The Fayetteville music scene has always had its hidden gems. What rises to the top in our small town music scene is usually a dressed up imitation of something nostalgic or already geared towards mass consumption. With instant access and information overload, most musicians have become sterile waiting rooms of irony — you listen but you tune out because the words have nothing to do with your life. As music critics have pointed out, regional music scenes are on the way out. Chances are the popular band in any given small town sounds a lot like the popular band in Portland, Austin or Brooklyn. Is this a bad thing? Even with all the knowledge from a few Google searches in front of you, you have to search a little differently for real alternatives.
I’ve consistently been surprised by the music of Phillip Farris, and for over a decade Farris’ solo material is honest, catchy and engaging. His lyrics are pointed without being preachy, personal without being cliché, and political without being condescending. He’s one of the true architects of our unique music scene, and he’s put us on the map. Essentially, like anything pure, it’s complicated and difficult to summarize with words. So seek it out, and dig it up.
Catch Phillip Farris playing an all-ages show at Nightbird Books at 9 p.m. Friday, March 8.
I asked Phillip some questions, here goes.
Q: How long have you been writing and performing as a solo artist?
A: Man, let’s see… Twelve, maybe 13 years. It’s been a while at this point. I was in high school when I finally started trying to take it seriously.
Q: Can you explain how a song happens for you?
A: Well, it’s kind of situational. Sometimes I’ll hear a piece of someone’s conversation and something will stick. I like to take common, everyday phrases, and use them in one way or the other. It gives the listener something to immediately relate to, or identify with. I’m a pretty observant person, so I’m taking in a lot of information all the time. I think well put together words kind of have their own melody. It doesn’t really matter how it’s sung. In fact, I feel like some people end up over-singing things, and the lyrics gets lost. I’ve never been super concerned about having the prettiest voice in town (obviously if you’ve ever seen me play). I mean, there’s no real melody to a song like “Boy Named Sue” (Johnny Cash), but you know every word. It doesn’t matter how its sang. Johnny Cash just basically talks through the whole thing, and yet it’s one of the most popular, well-written songs of all time. It’s all about the words, and how you associate with them.
Q: What influences your songs the most?
A: I guess just life. In general. All of it. The good shit and the bad shit. Even down to the tedious, menial things that you hate doing, but you do them every day because if you don’t, no one else will. You get one life. I’ve just sort of chosen to document mine in song. So yeah, it’s a bit of a blanket statement I guess, but life.
Q: How does being in metal/hardcore bands affect your solo work?
A: I’m not sure…. I’ve never really not done both. As a kid, I was just as influenced, intrigued even, by bands like Black Flag, as I was a guy like Steve Earle or Willie Nelson. They kind of approached things from the same standpoint if you think about it. Some of those old country dudes were punk rock, they just called it “Outlaw Country” instead. But it’s the same spirit. “We’re here, and this is what we do. We don’t really care if you like it or not.” I’m just a fan of good, honest songwriting. If I can hear a song, and tell that you mean it, I can probably get behind it. Doesn’t really matter the genre, as long as it comes from a real place.
Q: What have you been listening to lately? Are there any unexpected songs or bands that make you write differently?
A: I’ve been listening to a lot of old school death metal stuff lately actually. As far as unexpected songs/bands go, I’m not really sure. I love Paul Simon. I think he’s a strange little genius. I like Bob Seger quite a bit. There’s a metal band called Mastodon that in my eyes are kind of the kings of good, rock solid songwriting. And The Counting Crows. People have given me shit for it over the years, but I still say The Counting Crows are my all-time favorite band.
Q: Is there a song you wish you’d written, and why?
A: Hmm. “Hey Jude” by The Beatles. I just have always felt like it was such a perfectly written song. Like, if you were to ask me, “Phillip, what in your opinion, is the perfect song?” I’d say “Hey Jude.” Every piece, every movement, and every lyric just somehow does exactly what it’s supposed to do. I honestly, and my roommate can attest to this, pretty much always have that song stuck in my head. Even if its on a subconscious level. I’ll be walking down the street humming “Hey Jude” to myself without even realizing it. Also, the song “Rich Girl” by Hall & Oates. I know it may be cheesy or whatever, but it really is a perfect pop song, with possibly my favorite chorus of all time. And even though its completely unrelated to my solo stuff, I REALLY wish I had written “Drag The Waters” by Pantera. That opening riff — man. It’s just too good. And the lyrics are awesome.
Q: Do politics play a part in your songwriting process?
A: Well, yes. And no. I mean, whether we want to admit it or not, “politics” play a part in every aspect of our lives. You buy something from the store, you pay sales tax. Boom. Politics in action. That being said, I try pretty hard to not be super preachy. About anything. I think everyone is entitled to their own views and opinions. Every person you see or meet has had something happen in their lives that have led them to the choices they’ve made. No judgment passed on my end. There are a lot of things that I do feel incredibly passionate about politically speaking though. Veteran affairs and services especially. These young men go overseas and see/do a bunch of shit that they will never forget, no matter how hard they try. And then they come home just to be fucked over in every way imaginable. Either by the V.A. or by the military itself. “There’s only one thief in the army, the rest of us are just trying to get our shit back.” It’s more than just “Bring our boys home!” or some other stupid, Toby Keith inspired mantra. You have to take care of these guys, and their families, once they get home. The civilian world might as well be Mars if you’ve just spent a year in the mountains dodging bullets and watching your friends die. All of a sudden, you give a whole lot less of a shit about your co-workers’ weekly TV schedules. So to anyone who has served, or is currently serving in 11bravo, 11charlie, or any 11 series/infantry M.O.S., if you read this, I sincerely thank you for your hard work. I love you guys. I hope you, and your boys get home safe. Sorry, I said I wasn’t preachy, and here I am preaching.
Q: Are there any local musicians you ask for song advice? What Fayetteville bands are you listening to right now?
A: Well, I have a lot of extremely talented friends. There is so much talent in this area, it’s kinda scary. I don’t know about asking advice necessarily, but I have a couple people that I’m always interested in hearing their opinions of whatever new song I write. As far as Fayetteville bands I’m into, there are definitely a few. I love the Thunderlizards. Even though they are my best friends, it’s just such a cool idea for a band. “Hey, let’s be a surf rock/garage punk/slide guitar/Motörhead band!” I also really dig Potions, although I think I heard that they were done which is a bummer. I never saw that band off their game. I dig Some Perpetual Werewolf as well. Also, I’m not sure if they still count as a Fayetteville band, but I will always love Deadbird!!