Monday, April 25, 2011

To Whom It May Concern by Jack Phillips

Jack Phillips
Cover (To Whom It May Concern:Jack Phillips)

Q: Why did you start the album off with "I Can't See" ?

Jack Phillips: Unlike my first album “Revival Time” which had a beginning, a middle and an end, this new album was simply a collection of songs with some similar themes, so I never really thought about what song should come first on the album. When it came time to debut the album at the release party, I played the entire album, but we started with “The Trip Will Make You Well” because so many of the songs had a theme about going somewhere. I think I put “I Can’t See” as the first song because, in my mind, it was the strongest song in terms of it’s hook and what sounded to me like a “hit song” whatever a “hit song” is now days. I loved how it started so simply and built and finished with all the guitars and how it laid the table so to speak for what was to come.

Jimmy Russell comments on the lyrics:

A young man's lament. Seeking a course, a heading. But uncertainty is built into life in one's twenties. Too many choices; a complex world. A secure youth's wrong-headed belief that it's a therapeutic world, where 'bliss and perfection' are down some road. Wrong. It's a tragic world. One learns this down the years.
Q: How does Jimmy Russell contribute to your music...take "The Trip Will Make You Well" as an example?

Jack Phillips: Jimmy does not actually contribute to the music - he is the lyric writer. It’s his lyric that inspires me to write the music. In “The Trip Will Make You Well,” I heard the pistons and the clacking sound of a train coming down the track, much as the lyric suggested. That particular song involved finding a rhythm and then I added some broad brush strokes in terms of chord changes - and then the words simply fell into place.

in terms of chord changes - and then the words simply fell into place.

Jimmy Russell comments on the lyrics:

So, in my case, the traveling itself was therapeutic, and optimism rose again. Alone, young, physically formidable -- hell, immortal! -- I rode freight trains across the 'high-line' near the border with Canada, through Washington State, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota in the early 1970s, as well as other lines further south.
Exhilaration so great; freedom and liberty so acutely felt; natural beauty unimagined 'in common hours.' I guess those trips, with all their risks and troubles, did make me well in the doing, and set some bedrock values, confidence, and adaptability. I happen to love the 'mechanicals' and the sounds of trains. Still do.

Their acceleration out of a yard just before sun-up when you're 20 or so, best on a flatcar when weather allowed: Sublime! Plus I happen to like the smell of creosote. It's key.
Q: "Motherlode" is 4 minutes and 16 seconds...and 7 of the 10 tracks come in at over four this so that you can "stretch" the music?

Jack Phillips: Oh definitely not. “Bright One” was exactly as long as it needed to be. We played it live and it’s obviously exactly no more and no less than the length required. I’ve never written a song with the idea that it had to be 3 minutes or 4 minutes. That’s never entered my mind.

Q:"The Next Thing We Knew' is the exact same time, 4:16. Since Revival Time was released in 2000, are songs like "The Next Thing We Knew" ideas that you had before or after the launch of Revival Time? or did all the material on To Whom It May Concern appear in an artistic burst of inspiration?

Jack Phillips: I have been pretty sequential in what I do - I find it hard to put my soul into two projects at once, so I couldn’t write a note until “Revival Time” was completed. Then, once it was released, I began working on “To Whom It May Concern” within months. As for why two songs come in at exactly 4:16, who knows, purely coincidence. Keep in mind that the ideas for the songs are those of my lyricist Jimmy Russell - they are his ideas - I put the music to the words.
Q:To Whom It May Concern - four minutes and twenty-two Track 6 is the title track the "centerpiece" ? And what is the idea behind the song?

Jack Phillips:
I really should not speak to the idea behind the lyrics - that would be questions you should pose to Jimmy Russell, but I think the lyrics fairly well speak for themselves, about giving thanks to those who come before us who make our lives a little easier.

Jimmy Russell comments on the lyrics:

Mortality. Funerals. In my case it took a while, but what I owed the fine people who influenced, encouraged and loved me -- parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, friends -- took a front and center position in my thinking. They began to die; my need to speak of this was self-evident to me. I read and re-read many times a book first encountered and read at The University of Montana in 1969. It's a great book, written by a great man. It's form is journal really -- "The Inward Morning -- A Philosophical Exploration in Journal Form," by Henry G. Bugbee, Jr. He was a mentor of vast influence. Fortune smiled, and he gave me countless hours of his time. "The Inward Morning" is now getting its due, recognized as precious and rare by the community of wilderness writers. Henry spoke as he wrote, too -- you don't hear that often among men. Henry, 36 years my senior, taught me what it is to be present, like trout "finning in the shadows." From him I came to see the natural world, such as a chorus of aspen trees, for example: they 'are as they are, limitlessly.' Reading Bugbee takes a serious man to many new provinces of thought, manners of thinking, and.......other books. Gratitude is at the nodal center of 'presence' as Henry Bugbee transformed the word for me.

