28-year-old Nick Locke, otherwise known as Phyphr, a funky electronic solo artist based in Denver, makes music to inspire reactions — an ethos he made abundantly clear on his recently-released debut album, Catalyst. The title of the album embodies what Locke wants his fans to take away from his music, both in name and in sound — if we can collectively step out of our comfort zones to chase our passions, it changes everything.
“I believe that my purpose in this world is to be a catalyst for the next,” Locke said in an exclusive interview with 303 Magazine. “If someone comes to my show and decides to be their own catalyst for another person, we develop this catalyst-squared mentality, and that can change the world.”
“Reaction” opens with Locke’s voice dropped to the lowest register possible. This is the Phyphr persona, inspired by The Fairly OddParents episode “MicroPhony,” in which the main character, Timmy Turner, hosts a radio show as “Double T in the Morning,” and uses a magic microphone to disguise his childish voice with a much deeper one.
Away from the stage, Locke lives a relatively introverted lifestyle. But when Phyphr takes the stage, a whole new energy emerges — the energy of a natural-born star. He encourages his fans to discover their inner-starpower as well on “Reaction” with the lyrics “You have the power to live the life you dreamed.”
“That’s me challenging people. Will you follow your heart and help change the world here? That’s the theme for Catalyst. Every song is talking about a step or a piece of finding who I am. But it’s also challenging people to find who they are.”
Locke doesn’t expect a single song to change the world. Rather, it’s the way one song can inspire another person to create something they’ve always wanted to create. Locke hopes his music can be the stone that ripples on the creek’s surface; the domino that knocks over all the others; the chemical that causes a chain reaction.
“I’m really caught up with this whole idea that somebody could come see me or anybody else perform — or listen to an album — and they might pick up their instrument and play it for the world,” Locke said. “And I think that a world full of people who are following their passion in life rather than stuck in a money cycle they can’t get out of . . . I think that would change the world.”
Locke grew up in Wilmington, North Carolina, a quaint beach town with a supportive music scene. Electronic artist GRiZ sparked growth in Wilmington’s funk and soul scene with his annual “GRiZMAS in July” festival, but the community also loves fostering local and lesser-known artists by throwing grassroots shows.
Locke started playing guitar at six years old and began producing music more seriously when he was 17. Early on in his production journey, one of Locke’s biggest inspirations — and a direct catalyst for his work as Phyphr — was Manic Focus, an electronic artist he saw live at Suwanee Hulaween in 2017. It was at this music festival that Locke realized the only difference between him and the artists on stage was their belief in themselves and their choice to live out their dreams. “That level of manifestation — that you can put your mind to anything and achieve it — I was enamored with that,” Locke said. “And I still am. One day, I flipped the switch and I never looked back.”
READ: Manic Focus’s Latest Album, ‘Never Not Blue’ is A Musical Journey through Mania and Optimism
Although Locke wasn’t in a hurry when he began the Phyphr project in 2017, he immediately set consistent goals for himself. His first goal was to make music as an outlet, which resulted in the release of his first EP, Toons, in 2018. Locke looks back on this project as a rudimentary but necessary piece in his discography. He said didn’t really know what he was doing while making Toons, but it’s what got the initial momentum necessary to secure some of his first bookings — the first of which fell on his 25th birthday in 2019. He’s been performing ever since.
In September of 2021, Locke packed up a U-Haul and moved to Denver with his girlfriend Roxy and his dog Bean, ready to grow as an artist and be a part of a new scene. “I wanted to see what could happen if I moved to where the mecca of my style of music lived,” Locke said. “Denver has heart and soul.” When you’re here, you feel like you’re really a part of it, and it’s an honor to be a part of it.
“The fans that come to the shows aren’t just there for the party, they genuinely care about the music. That’s refreshing. Fans quickly become friends, and we all become a community.”
Locke knew he was taking a risk when he moved to Denver. He wasn’t signed, he didn’t have much money, but he was running off encouragement from other artists and loved ones and was willing to be uncomfortable if it meant being a step closer to his life’s creative purpose.
In October of 2022, Locker’s dream became a reality when he signed with manager Calhoun McDougall at Mammoth Music Group, which houses some of Locke’s favorite artists including Manic Focus, Maddy O’Neal and Pretty Lights. Getting signed with Mammoth wasn’t necessarily something Locke expected. He considers McDougall not only the best manager but his best friend.
READ: Maddy O’Neal Talks “The Rush,” Mission Ballroom and Becoming her Own Band
When McDougall started working at Mammoth, he brought Phyphr along with him. “We took a chance on each other,” Locke said. “I was his first solo client, and he was my first manager. We grinded together, and came up with goals together.” Locke and McDougall were excited to have more resources and more brain power to work towards new goals.
Locke is beyond proud of his first full-length album, but he had no idea how difficult the entire process would be until he was fully immersed in the production process.
Writing the music itself was the easiest part, that comes naturally to him. But turning the music into a completed track and making a cohesive album was something Locke struggled with. “You’ll lose your mind chasing this idea of perfection. I did that,” Locke said. “I wrote and produced this album and it was probably good enough to release back in October, but then I wanted to make it better and my brain filled with insecurities and I kept going back to the drawing board.” This is a universal struggle that many artists of many mediums are familiar with.
It’s a question as old as the creative process itself: How do you keep your art authentic and representative of who you were at the time when you created it while also remaining open to making it better and taking the time to polish it? Locke feels this part of the process is just as valuable as any other part of his artistic process.
“One of my favorite things — which contradicts all my doubts and insecurities — is being able to hear an artist grow as I run their discography from front to back,” Locke said. “You hear the story, and you watch that evolve. Even though my album isn’t sonically perfect or where I want it to be in terms of production value, it is real and it is the first album that people will find when they dig in. People will recognize the rawness and hear the progression that’s going to come next.”
Phyphr will be headlining a show at Meow Wolf in Denver on April 7, 2023 — and he’s bringing some new tricks, new songs and a high-production set to the psychedelic venue. Click here to purchase tickets to the upcoming show, here.