"You're gonna have to learn your cliches. You're gonna have to study them, you're gonna have to know them. They're your friends. Write this down: 'We gotta play it one day at a time.'" - Crash Davis
Prior to my phone Q&A with this year's American Idol champion, Phillip Phillips, I studied his previous interviews in and out. I wanted to ask him something different - something that no one has asked him yet, or at least something we haven't "seen" asked. Phillips is a direct byproduct of a truly unique phenomenon that is sweeping through the pop music universe. Some writers have dubbed it as the "Mumford-ization" of pop music, which references the success of folk-rock's most popular bros with banjos, Mumford and Sons. I wanted to know what he thought about this musical movement and its popularity, as well as its shelf life...
It was nice to talk to Phillip. He was very friendly. He was also, and not surprisingly so, very tired. We spoke early one evening a week after the release of his debut album The World From The Side Of The Moon, so he was basically running on fumes, and I was the final obstruction blocking the light at the end of the press-filled tunnel. I should have known that no matter what Phillip was asked, he was going to respond with the quickest answers - the answers that were repeatedly droned into his memory since his first day in front of the American Idol lens. Crash Davis said it best in his famous Bull Durham lecture: "You're gonna have to learn your cliches. You're gonna have to study them, you're gonna have to know them. They're your friends. Write this down: 'We gotta play it one day at a time.'"
Phillips was well known during his time on Idol for brazenly standing up to the judges claiming he would win just by being himself, which is a great message to the millions of viewers, but how much of "himself" did it take to make the hit single, "Home," which sounded eerily similar to other songs of the folk-rock revolution that were released well before his launch into superstardom? Is it really that scandalous to think this "I'm gonna be me, man" image was fabricated by the execs? We may never know, but at this point, it's certainly becoming cliche.
There definitely is musical talent within Phillip Phillips, and perhaps his sophomore album will allow him to sincerely reflect.
Did you intend to change the image and perception of the "American Idol?"
Honestly man, I didn't know what the heck I was doing. I just wanted to play music and show people what I had to offer. I just feel really blessed that all this has happened, and that people seem to enjoy what I do in music, you know?
Not many American Idol winners have experienced the success that you have. What did you do that was different? What was the winning formula?
Ah, I dunno man. I would just be myself. I tried not to conform to what people were telling me to do - not saying that anyone else has, but I wore what I wanted to wear. I took suggestions, you know, I would try it out, but most of the time I went with what I felt was right. I would much rather go home for something I decided to do than for something someone told me to do.
Your album The World From The Side Of The Moon was released on November 19. How has the first week been?
It's been great man. I've been doing a lot of promoting and people seem to be really enjoying the music. It's cool that people are really interested in the music and really like it.
You're pretty seasoned with handling judges. How does that affect the way you read reviews of your album?
Honestly I haven't really read any of them. I've seen like one or two that my girlfriend sent me, but I don't like to read into what people are saying, or numbers, or anything like that. I don't want to get my hopes up and get bummed out if it's not what I expected. If it's more than I expected I wouldn't want to feel like I can slack off; so I keep pushing.
Was that something that got you through the competition?
Yeah. It was top-60 and I looked on the internet and somebody had said something about me that wasn't uh, it wasn't too good (laughs). So from then on out I stopped looking. There's always gonna be people that don't like you, so I didn't really pay attention to it. I just looked to live until the next week.
When putting the album together, did you hit any roadblocks?
I had all the songs written before Idol and during Idol. There was just an amount of time to get in the studio and get it done. We had three weeks to do it. It was tough.
You're often compared to other popular folk-rock artists, why do you think this type of music has become so appealing to the American public?
It's good to see people enjoying other musicians actually playing instruments and it's sort of this raw sound that they like. Most of the time, they have deep meanings and great lyrics. And I think people are really enjoying that kind of style.
Do you think this will last?
I don't know. I mean everything has its time. And we'll see what happens. I'm sure something new will come in and take its place, but right now it seems like people are really enjoying the folk slash rock.
I saw in another interview you did you mentioned the importance of lyrics in music. Is there a particular song on the album that speaks to this?
I wrote a song right after Idol. I had all of it written except the second verse, and David Ryan Harris came in and helped me finish that second verse. Musically it's also a very interesting song, it's called "Tell Me a Story," and I didn't like the chorus but I liked the part before that. So I was lying in bed one night and I wrote a better chorus - the chorus that it is now - that's one of my favorite songs lyrically and musically because it's just very different. And I kind of like to do that with all of my songs, like "Hold On," and a few others as well. So I kind of want to tell a story and have some meaning throughout the song instead of trying to make it sound good for a bit or something.
Is there a line in another song by another artist - maybe from when you were growing up - that spoke to you?
Oh man. There's a lot. I can't tell you any right now, I'd probably have to think about it. Submersed had great albums; and Dave Matthews; Eric Clapton; Lynard Skynard - I don't know there's so many I can't even tell - Tool.
Have you set tour dates yet?
It's still in the works, man. Hoping for the end of January or February, next year to start a tour. But we've got some stuff in the works that's hopefully gonna be pretty cool.
If if you could choose anyone who could tour with you, who would you choose?
I'm down for anybody, man. I kind of want to do a lot of festivals; I think that would be really cool. To tour with? I'm down for anybody, man.
Are there any cities you're excited to visit?
I remember being on the Idol tour and it was cool seeing all the different cities. I really liked Seattle and Denver. I'm more of a mountain guy because I kind of like being in the mountains, you know, like in Denver. And Nashville's nice. But Seattle had a really cool vibe. And we'll see.
We've been asking artists what their five favorite albums from this year are. Are there any that come to mind that you really enjoyed this year?
(Laughs) Honestly I haven't had the time to listen to as many albums as I'd like to. I just got the Mumford & Sons yesterday. I listened to a few songs off that and it sounds good. It sounds maybe a bit darker. Let's see. I listened to Dave Matthews' new album not too long ago, it's pretty good. I haven't gotten to listen to too many. Mostly just songs here and there.