Q:"Where Do You Go" is the second song under four minutes. Where does this song fit in a live set - if you do perform it live - and how does it segue from the title track thematically?

Jack Phillips:

When we played the Metropolitan Room last September, “Where Do You Go” was the second song just after the show opening song, “The Trip Will Make You Well.” I had a show producer Miles Phillips (my fifth cousin) who took a very careful look at all of my material and made some excellent choices about how the songs should be organized live. And he was right. He was making these decisions well before the album had been finished, and even suggested to me that we change the order of the songs on the album, but, I’m sorry, I’m an artist and right or wrong, I stick steadfastly to my personal vision. For example, “Conversations in Styrofoam” was obviously the opening song of “Revival Time” and it was dark and harsh and some people might question starting an album that way - certainly my art director in London did (he wondered if he was even going to like the album at all). But putting that song first was part of the artistry behind the whole concept, so the art demanded that the edgy song come first. Now, in terms of “Where Do You Go” being second in the live set, that’s because we started the show informing the audience we were taking a trip and the second song was simply saying that we all are on a trip we have to take. “Where Do You Go” has gone on in recent days to become one of my most important songs - I had it re-recorded as an instrumental recently - because it was a favorite song of my dear friend Tom Russell (Jimmy’s brother), and as fate would have it, he took that ultimate trip in January “beyond the charted sea” and now we are left wondering where did he go?

Q:Winter Keeps Us Warm - Janis Ian had a minor hit with "In The Winter" about a heater getting fixed to keep her warm when a lover vanished. How does Winter Keep the listener Warm in this title?

Jack Phillips:
I’d have to defer to Jimmy Russell, because I’m not sure I could speak eloquently about his words. I do like the flow of the words, “but the river took our future to the bottom of the lake.” What could that mean? As young people you make big plans but life gets in the way, and “the next thing we knew” .... we’re somewhere else... where “only faith can fix what’s torn.”

Jimmy Russell comments on the lyrics:

Here I wind back to the years of early parenthood. Emotions and torn dreams; losses and decisions one tries to forget, for the sake of the living; we loved winter, because it put us all physically adjacent to each other, like it or not. And now I see, in retrospect, how much I liked cold climate. A family bundled, in proximity, seeking heat, bodies, fireplaces -- these artifacts and demands of winter 'kept us warm.' This was true with my gang of friends in Montana, too. From winter, we learned healing, improvising, learning. Winter was actually recuperative. It required faith in each other. It's not a therapeutic world, but one can insulate oneself from the tragic elements from time to time.

Q:Alowishus - the title reminds me of the Canadian children's song, "Alouette" - what's behind this composition?

Jack Phillips:
Again, Jimmy Russell could speak to this, but I’m told that “Alowishus” was a nickname given to him by his father Newt, and it seems to me that the song is simply a look back at a happy childhood with his older brother Tom.

Jimmy Russell comments on the lyrics:

My late, magnificent father started calling me Alowishus as a little boy. I liked it; a term of endearment and all. Here, in these lyrics, I endeavor to summon the young Alowishus to some detail in memory. Dad was a man of the wilderness, growing up in Wyoming and Montana from coal mining stock, and he took my beloved older brother Tommy and me on seven and ten day trips into the most remote parts of the Sierra Nevada, starting when I was perhaps six and Tommy nine. We hopped rocks in rivers, we slept under the stars. He taught us to fly fish; gave us his boyhood kit. It's an elegant activity, all in all -- wilderness safety always came first, though. Trying to sleep, side by side in our WWII surplus sleeping bags, we'd 'watch the stars appear between the leaves' unless we were above the tree-line. There, up that far, utter wonder overcame us. So little atmosphere to diminish the numbers of stars one observes. Anyway, when in the trees, they weren't leaves as we know them; high mountain evergreens, dead noble snags, needles, stars peaking through. Eating a trout did nearly seem to us a religious experience considering the way Dad honored the creature, prepared it, and savored it. But, 'we were hungry and we were free' so by the time the consuming began, Dad may have realized it would take some years for us to be 'present' the way he was. We got there, later in life. And we did have a treehouse at home. We built it with Dad's guiding hand. Seeing how interested our dog Jasper was, one day we found Dad had built him a ramp to run up like a cartoon, to join us and gaze out over our fig orchard. Jasper would wait for us up there about the time we were due home from school.


Q:The album closes out with Bright One. Why did you choose this to conclude the album?

Jack Phillips:

For one simple reason: it sounded to me like it was the song to close the album - it had that feel of a big finish, and so when I had all the songs together, there was never any question in my mind that “Bright One” would be the last song. I might have played with the order of the other songs, but I couldn’t think of any other song that more properly sounded like the end of the album.

This information is also on this page:

John R. Phillips REVIVAL TIME
Cover (Revival Time:John R. Phillips)