A Feast for Hungry Eyes: An Interview with Sam Phillips, Part I (Outtakes)by Chad Thomas Johnston on Jul 29, 2013 • 1:00 am No Comments
READ PART I OF “THE HUNGRY-EYED ARTIST: AN INTERVIEW WITH SAM PHILLIPS” HERE, AT IMAGE JOURNAL‘S “GOOD LETTERS” BLOG AT PATHEOS.COM.
Due to space limitations at the “Good Letters” blog, I am featuring outtakes from my recent interview with singer-songwriter Sam Phillips here. Expect installment #2 here tomorrow!
CTJ: You seem very comfortable with the niche you’ve made for yourself as an independent singer-songwriter. Do you feel less encumbered, and more free to grow in any direction you’re naturally inclined to, now that record companies are no longer part of the equation for you as an artist?
SP: We did have pressure on us as artists with record companies in the past. I always was stubborn, and I wanted to do things on my own terms, and I think that oddly enough that career decision became a part of the art because it influenced my art. I think T-Bone and I can both be very stubborn people. I’ve watched him stick to his guns on what he does, and do really well at it. I stuck to my guns and I’ve gone on another path that’s a little more obscure. But I think at the same time, I have the freedom to do what I want to do rather than having a pop hit and then being stuck with that—chained to that dead body for the rest of my life. Which is something a song can be!
It was very funny—Allison Krauss and Robert Plant covered my song, “Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us.” I know one of the things that Robert was saying at the time was that “Stairway to Heaven,” even for him, it’s a lot to hear that again and perform that again. I’m not sure he ever does perform that anymore, but it’s funny to when we look at success as being an entrance to growing and being the artist that you want to be.
CTJ: Because yes, you find success, but then you’re stuck with an old song you can never shake, and it keeps you from growing—it’s like a weed that strangles a flower!
It also seems like you’re good at taking the pulse of both record buyers and the music business at large, and kind of figuring out what they want, and kind of finding a way to supply them with the music you want to create. Is that difficult?
SP: It’s ever changing. I just asked my listeners, “Well, what kind of format do you want for Push Any Button? Do you want CDs? Do you want digital? Do you want vinyl?” And the response was, “We want all of it, yes.”
Some people wanted vinyl, a lot of people still wanted CDs, and a lot of people said digital was fine. That is interesting. But one of the things I’ve tried to be conscious of in terms of the new record was to offer a kinder price point. Because The Long Play was a lot of music, and it cost fifty-two dollars. I thought “I wanna’ make something not as expensive and not as involved for people.”
I don’t know. Maybe music will be free someday. Maybe it will be more expensive. I don’t know how it’s going to go. We’re just all trying to survive and fight the notion that now we all have to make music on our computers—that high-fidelity is lost forever. That we can’t really hire musicians to help us. Because there are a lot of costs in recording and manufacturing.
That’s an interesting thing to make people more aware of: Yes, record companies were taking advantage of artists and taking all the profits, but they also covered costs, and artists have trouble now covering those basic costs—of singing into a really good microphone or having an engineer that specializes in sounds. There’s so many things that a lot of bands and artists don’t have the money to do.
CTJ: Did you record Push Any Button digitally, or did you use analog equipment?
We recorded this album through an old analog board, but it was captured on Logic on a Mac, and then we hit tape with the mixes, so we used a hybrid of both, which is maybe more standard these days. It would be a great project to record an analog album from start to finish. Just capture a live performance and have everyone play around one mic and capture it on tape and put it out on vinyl. I think that would be really fun at one point.
CTJ: Do you get excited every time a record comes out, sort of like you’re putting out a new baby into the world? What’s it feel like when you have a new record that’s just getting ready to drop?
It’s the honeymoon. With Push Any Button, I’m pleased at the way it’s turned out. I gave it to an inner circle of people who have worked on it—very close friends—and I feel that everybody’s response has been so positive. It’s a really happy time, and then it’s a little bit like, “But now it has to go out in the world and face whatever is out there . . . will it find its place?” It’s a little bit like sending a kid to school. Is he going to make friends? What’s going to happen? But I already know this record is finding its place because people are pre-ordering it.