Wons Phreely | Featured Interview

Indie + alternative culture depends on new rising artists to create diversity & innovation within their respective genres. We constantly feature notable indie & alternative artists on the verge of success.

Meet this week’s featured artist in an exclusive interview. Introducing You To Your Next Favorite Artist: Wons Phreely + The Horses.

Wons Phreely (real name Justin Wonsly) is difficult to pin down. Jumbled around in his traveling bag, you’ll find records from an ad-hoc selection of musicians: Joe Strummer, Morrissey, Buddy Holly… all distinct artists from contrasting musical eras and fashions, brought together by a burning individuality and trailblazing originality that Wons respects dearly. His influences resonate in his music like dark matter – you can’t see them, but you know they’re there. His fantastic appetite for cross-genre volatility snuffs all possible comparisons out before you can even say the words “He sounds like…”

His recent decision to settle more permanently in Los Angeles to concentrate on the formation of his “ultimate-dream-team” of musicians has given life to a thriving new band. And so with a new home, a new beginning, and 2016 promising so much, it’s beguiling to consider what the year may have in store for Wons Phreely + The Horses!

We recently talked with Justin to get his take on alternative culture. Read on to find out more about your next favorite artist + stream the new single Stars. 

Comments From The Curating-Editor

Wons Phreely’s official bio provides the context for this stellar track: “Stars was born one night while the young songwriter was at a crossroads in his life. While living in a tiny studio above a bar in the red-light district of Sydney’s Kings Cross, surrounded by the hustle of midnight revelers, street-walking prostitutes, and neon lights, Wons wrote the song to reveal to himself what his conscious mind had not yet been able to figure out: it was time for a big change.”

The new single by the dream-team sounds as stunningly classic as it could get. It’s cerebral yet accessible, and immediately evokes that drive for change/creative-rejuvenation that Justin was inspired by. There’s something physically invigorating about the revolving guitar line central to the tune, with a vintage quality that can only be captured on the tangible nostalgia of cassettes and records. Wons Phreely seems to effortlessly transform that analog feel into the digital and synthesized realm. Recent comparisons to Springsteen-meets-New Wave sonics are apt in their descriptions, as the group combines brit-pop elements with a heartland-rock vibe. The track is also reminiscent of Duran Duran in its twinkling synth quirks paralleling the desire for star-gazing. This is a perfect track to transition you into the fall, with its equal parts of genuine warmth and edgy cool energy. If you’re looking for a modern song to make you feel infinite, consider your search over.

What are your top 3 favorite albums that inspired you to get into music?

Flogging A Dead Horse by The Sex Pistols – I loved that record the moment I heard it. I’d heard of The Sex Pistols before, but never their actual music. I don’t think I expected to like them really, I mean as a kid that just seemed like it was going to be something I wouldn’t really get, but when I heard this it just hit me right away. This is raw, angry, intelligent, funny, artistic, powerful, roots rock and roll, and pop perfection. I think the Sex Pistols might be one of the most important bands ever, along with The Beatles. Flogging A Dead Horse is a strange compilation album of previously released songs that came out after the band broke up. It’s not the actual real album that the band put out when they were together, but as a kid, I had no idea that they only put out one album when they were together, I just thought Flogging A Dead Horse was great! -‘Don’t be told what you want, don’t be told what you need’.

Times They Are A Changing by Bob Dylan – What can I say about Bob Dylan that hasn’t already been said? He is a true artist, and Times They Are A Changing is absolutely astounding from start to finish for me. It’s by far his greatest album in my opinion, but I feel like most other people say the best albums came a few years later, but I disagree–for me things slowly got less and less consistent after this album, until eventually he almost became formulaic, at some points. Bob Dylan is a god. – ‘Oh how can, how can you ask me again? It only brings me sorrow, the same thing I want today I would want again tomorrow’.

Talking To the Taxman About Poetry by Billy Bragg – Just amazing songs, and in terms of affecting my social awareness, I don’t think there’s been a more powerful voice. I almost put The Smiths in here at number 3, but when I was really being inspired to become a songwriter I found Billy just before I found The Smiths, and Johnny Marr plays some guitar on Talking To the Taxman About Poetry, so Billy Bragg takes this position – ‘I’m celebrating my love for you. With a pint of beer and a new tattoo. And if you haven’t noticed yet. I’m more impressionable when my cement is wet’.

What are your fondest musical memories?

As an artist; I guess it was the first time I ever sung with somebody live. I mean I wasn’t an artists strictly speaking, because it was after school one afternoon, a couple of us were sitting around and my friend started playing ‘Knocking On Heavens Door’ on his acoustic guitar and for the first time my two buddies who were with me encouraged me to try to sing along with the guitar chords, and I did. It felt good, but apparently it felt better than even I realized, because after that little bit of singing ‘Knocking On Heavens Door,’ we went out and joined a group of other kids to play football in the park, and according to everybody there they all told me later that they had assumed I was on drugs because I was acting so elated and weird, and I had no idea I was behaving any different.  

