MAKING IT ORGANICALLY
I first encountered Phers and his radically unique brand of bass music in April, at the Lost In The Sauce Campout hosted by Fuzzy Puddles. I still think about his set there all the time. Out in the middle of the desert, in the cold black night, it’s really easy to appreciate the little details we’d normally miss in a crowded auditorium. The mix was flawless and a collection of small but powerful moments turned it into one of the best of the night, the energy keeping the dancefloor shaking while the wind whipped our hair over our faces. I remember a friend of mine leaning over to me and whispering, “Oh sick, this is Phers,” and I immediately had him type the moniker into the notes on my phone. It’s funny to think about little moments like that, and I was thinking about it as I clinked my beer with the top of the inspiring young producer’s glass at the start of our interview.
Live music. Double-fried French fries and homemade ranch. Fireplaces and string lights. Pizza and Craft Beer. I haven’t been to many classy places in Oakland yet, but when Ross McPherson — aka Phers — suggested we meet there, I knew I was in for a treat. Arthur Mac’s is a quirky little beer garden in North Oakland that operates out of a shipping container, and there’s a jazz band outback that plays various styles of music and fun renditions of classic songs to perfectly set the tone.
This was the kind of fun little bar that you’d go out with some friends for an easy-going night out, or maybe take someone on a first date, but here we were conducting an interview about Ross and his particular style of music production. The atmosphere of Arthur Mac’s was actually really great and it hosted a perfect backdrop to our conversation. He’s part of a movement I’ve come to love in the Bay Area, and it’s all about the incredible Bass music coming out of the underground scene here.
“I’m sure this ethos exists with a lot of producers out there, but I know that I can say for sure that we just really want it,” Ross says about reaching his goals in music. The “we” he refers to are his close friends Devin and Connor, also known, respectively, as producers Womp Rat and Concentrate (The three of whom just released an EP together on Wormhole Music Group which you can check out here). Work ethic and focusing on your craft are key components to succeeding in this industry, and these three young producers are certainly equipped with what it takes to succeed, an amazing amount of talent and creativity. “We don’t need to chase followers if we stick to our roots. We’re not here to do Soundcloud gimmicks or anything like that, we want to do this our own way and stick to our artistic integrity, I want it to feel more organic.” Phers says. I’d say it’s working out for him, considering he has been steadily gaining followers, garnering better set times at events, and receiving high praise in the scene. Wormhole Wednesdays are a popular bay area party that take place every -you guessed it- Wednesday in Oakland, and Phers has become a resident DJ for them. On top of that he’s played a few really awesome music festivals this year like The Untz, Emissions Festival, Stilldream, Organic Fest, and opened for major influences of his like Shlump.
“ I WANT IT TO FEEL MORE ORGANIC ”
Ross has only been releasing music since 2016, but his tracks have the polished sound of a veteran. His newest collab with bd hbt has some of the fattest bass I’ve heard in a long time, and the drum patterns are incredibly fun. Another new track I’d like to highlight is his original mix “Distress Signal”. It’s his single on the Split Vision EP with Womp Rat and Concentrate and it’s one of my favorite tracks out right now. One thing many of the bass producers in the bay area seem to have in common is their incredible skill at sound design, and Phers is definitely no exception. In almost every track he’s released there are these incredible, intense, fat bass designs (the kind that make your insides rumble) welded over fun, unique melodies that keep you hooked. Phers mentions that besides electronic music, he mostly listens to Hip-Hop, and you can hear the influence in the music he produces. I love bumpin’ his tunes while I’m headed into work or at the gym, something about his style just makes me feel pumped, but it’s still so easy to kick it to.
Phers draws influence from many different artists, but he admits that a fear of sounding like anyone other than himself has helped keep his music incredibly unique, maintaining his own creative styles and motifs in his production. He attributes a lot of his song-writing elements to years of listening to Hip-Hop, bass acts like Bay Area legend NastyNasty, and an early love & understanding of the drums, the instrument he started out on. “It was a long time before I could actually turn what I was hearing in my head into music. I didn’t understand the nuances of sound design as well as I do now. Like synthesis, or processing. I would just make these giant robot bass sounds — which are actually pretty easy to make once you understand how to slap two wave tables on top of each other — and that was that.” The producer goes on to explain to me that when it comes to sound design, it really depends on what you’re going for, but it has to have character. “In terms of a bass synth — something that’s gonna take a lot of attention — it’s gotta be defined and have character. It’s gotta breathe, it’s gotta move, it’s gotta feel like an entity in your song. There’s gotta be something about it whether it’s thickness, thinness, spaced out, moving parts, whatever you’re going for. It’s gotta feel alive.”
