PHNK

Character Select | Interview with DJ, Producer & Creator “PHNK”

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Who the hell is PHNK? Well, I asked myself that same question back in 2007, when my brother-from-another-mother John Chitmon called me up and said, “you have to hear this album. You have to hear it. This guy, PHNK? Yeah, he made this album, Gentendo. It’s the dope. Come over and I’ll put it on your iPod.”

Now, to give you some background on my friend John, nine times out of ten, when he said he had some new music you had to listen to, sometimes it didn’t quite click to my ears, and I was left very confused (John, I love you bro). However, without John I wouldn’t have discovered PHNK, Capsule, The Glitch Mob, Boyz Noize, and many other amazing artists the world has to offer.

PHNK’s album hit my heart in many different ways—-my childhood, my inner nerd, my upbringing—I could go on. He’s a genius. When John went to go visit PHNK in Seattle for the first time, I about crapped my pants in jealousy. Next thing I knew, PHNK and I were Facebook friends, going to the same gaming events (though we were both too busy to meet), and talking it up frequently. It wasn’t until this past Friday I saw PHNK for his true colors. He is an inspirational creator who loves what he does, and wants to help the world love themselves, and help them create, too.

Tatjana: Phnk, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me today. How’s your day going so far?

PHNK: Of course!  It’s going really well – super rainy out here in Seattle, but good! Thanks for chatting with me.

So, how is Phnk pronounced? I always said it like I would “funk.” Am I right in saying it that way?

You’re 100% right!

Have other people not been so right? Haha.

There was a “U” at one time – then I took “PHUNK” in more of a alien theme so I made it “PHNK.” Funny enough, people got it. I’ve heard some people pronounce it “fink.” But then they’re like “OOOOH!”

Hahaha. That’s hilarious. So for those who don’t know you, who is Phnk?

“PHNK” has many faces – somewhat alien, but not in the general sense. He’s a representation of someone who’s obsessed with culture, and all of its facets. Namely speaking, music, art, style/fashion. These are things that PHNK represents.

There was, at one point and time an incarnation of PHNK that was more of this “alien” that came to the planet Earth from his dying planet to spread new sounds, and culture to the Human race – and a lot of that is still there – just a new version of it, not so heavy on the Sci-Fi version of things, haha.

This is something I never knew, and I’ve been following you since Gentendo, when our mutual friend John was like, “STOP WHAT YOU’RE DOING, SHUT UP, AND THANK ME LATER.” Haha. So, who is the man behind PHNK?

PHNK and John
“PHNK is my cosmic brother from another universe.” – John Chitmon

Whoa!! I love that dude – John’s my brother – he’s been a huge inspiration and support in a lot of the work I’ve put as PHNK. As for who I am.. I’m PHNK – just more of the Creator and not the Creation; it’s a little weird to put it like that, I know. I’m originally from South Florida, moved to Seattle when I was hired at Microsoft. I’ve been making music, doing public speaking, creating videos, and other art for a long time. Creating is my heart, and the one passion that I am able to share and enjoy with others.

It’s not weird at all. It’s inspiring, really. To be able to share your passion with others, to me at least, is a gift. Are there any artists out there who inspired you to become a creator?

I agree wholeheartedly!

I look at being able to produce anything that anyone can enjoy as a gift. The artists, creative professionals and innovators I look up to and aspire to one day learn from and work with have that same sense of selflessness, I believe.

We could be here all day if I were to run off and list all of them, but!!!

Off the top of my head: Cameo , Prince, Michael Jackson, David Bowie, Daft Punk, Kanye West, Jay Z, Nobuo Uematsu, Richard Branson, Green Velvet, Hironobu Sakaguchi, Yoshitaka Amano, Busta Rhymes, Tribe Called Quest.. are some.

Wow. That is an amazing list. Absolutely amazing. Almost at a loss for words. Are your inspirations from these artists the only thing that motivated you to become a creator? Or are there other things that kinda woke up something inside and made you think, “hey, I can create things too”?

There’s always been this drive inside of me to really step out and change things. It’s almost like a sense that goes off in my head. I see something, hear something, and always react very much in a “hey! I want to do something here” -kind of manner.

Of course, my family has always been extremely supportive.  One of my mentors Ms. Haynes as well really helped me to craft my abilities and focus them in a direction that is still helping me today.

Support is the greatest thing, I believe. I’ve always in a way had to fight for things I believed in, a lot of them weren’t necessarily considered “normal,” but once I -passionately- made my case, it was always support from my family and mentors that really pushed me to challenge myself and create in order to advance in life.

I should point out.. When I say family – I mean, blood relatives and close friends.

Going into this interview, I knew you were a good-hearted person with an amazing soul, but my goodness.. You have a gift, PHNK. Don’t let anyone tell you different.

My next question for you is about video games. Your love for games truly shines in your album, Gentendo. Would you say video games are a big part of your life, and influence your music?

PHNK

I really appreciate that.  It’s important to stick to who you are, but also to be able to put aside some of that ego and empathize with others.  You grow through learning, and knowledge really is something you gain from listening to others, a lot of the time, not even saying anything. My Uncle Wil often says “you can learn a lot from a ‘dummy’” – it’s true in every sense.

Video Games? Nahhh. I hate those. Hahah. I LOVE VIDEO GAMES!

