Phebe Starr Explores Loss and Femininity in Her EP, "Ice Tea Liberace"

The Australian singer-songwriter talks about her latest EP and teases her new album for later this year.


Australian singer-songwriter Phebe Starr has released her highly anticipated four-track EP Ice Tea Liberace.

The EP features rebellious indie-pop and dives into a multitude of themes, including loss of innocence and coming to terms with growing up. The project refuses to hold back with its slick electro-pop production and Starr's empowered vocal delivery. For example, its lead single, "TOUCH X X X," the last of the four-track collection, explores the lost love and the aftermath of a relationship that has come to an end. The song reminds listeners of Starr's ability to bring beauty to even the most painful of life's moments.

Popdust was able to chat with Starr to dive further into her creative process and explore the inspirations behind her work.

How did you come up with the concept for the "Touch X X X" music video? What was it like working with the director and the producer?

Oh well, it's a bit of a funny story...It's my next-door neighbor who shot the video. So we didn't make a plan or anything like that; he's just my neighbor, and it was a crazy time in both of our lives. I was writing all of this music that I'm about to release and I had many people who were dying in my life; it's crazy.

I'm so sorry.

Yeah, it was crazy. I mean it happens, right? That's life. But one of them was my grandma. I hadn't seen her since I was 15, and she used to be very close to us but then some family drama happened, I'm not sure exactly what, but she called me on her deathbed and said, "I want to see you before I die." I walked out of that house and my neighbor was sitting there, no one was around and my partner was using my car. So my neighbor said, "I'll take you," and he jumped in the car and we drove six hours and saw my Nana.

He's obviously a director and photographer and everything, so while we were driving out there he started taking film photos from a hand crank camera. Eventually, he said, "Well I think we have enough for a video clip." So when I went back, this was last October, he took some of the in-between footage, like on a wall with another film camera, and it was so organic and real. He's a really good friend who supported me in a really difficult time in my life, and he tried to show what was really going on. So it's just me, him and then my friend Chris, who I do a bunch of music with. We didn't even plan to do a video for that song.

I noticed that in the "Touch X X X" video it starts in mostly black and white shots and you don't get a flash of color until around a minute and a half in. Then it has this bright red scene, a close up on your eye and half of your face. Is there a specific reason you waited that long to finally show color and those colors specifically?

There are a lot of themes in my art and music and one of them is duality. It's hard for me to say in words what I feel or think about it, but I know that that technique is something that I want to use. I try to create this softness and this harshness, and I think it's like thinking in yin and yang or male and female, so it's a spectrum of things that I'm trying to create. It's almost like most of the feelings that I feel all the time are happy and sad at the same time, or strong and vulnerable. There's a lot of hardcore things that I talk about, but there is also a lot of softness and beauty. The black and white is the history, and then the colors represent the moment of awakening and realizing what's going on.

With the release of Ice Tea Liberace, where does this song fit into the EP, overall?

I wanted this to be the first song because it was the first song that I wrote and I wanted [people] to understand [that] I didn't just come to these new thoughts and feelings. It came from a place of experience. I don't try to speak on anything unless I've felt like I understand it...The next songs that I'm releasing are quite rebellious, and there's a bit of "F*ck you!" in them. I could've come out slamming with that and expressing, "This is how I feel!" and that's fine, but I wanted people to know that this is a well-thought out piece of work and where I'm at in my life now. I did research, and by that I mean I lived life and explored these ideas of femininity and understanding relationships and conventional ways of doing things. I explored those expectations society has for us in multiple ways. So the EP...probably gets a bit angry and unleashes itself to people.

Do you feel like the EP goes on a journey in any way...from that angry place to a place of resolve? Or do you think that it has more of a consistent theme throughout?

It's more so a reflective EP. It's about coming to terms with what part you play in society and me saying I have a different opinion from the way that society sees me and the way that society views other people, and I'm going to express that opinion as my truth. Often, women's opinions are thought of as an emotional thing, whereas men's are viewed as a fact, so I wanted to express my opinions as facts and that's the real theme throughout the EP.

Why did you decide to name the EP Ice Tea Liberace?

I wrote the track "Ice Tea Liberace" through this subconscious writing thing that I do...So "Ice Tea" is kind of commentary on the way that we make things or consume things as a younger generation, which is very disposable. Like, we'll get a new ice tea every day and we'll throw it out; and then Liberace was this crazy artist back in the day who did everything to the extreme. So again, that's a commentary on society, and the way I see things. I'm just trying to communicate the culture in which I see and I exist and my frustrations with older people and how they don't see how things have changed. Especially people who don't foster a more inclusive environment for creativity. The song isn't meant to be a negative song, but like the EP as a whole, it's meant to be a commentary on my experience and what I desire to happen for young creatives.

After this EP comes out, what goals do you have for yourself for both the short-term and long-term?

I'm so excited to release music again. I think by the end of the year I'd like to get out there and do some shows. At the moment I'm just writing for so many other artists. I recently moved to LA,`and I've been doing so many projects for other people, so I hope that those songs will be released soon, too. I just want to get as much music out as possible. With the EP coming out, I'd like to do some touring, and then next year I'd like to release another album. I'm just finishing [it] off right now!

Since the release of the EP, you've released stripped down versions of the tracks. They're these beautiful and slightly eerie videos of you singing acoustically. What motivated you to make a stripped down version of "Ice Tea Liberace?"

I wanted to show people how I write my songs. Usually, I write very stripped back, and I showed a friend of mine the demos, and they said, "Whoa, you should release the demos because they have their own beauty about them." I never really thought of it that way before, because...I write my music acoustically. The fun part for me is adding all the bells and whistles during the production process. I do think, though, that there is something beautiful about capturing the raw honesty of what you're trying to say. For this, I wanted to play more organic instruments and show people the emotion behind the songs more than anything and still capture the vision of what I had in mind for the production with simplicity. So for the "Ice Tea" video, I imagined it as a Western. I wanted whistles and haunting outlaw imagery.

Who did you shoot the video with and where did you do the shoot?

A friend of mine Corey Bienert shot the video at his studio Found Sounds. They wanted me to be in my natural habitat, so the house in the video is actually my house! It was actually quite empty at the time because I had just moved there. I had almost no furniture.

It's interesting that you mention you were going for a Western feel for the video, because the stripped back version of "Ice Tea" reminds me of the Nancy Sinatra cover of Cher's "Bang Bang."

It's been a vibe and a story that women have been telling for so long. We've become a bit like outlaws, or I guess lonely and isolated in our grief.

Check out Phebe Starr's video for "Touch X X X" and "Ice Tea Liberace" and stream Ice Tea Liberace below!

Ice Tea Liberace - EP

Phebe Starr Touch XXX Offical Video

Phebe Starr // Ice Tea Liberace

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