It was somewhere in San Pedro de Atacama — probably The Valley of the Moon, when the song came back to me. It’d been years since I thought about it, and yet there it was, inexplicably. I’d written it under a different title ages ago. I never had more than a single line at the end of the chorus section and not the one I used.
I’d been in Providencia a few days before, a neighborhood in Santiago, for its eponymous jazz festival — my excuse for choosing to go to Chile when I did. This was something I used to do. Pick a jazz festival somewhere in the world and go to it. Just an excuse to to explore a place I’d never been before. I wasn’t able to get a ticket to the event itself, but on the other side of the river from the festival was a park where the locals were hanging out, catching the show for free. There were some vendors walking around the crowd that was camped out on the slightly terraced ground all looking towards the sculpture garden where the festival was being held. It was a pretty good view of the stage, albeit from a distance. One of the songs that stuck out was a rendition of “Its Only a Paper Moon” which seemed a bit funny to me because they were literally underneath a decidedly real moon, which to me had a distinctly yellow hue that I’d attribute to the atmospheric haze of Santiago. It was one of those moments that you want to capture somehow so I’d started playing around with just trying to get that down somehow as lines to a song.
So now I had some music to set these lines to — though they weren’t really behaving. But then again, neither does the chord progression, which towards the end of the verse has an odd key change that carries over into the chorus.. That was deliberate messing about at the time but led to an interesting sort of build up. I didn’t quite have the refrain yet, but I had in mind the fact that my attempt to take a photo of the moon and the jazz quartet with my camera phone had come out as basically a blurry smudge in the dark — hardly a satisfying representation of the experience.
I was doing a lot of the usual things you do in San Pedro — salt flats, geysers, the Flamingo National Preserves. It was all beautiful but it was a lonely experience. I met a lovely family from Brazil in the hotel where I was staying and there was the daily churn of tour groups where your thrust together with a collection of strangers for a few hours to share in a little adventure, but for the most part I was on my own. I was sending photos to someone back in San Francisco each day, and it was nice to be able to share the experience in that way, but it also felt a bit hollow.
While visiting one of the saltwater lagoons (with a salinity greater than that of the Dead Sea), I managed to get the moccasins I was wearing sopping wet and having failed to rinse them off properly, a thick layer of salt was left behind after they dried out. So that’s where the “salt encrusted shoes” line came from. It just sounded interesting to me, and once I had the full refrain, I liked the way the assonance of “salt” and “all” as well as “shoes” and “truth is” got embedded into the section along with the much more deliberate attempt to have rhymes at the end of the 1st and 4th lines of the chorus. It’s almost ABBA with “shoes” and “truth is” being close enough for government work. Getting the cadence of the last line to be anything other than a odd number of bars just didn’t seem to work, so I went with it and left it as a “bar five” as they say in the biz.
So the second verse became a collage of more things I was seeing an experiencing — the natural beauty of Chile’s northern deserts and the colorful but decaying urban beauty of Valparaiso. One could write endlessly about the murals and neglected architectural gems of Valpo or the ruddy desert palette of Valle de Luna, so I feel like I gave it all rather short shrift with all of two lines. But of course photos can never capture it all (and it’s a curated version of the experience at that), so I guess it works out.
Then of course one has to come back to one’s own reality and that’s the third verse. Which at first seems unreal. But ultimately we travel to come back. Hopefully having learned and experienced some new things and allowing us to look at our own world in a fresh light. I would argue there’s also something of ourselves we leave behind in the place we visited— that experience, which if you’ve had the luxury of traveling with someone else, you can reminisce about together. But otherwise what else was it besides the equivalent of a dream? Only more slightly more substantive because of the keepsakes we collected and the photos we took.
There is also a whole other subtext to the song and what and who it might be about that I think I will leave to the listener’s imaginations. There’s the literal carrying of a device (i.e. my phone) that allows me to share all these experience with the world, but I trust the emotional weight is such that it’s clear there’s another level to it all.
Aside from the odd key changes, there’s a lot of suspended chords and dissonant tensions (that MajorMinor7 in the chorus, for instance). This led to some gentle ribbing from Mario Noche when he covered it at EGPhest II, suggesting I’d given him an unusually hard song to play. He prefaced his performance with his own composition, a tribute to Jobim, and then launched into a bossa nova version of the song.
