New Zealand’s The Phoenix Foundation Return to the ‘Real World’ on “Hounds of Hell”

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“I can’t believe we got Nadia on this,” says Samuel Flynn Scott. “I’m a big fan.” The Phoenix Foundation vocalist is a bit giddy over the band’s latest single and pulling in fellow New Zealand artist Nadia Reid. The track marks a momentous occasion, after all. It’s the sextet’s first single in five years, and one, nuanced piece to their sixth album, Friend Ship (Memphis Industries), out Oct. 16

Following up 2015’s Give Up Your Dreams, on Friend Ship spirits are soaring in new directions, tapping into more expansive arrangements and reflecting on where they are today. After all, the New Zealand indie rockers’ brief hiatus allowed them to approach songwriting differently and musically regroup themselves. Partly inspired by the mosque attacks in Christchurch in March of 2019, the concept of real friendship kept coming up, and ended up being the album’s title.

“Hounds of Hell” is a key example of where The Phoenix Foundation have landed. Traipsing in subtle elements of trippy psyche-pop, “Hounds of Hell” appears ominous on its surface (sunlight turns into fire), yet it’s dreamy glimpse into where The Phoenix Foundation are now, foraging a crumbling environment for answers on love, living life… and real friendship. It’s five years of pent up contemplations in a song with Friend Ship unraveling much more.

Reid, who was thrilled to be asked to sing on the track doesn’t typically collaborate, but this was a special moment in time for the singer-songwriter as she spent the day in Dave Dobbyn’s Grey Lynn studio working out the shape of this song and how she best fit in to it.

“The Phoenix Foundation have been heroes of mine since the moment I heard Buffalo [2010], and I’ve been blessed to have had Chris O’Connor play in my band for periods of time,” says Reid. “Usually, I tend to avoid doing these sorts of collaboration things, mostly because I never feel that I’m much good at it and tend to get quite nervous. This experience was far from that.”

The Phoenix Foundation (Photo: Ebony Lamb)

Flynn Scott immediately knew that Reid would be perfect for “Hounds of Hell” and was hoping she would say yes from the start. 

“Her voice carries such authority,” he says. “It’s not often a TPF song stems from a harpsichord motif, but that’s what happened here. Lyrically, I am talking about a love so true it could survive the impending doom of climate change—really fun stuff like that.  

He adds, “And it has lots of references to Danté’s Inferno, because I’m a really pretentious twat.”

In addition to Reid, The Phoenix Foundation pulled in Tiny Ruins’ Hollie Fullbrook and the New Zealand Symphony. The band recently worked on Taika Waititi’s soundtrack for 2016’s Hunt For The Wilderpeople and had tracks featured in Hulu original vampire series What We Do In the Shadows, starring fellow New Zealander, comedian Jermaine Clement. 

The Phoenix Foundation has taken a perfect first step out of Friend Ship, and “Hounds of Hell,” somehow resonates in today’s climate, revealing the more vulnerable ebb and flow of emotions in a very calamitous environment.

“Little did we know how poignant this song would become in July 2020,” says Reid, “[It’s] after events that have, at times, felt truly apocalyptic.”

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