PHONY Breaks Down His Emotionally Charged LP “Knock Yourself Out” Track by Track
Along with an exclusive stream of the record, Neil Berthier discusses his new LP that’s not new to him at all.
PHONY mastermind and former Donovan Wolfington yeller/guitarist Neil Berthier is honest. He’s honest in his work and about his work; he is honest whether it’s about success or about failure. Knock Yourself Out prides itself in this, reveling in vulnerability for ten emotionally charged, sprawling indie rock tracks. It follows last year’s masterful Songs You’ll Never Sing, though that was written after Knock Yourself Out. This “brand new” record—streaming exclusively here three days prior to its official release—was actually recorded over three years ago.
It’s evident that Berthier has grown since. In this track-by-track, he shares regrets, resentments, and critical opinions from the perspective of an artist who’s at a different point in his life. This record is still—despite Berthier’s hot takes—a resonant piece of art, grappling with heartbreak, familial conflict, alcoholism, and acceptance, all while taking influence from acts like Elliott Smith, Tigers Jaw, and Pinback.
Listen to Knock Yourself Out below, and indulge yourself in Berthier’s unabashed explanations.
In 2017, when my life started going downhill, I was working at a bar and drinking like crazy. It was one of the lower points in my life. I try not to think about it. Which I look back on and think, “Why would I start a record like this?” Either way, with the synth pads on this being so overtly digital and the guitars being raw and a bit out of tune, it kind of sets the tone for the whole thing. Also, the casino sample at the end was an actual voice memo from a night at Harrah’s where I lost seventy dollars.
This song should be shorter. I was going for a no-holds-barred approach in which anything that felt right I just did structure- and lyrics-wise. That was a mistake on this one. The guitar riff at the beginning is kind of cool though, and those first verse lyrics are good.
3. “Waffle House”
The working title for this was “Alex G rip.mp3.” That’s all you need to know right there.
I actually think this song is sick. I like the riff and when the organ comes in. I’m really happy with the solo. Although it may be endearing to some, this is not my best vocal work. My voice has gotten better and not nearly as pitchy as it is on this song. Other than that, this is a ripper and really fun to play live. Ah, the good old days.
This is as emo as I’ve ever gotten and I’m honestly disappointed in myself. I was going for a bit more Mellon Collie Smashing Pumpkins, but it ended up just being a terrible version of “Magazine” by Pedro the Lion. Yikes.
6. “I’m Not Going to Your Show”
As much as this is filler content, this is a voicemail my cousin left me when we were playing New York. He would do this a lot where I would invite him to a show we were playing and then he would have some grandiose excuse as to why he couldn’t attend. It’s mainly because he’s old. But he did get me into R.E.M. and we still argue whether Radiohead is important or not. He’s at least convinced me that Radiohead doesn’t suck entirely.
7. “Turnstile Effect”
This song is actually pretty good. I really don’t have any qualms with it except for the sappy lyrics at the end. I’ll give it a pass because they were delivered well, but I’m not doing that again—rest assured.
OK so I’m really conflicted on this one. The riff on this song is tight. Another obvious Pedro the Lion “Control” rip, but I just don’t think I followed through as much as I could have. That bridge is haunting in the worst way. Sloppy, disillusioned, and overall not my best. Just take the good parts of this song. If you enjoy the nasally voice on the choruses (and most of the other songs) then I applaud you because I can’t stand it.
9. “Two Thousand”
Literally wrote this one in the studio. Had never done that before. It sounds that way, too. Love the riff and vibe on this. [Producer] Ian [Farmer] and I were going for a Pygmy Lush thing and it came across a little like that. My only gripe is that this could’ve been heavier, especially with the content. Ya win some ya lose some.
I once read a tweet that said, “Bands that make ten song records but have two filler tracks that are weird samples are trash.” I totally did that. I could not care less. I remember every moment that this track is made of. I remember the German police sirens, the weird bookstore in Virginia, the out-of-tune piano in Kentucky, and finally winning my worthless money back at Harrah’s eventually on a different evening.