pHoenix Pagliacci Is Going to "Leave Some Dope-Ass Vocals Behind"

The TRP.P singer-rapper is letting her "theatre kid" roots show through audiobooks and guest appearances with Shad
pHoenix Pagliacci Is Going to 'Leave Some Dope-Ass Vocals Behind'
Photo: Anthony Gebrehiwot of XVXY PHOTO
On Shad's recent album, TAO, one of the most prominent voices joining him on his journey to "be whole and holding it down" is that of pHoenix Pagliacci. On "Out of Touch," the TRP.P singer-songwriter and former member of hip-hop supergroup the Sorority lets alluring harmonies give way to a sweetly sung message of hope — "My, how we've come a long way" — before throwing her hands in the air, leaving it all up to God. Later, on soulful showstopper "Storm," her layered vocal tracks communicate resilience as she wonders how much more she can give to weathering tempestuous conditions.

As Pagliacci recalls to Exclaim!, both of her turns on TAO were recorded with an ear towards the textural. "For 'Out of Touch,' Shad had the dope beat, and initially I was like, 'Oh yeah, we're gonna rap some fire bars on this.' And he's like 'No, no, this isn't deep shit. I just need you to hold down the harmonies,' and I'm like 'aight, bet.'"

She continues, "I've really been coming into loving my natural voice without compression, without the distortion, reverb and all that stuff. It's kind of cool, because I'll play my own shit like over and over and over again, and [TRP.P producer and partner] Truss will get sick of it and he'll have to come and turn it off — because before, he would play it and then I would turn it off. Also, because of the pandemic, I feel like, 'Well, shoot, if I'm gonna go, I better leave some dope-ass vocals behind, you know?'"

Lately, Pagliacci's recording work outside of music has been less about texture and more about text, thanks to a foray into the world of audiobooks. Earlier this year, the artist recorded complete readings of two fiction titles from Ontario authors: The Lost Sister by Andrea Gunraj and Gutter Child by Jael Richardson. Months on from their respective releases through Amazon-owned audiobook and podcast service Audible, Pagliacci shares with Exclaim! that her readings of Gunraj and Richardson's work have since led to further voiceover assignments for corporate presentations and commercials.

Pagliacci points to the weekly church sermons of her upbringing as a formative example of how one could captivate an audience as an engaging orator. She notes DMX, Nina Simone and Jadakiss as vocalists that gripped her attention with vocal timbre alone, and recalls her years at Scarborough's Wexford Collegiate School for the Arts as crucial to honing her ability to speak with the clarity and confidence that narration demands. "I've always been a theatre kid," she notes. "I've narrated plays in school, sung in musicals. It's a fit for me to be doing something in the area of performance, even if you don't get to see me."

Pagliacci got her recent audiobook narration opportunities through engineers at Toronto recording studios Soleil Sound and Post Office Sound, where Pagliacci had previously visited for music-related work. As something of an audition process for author and publisher, the artist was then asked to submit a recording of herself reading a provided excerpt from each book. In the case of Gutter Child's audiobook, publisher HarperCollins liaised with the studio to set deadlines after confirming Pagliacci as narrator, and she then got to work with Post Office Sound's Evan Miles on reading Richardson's release in its entirety.

"We do blocks of the book. So, maybe we'll read for four hours one day, and then for three hours the next. Sometimes we'll book five or six-hour sessions to crush as much as possible," she explains of the process, stressing that one must step to the mic ready to read. "You booked the studio session like you're going to write or rap. But if you're not able to deliver top-notch quality, then you've got to shut it down.

"There have been days where my voice gets raspy, or I'm falling asleep, or yawning after every sentence," Pagliacci admits, setting the scene with a laugh: "I'm sitting in a soundproof booth, with the lights off, sipping tea, reading off of a tablet. That's my nighttime shutdown mode."

For Gutter Child, Richardson created a new language that included words with specific pronunciations, resulting in a revision process between publisher, producer and narrator that saw everything from full sentences to singular words rerecorded for greater accuracy. Even without the mug of tea, comfy chair or blue light glasses, Pagliacci's approach to recording sessions differs between rapping and read-throughs.

"When I go to the studio, I need to hit certain notes, or deliver words in a certain cadence. There's more rigidity, there's more structure, and there's also people that are expecting a certain sound from me. Narration is more finding a sound through what I already sound like. I'll have a little bit of inflection here and there, or I'll give the characters a bit of identity through different tones, but I'm still just reading a book. I feel less pressure when I'm just sitting in the room sipping tea, reading a book into a mic, definitely."

The corporate clientele that have followed are content to receive Pagliacci's vocals as raw audio from her home studio. A recent voiceover saw her narrate a presentation to investors behind the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health's (CAMH) latest redevelopment project. If Truss isn't around to engineer, she records using Logic Pro and a Rode USB condenser microphone, carefully eyeing her peaks.

However, her aforementioned love of natural voice does not carry over to narration, thanks to the phenomenon of voice confrontation. "Recording audiobooks made me realize that I was a monotonous monster when I talk," she shares. "But on the other hand, people are like, 'Yeah, that's what we need, a narrator with a consistent voice.' And I'm like, 'Okay, but my voice is very monotone when I speak.' And they're like, 'That's great, you're hired.'

"I'm very critical of my own work. With voiceovers, there's no beat to hide behind. It's just you. That was very hard, to hear myself back. The books are dope. What I'm reading makes it interesting for me, but hearing me read it, I'm like, 'I don't want to read this book with you. I just want to read it by myself!'"