So when it came time to record and my producer Ben Osheroff wanted to do it as a bossa, bringing Mario into the recording studio seemed fitting. Prior to that we had struggled a bit as to what to do with the instrumental passage — I’d imagined it as more of a horn section, but so far we hadn't been able to make it work. Ben had Mario do some guitar licks over the verse section and between that and the piano we later added, the track came together unexpectedly well.
I was a bit surprised when the song got picked up for a premiere in Americana UK, but also glad that the track gets a chance to shine. It’s been released as a single now, so take a listen.
This year, the “phest” convenes at the The Secret Garden SF, a unique and eclectic performance space for all manner of artists to create and congregate in an intimate salon setting. Weather permitting, we’ll be making use of this lovingly tended gem’s enclosed outdoor environs — but sumptuously decorated indoor rooms are available as well.
I have put in the order for this year's rubber ducky part favors (butterfly rubber duckies, as befits the setting) but more importantly I've been busily reaching out to performers and building up a list of artists from all over the Bay — people I know from open mics and Balanced Breakfast. I'll be making an announcement at some point about this year's participants and I greatly appreciate everyone who's agreed to take part so far.
I get a lot of kudos when I tell people about the whole deal — inviting folks to cover my songs for my birthday — but it's not the easiest thing to do. I know people are busy, a lot of them traveling during the summer vacation months. And musicians are touring or have other gigs or other commitments — this in part why I wanted to do the event on a Sunday afternoon. I do my best to suggest songs that I think will work for the person performing as well as honor their request to do a particular song, though I'm also mindful of the fact that I'd like there not to be a huge number of repeats. I might enjoy it if everyone did their own take on "Sett'n My Own Pace" but maybe it's less enjoyable on the whole for everyone. And I do have this conceit that while there are handful of songs of mine that might be considered S-Tier, as the kids would say, there a whole catalogue of creations that I'd love hear someone else take a stab at performing.
There is of course some inevitable churn and turn over as things come up and folks can't make it — and I accept that as part of this crazy thing I'm doing, which is making a pointed effort to get what I really want for my birthday, a chance to hear other people perform these odd little ditties of mine. Rather than it be a huge ego trip, it's actually quite humbling. The level of creativity people put into developing their own interpretations or just the uniqueness of hearing someone else's voice is an amazing thing. But it does require a lot of asking, and following up, which is not something I necessarily find easy.
I chose to do it on the 4th this year because 1) it reinforces the "4" (the fewer numbers to remember the better) but more importantly, I'm trying to dodge the plague that is "Outside Lands" which is either competition or driving folks out of the city to avoid the crowds. I hope folks will swing by. I feel a bit odd about putting on a price on a ticket for a birthday show, but there are costs involved, and if nothing else it commits people to coming that much more. I'm trying to offer some budget friendly options early on to get people onboard, and trust me, this is not a money making proposition.
This year’s artwork is a contribution by illustrator Jesse Israel Art, who earlier this year collaborated with me to create a music video for my song “Lighthouse at the Edge of the World” which is a major part of the new album “At Home At Sea” (available July 12th).
Here's a black and white version of the artwork if you all want to color your own.
Post it with the tag #EGPhest to Facebook and Instagram.
...the password to the event is duckduckgoose
Both the music videos for the new album have been selected for the Audio Shoot Unsigned International Music Video & Film Festival which takes places July 6th-7th in Wexford, Ireland.
The video for the "Lighthouse at the Edge of the World" will be competing in the "Best Animated Music Video" category whereas "The Albatross Song" will compete in the "Best Folk Music Category." The festival takes place in Murphy's Barn a restored 17th century barn about and hour and forty minutes from Dublin. There will be live music as well as street food and craft beers as part of the festivities.
... slyly humours, sneakily affecting"
"At Home Home At Sea" gets it's 3rd song premiere of the PR campaign leading up its release on July 12th with the featuring of "All I Can Share Is Photos" on Americana UK, the UK home for Americana, alt.country and alternative.
This travelogue through Chile takes us from Santiago, up to San Pedro de Atacama and back down to Valparaiso in a few verses. Moreover it is about the vagaries of travel. Especially travel alone, with a broken heart. The recording features Mario M. Noche on guitar, who had previously covered the song in a similar bossa nova type style as part of EGPhest II. Aird writes "It’s singer-songwriter folk shot through with a cocktail jazz sensibility. You might hear touches of Vivian Stanshall, and thereby a frisson of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band."
Check out the full article and give this song a listen.