Video Games have introduced me to new worlds. Worlds that when I was a kid, like three or four years old completely changed the way I looked at this world. For instance.. Final Fantasy is a huge inspiration of me, the music, the story, the style of the characters – everything. FFVIII really had a huge impact on me and taught me a lot of life lessons.

When I was ten or eleven I was extremely awkward, not sure of what was going on in my life, people liked me but I didn’t want to be around anyone. Then I started playing VIII and I saw a lot of myself in Squall – his journey was like therapy for me.

Playing NES games like Balloon Fight, Kung Fu, Final Fight, Ninja Gaiden with my brothers, Rich and Jarem, really exposed me to a different sound. I grew up with the soundtrack of video games being an influential part of my life.

Even so, I met one of my greatest friends in Final Fantasy XI – John! So yes, I love games, they’ve influenced a large part of my life.

Seeing your love for games and you translating it in your music is incredible. How did you take SUCH a huge love for music and decide what samples and bits you were going to use for Gentendo?

Gentendo came about from me learning Ableton Live. One day I’m sitting around and I’m like, “let’s learn this.” I typically have a habit of using video game samples to build up a track and then moving on beyond that.  So I was learning how to build a beat in Ableton using the final boss music from Sonic 2.

While I was doing that I decided to try and do some mash-ups and then I just started grabbing my favorite VG songs and mashing them up with tracks I partied with. One thing to note – this was in 06/07 so the mash-up scene was sort of heavy around that time, too. I think it just came naturally to me to use video game tracks.

It was sort of a return to what we used to do in school. We’d grab some pencils and make some beats on the tables and a lot of the times we’d try and come up with the best sounding beat. My buddies Andrew, and Terrell would always beatbox themes from games and then we’d throw a beat on top of it!

That sounds like so much fun. I wish you were in our group of friends in high school. Hahaha. So the internet tells me you are a “UX Motion Designer.” Can you go into what that entails for our readers? And for me, really, because I’m slightly clueless.

We’d kill it!!!! So, I’m also a User Experience Motion Designer at Microsoft. To put that clearly I – along with a team of extremely talented individuals – concept and implement a visual language for a product. As a motion designer I concept and solve for interaction scenarios. In this case, I have worked on Windows 8, 8.1 a bit of conceptual work for Windows 10 and now I and on the Office team, working on products like Word, Excel, Powerpoint, etc.

So I’m assuming this is a lot of code stuff. Do any of your skills from this job translate to the awesome skills it took to put together your music video for “Fly?”

Not a lot of code on my side, it’s much more visual – working in After Effects to create comps and examples of what the UI is supposed to behave like once interacted with.

None in this case! “Fly” was created as sort of an introduction to PHNK. I started work on it before I was hired on a MSFT. Very much a passion project. Those skills were gained from years of watching sci-fi, anime and playing video games, haha.

In all seriousness, I learned a lot from my time at Full-Sail University in Orlando. I studied computer animation and game art there, and interned for motion graphics.

The skills you got with your education definitely shine in your video. I really enjoyed it. Fly definitely implemented that there was a story to tell, and that video was only the beginning. Are we going to see the next chapters of this story, or is my theory totally off?

Thank you!

There are other chapters – however I’ve been really focused over the last year on crafting my sound and really refining what it is I’m giving to people to listen to.

That’s a very important part of the story as well. Lots of refining and improvement – there is a part two, and I have sort of had it finished for a while now – since last October. I’m opening things up a bit and not having it be so tied down to that one concept. I think of the songs as portals in a way. The videos are just as important, but certain stories won’t translate correctly if the two don’t work.

There’s more coming!! I’m being a bit cryptic, but it’s all for the best! Haha.

I will take a cryptic note of “yes more is coming,” versus “nah I’m done.” Do you also plan on doing more live shows?

PHNK Live
Why should you see PHNK live? THE MAN HAS A KEYTAR.

Yup!  Part of the whole re-envisioning of PHNK has been a lot of the shows I’ve done. I’ve a show here in Seattle coming up in April. I’m very visual, and part of my aesthetic is to involve the audience in many ways as possible. So this April show will be along the lines of that theme. There’s another I’m slated for in Miami this May; the latter I’ll be giving out tickets for via Instagram – can’t say much now about that one, but it’ll be worth the wait.

A bit of a selfish question, but do you plan on doing live shows outside of Seattle? I definitely think we here in San Francisco would love to see you live, and I bet Los Angeles and New York City would, too.

Yes, yes, and yes. Nothing slated currently – Shows abroad are definitely going to happen. Outside of the Miami show, that is.

PHNK, I want to thank you so much for taking time out of your busy day to speak with me, and share your inspiring words with myself and the readers at The Koalition. I hope others find you as inspiring as I have today. I said it on Facebook, and I will say it here again, I am blessed to call you a friend.

My last question for you: Do you have anything to say for people who need some encouragement to start their dreams of being creators?

Much thanks to you and The Koalition wanting to know more about me and sharing.

I’ll say this: Take risks. More importantly, do what will make you happy. Time is the one resource we just have no control of, the one that we can’t get back. So utilize it doing something you love to do. Something you wake up and strive towards, and do it with honesty, confidence, and passion.

//PHNK

Have the urge to get a little PHNKy? Do yourself a favor and follow him on his many social media outlets, and keep him on your radar. You won’t regret it.:

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Tatjana Vejnovic
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