Interview with Phillip Fox – Performing at Buckle Up Music Festival on 7/18

Phillip Fox Band
Phillip Fox Band

Interview by Scott Preston

Phillip Fox Band
Buckle Up Music Festival
Cincinnati, OH
Phillip Fox Band performs at 3:45pm & 5:00pm on 7/18

In early 2013, the band began pre-production for what would become their debut full length album Heartland.  Taking several off-days and setting up a mobile studio wherever they could, the band narrowed their ever growing song list down to 20 songs and performed three shows where they gave their fans the opportunity to vote on which songs they wanted to hear on the record.  “We took that feedback along with the pre-pro tracks and sat down with Joe Viers (Dr. John, Eric Clapton, Bobaflex) to talk through the project.  We had recorded the Motor City Blood EP (released in 2012) with Joe at Sonic Lounge and developed a really good rhythm.  Plus Joe has been soaking in roots rock for a long time so it was a really natural fit to bring  him on earlier in the process as more of a co-producer” says Fox. 

The band completed the album in January and launched a Kickstarter campaign raising over $18,000 to release the new record.  2014 will see the band playing over 200 dates including headlining slots at Ohio Bike Week and larger festivals such as Buckle Up featuring Alabama, Willy Nelson, Jamey Johnson, Old Crow Medicine Show, Cadillac Three, and more.

“Heartland has sort of a double-meaning.  The Motor City Blood EP was about where I came from, my roots in Detroit.  This record is more about where we call home now, and that’s Ohio.  For a long time Ohio’s slogan was ‘The Heart of it All’ and in a small way we wanted to pay tribute to that.  But in a grander sense, I’ve traveled to four continents and there are just places that feel welcoming to certain folks and places that don’t.  I’ve found that if I get too far away from open fields, trees, and a little soil in the air, I start getting antsy, a little claustrophobic. It didn’t matter if it was in Japan, Spain, or New York state. Heartland is about finding places wherever we are that speak to us and feel like home.”

Cincy Groove:  Tell me about your debut full length record “Heartland”.  Where was it recorded? Who Produced?

Phillip Fox: We started pre-production for the record last January taking days off in between shows and setting up a mobile recording studio wherever we could.  Once we had the tunes narrowed down to about 20 we played a series of shows where we asked our fans to vote on the songs they wanted to make the final cut.   We took that feedback and headed into Sonic Lounge Studios and worked with Joe Viers to lay down the 12 tracks that ended up being “Heartland”.  Joe stepped up and worked with us more in a co-producer role for this record, but we’re very much a band that has a solid vision of what we want our music to sound like so we always have a hand in the production.

Cincy Groove:   What is the writing process like for the band?

Phillip Fox: I (Phillip) write the framework of the songs and then I bring them to the band. Jonathan, David, and Austin all bring a cool dynamic to the tunes. Add in a 30-pack of American beer and a late night, rinse and repeat, and you wind up with “Heartland”.

Cincy Groove:  I see your Kick Starter campaign raised $18,000, how do you think you were able to raise so much?

Phillip Fox: We released “Motor City Blood” almost two years ago.  And with only 5 songs on it our fans have been hounding us for more music for like one year and 11 months.  Honestly, after launching the site we discovered that almost none of our fans even knew what Kickstarter was; we had people mailing us checks, it was crazy.  We could have raised a lot more had it not been for the technology barriers.

Cincy Groove:   Looking forward to Buckle Up?  Who would you like to play with if you had the chance?

Phillip Fox: We’re very excited to be a part of the Buckle Up lineup.  Their staff did an amazing job of not just looking at the charts, but focusing on the quality of the acts –  Jamey Johnson, Sturgill Simpson, Cadillac Three, Old Crow Medicine Show, and THEN you add to that legends like Willy and EmmyLou.   We’d love the opportunity to play with any of those folks.

Cincy Groove:  Any big plans for the release of “Heartland”?

Phillip Fox: We’re upping the ante on everything we’re doing for Heartland.  We’ll be recreating the album live with an 11-piece band for the some of the release shows, and we have a lot of folks around us helping to get the word out about the record.  We’re still independent so we’re used to having to do everything ourselves.  Having some support this go around is a big thing for us.

Cincy Groove:   When did you realize that you wanted to play music for a living?

Phillip Fox: I think from the first time I realized that earning a living was something a person had to do.  I remember my high school counselors telling me that “playing music” wasn’t a valid career choice.  I don’t know about that but it’s sure the hardest way to barely make a living.

Cincy Groove:  What does the band do to pass the time on the road?

Phillip Fox: With laptops and mobile data everywhere there’s not actually a lot of downtime.  When we’re not sleeping we’re usually booking shows, answering emails, working on the next batch of tunes, or any of the 100 other things that have to get done to keep us moving down the road.

Cincy Groove:  Do you have a venue you consider your home?

Phillip Fox: We’ve been fortunate to put together a network of venues that appreciate what we do, so there are quite a few that feel like our “home away from home.”

Cincy Groove:  What have been some highlights for the band so far this summer?

Phillip Fox: Our first weekend on Put in Bay was a blast, as was headlining Ohio Bike Week.  The coolest, though, was probably headlining the Columbus Arts Festival.  We don’t get to play in town a lot and it was a perfect night with the amphitheater overlooking the river and the downtown skyline.  A lot of our friends, family, and folks we don’t get to see very often were there.  It was a pretty amazing night.

Cincy Groove:  Where has been the most unusual place you have had to perform?

Phillip Fox: I guess it doesn’t really feel unusual for me to have music in just about any setting, but we used to do house concerts on a regular basis and that always seemed unusual to other people.  They would say “You’re playing where?“.  Like I had just told them we were playing on the moon.