by: Thomas D. Mooney
He doesn’t know it, but everyone knows who he is.
The first time I met K. Phillips was the first time he played The Blue Light a little over a year ago. He was opening up for Charlie Shafter on a rainy summer weekend night. As I was talking with Shafter and guitarist Eric Tarr outside in the Blue Light patio, Phillips would chime in here and there about a Leon Russell song we were talking about.
All the while, making his homemade band merch t-shirts for that evening. He had a stack of colored t-shirts, a handful of spray paint cans, and a few stencils. One in particular, you’ll all recognize off the bat just says “Came 2 Fuck.” You’ll see it above the urinals in The Blue Light–and maybe a few other venues across the state for all I know.
For months, you’d overhear Blue Light patrons commenting about “Came 2 Fuck.” More so, you’d heard others telling them about this small K. Phillips character coming from Austin and jamming on this keyboard and guitar. Much like that first Blue Light crowd, I found what Phillips brought was a breath of fresh air.
You wouldn’t dare call it “Texas Country,” or “country” or “alternative country.” But rather, felt much more rooted in ’70s rock amongst the likes of Joe Cocker, Van Morrison, and the Rolling Stones. And there’s some soul in there somewhere too.
For starters, his voice shows that he could actually sing (How many times have you seen someone have to resort to the Robert Earl Keen impression?). It’s this weird West Texas (Phillips’ is originally from San Angelo) drawl that picks and chooses its’ spots. He could certainly go gung-ho for an entire song, but pulling back and letting go only here and there on a song has an attractiveness to it. It brings you in where you’re more prone to listen.
On American Girls, Phillips also showed that he had a different approach to writing as well. There’s lot of subtle jabs. Humorous and clever lines about getting your girlfriend stole by Bob Ross’ happy trees and women swallowing his pride metaphors. “It’s a metaphor; it’s very deep.”
But probably the most interesting fact about American Girls isn’t that Phillips was able to surround himself with an all-star cast of musicians, his voice, or even his writing style. It’s that he wasn’t singing about your father’s American girls–the girl’s next door anything apple pie or Beach Boys about it. They were true American girls. A loose concept record about how women really are in the 21st century (and probably always have been). There’s some genuineness to it.
Phillips wasn’t throwing an all-describing, all-inclusive net around what American girls should be. There’s no “She’s a country back road, Lonestar beer drinking, two-stepping, big hair, white t-shirt and blue jeans wearing, generic bullshit, etc…etc…etc..” type of filth on the record. Who’s getting pretty tired of that American Girls caricature?
Phillips and The Concho Pearls are currently working on their sophomore release, which is yet to be titled and with no release date attached. They’re in the middle of raising funds for the record and have an Indie GoGo page started for the project. You can find that here.
We caught up with Phillips last week over the phone, which you’ll find below. K. Phillips & The Concho Pearls and Good Morning Captain will be playing The Blue Light tonight (Friday, August 2).
New Slang: I guess let’s start off talking about this upcoming record you guys are working on right now. About where are you guys in the process?
K. Phillips: We’ve recorded about eight songs already. We’ve been recording for a few months now. We did a bunch of days of pre-production. With the first record, I was blessed to have this man John Pettit, he’s a big-time music fan and his uncle is actually Jimmy Pettit of The Flatlanders. John executive produced on American Girls–which you know, was a dream team album. You know, that’s something that not everybody gets to do in their lifetime. But, when it came time to tour, nobody really knew who I was so it was kind of hard to tour–and it wasn’t like I was going to be able to fly out Bobby Keys for every show or something. I’d been playing with The Concho Pearls for a few years while in college. We ended up playing places like Steamboat. And I guess I kind of expected some people to hate it–or a lot of people to hate it–because it’s not really in the same mold [as “Texas Country”], but it was an amazing experience. The idea on this record was that, “well, we play really well together. We get along well. I write with Daniel and I write with Phil. Why don’t we go and make a record instead of hiring studio guys? Make the record and go out on the road.” Then you see the guy on stage was the guy who played it on the record. It sounds simple, but I don’t really know how much they do it anymore. Guys like Uncle Lucius do it.
