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Sophia Exner  aka Phia, tells Big Issue North why she has no problem standing out in a saturated music industry.

Tell us a bit about your sound and your influences.
I grew up listening to the Beatles and Bill Evans and later on discovered Feist, Tune-Yards and Regina Spektor. I mix story-telling songwriting with pop orchestration and eclectic instrumentation.

How have you evolved as a musician over the years?
When I left high school I studied jazz piano and got quite serious about improvisation and contemporary composition. Then I started writing pop songs on the side and had two parallel interests going. Now I feel they’ve fused into the career I have now.

Were there any alternative band names before you arrived at this one?
Before I was Phia, I was Sophia X – a reference to my last name.

What are you up to at the moment artistically?
I just released my debut album The Ocean of Everything and am currently touring it around the UK and Germany, before going back to Australia. This album is my debut and the product of a few years’ work, so it feels great to have it out in the world.

How do you stand out from the crowd in a saturated industry?
My main instrument is a kalimba, a little wooden instrument based on the African mbire. It makes a beautiful percussive and resonant sound, which I run through a loop pedal, layering the kalimba and my vocals to create my music. I think that’s pretty unique.

What’s on your rider?
Tea and toast.

Tell us about your worst live show?
A tiny café in a walled city in Italy – very picturesque setting, but there was no PA, no mics, no nothing. The waiter, who didn’t speak English, rushed off on his Vespa when we communicated through our booker on the phone what we needed, and came back with a plastic toy mic stand (maybe from a kids’ karaoke video game?) that kept falling over. They were very lovely people but it was a real comedy of errors.

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