By GRACE HOWIE
On February 3, I sat down with artist Erik Phillips at Hyperion Espresso. The Fredericksburg native now lives in Richmond, but still comes back most weekends.
Phillips latest album, “One,” was released February 2. They told me how they felt relieved it was finally out. Working with a label is much more of a process than what they had done in the past. “You record it, send it to them, wait a couple months for them to get together the physical things and the promotional things and then it’s finally released,” said Phillips.
Phillips began recording this album at the end of 2015.
“One” is a short cohesive collection of songs that create a comforting and almost nostalgic feeling. Simply put, they’re pleasant. I could imagine these somber, easy going tracks being the soundtrack to a road trip or an evening at home with friends. I laid on my floor and played it through my speakers and just spent the half hour encapsulated by the catchy guitar melodies and vocals that accompanied them. One supporter on band camp suggested “turning the lights off before you listen,” which isn’t a bad idea. Phillips told me, “When I listen to music now I just want something to relax to and enjoy to, listen to, hope people just enjoy it,” which I think from the response since it’s been released has been accomplished.
At one point in the conversation Phillips told me, “I really like confident musicians.” We spoke about Kanye West,
“regardless of how I feel about Kanye’s album, I love how excited he was for his own albums,” siad Phillips. Noting how when Kanye tweeted, “It’s not album of the year, this is album of the life,”
They loved that quote and respect that level of confidence someone has in their own work. “I want to like my stuff enough to brag about it,” they said before taking a moment to tweet from their own account, @erikphillips94, “‘This isn’t album of the year. This is album of the life.’ -kanye on the new album “one” by erik phillips available on vinyl and cassette from Joy Void.”
Phillips initially began releasing music under the name Cat Be Damned, playing music inspired by Modest Mouse and The Pixies, noting how they thought they could sound like Modest Mouse (although looking back they’re not so sure how accurate that is). After finding and listening to softer and calmer musicians like Alex G and Elliot Smith, Phillips sound began to change and evolved into the sound we hear today. With the help of friends this style was enhanced by losing the guitar pick and learning how to play finger-style, which Phillips says they’re still perfecting today.
This softness not only allows the creation of a somehow both melancholy and comforting atmosphere but is advantageous for other reasons. Phillips continues to self-record in their apartment, telling me, “I can hear my neighbor cough, so the walls are pretty thin.” They are not able to continue to self-record in the way that they prefer because with a recording studio, since you pay for the time, the songs have to be finished completely before you record. With Phillips current method, they record a chord progression or have the idea for a song and build around it, constantly recording and re-recording until it’s right. This ever-changing process relies on the ability to self-record.
The first time I saw Phillips play was at a house show in Fredericksburg on January 26. It was just themselves, a guitar and a tiny amp. Compared to the album, these versions were stripped back, lacking the layers of guitar and drums and sometimes strings that exist on the album version. Phillips did note, “I would like to do it in the future though, play as a band.” The songs still hold their own though, which is not easy to do. The whole room was focused on nothing but Phillips, most sitting on the ground listening intently. They were the last performance of the night, lulling the crowd before everyone went home.
You can check them out on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/