Back Issue__ Seeing Double: Phlo Finister
Seeing Double: Phlo Finister's strict Christian upbringing meets club kid giving her the skills to go far with her real passion--music
R&B starlet Phlo Finister tweets a lot. The Los Angeles native’s 140-character-limited statements are littered with cryptic sentiments like “#YouthQuaker” or “#PosterGirl.” Phlo is telling us about herself, with hashtags.
This year, Phlo hasn't just made a presence for herself on Twitter though. Her debut EP Crown Gold caught the attention of critics from Rolling Stone to The FADER to Complex. Tracks like “Shades” and “Wrong Number” displayed her soulful, gospel-inspired timing with pleasingly, smooth beats while “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)” reinvents Nancy Sinatra’s classic. Phlo is even using multi-genre blending, samples from Garbage to 2 Pac spliced in with her own slinky vocals and radio-fuzzed phone conversations. Music videos followed, which featured Phlo playing dress-up in everything from signature early 90’s Tommy Hilfiger jeans (Aaliyah inspired, of course) to elegant Twiggy frocks and lavish eye make-up. It’s the 1960’s mod look she prefers, or rather, is obsessed with. But beneath those purposefully painted eyebrows is a woman with goals.
“I was a rebel,” Phlo (whose given name is “Elijah”) reflects. Growing up in Los Angeles, her grandfather was a preacher and expectations for excellence in her academic, extra curricular and religious life were high. “I didn’t agree with my faith. I believe in God and a higher power, but I also believe in energy, other things that don’t go by the Christian way of thinking.”
Her grandmother was an English teacher who made sure that attention to schooling didn’t stop when class let out. Phlo remembers even as a young child, play time after school often transformed into study time and her childhood was a lot of “foundational grounding” and “responsibility.” Music and dance also played a big role in her life including ballet training for 12 years. The graceful, disciplined pink-shoed sport created a work ethic within her that she still relies on today.
“[With ballet] you do the same thing over and over again and try to be the best at it,” Phlo explains. “It stayed with me in my career. I had to do the same thing every day and practice until it was perfect and it’s become that way with music too.”
As a teenager, Finister traded in her ballet slippers for more evening appropriate footwear. Finister had a fake I.D., wore tons of make-up and dressed “really, really grown.” No one questioned that she was only fifteen-years-old and she still let herself run wild and enjoy the faux-glamor of the club scene. Linking up with the Hollywood club kids, modeling for good friend Mark Hunter (or as he’s better known online as The Cobra Snake) and slinking into the Los Angeles A-List of hipsterdom. But, Finister took the industry with same skepticism she had with her family’s faith.
“I didn’t like the industry at all,” she says. “I felt like it was everything I did not stand for. Girls go through different eating disorders and they go through insecurities and it’s a really fast life. You don’t get to show case any talent." So, on her eighteenth birthday Finister reached her turning point. She was sick of messing around aimlessly and decided she better smarten up. “This life is not a game. It’s not a joke,” Phlo lectures. “I had to make a sacrifice because life is about sacrifices."
Today, Finister is entirely focused on her career. Her debut LP Youth Quaker drops later this year, so she is in and out of the studio, re-working tracks, tinkering the record to perfection. Continuing her obsession with mod, she plans to re-locate to London and use the British landscape as further inspiration. Though this "look" plays a large role for her, Phlo hasn't lost sight of the the things that really matter. "For me, I never wanted to be the girl who looked so beautiful, but had nothing to say.”
Interview: Mish Way
Photography: Hayden Shiebler
Styling: Natasha Newman-Thomas
Assistant: Hillary Eaton
Special Thanks: Cateye Spectacles