I had the privilege of interviewing Phillip Foxley, blues/rock guitarist and singer/songwriter from the U.K. Each time I play a song it’s an adventure….and sometimes it feels so familiar….. Philip has influences like we all do – but he is NO copy. His style and songs brought me back to a place where I spent many years diving into these genres of guitarists and blues riffs. Classic sounds from artists like Gary Moore or the imagination of Satriani. I missed that stuff, as it had admittedly been a while for me. I thanked Phillip personally for bringing me back to a great sound, represented in this music from Phillip Foxley – one I remembered dearly and was happy to revisit. Have a read and see where our chat led to. He’s honest in both his music and through his words. And we respect that. Big time.
Interview with Phillip Foxley
SBS: You have some INCREDIBLE guitarists listed in your influences. People like Joe Satriani and Stevie Ray Vaughan – how did you come to find the blues and why do you think that was the particular style of music to resonate with you?
Phil: Well, many moons ago when I first picked up an electric guitar, I was really into Black Sabbath and I remember learning to play the riffs from the Paranoid album, much to the disgust of my neighbours 🙂 After a while, I starting listening to different kinds of music and David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust album and particularly Mick Ronson’s guitar work, was a real epoch which is still imprinted in my mind today. As time went by I discovered Joe’s ‘Surfing With The Alien’ album and Gary Moore and SRV’s influence led me into a Blues based playing style and my musical direction finally became clear, without actually realizing it at the time. For me, Blues is all about using emotion, expression and subtle playing technique to paint a real life picture, and I try to do this through my own music.
SBS: You have both instrumental tracks and then others with vocals – do you prefer one to the other? What makes the case for one track needing a vocal addition and the others not?
Phil: Strangely enough, all my songs are written for vocals – it’s just that I can’t sing at all so I try and convey the spirit, dynamics and melody through the lead guitar, almost by accident really. Some of it seems to work out but I have a lot more music in the pipeline that just doesn’t work as instrumental. It would be great to team up with an experienced (established?) Blues Rock singer to record some stuff – this can be done remotely via the web these days.
SBS: I really liked the music. It’s been TOO LONG since I was hittin up the instrumentals overall lately – that’s just me being honest. But when I hear a track like your song “Straight From The Heart” I can absolutely hear the Satriani influence there – that wandering but KNOWLEDGABLE note choice, virtually taking an audio tour through the guitar like a song like “Surfing With The Alien” from Satriani has. So I was digging that….there’s a question here somewhere…..I suppose I want to know how much of a conscious choice is it to emulate a style in your music, be it Buddy Guy or Gary Moore (Another great comparison to your work) – do you think about these things when writing or do these influences pop up au natural?
Phil: Thanks , I try not to emulate anyone if I can help it but of course every playing style is influenced by the greats. I like to think that what I play is just me because it comes from so deep within. I sometimes wonder what the music would sound like without outside influence – would the licks, phrasing and tone be the same? How much is genuinely from within? It seems like I adopt many small and subtle external influences (consciously or not) to build my songs, like using tools from a toolbox.
SBS: Ok, ok, ok. I do my homework as thoroughly as I can. But c’mon – your bio on the reverb page is telling me that you hid away for 3 decades! There has to be a story here somewhere! Did the music leave you? How come the pull of musicianship wasn’t strong enough to bring you in again during all that time?
Phil: This is a great question and really tricky to answer – I think the playing music actually left me for quite a while and staying in a job and raising a family etc simply had a higher priority – you know the story. The strange thing is that music never really left me and in August 2011, I was invited to a formal dinner and the host (knowing that I used to play guitar) sat me at a table with several other musicians. After (quite) a few beers we were soon debating deep geeky stuff about the benefits of valve vs transistor amps and relating hilarious band stories etc. Well, this was a revelation that inspired me to start writing again. So, as my bio says, I wrote some new tunes and dusted off some of the really old chestnuts and this is where I am today.
