Becki Whitton, AKA Aphir has been busy over the past little while. The Melbourne musician played several shows as part of the National Folk Festival earlier in the month, and is about to head overseas for her first international tour.
We caught up to chat about her recently released album, Holodreem.
Tell us a bit about the process of recording Holodreem. Did you work with anyone else or was it a largely solo process?
I really wanted to challenge myself with Holodreem to work totally independently – I wrote all the songs myself and did all the recording on my own, except for the final track which is a version of one of the album tracks performed live with a choir. It’s actually a big contrast to the rest of the album in that it’s probably the most collaborative work I’ve ever done, in terms of its execution, at least – there were about ten singers from the Melbourne University and Melbourne Philharmonic Choirs there on the day of recording, all squished into my studio, plus Nick McCorriston who was recording engineer for the session. That recording wasn’t originally intended for the album, but I mixed it shortly after I finished mixing all the album recordings and I thought it fit really well.
Do you find that recording takes something out of you, something kind of intangible? I feel that way about writing, and I wonder if there’s a similar creative bleeding that goes with recording.
This is an interesting question … I’ve thought about this a lot lately and I honestly feel more like I gain something intangible from my creative process. For example, working on Holodreem helped me to manage a lot of anxiety I was feeling at the time, but it wasn’t that the work made me feel unburdened or light, but it helped me to control those anxious feelings by giving me this determination and focus in the act of writing and recording. I’ll often talk to friends who have had so much more time than I have to absorb and learn from literature and film and just generally interacting with other people, and sometimes I get worried that I’m less of a person because I’ve kind of cloistered myself away to work on my music, but when I’m in that space making my songs I’m always convinced that that’s the version of myself that I want to be.
What do you think you’re trying to communicate through Holodreem, and Aphir more generally?
Well, the title of the album was kind of inspired by my massive Star Trek obsession … I don’t know how much you know about Star Trek but basically the ships and space stations in most of the series are equipped with ‘holodecks’ – rooms where you can go and spend time in a holographic environment of your choice for a holiday or training or whatever. And the holograms are extremely advanced and complex, so on the holodeck all these Star Trek characters can interact with very realistic representations of people. Which obviously has this huge potential to be weird and pervy because crew members can get holographic programs of the people they have crushes on and, well, yeah, you can imagine… But a relationship with a hologram is clearly a very different thing to a relationship with a real person, and that’s what Holodreem is about, I guess: how our hopes and expectations for relationships often remain as unrealised, hollow dreams. That’s pretty grim, though – that’s not what I want Aphir to stand for in general. I have two more albums very vaguely planned out for Aphir and they will definitely give some more insight into what she is about.
Do you see Aphir as an extension of you, or as an alter-ego? As a solo artist, your identity gets conflated with your performance a lot.
I just started reading the comic book series ‘Promethea’ by Alan Moore, which lays out the way I want to think about Aphir just so perfectly. Essentially Promethea is a character that exists in an immaterial, imaginative world, but she appears in the minds of a bunch of different male writers who project her on to women they know, or in the minds of women who project Promethea onto themselves, and then those women become Promethea at certain times when they need to or want to. And the nature of Promethea changes depending on who’s transforming into her, but there’s still this thread of continuity. That’s what I want Aphir to do – to represent me in some way, but not necessarily to have the same story as I do, and to be someone slightly different from me who I can step into when I perform.
You played at the Folk Fest in Canberra – interesting choice for your style of music. How did that come about?
I know – I didn’t think they would choose me because my music has such a strong electronic element to it. I think Aphir fits, though, because folk music has always been focused on an oral tradition: people using their voices to tell stories – and that’s a key part of what Aphir is about. But basically what happened was that, ever since I started singing in bands, my parents have been encouraging me to sign up for the festival. They go every year, like a lot of Canberrans, and they were always like “we want to see you on stage!!” But the timing was always off, or I didn’t feel like I was ready to perform at such a big event. The timing was right this time, though!
And you’re heading off on tour soon too! What are you feeling about that at the moment?
I’m feeling positive about it! I’m heading off to Austria and the United Kingdom in May and I’ll be playing about five shows over two weeks.
Image: Anna Mayberry