Phlo Finister's hair is black and stick-straight. She's wearing Tims and a tight, cropped Tommy Hilfiger tank. Her boxers are puffed out of the approximately size 38 jeans that pool around her ankles. With her gold wire-rimmed sunglasses, she's Aaliyah, circa 1994.
This is not what we expected. The 20-year-old L.A.-based R&B singer has a sleekly feminine, almost demure Mod look in the video for her single “Bang Bang,” a cover of the Cher original over Mobb Deep's “Shook Ones Pt. 2” beat.
Right now she's in the backyard of former Interscope executive David Airaudi's house, whose company is also the home of Odd Future. They're shooting the video for “Shades,” a song from her Crown Gold EP that was released a few weeks ago. We're speaking about her career when she suddenly becomes distracted.
“Am I boring you?” she asks, her eyes fixing on something faraway. Not at all — in fact, there's something intriguing about her. She'll erupt suddenly into laughter, but then clouds will churn in her eyes. Her EP has an ominous air, and not just from its sampling of Tupac's “Hail Mary.” Minor keys dominate, and her voice is thick with longing. She identifies with Jim Morrison, and on Crown Gold, covers “Riders on the Storm.”
Born Elijiah Finister in Oakland, Phlo Finister is the daughter of a half Portugese, half black mother and an Irish father. Coming to L.A. as a child, she lived all over the city. She was shy, she says, but sang in the church choir because her grandfather was the pastor.
She first went to Downtown Magnets High School in Fashion. But her mother moved, and she enrolled in Crenshaw High School. “It's very aggressive, a lot of black people there. Not mixed or diverse cultures like where I had come from. I got bullied in a rougher part of the streets, and it made me a really real person with a backbone.” After getting in a fight, she was kicked out, and transferred to Hamilton High School.
When she was 15 her mother decided she didn't want to deal with her anymore, she says. She began bouncing around, with various friends' parents taking her in. She dropped out of Hamilton in the 11th grade.
She did some modeling, but says she lacked the “desperation” necessary for the profession. “I wasn't gonna ruin my self-esteem to make it happen. Struggling with weight loss, and eating disorders. 'Cause you wanna be the best at that stuff. You're willing to do whatever to get that point.”
Instead, at 17, she found herself drawn to behind-the-scenes work as a stylist to several Def Jam artists and an editor for Persona magazine.
Though she doesn't like talking about them, Phlo has a number of influential friends from the music industry. She knows Odd Future's Mike G from her short stint at Crenshaw High School; he's hanging out at the shoot today.
Meanwhile Alia Rose Brockert, the late Teena Marie's daughter, walks by and tells Phlo she's going for food. New York DJ Venus X, co-founder of the GHE20G0TH1K parties and this year's Fashion Week darling, wanders by. “I know a lot of people. I've connected with amazing people, but I hate exploiting things,” she says.
She refrains, then, from mentioning Peaches Geldolf, her close friend with whom she appeared earlier this year on a track by Cory Enemy called, “Closer to You.”
She'd rather discuss her music and her attempts to reignite the '60s Youthquake movement, epitomized by Edie Sedgwick. “Everyone is a youthquaker. Being yourself is being a youthquaker. Soon, it's gonna be too diverse for anyone to be uncomfortable with themselves. I'm gonna expose the world to this whole movement,” she says.
She wants to title an upcoming album “Youthquaker,” and says she hopes to combine her fashion and music sensibilities. The plan, she continues, is to “use colors to spark childhood memories.” Huh? Kind of like N.E.R.D.'s Seeing Sounds?
“Yeah, where's Pharrell at? He probably wouldn't even believe me if he saw me,” she says. “I'm swagged out.” She laughs.
But she retreats into the introspection that gives her an air of being much older than 20. “When it's happening for you, sometimes you doubt yourself. Do I deserve this?” she wonders.
She doesn't wait for an answer. “But when you're a genuine person, you put positive energy into the world and you have good intentions, you get everything you want out of life.”