Phillip Fox - Ohio, no places like home!
by Gio Pilato
One of the most notorious slogan about Ohio in America is "The Heart Of It All" and the debut album of the Phillip Fox Band, Heartland, pays a wonderful tribute in many ways to this beautiful part of the world. After about one year in the making, the band releases this superb journey in music that take the listeners through an imaginary trip through Route 70, crossing Columbus until reaching Buckeye Lake in a road of the soul, made of love, loss, hope and truth.
Phillip Fox has courteously accepted today to talk to us at Bluebirdreviews.com to find out more about the band, their debut album and their phenomenal music combustion that Phillip likes to call "Country-Fried Rock'n'Roll".
Gio - Phillip, welcome on Bluebirdreviews.com and congratulations for the band's full-length debut album. We are aware the pre-production of Heartland started in 2013 but were some of the tracks that ended up on the album in your mind long before releasing the album?
Phillip - Absolutely. In fact, one of the songs on the album, We All Lose Somethin', was an alternate of the EP we released in 2012, Motor City Blood. Some of the songs that ended up on Heartland have been around for a while and they have been part of the live repertoire now for a couple of years. As a consequence, when we went to the studio to record the songs, we had already a very clear idea of what we wanted the album to sound like.
Gio - Your "Country-Fried Rock'n'Roll", as you call it, is the result of your music roots as a band plus the vital roots rock contribution of Joe Viers on the production side. Do you feel the band's sound has grown significantly since Motor City Blood, your debut EP?
Phillip - Definitely. With Motor City Blood, Jonathan, our bass player and myself, have been playing together for about a year and a half; we went through a long string of drummers and guitar players so the vision of the sound of the band was mostly directed by us two, because we were trying to find the right musicians able to execute in music our ideas at the time. After that EP, having incorporated in the band David and Austin, Heartland started unconsciously to take form; this line-up went to play together for a couple of years and since we have been together as a full time four-piece, our sound has definitely grown and we have found a very defined identity.
Gio - We have been mentioning few times your 2012 EP debut and we understand that you and Jonathan have been knowing each other for a long time. But what about Austin and David? How did you guys meet each other?
Phillip - Jonathan and I know each other back when we were at High School; then I started playing in bands since I was 15, and I found him in a jazz club one day in Toledo playing bass and few times we bumped into each other in the studio record where I was working and we hit it off pretty well. Then we went for separate ways for a while but we have definitely been knowing each other for a very long time. With David and Austin we met through auditions and although those relationships are newer to the band, we jelled very well immediately, an eclectic mix of old and new band members.
Gio - There has been a great array of guest musicians on the album; have you been wanting such musicians on Heartland since Day One or you decided to change the shape of some album tracks, by adding strings and horns arrangements at a certain stage of the recording process?
Phillip - When I write music, a lot of time, I hear full production on a song; so, when we sat down and discuss what we wanted to do with this full-length record about a year and a half ago, we just decided not to hold back and stick to the true vision of the sound we wanted to create for the album, finding the right instruments we thought were necessary to recreate what we wanted to achieve sonically, on the album. Hopefully, we made it!
Gio - Phillip, I read that originally, you are from Detroit but Ohio, is what you and the band call home. How much of an homage is to Ohio the album title and the core values that this part of the world carries with?
Phillip - Well, with Motor City Blood, there was an honest tribute to my roots in Michigan, where I come from; with this record, we wanted to dedicate the sound of the album to where we are now, what we are now, as individuals and musicians. We have chosen to live in Columbus, Ohio rather than moving in places like Nashville or New York but this is the place that feels like home for us right now. We truly wanted to pay tribute through our record to where our home feels; in the title-track, Heartland, you get the full package of what Ohio's philosophy is all about; go out, do what you want to do, that feeling of warmth that places like Ohio are able to give to an individual. For us, it is all Midwest; we are all from this region of the country and when we tour the country is fun but still feels like visiting. Where we live is where we belong.
Gio - After about 450 live shows together as a four-piece, you guys have developed a phenomenal fan base; how instrumental have your fans been, not just in the support provided to you as a band but also in helping you choosing the tracks that ended up on Heartland?
Phillip - We try to include our fans as much as we can in this process, because at the end of the day, we couldn't do what we do without them. We spend so much time with them during our live shows, despite the fact we have been around just for three and a half year as a band and they provide us with some excellent feedback about old and new tracks. There was a moment when we had almost 20 tracks ready for Heartland and we were auditioning for the record and it just came natural for us to ask our fans and say" Hey, we are going to do some shows and we would like to hear your feedback on the new tracks. Would you please vote which song you would like to hear on the record?". It felt just like a natural progression of a phenomenal relationship we have with our fans. Their feedback on that respect has been really instrumental for us and worked both ways, hopefully, very well.