NS: Yeah. I’d say that bands that have “band names” are much more likely doing that versus when it’s just someone’s name or “Someone’s name and the Whatevers.”
KP: Right. You know, the studio is a totally different game. A stage performer, he does a windmill move on his guitar and people see that and get excited. That kind of thing resonates with him in a certain way visually. But in the studio, it’s a lot harder. It takes a special musician to do both. And studio guys are really amazing at doing that windmill in the studio. I don’t know, their brains are like wired to be more flexible or something. You’re able to tell them “OK, we’re not going to play it this way now. Let’s try it this other way” and they’ll get it. Live musicians, they learn the record and they play it. They’re really good at traveling in a van and bringing it every night for 90 minutes. Is any of that making sense?
NS: Yeah. I certainly get what you’re saying. I’ve talked with some guys about this exact same thing where some musicians are just geared for live shows and others work better in the studio and they can’t really do the opposite. Sometimes for live musicians, it’s difficult to play in the studio since there isn’t that live audience and it has to deal with energy. There’s not that live crowd energy for them to feed off of.
KP: Yeah. It’s almost like acting.
NS: Do you feel that since you’ve been playing with this band for a while now, that you’re more comfortable with them playing in the studio though? Like you’re more comfortable with telling them to do this or that since you know them more personally than say a studio guy you just met?
KP: I can. And actually, I’ve had to tell some people who I’m sorry later and really apologize. When we’re working, I’m not very nice. It’s not that I’m not trying to be nice, but it’s more so that I’ve got this idea in my head and trying to get it out. But yeah, I’ve said things to the guys before where I’d have never said it to them else where or to a studio guy. But I think we’re trying to get the best performances out of everyone.
NS: Yeah. I’m sure they understand it too.
KP: Yeah. And everyone else is a lot bigger than me in the band too. So I’ve also said to them, that if I’m being rude, you can just punch me.
KP: It’s actually been tough in different ways though. Like with that first record, they knew what the songs were supposed to sound like. For two years now, we’ve been playing these songs night after night. With these, I’ve purposely have kept them away from them because I don’t want them to have any ideas before going into the studio. I don’t want them to learn to play it a certain way before I know exactly how I want it. It sounds simple. “Take the band you love playing with and cut the record and then go on tour.” But you know, I’m still writing the record. And the eight songs we’ve cut, I don’t even know if they’ll end up on the record. Or maybe they change.
NS: So what are these songs mostly about? There a common theme running throughout or anything like that?
KP: You know, I don’t know how these are going to be taken. American Girls is this record that’s really a fun record. Songs about girls. I feel I needed to get that record out first. This record, I guess it started with a song that I guess we’re calling “Coal Burner” right now. I don’t know if you’ve heard it. I’m not trying to play it every night, but we’ve played it every night. I guess this is about sharing your life with somebody and growing up. I don’t know, man. That sounds so boring. Why would anyone want to listen to that?
KP: It’s still going to be danceable. It’s not going to be a record filled with slow ballady type things, but I’m really into writing from my perspective and telling my story. That’s just where I’m at right now. I think I’ve got a better idea on what I want in life. Before, it was so much easier since I literally did not give a fuck about anything [laughs]. Now, it’s trying to stay disciplined in my writing. It’s just something that happens when you get paid to do what you love. At first, it was like “This is my dream!” And it still is my dream, but once you start taking money to do it and there are people there every night and they want you to be the best you can be. They paid you money and didn’t have to do so. They’ve been working all day and didn’t have to go see you. You just can’t go on stage and play three songs and come up with an excuse. You can’t put out like seven shitty albums and then hope people buy the eighth album.
NS: Yeah. You feel there’s now an obligation. There’s an unwritten contract between an artist and their fans. You continue putting out something with full commitment and something that I enjoy and I’ll continue buying albums and going to shows.
