The Hungry-Eyed Artist: An Interview with Sam Phillips, Part II (Outtakes)by Chad Thomas Johnston on Jul 30, 2013 • 3:00 am No Comments
READ PART II 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. In case you missed yesterday’s installment, check it out here.
When you first started writing music, did you immediately begin creating the sorts of songs that would later suit the Christian music industry and appear on Leslie Phillips records, or did that music come later?
When I began I really wanted to change the world. It’s funny—it’s almost as if there was this separate compartment for the music I loved, and the music that I started making, which was more “functional.” So it’s funny that, in starting out to change the world through music, music ended up changing me. I found how much I really did love music and how much I wanted to communicate a much bigger area of ideas than when I started out in Gospel music. I think it was a very good discipline, I guess, it is variations on a theme. And it was an interesting study in humanity.
I think that there are fundamentalists of all kinds. You can be a vegetarian fundamentalist or a scientology fundamentalist. It’s just a funny human thing we do. We try to reduce things to simple formulas and then form private clubs and lock people out and get very judgmental and afraid.
It doesn’t always have to go that way. I think it’s better to have a profound, open, simple set of beliefs.
I started from a very different place than where I’ve ended up, but I’m grateful for and kind of tenderhearted about the whole experience even though it was kind of strange and difficult. I will add that I started in Gospel music because my intent never has been and never will be to be a celebrity or pop star. So that always makes it perplexing for me to answer that question when people ask, “How did you get started in the music business?” It’s difficult, because I came at it from such a weird angle. I think the aim of so many people these days is to become rich and famous, or not to have to work a nine-to-five job. There are a lot of funny motivations that I scratch my head at because that’s never been my intent, or what I was reaching for.
How does making a Sam Phillips record now differ, if at all, from making Sam Phillips record ten years ago, or even a Leslie Phillips record twenty years ago?
In the past, I worked in some of the most wonderful studios in Hollywood. At the old Oceanway Studios, which is now East West, there’s a small recording room in that complex that I think has the title of having the most #1 hits recorded in it in the world. I don’t know if it still holds that title—it probably does. With places like that, there’s so much in the walls and in the atmosphere.
When I was doing a lot of records there, most of my time would be spent in studios because the technology was slower and it took longer to make records. There were other recordings going on at the same time in the building, and you’d meet people in the hallway and there were always other musicians walking around. I miss that, because I’m primarily recording by myself in a home situation—sometimes setting up in a house, sometimes recording at home.
So there’s a hybrid of things that I’m doing, but I’m a little bit more off to myself than in the old days of having to go into the studios and really camp out there. So there was good and bad to both, but I’m nostalgic about that time. I have a sweet feeling about it because it was a lot of fun, and it was a great privilege to have access to those microphones and that recording equipment—to listen through those speakers and just be around a lot of other people who were making their records at the same time.
Is the Solid State album out of print? And do you have any plans to release The Long Play in its entirety in a physical format?
Solid State was just a limited edition thing because I think the thought is—at some point—to try and release The Long Play on vinyl, and maybe with even a book or something rather than just the “Best of” like Solid State. It would be great to produce a physical copy of it, because that’s the one thing we didn’t have that was really interesting for a lot of the listeners. For me at the end of the day, I think maybe I felt like I wanted something to have and to hold, and I think maybe some of the other listeners did, too. So Solid State was kind of a step in that direction, but at the time I didn’t really have the funds to do a full-bore physical copy of the whole Long Play. It would be a costly thing to put out, and I’m not sure how many people would even want it.
But it was interesting—that craving for it. Records, like candles, offer people something aesthetic. We don’t need candles to see at night. We have electricity. But candles are beautiful aesthetically, and they will never go away because people enjoy them. I think the same thing about printed books and vinyl and physical copies of music. I think those things are important. But how it will factor into the future will be really interesting. I believe that because of the technology, digital music has actually pushed vinyl, and vinyl’s getting more and more popular. At the same time, we’ve had kids who have grown up with nothing but digital!
There will always be ways for people to get digital music without paying for it, but what I think is extraordinary is that so many music listeners really want to support the artist and actually pay for music in this day and age. That’s really encouraging, and it’s needed and appreciated.
There are so many fits and starts involved in doing something like this independently. My thought was to produce a physical copy of The Long Play with the finances of my listeners. I just kind of hate the thought of just putting all the songs up on iTunes and that’s it, you know? That just wouldn’t seem fair to the people who paid for the subscription.
I would rather do something special for it in terms of a vinyl set or a book or a combination of both. There are companies that could certainly help make that happen. The company that I partnered with for the rerelease of Martinis and Bikinis—Omnivore—did a beautiful, thoughtful job. They chased down the master tapes, the guy who did the original artwork for the album, the photographer, and the pictures. It was done with such great care, so I guess I would just like to see The Long Play handled with the same amount of care.
Thanks for your time, Sam.