SBS: During all that time away there must have been a number of events and life defining moments along the way – what from this time away from music did you learn about yourself and how much of the “you” that existed then creeps into your music now?
Phil: Just the up and downs of everyday life and several good and not so good influences along the way makes me play the way I do today. I hear and feel all this life experience across my songs from the subtle ‘On The Fly’ through to the heavier ‘All Or Nothing’ – it’s all there – like a musical tapestry.
SBS: Tell me about the music scene where you’re from in Conwy, North Wales UK. Lots of acts like yours? More diverse? Good support?
Phil: I’m amazed at the musical diversity around here – not many Blues Rock bands as far as I can tell, but some fantastic up and coming artists & bands. The support network is also good and the online social networks keeps us up to date with what the key local bands are doing.
SBS: What would you say is the best aspect of the UK as far as music is concerned? Suppose we wanted to send a shuttle full of musicians there (First of all, that’d be an awesome ride and I hope I’m not driving) could they all find a place to play? Cause if not, just keep in mind I already told them the after-parties were at your place and the beer was cold……just in case the doorbell rings out of nowhere…..I might have already sent them regardless of the answer……just sayin….
Phil: Ha – whadda guy 🙂 For me the best aspect in the UK is the pure musical energy that abounds – loads of artists and bands up and down the country working hard and I would also say that the gig availability is now pretty good in the UK – it seems to me that there are loads of smaller venues hosting regular gigs and also good opportunity for online radio airplay these days. I’m not saying that its any easier than the old days because the competition is fierce but the today’s technology puts fantastic music development right under your finger tips for the first time.
SBS: When you say that you’re playing music “aimed at film & TV licensing” – we’re not saying getting paid to do what you love isn’t good – that’s actually awesome and inspiring to meet those people! But I have to admit Phil, and certainly no offense intended – I’m always just curious – but, if I add that plus the 30 years away….I think I need to hear it from you straight at this point – tell me this isn’t all just about the money! How do I KNOW you love this music you’re making if I feel like you could walk away from it again for 30 years? Now that I’ve heard it – I have to say honestly – 30 years would be too long and I really don’t think you should do that again! So convince me Phil – I need to know WHY this is important to you and that the music doesn’t solely exist as a financial means to an end! Please man! I won’t sleep without the answer to this!
Phil: Ok, steady now … first of all, I’m really loving what I do now and should have done it much sooner – I just needed a nudge on the tiller to get back on course. The simple reason for the film and TV licensing chase is purely because a lot of my current music is instrumental which lends itself to this market and, from experience, not many radio stations have instrumental Blues Rock music on their playlist. Also I’m currently a studio player e.g. no gigs, so exposure is pretty limited at the moment. This dynamic may change soon with the introduction of more vocal tracks.
SBS: Ok. Now that is out of the way – I’m feeling like we’ll at least understand you better – so let’s stop the attack on your character and chill out with an easy one for you to bat right out of the park – tell us about what’s happening behind the album you’re preparing.
Phil: Ok, I have around 15 tracks that I intend to re-master and add to my début album – most of them you can hear in demo form right now on my website. The tracks will be a mixture of vocal, instrumental and possibly both vocal and instrumental versions of the same song depending on how it goes. This album is a self-funded labour of love which has taken quite a while to get this far but it should all come together in the next 2 or 3 months.
SBS: Sometimes it’s funny – I sit here and I have music from the people and artists we deal with from sleepingbagstudios playing in the background – there’s always music on. And normally, I’m pretty quick on the draw in this scenario, but – the song “Falling For You!” on the reverb nation page of yours…..I swear by the third or fourth time I listened that I couldn’t HEAR that it was a song that I HADN’T heard before all of a sudden. It seemed so familiar. But isn’t that the good part of blues/rock – being relatable to everyone?
Phil: Hey, that’s good to hear – thanks for that, and yes, the music should be relatable and its what every artist or band hopes for but it’s not something you can guarantee – its down to the listener to decide if they like it or relate to it or not. This song is my first attempt at vocals and it was really meant as a guide for a real vocalist but it sort of came out ok, so I decided to share it around and see what happens.