“Lifetimes Without You” taps into the grand sense of timelessness that falling in love inspires.
"At Home At Sea" gets it's 2nd premiere with the track "Lifetimes Without You" getting featured on Americana Highways — check out what they have to say and give it a listen.
I'll also note that I'm listed on Billboards upcoming releases for July 12th, just under Ed Sheeran,
As we approach the release of "At Home At Sea" on July 12th, the media campaign begins to kick in. In addition to the premiere of "You Inexorable Pull," which I posted on the home page earlier, I got a nice write up in SFWeekly in advance of my show at the Hotel Utah on May 23rd.
Infusing his vivid lyricism with subtle humor and hints of pop-culture awareness, E.G. Phillips is a rising singer-songwriter set to release his sophomore album, At Home At Sea, in July. The local musician attributes his wide-ranging creative influences to Bob Dylan, Miles Davis, and Tom Lehrer, which set the stage for Phillips’ singular songwriting technique and knack for unconventional instrumentation. An active presence within the Bay Area’s independent music scene, Phillips’ shining personality enabled him to create E.G. Phest, an annual event that spotlights local singer-songwriters in addition to Phillips’ own material. In early 2017, he released his excellent debut album, Fish from the Sky, a whimsical and warm-hearted collection of songs that emphasizes Phillips’ natural songwriting talent. Phillips’ upcoming album, At Home At Sea, promises more of the cinematic lyricism that the musician excels at in his previous work, with more pronounced jazz influences."
And here's that write up in Vents Magazine for "Your Inexorable Pull" — take a listen.
E.G. Phillips has been making some waves for the past few years, and as a non-stopping force he’s returning with another gem in the form of “Your Inexorable Pull,” a track that showcases the most raw and intimate side of the artist as he pours his heart, armed only with his guitar
Friends, they may think it's a Movement, and that's what it is”
For a number of months last year and occasionally this past year, I had the pleasure and privilege off performing at The Marker Hotel at Union Square in San Francisco during their evening wine service. The hotel provided the sound equipment and the crowd, who came down to the family room for the ostensibly free wine that was made available between 5 and 6 PM.
This experience was invaluable to myself as a songwriter, performer and entertainer and I’m saddened to learn that management at the Marker has decided to discontinue this amenity. The whole thing was started by Theo McKinney, who works at the concierge desk of the Marker’s sister location and fellow Joie de Vivre property, the Hotel Carlton, in part to further his own ambition to perform in front of live audiences and develop as a musician. Theo managed to convince the staff at the Carlton to indulge this passion and subsequently bought in many other local artists to perform there as well as beginning a campaign to get more hotels to take part.
From the hotel’s perspective, this program offers a chance to provide guests with a unique experience that has distinctly local flavor. Guests have the opportunity to make a connection with an artist that is memorable and emotionally rewarding, contributing positively to their overall impression of the hotel and their experience there. The experience was something they could share on social media and when writing up a review on TripAdvisor or some such similar site that could help set the hotel apart from their competitors. And I've always been willing to provide suggestions for other ideas as to what to do in the city to guests (even if it was shameless self-promotion for an upcoming show) to help make them feel like their stay in San Francisco hadn’t been some cookie-cutter, run-of-mill, hop-on-hop-off, check-off-all-the-items-in-the-guidebook sort of affair. It's even a chance to give back to the community as Ken Newman has been using the opportunity to play there to advocate for his Blanket the Homeless charity.
As I said, for myself, this opportunity was invaluable. Being a songwriter is often a solitary craft and having an opportunity to perform your originals can be rare when you first start out playing out. Open mics, are of course, an option, but you are usually only afforded 1 or 2 songs and your audience is mostly other songwriters, not the general public, so it can start feel like a very limited sphere in which you’re getting exposure. As wonderful as the sense of community is, it feels a little insular at times. The illustration below is my take on audience/performer dynamic — one Wittgenstein duck/rabbit performing for a crowd of other Wittgenstein duck/rabbits. Getting a crowd to listen your music as an unknown is a tremendous amount of work and often quite dejecting, so if there is another draw (“free” wine), all the better.
