In Birmingham, June 2015, Songwall caught up with Grant Lee Phillips, the singer and troubadour for the wild and seductive trio known as Grant Lee Buffalo who graced the stages of a bygone era when the term Indie was referred to as ‘underground music’ and the alternative scene was blossoming under a California Sky…..
I went to see Grant Lee Buffalo when they were making waves with their album Fuzzy circa 1993 so I was somewhat short of ecstatic to see Grant lee Phillips, was playing at Alfie Birds in the Custard Factory (Birmingham’s creative quarter), Digbeth just down the road from the Songwall office. Without a shadow of a doubt I knew this was an essential calendar date not be missed.
After the soundcheck on the night of the gig, I sat down to ask the man himself a few questions about Songwriting; to get some insights into the artist who penned some world class songs such as Jupiter and Teardrop, Fuzzy and You Just have to Be Crazy.
SW: So, what was the reason you started songwriting and what was the attraction to music in the first place?
GLP: I’ve probably been writing songs since I was about 14, something like that…..
You know, It starting happening soon after I picked up the guitar, which was around that same period. It was the kind of thing that really snook up on me. I had written quite a few songs throughout high school and afterwards well into my twenties before it kind of hit me that I might have been a songwriter. I guess that’s how one becomes a hoarder. You don’t just say I’m going to hoard…….One day you look around and you can’t move and I guess that’s what happened with the songs. There were a lot of them suddenly you know…..but not so suddenly…over the course of many years.
I think… you know, it’s the kind of thing where its such a sensual and emotional pleasure that you derive out of creating music or listening to it, being a part of it, sharing it….that if you learn you can do that you know in any way then it it’s sort of like learning how to mix up your own medicine……there’s nothing like it…..And you don’t even have to be a musician to appreciate it in fact.
Musicians….we sort of deny ourselves appreciating lots of different types of music because of our bias or because of our taste. I think it’s a bit like taste buds sometimes….with music appreciation. Sometimes you have to hear it a few times before you acquire that taste for it.
SW: How has the free music era affected you, your perception of doing music and people expecting music for free. Is that hard for you?
GLP: It is, Its hard for me, its hard for all of us to exist on the same terms that we might have come to expect. I mean I think you have to bear in mind that things are going to ebb and flow in this business. They always have. There is always room for fluke….just the same where things you wouldn’t expect break out. When I moved to Los Angeles in the early 80’s I was seeing bands come up through the underground you know, before it was called indie, it was just underground music, this other music, before it was called alternative even. And that just seemed really exciting to me the idea you could just make a record. That idea alone, forget being paid for it, or if you were being paid for it maybe you were being paid enough to make another one. The goals weren’t that lofty I think in that way so it was a little surprising to see it bloom in such a grande way where the indie scene became so big in the nineties. I didn’t really expect it to tell you the truth but things have definitely evolved or devolved. They are certainly changing.
SW: So since Grant Lee Buffalo, you have been doing your solo albums….have you been constantly writing in the past 15 years?
GLP: Yeah I have quite a few releases under my own name since I went off on my own I have more solo releases than I do with the band in fact
I was probably in my late twenties by the time Grant Lee Buffalo put its first album out
So if you figure I’ve been writing songs since I was 14. That was a long…..sort of a long overnight success. Many many long hours in that long night
…….It becomes just part of what you do…. its hard to imagine any sort of life where I’m not writing songs at some given time
Having said that, you know we have the iPhone now and we’ve been relieved of boredom. There is no more boredom. And you just take to you phone so that may well be the downfall of many a song…..
And instead of writing or humming to yourself you just go on Facebook (laugh)
Interview Pt2 ….
Ok….. so we did have some other questions and answers recorded in Pt2 of the interview but the files didn’t save!!!! Really gutted about this… however, we did capture some superb content and insights in Pt1 so I hope that gives you enough of reason to go and source the moving music from the very heart and soul of both Grant Lee Phillips and Grant Lee Buffalo. A true artist and one that Songwall takes it hat off too…
As far as a review of the actual gig… well what more can I say than the upstairs venue at Alfie Birds was transformed from the stillness of a cold shell into a warm sensual flowing connection between a crowd full of admiration and respect for a prolific and warm hearted performer singing from the old and the new with the same emotion and finger on the pulse….as if on the start of a new artists journey….. If this artist is playing in a town near you then you should go and support him. A real creative soul putting real music and expression into the world.
All you need to start your Grant Lee Phillips journey can be found here www.grantleephillips.com
For the Grant Lee Buffalo journey follow www.grantleebuffalo.com
Here are some of the beautiful melodies that ooze from this inspiring troubadour…
Fuzzy – Grant Lee Buffalo
Jupiter and Teardrop – Grant Lee Buffalo
You Just Have to be Crazy – Grant Lee Buffalo
Buffalo Hearts – Grant Lee Phillips
For further info you can read the official GLP Press Release and Bio here:
Press Release (Bio)
“History and legend have often found their way into my songs” reflects Grant-Lee Phillips. “But sometimes, I don’t have to look quite so far to find inspiration.”
Walking in the Green Corn, is the newest album by Grant-Lee Phillips. It’s ten songs are drawn from Phillips’ intensive investigations into his native lineage. Phillips, who is Muskogee (Creek), elliptically explores the intersection of past and present, personal and political. While the songs delve deeply into the subconscious mystery of his own back-story, they simultaneously reveal the resonance and insight of ancient myth in parallel to contemporary man’s emotions, actions, and errors.
Composed in a concentrated burst over the course of a few winter months, Walking in the Green Corn came about almost too quickly to censor—the unfiltered sum of years of rumination and discovery. As the days became shorter, the nocturnal Phillips became more productive. “I’m pretty good in the morning,” he says, a smile emerging, “which for me is about 2pm. I find that in a half-awake state, I can make a little bit of headway. Then I become more conscious as the day goes on…I have to wait until the evening and the rest of the world has quieted down to resume.”
What initially began as off-the-cuff home recordings, designed to capture the songs at the moment of conception, soon took on a life of its own. “Initially I figured that, somewhere down the road, I’d get some musicians together in a cathedral-like space and re-record these songs,” Phillips explains. But the disarmingly warm, bioluminescent quality of his simple home recordings had the certain weathered elegance that, in Phillips’ words, “would have driven me mad if I attempted to recreate them in a professional studio environment.” With the exception of violin and vocals by Sara Watkins (formerly of Nickel Creek) and an understated vibraphone part by Alexander Burke, everything on Walking in the Green Corn was performed, sung, and engineered by Phillips.