SBS: Let’s talk about the video for “Seize The Day” – is this the studio that you refer to in your bio that you built in your own home? Cause it truly looks amazing!
Phil: No, this is a pro studio just down the road from me and when we spoke about local support earlier, this is what I meant. These guys took time out from a their mad busy schedule to film and produce the video out of working hours. I’m really pleased with the video and the next one will be filmed as soon as the album is released.
SBS: Our own HQ – sleepingbagstudios is also based out of a private residence – but as far as sound or recording limitations go – we’ve yet to encounter an issue – never caught a car horn or a cow noise on tape you know? What was it about your own studio set up that made you feel limited or like you needed to change it up to a “pro” studio?
Phil: Well, I discovered that I don’t possess the necessary skills or self-discipline to record and mix / master the tracks myself – this is definitely an art!! I could get a decent sound but not the clarity, depth and loudness of today’s ‘radio ready’ recordings. Much better left to experienced pros methinks.
SBS: In your opinion, based on your experience – is it actually even possible for a person to come out of a home studio set up and sound “pro?” I gotta admit, I’m kinda hoping for a yes here, otherwise I might just disappear from this studio I’m in quicker than Marty McFly out of an old family photo…..
Phil: It depends on several factors e.g. how far you want to go with building the home studio – for me its a couple of mics, my trusty Strat / Marshall and a PC, all in a spare room with a couple of heavy curtains to dampen the reflections. Also I’m not sure now if one guy can do everything e.g. set everything up, play, record and produce/mix/master – for me, it needs a (small) experienced team to brainstorm song arrangements and to get the best results.
SBS: When you listen to something like your EP – One Song Is All You Need – something that was assembled nearly like a BEST OF compilation for your own music….do you feel those songs still hold up to what you’re currently writing? What makes them still relevant today?
Phil: Well, I found that the old stuff still resonates with me today and I don’t know if this is a good thing, but my playing style still seems true to that original sentiment. I also thought I’d try some new lead instruments and you can hear this on ‘Straight From The Heart’ in which a Sax replaces the lead guitar on the first verse. This track was written for my wife D’ and the Sax just blew me away when I heard it. I may now try other lead instruments and a wider production e.g. adding piano, strings and a nice Hammond on some tracks for the album.
SBS: Who in your personal life gives you the most support and how do they express that?
Phil: My family really – they keep it real and placate the neighbours 🙂
SBS: Where would you like to see your fans heading to, internet-wise, to find your music? What page/pages of yours out there represent you the best and do you feel the content captures the full picture of Phillip Foxley?
Phil: My main website is http://www.reverbnation.com/phillipfoxley
SBS: What’s the “heaviest” blues, real life, down-in-the-dirt experience you bring into your music? They say you need to have been through the blues to at least play them. Is that true Phil? Put down the old guitar for a second and riff on the keyboard. Tell us a story, we’re listening.
Phil: Ha, that would be telling! Truth is that I’m having a great life – good profession and supportive family etc and yes, there have been a few downs here and there over the years but nothing major that I recall. Hey, maybe my music would sound better if I did experience tough times – who knows eh?
SBS: Is blues music still capturing the attention of the mainstream audience? As an older style music, it seems to resonate mostly with older people, and I know you’re still trying to convince us all you were squirreled away for 3 decades but you don’t look old at all! And if it’s NOT capturing that available attention it should be getting with a younger crowd – why do you think that is….or again…is it?
Phil: It is an older style music but there is a simple quality and purity about it that will keep it popular and evolving for years to come. Also, like many things, Blues has a cyclic audience, with new and younger players and fans picking it up and just loving the music all over again – and so it goes.
SBS: As far as the songs you have posted online – the other instruments….those you as well? What else do you play or is it strictly guitar?
Phil: I play just guitars e.g. bass, lead, rhythm.