And as a listener; it was my first Billy Bragg concert. I’d just started living in Sydney, so I went by myself. I got right up the very front. I still remember how funny he was in-between songs, a master of the art of stage banter. 

Lately what musical periods or styles do you find yourself most drawn to as a listener?

I’m looking for something real, something that feels like something that’s being expressed by a person, because it’s a real emotion or experience they’ve had. I’m sick of hearing music that feels like it was written because somebody needed a song to sing. I haven’t extensively googled the music charts over the last 40 years, but I feel like the 70s and 80s probably had the highest amount of artists in the charts that were people who had made themselves. They had started writing their own music to express something in them, and had gone out and played a lot of shows before they got the attention of the charts or popular culture.

I feel like from the 90s onward, the business side of things really took full control, and the industry was created. Since then you hear less real artist in popular culture, and charts, and see more performers who come out as manufactured stars from day one, straight into the charts on their first song, because they have a machine that created them which has a vested interest in them creating revenue. Its much more about girls being in their underwear than being about having good songs, and guys being very visually marketable now. If you look at the charts there isn’t a lot of acts who created their own music at all. So 70’s and 80s music is some of my favorite, I liked it when ugly people where allowed to make music. 

What is your creative process like? How do you approach the writing process? Is there a particular message or theme central to your creative works?

There’s so many ways a song can come to me, and I’ve tried all kinds of techniques. I’d say my favorite ways are when I dream the songs. It happens to me often enough, but of course there are always the ones where you wake up and you’ve forgotten it, which sucks. I also really like creating a great piece of music first and then listening to that and see what emotions it makes me feel and it wants me to sing about, then I write the words. Its good if songs are not forced. With lyrics, I want something real about the people I live amongst. If we are honest we all know life is not easy, for some of us its easier than others, but I’m interested in what it takes for us to make the best life we can with what we have, what we don’t have, what we’ve earned, what we’ve had taken from us along the way. There is good and bad in all of us, so I like songs that come to some kind of terms with that.

We’re a firm believer that the cities that artists are based in helps craft their sound. How would you describe your city’s music scene? How has it inspired you into crafting your sound?

Well I have been living in LA about a year, so I think there is still so many more cool musicians for me to meet, because every time I go out, I meet really talented, warm and smart musicians. It’s still early for me to say how my sound has been affected, but so far I really like this town and the music people that are accessible here. 

0006521907_10How would you describe your visual aesthetic, in terms of album artwork, music videos, and artistry? How does the music you create contribute to your visuals? Does this extend to your live show experience?

Maybe it’s a mix of reaching for something that touches upon the idea of a rock star having some level of style, or even glamour. I mean I don’t think much of the whole ‘look at me, I don’t care how I look’ style. I guess that was a thing that really came to the front with the grunge thing, where they tried to dress like they were just out cutting wood and all of a sudden they found themselves on stage or playing unplugged for MTV. I think if you want to put on a show, then put on a show, at least on some level. At very least it will make people think you care about what you are doing, and people go to a show to feel good. But at the same time I really like limitations too, I like that I direct the music videos with minimal budget, it keeps things about ideas and creativity instead of about explosions and stupid costumes. When I conceive of the artwork, I like to use a limited color pallet too, it helps create the world and mood you inhabit?

As an indie artist in the digital age, social media and streaming are essential tools for marketing and promotion. What do you think about online music sharing, both as a music fan and as a musician? How do you think social media/music streaming services impacts the rising musician?

Streaming and easy access to digital copies of music and everything takes away a lot, its harder for artists to sell music, but it also gives artists a lot too. For example; I learned to play music by using the internet. So I guess its an even playing field in many ways, it’s the same as it ever was; technologies always upsets the market in some way, always has done. But if you look at charts and what people get a chance to hear, they are fed junk, but at the same time they can use the internet to find the real music that really speaks to them if they try. But it’s hard. Maybe it only takes one great song to get through, and then some person will realize the ‘music’ they’ve been listening to wasn’t really good for their soul, and they’ll then be able to discover great music after that.

What is your dream collaboration and why?

Lets say Billy Joel and Robert Smith. Why? I don’t know, they just strike me as quite interesting people, and they’re extremely gifted musicians. Robert Smith is quite mysterious. 

Which songs are you currently obsessed with? What new acts do you recommend to our listeners? What bands do you believe are your best kept secret in the indie community?

Wow, I gotta be honest, I’m still trying to catch up on all the great music from the past 50 years of rock and roll, so I haven’t even got around to what’s being made right now. There’s so much stuff you can find online now, I don’t take much notice of whether it’s new or not.

What are you currently working on? Any new projects?

I’m directing music videos for myself, and I might do some more for other artists too. I’m also making a documentary film about music. Plus some acting for fun.

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