Phers is clearly ahead of the curve, figuring out new and creative ways to make his music stand out from the crowd. It’s impressive to see the amount of time and skill that goes into crafting your own style, and you can hear the pay off in the music. “I use mainly Serum and Ableton’s Operator, but I feel like it’s just so easy to tell when someone is using Serum. I personally try to avoid that by using [Serum] to make pretty basic patches, and then I process the hell out of it with different plug-ins, distortions, amps, things like that. It really helps it stand on its own and kinda gets away from that transparency that comes with using Serum alone.”
With a busy schedule, Phers is constantly working on more new music- but it hasn’t stopped him from playing his first out-of-state show in Portland earlier this month, or getting booked in Reno supporting the legends The Widdler and Pushloop on one of their "Back to Basics" tour stops. While it’s incredible that he’s starting to be able to use music as a means of travel, one thing that he says is certain is that Oakland and the greater Bay Area have immensely impacted his music. “The Bay Area influences me in every way: its culture, its counter-culture. Everything about it. The chaos, the grittiness, the frustration. I think anything that riles up that much emotion inside of you is going to influence your art. The Bay Area has strained me, but it’s a good thing. In my hometown I was stagnant. Feeling all of this and experiencing what I feel like is real life helps keep me going.” Being from LA, I understand the frustrations of where you live and how they can influence everything in your life, but I’d personally take the Bay over Los Angeles any day. Phers, however, doesn’t necessarily feel the same way about the southern city. “I don’t hate LA. I think I like LA more than the average person, but I’ve never spent more than a week there. There’s traffic, yeah, but there’s traffic up here too. At least in LA you can take side streets, get around bad congestion. Here’s, it’s like, everyone has to go on the same damn bridge if they want to get anywhere.”
Phers comes from a background of many influences, mostly Hip-Hop based, but he’s got a wide array of artists he follows in the genre. Acts like Atmosphere, MF Doom, and Living Legends rank high for Phers, but modern rap acts like A$AP Ferg and Juicy J also make the cut on a list of artists he gives me that have helped shape his artistic vision, and I for one hope we get to see some Hip-Hop production from him soon. His understanding of drum work and sound design go together with his work ethic like salt & pepper and it consistently turns out a pretty amazing product.
”The Bay Area influences me in every way”
Another subject we spent some time talking about was mental health. “Look at artists like Mac Miller, the hyper-transparency at that level must start getting to people. I think it’s really important to take care of yourself in this industry,” Phers reconfirms what we we’ve already begun to learn about this line of work. He extends his gratitude for his manager Izzy, who makes sure he isn’t overbooked or overworked in an industry that so often forgets to put those aspects first. “You’ve kind of got to lean on your management team and hope that they have your best interest at heart, and that’s why Izzy is my manager. Yeah, I know she needs to get paid but I also know that she has my best interest at heart no matter what. If Izzy hadn’t come along then I’d be doing this all on my own, which takes a massive amount of time and can end up being really stressful, but I’m lucky to have found someone I trust with my mission enough to help make my life a lot easier.
Phers is one of my favorite producers in the Bay, blurring the lines between bass and trap and and his gradual rise in the scene these last couple years can certainly attest to that. With influences in Hip-Hop and underground bass he’s quietly been constructing his own epic brand of bass music for some time now, and the product he’s been delivering lately is that of unique, thick, heavy basses and incredible drum beats, melodies, and tones. While keeping his career, mental health, and his future in mind, he’s found a way to start branching out where he’s being booked and soon hopefully more of the world gets some Phers in their life (and more importantly on their decks). Phers is cool and confident, and the entire time during our conversation I could tell I was speaking with someone goal-oriented, who knows what they’re about and what they want to accomplish. It’s refreshing to see this new wave of forward thinking music producers start to gain their footing, and with a strong management, some insanely talented friends, and a growing number of fans each day, Phers is slowly but surely climbing the ranks of the California Bass Scene, and I cannot wait to see what he has in store for us next.
FAVORITE TRACK: DISTRESS SIGNAL