much they love her portrayal.
The Poppy & Plain sample is from an old video of me giving a speech at my college graduation party. My mom interrupted me to say that I give too many speeches, which is accurate.
Any new music in the works? If so, what are the details?
Yes! I’m actually just starting the recording process for my next album. I’m working with Geoff Saba at Itinerant Home Recordings in Oakland. Musically, I’m bringing some new genres into the mix – a lot more jazz, prog, and funk. I’m also trying to feature more musicians on this project and create a more collaborative effort. It’s still super early in the process so there isn’t too much to share yet, but I’m really excited about the new songs we’re working on!
I saw that you offered to write songs for any and all supporters who voted for you to play the Noisepop block party. Did you actually write any and would you be willing to share?
I did! A lot more people asked for songs than I initially thought, so I ended up filming myself improvising these little personalized songs and DMing them to people on Instagram. A bunch of the songs were for close friends, so most of them were 30 second snippets of me playing guitar and singing about something stupid. Probably nothing worth sharing but it was silly and cute.
Radiotrails is all about music discovery and highlighting lesser-known artists. Who do you recommend our readers check out?
I’ve been getting into a bunch of Oakland artists lately – Meernaa’s new album “Heart Hunger” is amazing. She has such a powerful voice and shreds on guitar.
I’ve also been super into “Perfect Shapes” by Madeline Kenney.
Also make sure to check out Droll from Tucson, they’re rad.