“I’m doing my best to live a life I wouldn’t mind living all over again,” Leng Phe, more commonly known as Phe R.E.D.S, said. The Cambodian-Chinese-American singer-songwriter is set on living life at his own pace and pursuing his dreams. 

February marks Phe R.E.D.S’s return to music. After a year and a half, the H1GHR MUSIC singer released his first single since 2020, “Closer.” In an exclusive interview with EnVi, Phe R.E.D.S gave us the scoop on his latest single, his musical journey, and his future endeavors.

On the “Closer” Single

At the start of the pandemic, Phe took a hiatus to focus on his personal wellness. He spent much of his time strengthening his relationships and pursuing other aspirations—most notably his desire to learn how to pilot and earn his license

On his post-pandemic return, Phe R.E.D.S said, “It’s like I’ve lived a little bit of life and I can take this experience and put it into a sonic medium for people to listen to.”

Even though Phe R.E.D.S was “on hiatus,” he wasn’t taking a break from creating. He spent a lot of time composing music on his own. “Closer” was one of the many projects that he birthed. 

On a bachelor’s trip in LA, Phe R.E.D.S met with Catch24. Phe R.E.D.S showed some of his music to her, and she gravitated towards “Closer.” The duo reconvened in Seattle when both Catch24 and labelmate Cha Cha Malone were in town. Phe says that the producer “blessed it with his magic, and really brought it to life.” 

On the songwriting front, Phe and Catch24 turned to personal experience for the lyrics. Phe asked her many questions about her relationship so she could write out phrases that stood out. “While at the studio, Cha had the beat playing and I just sang out, ‘Bringing youuu clo…serrrr… Clooooserrrr to meee.’ And from there everything fell into place like a puzzle,” he said. He was also sure to give Cha Cha Malone his flowers as well, adding, “If you listen hard enough, you can hear Cha Cha’s ad-libs and some of his harmonies in there as well. He’s quite the genius. Producers don’t get enough credit.”

Phe R.E.D.S

“I’m doing my best to live a life I wouldn’t mind living all over again.”

On February 10, he released the “Closer” collaboration. The final product was a vulnerable R&B song, describing the feelings involved in moving on from a past relationship and opening up to a new partner.

Finding The Right Inspiration 

Although “Closer” marks his official return, Phe R.E.D.S wrote over nine songs during his break. The musical process may seem easy, but it is not as simple as it may seem. It is an arduous process that involves lots of time, introspection, and planning.

Generally, Phe gains inspiration for music from various places. One thing he considers is what his audience wants. He uses social media to scour trends and ask what people are into. Even with others in mind, he ultimately prioritizes his own desires. “I end up making up whatever I feel strongly about. When you feel strongly about something, the music flows out better,” he said. For “Closer,” Phe chose to pluck guitar strings until he found a mood he liked and followed with other additional sounds.

From this, one may conjure that music-making is only about the music, but there are also other details involved in releasing music. Phe R.E.D.S shared that he thinks about marketing, distribution, and promotions in addition to the creative process.

“I think music takes so much more energy than people realize,” he said, reflecting on his overall process. “For listeners of music, it may seem like a break. For the artist, we’re constantly in it.” 

Pursuing Passions

Music is an integral part of Phe R.E.D.S’s life. It has been one of his two main outlets for his self-expression—his second being b-boying, where he, spoiler alert, met fellow Seattle-born artists Jay Park and Cha Cha Malone. From a young age, Phe’s uncles introduced him to b-boying. He finally took the plunge in high school and truly took on break dancing as a hobby. Thanks to his hobbies, he made it into the Seattle-based dance crew Art of Movement (AoM) in 2003. 

“It teaches you grit and to troubleshoot things that aren’t working,” Phe said. In addition to the problem-solving skills, B-boying introduced him to diverse music, ranging from artists like Sharon Jones to Chicago. 

On the musical front, Phe dipped his toes in the water through singing competitions and performing the national anthem for retirements while he was in the military. Prior to joining H1GHR MUSIC, Phe took a shot with music when he studied music at Cal State Fullerton, where he learned about music theory, production, and classical singing.

Phe R.E.D.S

“For listeners of music, it may seem like a break.

For the artist, we’re constantly in it.”

During his time at university, he produced two extended plays as an independent artist. He also took a stab at creating his own music videos with Vince Horiuchi (VincaniTV), who helped with video production. Some of his recordings included performances with fellow musicians and peers. Phe was sure to list out a few and stress that his journey has never been alone.

Many of his older videos can still be found on his old channel under his name Leng Phe. His YouTube is full of song covers, performance videos, and original music videos.

Eventually, Phe R.E.D.S paused his musical journey to pursue his dream of becoming a pilot. He moved back to Seattle to pursue aviation, but that was also short-lived. 