SBS: As extreme do-it-yourselfers here – I’m also very curious about the production method in YOUR studio – how confident are you behind the boards? Was it strictly a sound proofing issue before with your studio or were you looking for a knowledgeable studio hand for the mix as well?
Phil: Well, I mentioned that this is a real skill – I’m confident behind the boards but not happy with the end result at the moment. I have a bad habit of recording too hot so its been suggested that I keep my hands off the final mix/mastering and let the experts handle it. The album should sound much better for it.
SBS: Tell us about the short term and the long term for Phillip Foxley and your music. What’s on the horizon?
Phil: Well, the short term is the album of course and the longer term …. just more of the same I think. It would be great to earn a few cents from say album sales or licensing to fund the next musical adventure. I recently had 10 tracks signed with a major US publishing company and we had great plans for pitching the songs to key opportunities etc. Unfortunately, they wrote to me yesterday to inform me that they had ceased trading with immediate effect – so it’s back a step until I find another publisher – cést la vie eh?
SBS: Open floor here for you Phil, we always like to end these off with a place for you to say whatever you like to your fans and new people discovering your music. What would you like to say?
Phil: Ok, first of all thanks to all my fans, friends and followers for their support and great email questions and to any new people out there interested in Blues Rock guitar music – how about dropping by sometime and have a listen? I would really welcome your friendship and appreciate your comment.
Also shout out and special thanks to:
Itai, Boris & Guri at Rendezvous Studios UK,
Francisco Benitez for the Sax on ‘Straight From The Heart’
Andy & Steve at Tape Community Music and Film Ltd UK, for the video production on ‘Seize The Day’.
Last but not least, thanks to you Jeremy for taking the time to really understand what makes me tick and for pinning me to the wall with your incisive questions – I really enjoyed it!!
– Jer’s Editors note – I was extremely happy with the way this interview turned out. Phil Foxley is made of the stand-up character you NEED to survive in this business – he not only took our questions well – but he definitely understands WHY we do what WE do here at SBS. The music is important – and it deserves our respect – we do our best every time to make sure we communicate that with an interview that does it justice. I really believe between Phil and this SBS feature on him here, we achieved that. So as a bonus – I’m including some bonus correspondence between the two of us contained from the communication sent between us. I think it’s every bit as important to see that even across the world – we can still connect, and impact each other. Have a look…..read on…..
SBS: Alright my friend! There you have it! We do our research on what we can find, and I hope this was everything you were looking for from this gig. There might be tough questions in there – but please, no offense meant so hopefully none taken. We simply love music and are passionate about the people and reasons behind its creation.
Phil: Absolutely no offence taken – in fact I’m genuinely amazed at the time you have spent on researching my bio etc and my sincere thanks to you for going beyond the call of Fiverr duty to make this happen.
SBS: Like I said way back up there Phil – been too long since I hit this genre. My personal musical life changed at 16 I think….somewhere around there – seeing people just like in your listed influences…..Got to see the G3 concert live in Vancouver here. Check out this version of the line up – Robert Fripp, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Steve Vai and Joe Satriani. I remember thinking I’d never see music so well played ever again and it was truly inspiring to watch.
Phil: Yep, I can understand that – I remember Robert Fripp from his King Crimson days!!
SBS: Thanks so much for bringing me back to that place Phil. It was awesome to hear your music – I have zero doubt about your talent, and let’s face it – ANYONE sings better than Joe Satriani – but BS aside, I really think you’re talented on all fronts. Can’t wait to find out if that’s you doing the rest on those tracks as well….
Phil: Well thanks for that and I’ll keep you posted.
Once again – it was our absolute pleasure to interview Phillip Foxley. I enjoyed both his music and this interview experience with him immensely and I look forward to hearing what else he comes up with down the road – we won’t let him hide away any more – YOU don’t let it happen either!!!
Get in contact with Phil through his Facebook page and let him know what you think – http://www.facebook.com/phillipfoxley