Similarly, along those lines, the Marker was a wonderful bootcamp for learning how to be a performer. Once, again, not being responsible for the crowd is a huge gift. It can be hit or miss, of course, depending on who’s staying the hotel and a whole host of factors, but getting past your inhibitions when it comes being in front of a crowd whatever its size is tremendously important. While open mics are a good starting point for developing in this regards as well, once again, you are limited by the duration available to you. Rarely do you get the chance to perform a whole set — and certainly not on a consistent basis. Becoming adept at managing one’s time on stage and simply being comfortable in front of an audience of complete strangers, is like all things, a matter of practice and routine.
I specified entertainer as a third aspect as to what I think my stint at the Marker helped develop and I think it’s good to draw the distinction between that and performance, although the choice of words may feel somewhat arbitrary. While I think it’s relatively clear what the difference in skillsets might be between a songwriter and a performer, I think it's helpful to tease out the distinction between merely performing and entertaining — and I think this is where the most important aspect of what the Marker provided can be explained. It’s one thing to get to the point where you feel competent and confident on stage — it’s another thing to let go a bit and become more selfless as to what you’re doing and be there for your audience. As a songwriter, this can be an important hurdle to overcome because there’s a lot of self-consciousness about one’s own work as well as a lot of pride.
A fundamental aspect of music, alas is that people enjoy its familiarity, so original material often suffers from some “consumer resistance.” This is why even when performing original material, throwing in a familiar tune can help build a rapport with an audience. I will admit to still being reluctant to play this game myself, but it’s value can’t be denied. As an entertainer, you are catering more to the tastes and needs of your audience — the nice thing about Local Vocals is I’ve never felt any hint of pressure to do that as you’re not responsible for draw or selling more drinks. Nonetheless, the environment is conducive to honing one’s instincts in this regards — and it's helpful to gain a sense what your priorities are in that regards.
Along those lines is developing a feel as to what your role in a setting is. In a crowded hotel lobby where the majority of guests are co-workers in town for a convention and therefore want to socialize, the fact that you are merely “wallpaper” while everyone else converses indifferently to your presence can feel alienating. However, being comfortable in those circumstances is important. Learning to engage with the few individuals who are interested in that sort of engagement can be quite rewarding. On the other hand, knowing what you’re doing isn’t being scrutinized allows you some freedom to experiment and improvise, especially with banter between songs or moments you’re trying to create within them. Sometimes you’ll strike on something new and different that gets a reaction or you just like it and you’ll continue to develop it from its spontaneous origins. If nothing else, becoming inured to indifference is healthy — allowing yourself to ride the waves of an audience attentiveness and not be thrown off (or worse, become hostile/dejected) is a skill and an exercise in temperament.
Honing one's skills as a performer and entertainer ultimately have an impact on the songwriting and I think it's important to be in that position to get a sense of how what you're doing during that solitary act of writing plays out in front of an audience. Whether it's how audience reacts to a line, or how dynamics impact the performance and perception of the piece, or just how difficult something is to say, there's a lot to inform the writing process. And all of these aspects — the writing, the performing, the entertaining — inform each other.
A lot of this honing can be achieved through busking on the street or playing in bars, but the environment of a boutique hotel is unlike those in some fundamental ways. First, there was a wonderful “plug and play” aspect to the set up — one was simply responsible for showing up with one’s instrument — even the sound system needs were taken care of. This sort of ease just in terms of moving equipment around and setting it up is positively indulgent from an indie artist’s perspective. Second, there’s just the aspect of one’s own personal comfort and safety — one would say one is forever spoiled when you’re nice and warm surrounded by comfy chairs and a fireplace and not having to worry about the weather and basics like electricity for amplification. Moreover, the people listening to you are comfortable and overall more amenable in taking in a performance — the libations are certainly helpful in this regards as well. It’s also just plain a lot easier to be heard, being indoors (crowd noise not withstanding). And while it doesn’t help so much to build a local audience, it is nice to know that travelers from around the world (who are sometimes actually more appreciative of live music) are hearing your words, your songs and hopefully taking a little bit of those with them. It’s a remarkable thing.
In the end, I’m very grateful for the opportunity the Marker provided me while it did and I think I can take a some credit for the choice of decor in the newly renovated family room. It was extremely important to me personally to have this as a place to go. Developing these skills doesn’t come from no where, and the staff there were exceedingly generous in helping incubate and foster local talent in San Francisco. I’m glad that the Carlton continues to be a location where local, independent music can thrive and the tradition of Local Vocals carries on (give Theo a shout should you ever swing by). There are so few places that truly nurture local art in this way — The Lost Church and Bazaar Cafe being vital venues in my book.
