Pin It

Zach Phillips makes slapstick music

RVNG's Matt Werth selects the musical malcontent specialising in witty turns and found footage

As part of our new summer US project States of Independence we've invited our favourite 30 American curators, magazines, creatives and institutions to takeover Dazed for a day. 

The Warm Up at MoMA PS1 takes place in the gallery’s courtyard every Saturday – but for one day only, the live outdoor music series is bringing the party to Dazed. The curators have selected their favourite music artists to come out of the US right now, and resident DJ Maria Chavez has made us an exclusive mix to bring a little MoMA magic to your speakers.

From turning it up to turning it down, next up is RVNG's Matt Werth and his pick: underground composer Zach Phillips, who brings new meaning to "lo-fi."


"Zach Phillips represents the new American composer guided by the voicing of Rosenboom or Appleton, but is ultimately a punk rock practitioner of slapstick virtuosity. This statement isn’t to cast Phillips as a missing member of The Young Ones, though Zach’s wit would fit perfectly in the American version of the sitcom if broadcast via his own mangled airwaves (Phillips is also an incredible video artist, shaming “found footage” YouTube collagists with his unreal control of antiquated editing gear). It’s intended to give the new listener of Phillips' vast solo output (or that with the legendary Blanche Blanche Blanche) a sense of levity while approaching the ambitious nature of his work. If Zach doesn’t intend his music to be taken with amusement, then he has already mastered the delivery." 

Describe your sound in 3 words.

Zach Phillips: If I may, I’d rather reject the template; since this is Dazed Digital, the extra print should be no issue, right? With all due respect, a question of this sort can only be reductive. The popular assimilation of ClickHole might be taken as a clue that it’s time for the music industry (ostensibly driven primarily by its raw enthusiasm for audible culture — right?) to differentiate its apparatuses from those “press” organs of other industries facing no certain alternative to the pitfalls of organized vacuity. My song-music is the psychological dust displaced by this sort of problematic. I intuit an imperative to disengage from recognizable tropes, I believe in liberation from inherited elite conceptual garbage, and I trust in the performative potential of recording itself. 

Tell us about where you grew up – what was it like, and how did it influence you going forward?

Zach Phillips: I grew up a malcontent on the gorgeous forested outskirts of a moneyed New Hampshire netherworld which was literally founded on the appropriation of a Mohegan Indian’s hard-earned money by a celebrated white Congregational minister. Contemporary environments wealthy enough to flex their normalizing functions have a way of dog-piling expert attention onto their problem children, so my upbringing was particularly marked by the internalization of externally imposed self-concepts. I’ve always played piano, but at a certain point investigative songwriting emerged as a particularly important area of self-reformation. 

Moma PS1’ s live shows take place every Saturday all summer long. How do you warm up for the weekend?

Zach Phillips: From my answers so far I probably sound like I stay inside the whole time! Fortunately, this is a question I simply can’t understand.

How’s your summer looking? What do you have planned?

Zach Phillips: I’ll continue to: produce music and play live with CE Schneider Topical and Jib Kidder Group; record bandsIlove in my home studio here in Brooklyn, Manual FX; prepare the release of many tapes and several LPs on my label OSR, including a compilation of material by an anomalous musician named Hartley C. White whose music you should immediately Google; teach piano; and work as a paralegal for a criminal defense attorney.

When you make music, what other artists do you look to for inspiration?

Zach Phillips: In the same way a perfect fourth describes a relationship between two notes, the music I make describes a relationship between, on the one hand, the music of Chris Weisman, Kurt Weisman, and Ruth Garbus from Brattleboro, VT, and, on the other, the demands of the day. In New York, Hartley White, Ed Askew, Terre Roche, & “Blue” Gene Tyranny are bright lighthouses. I’m blessed to be surrounded by engaged musicians…everyone’s an artist anyway, if you noticed lately, and I don’t mean they’re purporting — if I know you, you help me and thanks.

What’s your perspective on the American underground music scene right now, as you inhabit it? Where do we go from here?

Zach Phillips: If more members of what is ostensibly the “underground” don’t begin framing themselves as exceptions to the various rules of the game, then there wasn’t ever an “underground” to begin with. The word “underground” should inspire historical consciousness: a consciousness of economic politics, of racial politics, of sexual politics, of musical politics, and so on and on and on. But I see that word today and it seems to me to mean “things that haven’t gotten popular yet.” In my estimation, the entire conversation surrounding “aesthetics” is a Western trap. Practitioners of “radical” or “experimental” music who don’t take up the call of their music and radicalize their minds and lives are just formal dabblers. None of this stuff means anything at all unless we say it does — and in our own languages. 

Next up, some (probably) more familiar faces in the form of global grime-inflected super group, Future Brown – and a q&a with member, Fatima al Qadiri.