Mr. K Phillips opened up for Rob Thomas and the Counting Crows at SPAC in Saratoga Springs, so naturally, we had to speak with this young up-and-coming ranch-raised Texan about his passion for story-telling.
Listen to the abridged feature/interview
Recess with Spinelli: How’s the trip going, any highlight so far?
K. Phillips: Everything is a highlight. This is a highlight; we’re in Saratoga Springs there’s 24,000 seats in this venue. It’s like I died and went to heaven, I’m just glad to be here.
RWS: It sounds like this tour is largly outdoor amphitheatres?
KP: Yes. I loved it. It’s a little harder for us because the band rehearsed so much and and we’re so good at playing a club setting but nothing can prepare you for playing on a gigantic stage; it’s made out of aluminum and the sound shoots everywhere and it bounces off the back of the hill and comes back to you and it was very challenging, first to learn how to hear each other to play on the stage. I’ve been touring the United States for about seven years but that’s usually in front of you know, 15 people a night.
RWS: When that transition initially happened, from going from playing in front of 15 people to playing in front of thousands or 20,000 what was your initial mindset change?
KP: It’s actually actually easier because when there’s 5000 people watching you who haven’t seen you seen you, some of them are listening and so maybe like 2500 people are actually watching you attentively. It’s actually easier because you feel like you’re doing something. Sometimes when you play for 15 people, 2 of those people are listening. We’ve been ready to do this but nothing can prepare you for it.
RWS: The way we heard about you was through interviewing Adam Duritz of Counting Crows; Adam spoke very fondly of you and told us to check you out, How long have you actually known Mr. Duritz.
KP: In 2012…he sponsors a blog that finds new music and he listens to all of it. He doesn’t have to do that but he still does. I mean, I think that’s what makes him great, is that he loves music and he’s always filling the well. It was so funny when we started to play and he used to come to my shows and it would be 12 people, but then 1 of the 12 people would be Adam Duritz. It was almost embarressing, you know like “you like me, but I don’t have any fans yet.” I mean he’s like one of the greatest writers of our time and one of the greatest literate writers. it’s a very special thing for me. And Rob too, I didn’t know Rob before this tour; they’re 2 of the nicest guys I’ve ever met and they don’t have to be, they’re super successful, they watch every show of mine and then they going to put on a show on the kill and after that we hang out; it’s amazing. I never want it to end
RWS: Have you noticed any doors open or any opportunities come your way because of this?
KP: D’Angelico, the great New York guitar company gave me a guitar. They sent me to their showroom and I just pick out a guitar to play for this tour and that was so nice. Being somebody that they think is worthy of an endorsement, that’s kind of neat to me. Right before this tour I had a guitar in pawn which I lost because I couldn’t afford get out of pawn. And then D’Angelico gives me this way better guitar than I had in pawn. It’s just funny how your life changes so quickly when people help you
RWS: Now with Mr. Duritz, I believe that you’ve done some work with him in the past, I think I saw that he covered “Kat’s Song” and I think I heard that he worked with you on the new albums?
KP: Yeah, he let us record some stuff at his house, so one of the new songs on this was recorded at his house and actually, a guitar that we used, we found out later was the guitar from the “Mr. Jones” video, which is funny. I was like “this guitar sounds so Counting Crows. So we recorded at his house and he sang on it and he added this four-part harmony like it was nothing. A few years ago I was watching the Counting Crows. We were at the Bowery Electric and the Crows were playing a cigartette show and my friend Nekia was playing a song with them and he’s like “Dude, you gotta video tape me doin’ this song” and I’m like “Man I gotta go, I have my own show” and he said “This is gonna blow your mind.” They go into this song and I’m like “That’s funny, I have a song that sounds alot like that.” and then Adam Duritz sings “I took that young thing to dinner,” which is my line to a song I wrote called “Kat’s Song” and I realize at that moment that they’re not doing a song that sounds like my song, they’re doing my song. I started weeping, it was like a lifetime achievement award. The Counting Crows have too many good songs.
RWS: As a songwriter, would you say you have a certain duty or responsibility either to yourself or to the listener to write an honest song?
KP: My duty is to connect people and to write things which connect the song with the listener, and the only way you can do that is to have an honest narrator. When you do that, it doesn’t matter what the story is, it’s going to connect, it’s gonna help people through whatever the situation is.
RWS: How do you know whether or not you are being honest?
KP: I know because, there’s a poem by Robert Graves, which I always go back to. It’s actually what our LLC is named after. It’s called “Love without Hope” and in four lines, Robert Graves tells the story of this bird catcher in industrial England, he spends his day in this park, everyday his job is to put larks in his hat, take them to a baker, baker gives him a piece of bread, maybe a piece of coal and that night he goes with food in his stomache and he doesn’t go cold; that’s all he has to do, just grab the birds before it gets dark. On this particular day, he’s leaving the park, he’s got his birds and he sees this beautiful white carriage drawn by two white horses and inside is this beautiful squire’s daughter and here, this lowly birdcatcher, sees this girl and he looks at her and shee looks at him and he tips his cap; the birds fly out, the larks fly to the heavens and she watches them go to the heavens and he’s made this impression on this girl he’d never have a chance with. Now he goes home and he’s cold and he’s hungry, but he’s made an impression on this girl. I’ve never been a birdcatcher, bu I know from that story, I can relate and I think about that story all the time and if I wonder if my narrator is being honest, I just compare it to that, “Love without Hope.”
RWS: Was it a relief when you were finally able to put your thoughts on paper in a cohesive manor that could be understood?
KP: Yeah, but I can’t do that every time. After each song you write after every record you write, you’re just starting over. You’d think that you would get better, but the only thing that gets better is your expectations, I’ve definitely gotten better at finishing songs, I’ve gotten better at writing with people. This last record was writted to be a breakup record. That was fun for me to go like “How does this fit in?” or “There’s a song called 18 year old girls,” an 18 year old girl who like looks like a grown-up but she’s totally not. It’s funny the idea of this character who’s come out of a relationship and he’s gonna bring this 18 year old girl around to his friends and they’ll be like “What are you doing, dude?” So I am looking for more perspective than I am looking for the next what I can’t have. What gets me off about songwriting is finding different angles and funny scenarios.”
Recess with Spinelli can be heard every Wednesday 8pm-10pm EDT on WSPN in Saratoga Springs, NY on 91.1FM and on Hoxton FM in London, England every Wednesday 11pm-1am GMT 6pm-8pm EDT
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