If, dear reader, you feel like you want to help in some way, first, support those venues and others like them. Second, if you would drop a note to the management at the Marker perhaps they will reconsider — a posting on a hotel review site could work wonders — but please, be positive.
If enough of us do it, they may even think it’s a movement.
For the 2nd annual #LehrerPhest, once again held at PianoFight, we have both new and returning faces to play tribute to Tom Lehrer by doing their own takes on his songs. Here's a run down of of the roster of performers that will be joining me.
Ben Einstein (aka Neeto) of Van Goat
Noted electric fishing rod and pineapple enthusiast Neeto (aka Ben Einstein) will be returning for this year's #LehrerPhest this Sunday at PianoFight.
If you want, for some reason, to feel bodily transported back to the 1990s, check out Ben's retro-chique website, complete with obligatory dancing hamster.
Joel Schick is a singer/songwriter, who describes his work as Original Americana, encompassing blues, country, R&B, rock 'n' roll, doo wop, folk, Celtic and jazz. Brand new old songs of the '30s, '40s, '50s and '60s, he calls it. He accompanies himself on guitar and harmonica.
Joel grew up in Chicago in the 1950s and '60s, when the airwaves were full of an amazingly eclectic gumbo of musical styles. So, of course, he fell in love with all of them, and writes in all of them as well. Joel came late to making music, after a long career as an illustrator and co-author of scores of children's books, and designer and illustrator of hundreds of Muppet and Sesame Street products.
Songs and art samples are available at http://familygorilla.com/js_joelschick.html
Dawn Oberg is a San Francisco-based songwriter. Her influences are all over the place, but include jazz, R&B, pop, punk, country. She plays all over the bay area and has done two national tours.
Dawn has released three full-length solo records, two singles, and most recently an EP called 'Nothing Rhymes with Orange,’ the title track of which mic.com included as one of the 16 best anti-Trump songs of the year in 2017. The Village Voice listed her song “It’s 12:01” as one of the 50 best protest songs of 2016 and SPIN listed it as one of their favorite songs of the week.
Dawn's website is: http://www.dawnoberg.com
Aside from being an accomplished drummer, composer, tap dancer, and rapper Ben writes his own comedy music — he recently featured the at Neck of the Woods, singing about a topic I'm sure Mr. Lehrer would approve of. Check out a video from that outing at Ben Visini Comedy Music as well as other Ben Visini compositions.
Nina Jo Smith
Award-winning songwriter, Nina (rhymes with China) Jo Smith, is the original indie grrrl (born on the 4th of July.) Nina Jo accompanies her sweet voice and wise lyrics on guitar and ukulele.
She got her start when stole her mom's guitar when she was about nine and taught herself to play by listening to Joan Baez records. Also, she believes Belly Laughs make the world go ‘round.
Jazz chanteuse Eve Fleishman Music will take on anotherTom Lehreŗ piece for this year's #LehrerPhest, returning from last year's inaugural bash. Eve's sultry sweet sounds of original jazz-folk-pop are near and dear to my heart, especially given our mutual affinity for Blossom Dearie. An artist and a yoga instructor as well as delightful vocalist, she's Nashville meets San Francisco, east meets west.
Check out her website at: http://www.evefleishman.com
Brendan Getzell, from a vantage point with which I am quite familiar.
Recently minted as the musical director for the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival, Brendan has his fingers in multiple musical pies, including Kat Robichaud's Misfit Cabaret, numerous David Bowie tribute bands, his own project "The Getz" as well as, of course, the infamous Hotel Utah Saloon open mic — to name but a few. He'll be swinging by PianoFight to be part of #LehrerPhest this Sunday.
Check out some of Brendan's original power-pop, rock, folk, indie amalgam solo work on bandcamp:
And be at LehrerPhest 2019 to catch him and all the players this Sunday.
Support this event and local music by preordering tickets.
A while back Rozanne Gewaar (one of the new proprietors of Bazaar Cafe) turned me onto a FilmFreeway, a website for submitting to various film festivals. So I went through and picked out a few likely (and relatively cheap as far as entry fees go) options for the music video for "The L.A. Song"— digging through the multitude of possible festivals with an eye on those focused on music videos.
Yesterday that effort paid some dividends as I got a notification that I'm the finalist in two categories for the California Music Video & Film Awards — "Made Me Laugh (Humor)" and "True California"
I will keep you posted as to the results of this endeavor.
Ducks with BlogS