Gio - Are you still listening to Rachmaninov or Gojira when travelling with the band or you have come up a soundtrack which would make all the band members happy while you guys are touring?
Phillip - (chuckles) We had some people travelling with us recently and they described our band van as a "Mobile Office"! That is really what it is; typically, beside who is driving, everybody is plugged into their earphones, playing on laptops, connected to mobile data, booking shows while we are on the road, completely independently. We are self-managed, we did the recording ourselves although we work with some PR partners and Social Media partners now but fundamentally, we work all the time, either when we are playing live or when we are on our bus touring the country. So I am afraid that the idea most people get about band touring and doing things like jamming on the van and so on, it is definitely not us. You will have Jonathan probably listening to Rachmaninov, Austin probably listening to Gojira, David probably listening to some blues stuff, all plugged in our little world when we are travelling. It has broadened my music knowledge too, undoubtedly!
Gio - Heartland incorporates in its lyrics a series of deep emotions and state of minds; how much of a personal journey has this record been for you in writing such lyrics?
Phillip - Very personal for sure. I feel as a writer I am always analysing the world around me and trying to make sense of it and when I write a song, you know, I think initially was me saying what I wanted to say in my own way and it used to be hundred per cent personal. Now, when I write a song, I feel like I have the audience in my mind and I am trying to communicate something to them; so, it becomes an effort to create a connection between my writing and the audience's feeling, a sort of a spiritual legacy. That is a sort of motivating factor behind my songs but, you know, at the end of the day, we have got a song on this record called Cancer Cannot and I wrote that song for my wife when she was going through her cancer battle six months after we got married and that is an extremely personal song. But an interesting factor about a song like that is even though I wrote it for her and was me trying to present her story in a way that could match the depth that I have seen her going through that, you could see other people connecting to that. We get all the time messages from people saying that they are going through cancer battles themselves too and they really empathise with me and asking: "How did you manage to catch that particular state of mind we are going through your lyrics?". So, in a way, it becomes their story too, although initially was planned to be just my wife and myself'; it is a fantastic feeling sensing that we are able to connect to people to such an emotional level and not just talking about Friday nights on a dirty road or on a pick-up truck. We wanted to go a bit more deeper than that, create a living aspect to our music through our songs.
Gio - In your opinion, does any music genres define an artist's personality and, if so, does Heartland fully reflect who really you and the band are as musicians?
Phillip - That is a great question! That is the first time anybody has ever asked me that! The tough thing with the genres line is that is based on business and not on artistic representation. For medias, PR companies, becomes difficult to identify us as a band, stylistically speaking because we do not fall cleanly behind any particular definition of "Music Genre". That is intentional, on our part; we don't feel like "Rock and roll", just straight rock and roll really represents what we have got to say and musically what we want to do and in the same way Country doesn't. Just "Country" does not allow room enough to us to be ourselves. At the end of the day, we didn't want to have to create a personality and play a part; we just want to have our music to sound as genuine and authentic as possible so, ten years from now, we are not completely divorced from the kind of music we wanted to do in the first place and that is why I don't feel we belong to any genre in particular. You know, it is interesting that here in America we have this Southern Rock revival going on at the moment and a lot of groups coming up because, I feel, Modern Rock has really stripped all of the soul out of music. It all sounds so repetitive.. A lot of us in the band grew up mostly influenced by the music of the 90's, grunge rock, that kind of stuff. Not necessarily because that sound was utterly inspirational to us but virtually every band at the time had their own sound, very recognisable. You could listen to the radio and in 15 seconds you would have been able to say: "These are the Chili Peppers, these are the Nirvana etc.". That sort of diversity just don't exist anymore; that is why is perhaps so difficult to find ourselves, as musicians, to fit in a music genre because of this absence of diversity. We just follow our instinct, do what we like to do as a band and hopefully one day the music industry will understand our message and get behind us.
About Our Author: Giovanni "Gio" Pilato is Italian music writer, who has been living in UK since 2002. With an enormous passion for music, and life in general, his interest in the communications began at 11 years old. He worked briefly for local radios in his youth and did a one-off radio show on 2007 on the glorious BBC 6 Music Radio station. Gio started his freelance journalist career in 2012, with Italian artists, and is now mainly focusing on blues artists. To follow Gio Pilato and his all cool radio show, Visit: (RTL 102.5 Cool (Webradio)): http://www.rtl.it/Cool