by: Thomas D. Mooney
Musically, Lubbock has a freak show quality to it. It can feel like you’re on the edge of the world. You’re marooned on an island in a sea of cotton fields. That breeds a certain type of musician and artist.
“There’s nothing else to do here except play music and drink.”
It’s why so many bands are left or right of the center. Phlip Coggins‘ “Welcome to the Freak Show” may not intentionally be trying to express that notion, but it does a fairly good job of doing so nonetheless.
That’s really why when you’re describing what Coggins does as a musician, you’re either stuck writing a couple of paragraphs worth or just giving up and simply calling “Americana” or “folk.” Something like that. Freak folk.
Coggins’ latest even further muddies the water on that description–which is a good thing. It’s more rocking and dynamic than anything he recorded on Soljourn. Yet, it’s still very personal and emotional. It doesn’t lose that just because it’s loud and in your face.
We caught up with Phlip Coggins late last week to talk about his release of “Welcome to the Freak Show.” He’s playing his CD release show tonight at The Blue Light. Listen to “Welcome to the Freak Show” below.
New Slang: First thing I think that popped into mind after listening to this is that the guitars are really crisp and sharp. There’s a definite edge to them that make them distinct. Talk about that process of finding those tones for the songs.
Phlip Coggins: It’s interesting. I originally wanted to drop this back in March and had set the date at Blue Light and basically had things going for that date, but had to cancel because shit just to the way side. I was really bummed and upset about it. I had recorded it out at SPC. I had engineered the second track (“Is This Love (Am I Blind)?”) and the first (“Welcome to the Freakshow”) was engineered by a friend of mine out there named Danny Johnson. I hadn’t released anything in a long time and feeling like I needed to get something out. But I kept going back and constantly changing something in the mix. I engineer too so I’m always trying to pay attention to that while recording–even if I’m working with other people or places. It doesn’t always need to be the most pristine quality, but it needs to be what the song’s texture or feelings need. We paid attention to that when we tracked it and I felt really good about it, but then I started working at Amusement Park Studios with Scott [Faris] and I remember taking him the final mixes that I’d done. The second track had actually been my capstone for graduating SPC in the audio program. I had felt good about it, but I guess you probably always feel like it could be better. Anyways, I’ve always valued Scott’s opinion and brought it to him to get his take. He went and listened to it and when he came back, the first thing he said was “great mix…but” which I was thinking “yes…uh-oh, what’s he going to say?” And he said “Probably one of the better indie sounding mixes I’ve heard, but it doesn’t sound national. What I mean by that is that it sounds good, but when you have all these other records out here, and they have certain audio quality or certain tone, you’re competing against that.” You want something that a listener can digest. The crispness, the clarity, punch, and drive. These certain elements. And he said that it was good, but just not quite there.
I asked if it was the performance or the way we tracked it. If he thought we needed to go back and re-track some things. But he was very clear that he thought it was the mix. There are things that you’re doing stylistically that I want to hear that I’m not hearing. He said we should bring it over to the studio and do some of the techniques he likes to do and run it through his board to give it some additional analog feel. We went ahead and did that and that’s when we started seeing some problems. There was some sloppiness here and there that you couldn’t hear before because they were being covered up by other parts. That crispness wasn’t there.
After that, I basically thought OK, I’m going to re-track everything in this studio. I’ve heard so many great things come from out of there. And I remember after we re-tracked the first song, going back and listening to it, I’d pop the old mix into my car and then just the raw tracks of what we re-recorded and it was like night and day. I think a lot of that was because we were using better mics, better pre-amps. We were using tools you have in a studio that really help you get what you’re going after. I don’t want to say we were limited, but really, a college can only get certain things because they’re what you’re learning on. And the equipment that Scott has, it’s been handpicked by him specifically for that space. But the difference was night and day. It really made me realize that recording and engineering can be as subtle as what mic and what pre-amp you’re using. It can make or break a record.
NS: Was this originally going to be something bigger than just a two-track single? Was this part of a bigger idea?
PC: No. This was always going to be just two. I went through a divorce that was finalized last year and really through myself into the studio. I had felt like I just needed to go do music. I just need to forget about everything else in the world for a minute and fall back in love with that. Every time an engineer asked if I was available, I was. I had recorded an entire record throughout the course of the divorce that we’re about to start re-tracking and do from scratch. If we can, we’ll try and get it out by the end of the year, but we’ll see what happens. It’s a lot of work in a very short amount of time. I’d gone through every bit of emotion through the writing and recording of that. I think a lot of those songs ended up being good songs. I wanted to release that, but there was still so much work that needed to be done and there was still some emotional hesitance. That is a very personal record. But time kept ticking and I needed to get something out. So I thought, what if I just drop a single? Let’s let that roll for a bit. Soljourn was two years ago. Which, for six tracks to cover that time, that’s a long time. But maybe, I won’t lose momentum if I get something out. So Threads, Locks & Rock, which is a performance organization here, Toshia Humphries, it’s her brain child. I had always wanted to get involved somehow so I asked her and she said yes. So we started doing rehearsals for that show which was called TLR Renaissance Freak Show. I was going to do a song I had already written called “Carousel” and the more we were working out the show, the more I felt that “Carousel” was a really pussy song for the show. I cannot do that song. It’s going to really kill the vibe of the evening [laughs]. So I said, “Fuck it, I’m just going to write something.” I’d been doing that for this whole other record, may as well do it again. So I wrote it for the show. The show really pulled me out of that depression I was going through.
Then I thought, well let’s use that as a single. Let’s record “Welcome to the Freak Show.” But I didn’t want to just release that one song. So I started thinking about what could compliment it without being the exact same thing. I already had parts of it and ended up finishing “Is This Love (Am I Blind)?” The whole point of that song, the B-side, I really want to put a cap on all that confusion and emotion through that divorce. You know, I loved her–and she’ll always be there in the heart and the head. But, we were on different wave lengths. That’s where that song came from. Is this love or am I blind? Am I just not getting this? The lyrics of that song really came from me trying to answer that.
I think it really complements the A-side, which is really sarcastic and hard-driven. That’s a very “Welcome to the freak show. Don’t worry about this so much. Just go with it–it doesn’t matter how it’s going–just go with it. And the second is all this questioning and all of this doubt. This frustration and heartbreak. So I thought that’s all it really needed to be. Those two.
NS: There’s a very, what’s the term I’d use, a Buckley-ian feel to it. It has this Grace, Jeff Buckley feel to it. One of my favorite things about Buckley is that it’s dark, but also in its own way, very light and airy. It’s rock and roll, but also has this sense of jazz and old traditional folk thing. It sounds like it came from another time from years and years and years ago, but also new. That’s kind of what I heard in “Is This Love?”
PC: Yeah? That’s great. When I wrote it, I remember really listening to two songs. It’s great you say Buckley, because one of them was “Lover, You Should’ve Come Over,” which is just one of the best songs of all-time. It’s just beautiful. What spurred that was when Natalie Maines put out her solo record last year and covered that.
NS: Yeah. I thought she did a great job on it, but it’s still one of those songs that I feel is uncoverable. Who has the balls to cover that?
PC: Oh man. Exactly. But I had heard that and had to go back and really listen to the original. The other song was “Since I’ve Been Loving You” by Zeppelin. Those two songs really capture the emotions of a loss of love. There’s this epic, almost over the top, yet sensible and makes you really feel. I wanted to write something like that. It makes me happy that you feel that way about it. Course, you also don’t want to do a copy so I was trying real hard to make it myself. It was trying to make this real droning song not get boring. The song is nothing but movement. Up, down, intense, calm. Ebb and flow.