American Idol was one of the most insanely popular television series of the past 20 years. This spring, the series aired its final episode, ending its 15 season run.
The show has produced 15 winners, and a number of notable runners-up, however very few have been able to shed the “Idol” tag like Season 11 winner Phillip Phillips.
From the first guitar strum from his mega hit “Home” you knew there something different about the Georgia native. There was this transcendent “it factor” that made him sound like a bona fide star, and not someone who caught a lucky break on a TV series. His music fit perfectly in the era when Mumford & Sons, and the Lumineers were dominating the charts. It felt original, raw, human — not slickly produced and manufactured.
Phillips has been able to maintain his stardom through his non-stop touring — which will bring him to The Stone Pony Summer Stage on July 2 along with co-headliner Matt Nathanson, and pop outfit A Great Big World.
Pop-Break’s editor Bill Bodkin caught up with Phillips to talk about his new album, touring, and of course — Bruce Springsteen.
On Saturday, you’ll be co-headlining a show with Matt Nathanson at The Stone Pony Summer Stage in Asbury Park, NJ. The pairing of you two seems like a natural fit. How did this tour come about?
My agent was asking about tours for the summer earlier in the year. I just wanted to get out there and play; so he came back to me and said, ‘What about Matt Nathanson?’ We have mutual friends, and I’ve heard nothing but good things about him, and his music is obviously awesome. It was a no-brainer.
You have a few dates under your belt co-headlining with him. How’s the reception been so far, and how is it sharing the headline of a tour with someone?
It’s great, man. He’s killer. It’s two completely different shows every night. I’ve watched his sets, and it’s awesome how he captures the crowd. He’s hilarious, too. We left Montana [the other night] and it was the best show so far on the tour. It’s one of my favorite places to perform — it’s so beautiful.
There is a certain magic playing a concert outside in the summertime as opposed to loading into a frigid East Coast date in January isn’t there?
It’s definitely different. Everyone can wear shorts, t-shirts, get a beer and sit on the lawn or stand up and dance. You can breathe real air. It makes a world of difference. Indoor shows are great, but you can’t beat those outdoor summer shows.
I’d be remiss in not asking you about your own Bruce Springsteen story since you are playing Asbury Park on Saturday.
We did Rock in Rio a few years ago and I played an hour set that night. Then John Mayer performed, and then Bruce Springsteen closed the night out. It’s one of the highlights of my career. A couple nights before we had a day off in Sao Paulo. Springsteen was playing a show, and we went to check it out. He’s the definition of rock ‘n’ roll. He crowd surfed twice, he drank a couple of beers. I just said, “what the heck!” You can’t go to a better show. Even if you don’t know his music, you can’t help but love the show.
You’ve got a new album in the works, your third. How does this record reflect the evolution of Phillip Phillips from the days we saw you on television to today?
I think [it’ll show] I’ve gotten a little older. I’ve seen more in life, I’ve experienced more, and I’ve been through a lot more. I feel like these songs represent that. In the past couple of years, I got married, and some obvious things have happened as well. Writing all this new music, there were some struggles. There were some songs that I’d finish in a couple of hours. The songs have a classic sound and quality to it. It’s some blues, and rock, and funk, and pop — I’ve been influenced by all that. I’ve been representing that in my live shows since my first album. When I start playing them live, I’m excited for people to hear them.
Have any you unleashed any new music on a live audience yet?
I just debuted a song in Montana called “Magnetic.” It’s not a single, but it’s a new thing. Another one I’m playing at radio stations is “Into the Wild.” We’re still learning all of the new songs, and getting ready to perform them.
Run through the emotions of debuting a song in front a live crowd for us.
Oh man, it is terrifying. I was so nervous in Montana. We had only practiced the song a few times. But the crowd loved it. I had never really sang a song like this — I sang in falsetto which is a new thing for me. But whenever I hit the falsetto – I’m scared leading up to it – but the crowd screamed (positively) and I start to breath and calm down. Then they start singing the song because I taught them one of the hooks. It was pretty magical, man. Debuting a song is always nerve-wracking. People are there to hear the songs that they’ve prepared themselves to hear. So debuting is a new song it’s a bit sketchy. But, they are your fans, so they’re there to hear you.
You took the writing and recording of this album from New York City to Nashville. Was there a reason for this, and did moving to Nashville allow you to get more creative?
I feel like I did. I love New York. I wrote a lot there, and I can still get creative there. I just needed something different. As an artist you want to grow more, learn more, and keep the fans interested and not do the same thing all the time. Writing the whole album down there … it’ll be interesting to see what will come out. I met a lot of new people and friends. A lot were country writers, and I brought them into my world. We wrote some beautiful songs — some of my best. I didn’t record there, I did two there, but the majority I did in Seattle.
Now you’re in a whole different dynamic in Seattle…does geography influence creativity?
I think it does. To me, I wrote so much in Nashville, and I was planning recording it all there. But, things change at the last minute sometimes. I got to talk with the producer, Ryan Hadlock, and his sound quality is incredible. How he gets the tone quality out of the instruments in is incredible. There’s nothing fake sounds in there.
Did some stuff get changed in studio?
Maybe some tones here and there. I made the demos as close to as where I wanted them to be. He just made them sound better by bringing more life to them. It was cool to watch him in action.
Obviously, you won American Idol. When I think about I don’t associate the show with you. How did you overcome or move past the Idol tag, and just be I’m Phillip Phillips — touring musician who puts out popular records?
I don’t know, man! When I was writing songs it was about being honest. A lot of debut albums from some of the winners are written for them, and there’s no emotional connection. People would know if my songs weren’t part of me. Coming to the live shows too. I had friends come out to a Utah show, and they brought friends who were big Dead heads and Panic fans, and they totally dug it. So you really have to come out and see the show.
Phillip Phillips performs with Matt Nathanson, and a Great Big World on Saturday July 2 at The Stone Pony Summer Stage in Asbury Park. Click here for tickets.