KP: Yeah. I do. That’s how I feel. And it’s not like the biggest fucking audience in the world. I’m really OK with that. I almost feel like I owe them more. We’re doing this IndieGoGo thing to raise money for the record and I see the names of everyone who has contributed. And there’s not been one person who I did not know. I feel like you’re writing personally and sharing an honest story–no matter what it is–and you meet these people who share that story, I think you’re kind of meant to meet each other. And I don’t want to lose that. I feel I’m lucky I get to make music that I believe in. I remember playing with these Red Dirt and Texas Country bands who were huge and had all these fans. Their fans made them who they were and they’d never go see them even for a little bit. Like they’d get finished playing and be like The Beatles running down the hallway to their bus. I’ve never experienced that level of success, but I just don’t feel like what I do is hard. It’s something you get to do. You’re lucky so why wouldn’t you get to know the people who like what you do?
NS: Something I saw the other day was The Pottery Album.
KP: Yeah. You saw that? Is that online?
NS: Yeah. I saw a link to it somewhere and found it and listened to it.
KP: Yeah. I made that in college. That’s really good journalism. In college, I was pre-law and then became an English major. I tried writing this book about the creative process by the singer-songwriter as my senior thesis and my professor was like “Why don’t you write something about the telescopic philanthropy of Elizabeth Gaskell in North & South.” They wanted something more academic. I’d rather not [laughs]. I had already started on this book and interviewed all these cool people. And it’d be something that people would actually buy. I was just like fuck this, I’ll just become a pottery major. I actually really loved it. I wasn’t super great at it since I hadn’t been doing it as long as these other people. When it came time to do the senior seminar I choked. It’s just like writing. I couldn’t do it anymore. I went back and just psyched myself out. How am I supposed to graduate? I asked my professor if I could just write a paper and he said that he didn’t really view me as a creative person. And I said, “Well look, man. I’m in my room writing songs all day. That’s got to count for something.” It was really just a knee-jerk reaction and he said “Well why don’t you write some songs about pottery?” And people were picking out some real bullshit for their senior projects. I thought I could do that. I had a Mac and a boom microphone and such. So in three weeks, I wrote and recorded that pottery album. I really liked working in that creative constriction. You know, this is a concept album and write about that. Then you can write a love song about losing your girlfriend to Bob Ross, the painter. Which you know, that song made it to American Girls. Everything’s been done before, so writing in those creative guidelines, it almost makes it easier. I had a blast doing that though. I did it in three weeks and got a B. I’d like to hear it again. I haven’t heard it in several years. Yeah [Laughs]. It’s funny you found that.
NS: Have you thought about doing more concept records? Or conceptesque?
KP: Yeah. You know that’s a great idea. I’ve kind of been missing that element. Everything’s so weighty and been done before. There for a while, I didn’t show anybody, but I wanted to do this. I’ve got two things kind of in the works. I kinda don’t want to talk about them because I may never do them, but maybe if I tell you and it’s on paper, then I have to do it.
NS: That works [laughs].
KP: Two things. One, I don’t want to call it a rock opera, but a stage show about Caligula. He was a really crazy, interesting character. But it’d be like a stage show where it’d be funny and weird. Like the band’s playing, but people fake die on stage. And fake blood. But it’d be a band show. And the other deal, I was trying to get the funds together, but I have this idea of doing like a tent show revival and taking the band and doing that. Like we wouldn’t play in bars or clubs. Everyday, we’d get up and drive and put up this tent and PA and people come out and it’s like a revival. It’s more secular. It’s something for everyone and about trying to live as a good person. But it’s so difficult to find a good tent and get it on the road. We’re going to figure it out.
NS: They certainly sound interesting. You know of Terry Allen, right?
KP: Oh yeah. His son, Bukka played on American Girls. And he actually lives just down the street. I love Terry Allen.
NS: Of course, he’s from Lubbock and all. It really sounds like you’re working out some things that’d be Terry Allenesque in style.
KP: Yeah. Well, now it has to happen.