Interview: Phil Anastassiou

Congratulations on releasing your first single on Rare Candy, “Holy Moly”! Why did you pick this song to be Drug Bug’s debut track?

Thanks! I thought it’d be a good first track to put out under the Drug Bug moniker mostly because it was one of the first songs I wrote right after moving out for college, which happened to coincide with when this project was conceived. In retrospect, it’s bizarre listening to the kinds of songs I'd write before then; they were all generally a lot folkier, just intended to be played solo and acoustically. To me, “Holy Moly” symbolizes the beginning of a new stylistic chapter in my songwriting, so it felt right to officially introduce everyone to the project with it.   

Your vocals are simple and raw, evoking a lot with a little. How does your background as an actor influence your musical storytelling?

My background in theatre definitely informs the way I go about writing and playing music, in that they’re both basically trying to do the same thing: tell a story, like you said. I guess in a lot of ways having that experience telling stories through the lens of a play made the transition to writing music a bit more natural for me. I’m sure a good amount of my lyrics could double as weird, trippy, confessional monologues. At the end of the day though, whether it’s through a play or a song, what I’m after as a writer isn’t very different at all. 

Give us a peek into your songwriting process. Feel free to do so in any format (diagram, elaborate metaphor, song itself…)

Each song sort of calls for its own unique writing process, but the music almost always comes first for me. Sometimes I’ll sit with a basic idea of a song for months before the right circumstances will come up in my life that’ll compel me to add words. I've tried, but I can’t usually write anything that feels worth listening to unless I’m actively experiencing the feeling I’m trying to capture in a song as I’m writing it. If I’m in the right mood, it can take a few hours from start to finish. Sometimes it’ll take years. Regardless of how long it takes, though, I always try to approach every song I’m working on with complete honesty and emotional transparency. I used to self-censor a lot when writing lyrics because I was scared of how it might change the way people perceived me if I were to be a little too candid when I'd talk about my mental health, just as one example. But the more and more I do this, the more I begin to understand that it’s that sort of honesty that turns people to music in the first place and I’ve been learning to embrace that lately. 

Who is your dream duet partner? What would a collaboration with them look like?  

The first person who immediately comes to mind is Emily Sprague of Florist. Ever since I listened to her first record The Birds Outside Sang, I’ve been a huge fan of her music. I love the brutal honesty of her lyrics, how delicately she layers synths with these beautiful, warbled guitar tones, the raw vulnerability in her voice. That entire record has been a major inspiration in my music lately and if I ever had the chance, I’d totally love to collaborate on something with her.

You spent the end of your summer recording the first Drug Bug EP in New Paltz with Christopher Daly at Salvation Recording Co. What was that like after mostly self-producing your own music?

It was a totally exhilarating and terrifying process in the best way possible. Like you said, anything I had ever recorded in the past I'd do by myself usually in my basement, tracking and mixing each instrument piecemeal with pretty limited equipment. I had never really recorded in a setting where there was someone else whose role was to engineer and produce the overarching shape of the record as a whole, and in many ways that was both a challenge and a huge relief to adjust to. My bandmate Mert Ussakli (who plays drums on the album) and I went upstate for five days in August and I honestly feel very lucky to have had the chance to make my first record with Chris. The beautiful thing about Salvation is that it doesn’t have that stuffy, rushed atmosphere that a lot of other professional studios tend to have. Instead it feels like you’re working at home with found family and that kind of environment is perfect for fostering a whole lot of comfort and creativity. Ultimately, Chris had just as much control in directing the sound and structure of the record as either Mert and I did. There’s still a little more work left to be done on it, but it’s very close to being finished and I’m stoked to share it with everyone once it’s ready.

In a few words, what would you say your new record’s primarily about? 

While the record doesn’t necessarily have a specific underlying narrative, a lot of thought definitely went into which songs made it on there and their arrangement was done very purposefully. It’s hard to put it into words since I’d rather let the songs speak for themselves, but I'd say it covers a good amount of terrain over the five tracks: getting high all the time, the initial excitement of falling in love and the fear of letting someone new in, mourning the death of a relationship you had a lot of hope in, reckoning with the burden of mental illness. Happy shit like that. 

Everyone has a song that feels like home - no matter how much time passes or how many phases you go through, this track is on rotation. What is yours?

A few come to mind, but I should probably go with “Kinder Blumen” by Real Estate. Anyone close to me knows that they’ve been one of my favorite bands for years and this is probably the first song of theirs that I really fell in love with. I grew up in essentially the town over from where they all met and started off in northern Jersey, and they tend to write a lot about bumming out in those sleepy suburbs, so maybe that’s why their music resonates so much with me. One of my favorite things to do for a while used to be driving alone on Route 17 late at night with their second LP Days on repeat. To this day it still makes me super nostalgic. 

If you could try any genre that is wildly out of your comfort zone, what would it be?

I’ve really been getting into a lot of lo-fi hip hop instrumentals lately and would love to fuck around in that corner of music if I knew more about how to make it. I’ve been trying to teach myself different DAWs that are better suited for producing electronic music than what I’m used to and so far it's been pretty mind-blowing for me.

What does your music taste like?

LSD and my tears, probably. 

What’s coming up for Drug Bug? Anything we should look out for?

We’re finishing up the EP and hopefully that’ll be out for everyone to hear soon. Also, we're playing lots of shows around New York over the next few months, a bunch of those are still in the works. Come through to one of them if you’re nearby, should be a real good time!