By Lisa Morgan
Platinum-selling singer-songwriter, and 11th Season, American Idol winner, Phillip La Don Phillips has made our desert part of his North American headline tour. The Georgia born pop-rock music artist will be at Fantasy Springs Resort Casino on Saturday, December 6th. This tour is in support of Phillips’ second album in two years, Behind the Light. This is the follow-up album to Phillips’ hugely successful debut album, The World from the Side of the Moon. The single “Home” from that debut album was one of the biggest tracks of 2012 with more than 5 million copies sold. The World from the Side of the Moon sold more than 1 million copies and debuted at #4 on the Billboard Top 200 Album chart and #1 on the Billboard Rock Album chart; successful tours both as a headliner and with Matchbox 20 and John Mayer followed.
I had the chance to talk with Phillips about his life and his music prior to his rocket launch to commercial success and now. We talked about what keeps him grounded, what other artist’s music inspires him, the Taylor Swift inspired streaming conversation and advice to those aspiring artists watching his every move, along with a few other things. This very genuine guy, with his Georgia drawl, will not only win your respect as a musician, but as a business man and an authentic human being.
CVW: Your rise to commercial success was fast enough to give a person whiplash. How does it feel to get a Platinum album just under the wire of them potentially becoming a thing of the past? (Ref: The trend is that people are buying individual songs and not entire records, drastically decreasing the number of records reaching Platinum sales status)
Phillips: “It’s unbelievable for sure. I’m incredibly grateful. I am so proud of that album. It truly represents me in so many ways musically and lyrically. It’s going to definitely get tougher and tougher depending on the future of Platinum albums. But to me, albums are what make an artist. Anybody can put out a single. All my favorite bands, I listen to their entire albums. That’s how you really get to know who an artist is.”
“My new album is receiving such a great vibe live. It has more of a rock feel. It’s definitely not Platinum (he chuckled) but I am very proud of it.”
CVW: You’ve said that you are always writing. How many of the songs on these albums are from before American Idol and how many were written after?
Phillips: “The first album had a lot of songs that were written before Idol, and the second one is all new songs and ideas, with the exception of the bonus track, “Grace”.
CVW: What is it that helps you stay grounded in all of this?
Phillips: “I’d say my family, friends and my girlfriend. They’ll slap me up against the face if I get crazy, which is good to have. I’m a real big family person. My sister just had her first little baby. It’s things like that, that make you appreciate life, where you are, what you’ve done and how much more you want to see and do.”
CVW: Now that you can do music full time, is it easier to find time to write or harder? Has the change in your circumstances changed your writing much?
Phillips: “To me, writing is always different. The music comes first, then the lyrics. I have a darkness and a light. I think it’s good to express them both. Not everything can be so happy all the time. I think people want to feel that too. I think they’d be like, ‘Gol-lee another happy song?’ This has been a pretty crazy tour. I’ve written a little, but we’ve been going pretty hard and I get tired. I’ll get a week and a half to rest my mind and start getting in the mode again.”
(CVW note: Yes, he said gol-lee/golly. Not like Gomer Pile says “golly”, but how a really kind of sexy laid back southern Georgia boy says “Gol-lee”)
CVW: Did you ever have to shlep around your songs, playing gigs at bars and such before American Idol?
Phillips: “Oh yeah! I was playing shows way before American Idol. I’d go jam with a band or get a band together and travel to shows, do weddings, parties, whatever there was. Every artist/singer/song writer/whoever needs to know how it feels to suck – when nobody wants to hear you. That makes you appreciate when everyone wants to hear you.
CVW: What would you say one of the biggest surprises has been since you’ve gotten through the door in the music industry?
Phillips: That you’ve gotta watch out for yourself. When it all comes down to it, everybody wants you to be successful – your label, your management, but you always have to watch out for yourself, watch everything while you build your own career. You can’t just let somebody else do it.”
CVW: So you still feel like you have creative control?
Phillips: (Without hesitation) “Definitely, I do. For sure.”
CVW: Do you have any advice for young want-to-be artists who want to be part of the music industry?
Phillips: “Don’t do it!” (he laughed) You gotta know who you are as an artist and a musician. Know what you want to do. A lot of people can sing amazingly, but if you don’t know what you want from your career, this industry will eat you alive over it.”
CVW: Where did you learn to have that kind of integrity and self-awareness?
Phillips: “Growing up. Growing up where I did, I didn’t have everything. I was working when I was 14 years old. I worked for my brother-in-law’s landscaping business, making money. You learn what you can from everything. It may not be what you want to do…but I know how to cut grass!”
CVW: Well good. I guess you can fall back on that if this music gig doesn’t work out. Who are you inspired by listening to right now?
Phillips: “Does it have to be a new artist?”
CVW: No, just whoever is inspiring you.
Phillips: “Radiohead. I listened to them a bit before, but I’m listening to them in a whole different way now. They are just so good. Damien Rice too. He just came out with a new one… also, Peter Gabriel. Gol-lee, I don’t know, there’s just so many!”
CVW: It seems the big topic in the industry these days is about music streaming. Taylor Swift has pulled her songs from Spotify. Dave Grohl says he doesn’t give a f—-. Do you have anything you’d like to contribute to the conversation?
Phillips: Those two artists are so big, they can do what they want, and I think that’s amazing. I support what Taylor Swift is doing. I think it’s amazing that she can go and just sell albums straight out. Things aren’t what they used to be, and it affects every artist. There’s so much available to the public on YouTube and whatever…When I went down to South America with John Mayer last year, (I don’t even think my album was even out yet), 45,000 people were singing every song of mine – not just the singles. In that way you think, ‘I’m alright with that. It will help with the touring.’ But when it comes down to the big sales days, like first week sales, you think, ‘man, this is not good.’ You feel all this pressure. There are people looking at just the numbers. They don’t see your popularity at the concerts. If I was up against Taylor Swift’s numbers, I’d do the same thing. But right now, I’m not too worried. It’s not really all up to me anyway.
CVW: What can we expect from your show this weekend?
Phillips: “We play a different show every night. We’ll change something up with the jam, pull out an older song – we try and keep it fun and interesting for ourselves as much as for the fans.”
And there you have it. In my opinion, this 24 year old talent is just as genuine as he comes across on television. Not once did he act like he was uninterested, bored or in a hurry. He gave me a full 30 minutes of his time, when other artists allow 15 or decline the invitation all together.
I’ve heard fantastic things about the opening band as well. This could very well be the concert of the year for many in every age bracket. Get your tickets quickly before they’re gone.
Tickets for the 8 PM Phillip Phillips performance on December 6th are on sale for $69, $59 and $49 at the Fantasy Springs Box Office, via telephone (800) 827-2946 or online at www.FantasySpringsResort.com.