On Joining H1GHR

Life has a funny way of working. Phe’s history with H1GHR MUSIC’s founder worked to his benefit. Phe can clearly recount when Jay Park recruited him as a new artist. The two met up to hang out while both of them were in their home city. 

On this, he said, “One night, I picked up Jay while he was in town and we were headed to our crew-mate Junior’s spot. He said, ‘Yo, I’m starting a new label and I want you to be part of it.’ I was super chill like, ‘Oh yeah bro, I’m down.’ But inside I was like, ‘LFG!!’”

Phe considers 2017 the “most awesome year.” He joined K-hiphop label H1GHR MUSIC and debuted with the R&B single “Smile” alongside rapper WOOGIE. It was the start of his career—with a handful of collaborations and solo releases. Each single he has dropped flaunts his clear, R&B vocals. 

Although being part of a label has been life-changing, Phe shared that it has had its ups and downs. Being able to join H1GHR MUSIC has opened many doors for the singer, including the privilege to collaborate with H1GHR’s extensive catalog of artists. He is grateful that he can truly focus on his music process due to the support of being in a company. 

Yet, there are still many adversities he faces on the day-to-day. He opened up on the struggles of being a foreign artist in Korea, and an outcast in the United States—after all, there are not many outlets for Asian American artists to truly chase their dreams in the US. (But it’s a growing movement and Phe R.E.D.S expressed delight for 88rising, who is leading in this space.)

“I feel like I don’t have an audience that I can call my own,” he confessed. While being signed to a label has its perks, Phe expressed that working from abroad can pose challenges when trying to make moves at home in the US. 

Embracing One’s Roots & Creating the R.E.D.S. Identity

For Phe, representation is incredibly important. It is one of many motivators in his life—one reason he pursued music. He is proud of his Cambodian roots and considers them a huge part of his personal narrative. His stage name is a prime example of this.

Phe R.E.D.S is a combination of his surname, Phe, and the self-made abbreviation for “Remember Every Dream Stolen,” paying respect to the lives lost during the Cambodian genocide. It is both a “homage to [his] people” and “a mission statement for [himself] and listeners.” The singer came up with the acronym one night in bed. He likes red “for all the emotions it can represent.” The name also serves as an illustration of his evolution as an artist. 

Just as his name has many meanings, he also wears many caps. In addition to his cultural identity, Phe R.E.D.S is proud of dancing, being a H1GHR MUSIC artist, and becoming a pilot. Phe thinks everyone should proudly wear their various identities. Each title is fulfilling and gives him a sense of “meaning and purpose.” Phe emphasizes the importance of embracing one’s identity since he believes that he witnessed a lack of representation growing up. The singer strives to be that role model he desired when he was younger.

Phe R.E.D.S

“Growing up, I didn’t have any crown jewels or positive role models to look up to,” he said. “I became the person that I never saw.”

He also thinks diversity is important even within personal interests. Phe R.E.D.S has dedicated time to his goals in music, dance, and aviation, while also ensuring that he engages with family and culture. Previously, he has taught breakdancing to youth in Cambodia, but, on a smaller scale, he has made it a point to have lunch with his grandma and chat in Khmer. Small or big, any interest is worth investing time in for Phe R.E.D.S.

Lessons Learned

Now that he is back, Phe R.E.D.S hopes to create songs that bring about experiences. “When you navigate through America as a minority, you sometimes feel invisible, dismissed, or ignored,” he said. “At the end of the day, I want my music to be felt.”

In order to make his music felt, he strives to make a diverse range of music. “You’re in love? Listen to ‘Smile.’ Celebrating life? Peep ‘Swing My Way.’ Confused about someone? Listen to ‘Closer.’ Booty call? Here’s ‘Way 2 You,’” he said. 

His goal of spreading experiences is not without issues. He believes that there are going to be people who don’t like him. He is working on accepting that, as well as accepting himself.

Phe R.E.D.S

 “The person you’ll be 10 years from now will thank you for the work you put in today.”

He elaborated, “There will be people that say and do things that hurt and discourage you from the path you’re on including the people you loved and trusted most. It’s going to suck.” Phe then added that his advice for his younger self would be to pay no mind to those negative influences. It is pointless to exert excessive energy since other people’s opinions don’t matter. These negative experiences only helped him grow thicker skin.

 “The person you’ll be 10 years from now will thank you for the work you put in today,” he said.

Future Endeavors

According to Phe, this is just the beginning of a new chapter in his career. He aims to release two extended play projects over the next few years. He also hopes to tour and participate in music festival stages. 

In terms of new music, hopefully, there will be music that “makes [him] dance and the ladies wiggle”— that’s what he wants to try!

If you are interested in getting closer to Phe R.E.D.S, be sure to check out his latest single, “Closer.”

Want more exclusive interviews? Check out our feature on H1GHR MUSIC’s TRADE L here.