Mark Landon, better know as M-Phazes, is considered to be one of Australia’s greatest producers. His resume boasts some of hip-hop’s best from across the globe including Eminem, Sean Price, Keyshia Cole, 2 Chainz, Illy and Drapht among others. A few years ago, he began branching out to other genres, working with Kimbra, Daniel Johns, Eskimo Joe, Meg Mac and more.
He recently released a track featuring Sydney’s Alison Wonderland, Messiah, the first single from his highly anticipated new album, set for release later this year. While Messiah didn’t place in triple j’s Hottest 100 (it came in at 148) M-Phazes did have three songs in the top 25, including the no. 2 spot with Amy Shark’s Adore.
As someone who is at the top of the music pyramid, his new album is sure to be incredible. As he works more and more with artists outside of his hip-hop comfort zone, we are bound to see his name in the credits of some of the world’s best new artists across genres. We spoke to Mark to get a little insight on his new album, his move away from heavy hip-hop beats, and how he decides who he works with.
Where are you at the moment?
I’m in Melbourne, locked in the studio. My manager is not letting me out until I finish this album – I’m chained up.
How is the album coming along? How soon before you can go back outside?
It’s coming along really good. We are probably two weeks off production being finished. Anything after that is bonus, but we are planning on handing the master in for mixing in two or three weeks. Really happy with it, it is sounding really good. I’m very proud of it and I think it’s my best work to date, just because of how much ground I’ve covered with this album.
Is the first single with Alison Wonderland an indication of what the rest will sound like?
It’s a pretty diverse album, I wouldn’t say that Messiah is an indication of what the album sounds like overall. It kinda threads in between genres and I think the sonics kind of hold it together as far as being a cohesive body of work – I hope, anyway.
Have you stepped away from a hip-hop vibe?
Yeah, I mean there is definitely a hip-hop influence that’s pretty hard for me to escape. But since my work with Kimbra, I’ve been trying to work with people from other genres and it’s come to the point now where that’s mainly what I do. I still do a bit of hip-hop and like I said, the album definitely has a hip-hop backbone just because that’s where I come from, it’s embedded in my production style.
So working with Kimbra was the beginning of branching out?
Yeah that was the first non hip-hop production that I dabbled in. Before that, I was interested in working with artists outside of hip-hop. But it was hard back then to get my foot in the door, because you get put in this box of ‘this is what you do and you don’t work with anybody else, you just do hip-hop.’ So I’d been looking for artists to work with outside the genre and Kimbra and her manager were the first to approach me. Our first track [Call Me] led to me helping with her whole album, forming a relationship and working with her again on her next album. I was pretty happy with all that. That was the point when I ventured off into other genres.
What have the highlights been in making this solo album?
I remember reading that De La was a dream collab for you.
Yeah, I mean De La Soul! Unfortunately, I couldn’t get them all involved but he is definitely my favourite of the group. So having him actually in the studio and talking to him about how they used to make records, that was a massive highlight. There are others too, it was a fun journey making this album.
It’s been a few years in between solo albums, what have you learnt in writing again for yourself as opposed to writing for others?
The pressure is ridiculous! I think with other people’s projects or songs, I am invested, but not as invested as the artist, so it’s easier for me to take direction and for them to steer the ship. For myself, I have to give myself the direction, and it’s so easy to go off on tangents and try a million things, and get lost in the process without knowing where I’m going. It was pretty tough, there were points where I just wanted to throw in the towel, but I also had a lot of really great help, a lot of producer friends helped me. So shout-out to Jarrad Rogers, aka Mstr Rogers, and Dann Hume. It was great having them involved to steer the ship a little bit.
How do you decide who you work with? I mean there must be a huge demand for M-Phazes beats?
The first thing is I have to like the artist or a song, it has to be something that inspires me. There are occasions that I will do something that doesn’t inspire me just to pay the rent, but that’s very rare now which is a good thing. If I am working with an artists in the studio, I have to get along with them. The hangs are more important than anything, because if you’re not gelling, it can be really tough to work together. So I try and work with people who I get along with first and foremost. Then, secondly, if the song inspires me and I really like it and believe in it. Those are usually my rules.
How do you get know them?
Usually a coffee as a first meeting. Just talking to them and getting a vibe. Amy Shark is amazing, I’ve been working with her a lot. We just get along, during our sessions we spend half the day talking shit and having fun and laughing. That way the music we’re making feels more organic, which is always best.
At the moment you’re focusing on your album, but do you have other projects in the works?
Yeah, I am always backed up with work. My priority is obviously my album, I’m trying to wrap that up in a couple of weeks, then I’ll head to LA and do a bit of work there. I’ll still keep the door open for my album – if anything after the two weeks pops up that I really think will work well, we will still consider that. Otherwise I’ll just be writing with different artists, and my manager and I are developing a young artist at the moment who I’m really excited about.
What’s it like being an Australian producer in a musical hub like LA?
It’s cutthroat. I have a pretty good team over there, so I have a lot of good opportunities thrown at me which is very helpful. A lot of people don’t really get that and they have to fight their way into the industry. It’s also very inspiring, not saying we don’t have amazing artists and producers here that keep me on my toes, but over there it’s another level. I feel like I am the wackest person over there, which is really good. I like feeling like the worst in the room, like I have something to prove, I’m the least experienced. That really pushes me to get better and that’s half the reason I want to move over there, that’s what I thrive on, that feeling of being inferior and the weakest one.
You mentioned you worked with Posdnous, which was a career highlight, but you’ve also worked with Eminem and Sean Price, how does it feel to have worked with such legends in the hip-hop world?
I mean it’s an honour, especially the Eminem thing, that was a dream come true. It stepped my career up to another level and opened a few doors. But I try not to think about it too much, it’s very easy for artists to settle after they’ve had a big accomplishment and let things pass them by, they think they’ve got it made. But you can’t get comfortable, you have to keep pushing and never stop being a student, learning new techniques and new ways of doing things. Accolades and all that are great but it’s not what drives me. But it was amazing to work with all those guys. I’ve been very fortunate in my career.
My favourite production of yours has got to be the Sean Price album, I was such a big fan of his, so seeing him work with an Aussie producer was awesome.
That was amazing. He passed away not long after that which was super sad, but being able to work with him was a big deal. Unfortunately I didn’t get to work with him in the studio, it was through another person and we sent files back and forth. But when you hear someone on your track that you’re a fan of, it’s almost like you are in the same room, you can feel the connection. I was very fortunate and proud of that album.
Did you get to be in the studio with Eminem?
Not when we made the track, that again was through correspondence. But I met him when he came out on tour, I DJ’d in between the acts on his tour and got to meet him then, for a brief five minutes. It was surreal to say the least.
Image: Supplied / Cybele Malinowski