DPRP’s Brian Watson recently got the opportunity to put a few questions to Phideaux Xavier, about his influences, the new album Snowtorch, future projects including the band Mogon, the fabled 7 ½ album and the conclusion of the trilogy that started with Great Leap/Doomsday Afternoon.
It should be noted that we here at DPRP have reviewed eight Phideaux albums, and every single one of them received a recommended rating. Some claim to fame but this fact should come as no surprise for all those of us who were lucky enough to catch their show at last year’s Summer’s End festival.
Phideaux: I think the reaction to Snowtorch was okay. It was certainly way better than the reaction to Number Seven, but that’s another story. I think people were unhappy that we didn’t finish up our “trilogy” that began with Great Leap/Doomsday, so they were unhappy that Number Seven didn’t have the same sound and vision. Also, we made a mistake with the first issue of Number Seven by breaking up the songs into smaller sub-bits for people to have easy access to. People couldn’t really find the “songs” of Number Seven. For Snowtorch, I think it was a softer, easier piece to digest. Although we did get some flack for the second part where it devolves into musique concrete. As for 7½, we are mixing it now and hope to have it out by the new year. Snowtorch grew out of that album. But, the compositions that coalesced into Snowtorch became too long and unwieldy to be part of that album, so we put out the more immediate piece first.
Brian: Can you tell us about the logistical issues involved in taking a ten-piece band on tour, and is it financially viable?
Phideaux: The short answer is no. We all live across the USA, which is a big country, so it’s hard just to rehearse and record. As for gigs, we prefer festivals where we can see a concentration of people at one time. My bandmates all have other things they do and families to see to. We play together because we are friends and many of us grew up together on the East Coast of US. So, performing is a pleasure and a bit of a friend reunion. At this point, there are no more live events scheduled. We are on a bit of a hiatus so I can work on finishing some albums.
Phideaux: I would be quite happy to do a solo acoustic show at any time. There have been ideas to do a vocal combo with myself and all the lovely and talented womenfolk of Phideaux. It’s also possible that I could do a duo show with Valerie.
Brian: You’ve received overwhelming critical appreciation for all your recorded work so far. Can you tell us about the genesis of the project/band, and what expectations you had when starting out?
Phideaux: When I started out I had a desire to make albums. I wanted to make recordings that would be exciting to hear with headphones. I wanted to use the recording studio as an instrument and as a method for exploring sounds. I really began after a large failure. That large failure was the album Ghost Story which I recorded with my dear friend/drummer Rich Hutchins. We spent a year and a half on that album, but I cut corners on the mixdown and it sounded terrible. This was after having made another “demo” album called Friction which suffered from bad mix and dodgy production. So, I was crestfallen by the artistic failure of Ghost Story. Mostly because I had put so much into those songs. I really loved them. And I loved the recordings, but the final mix turned out so antithetical to the ingredients. So, that album was shelved in 1998 and I suspended my musical pursuits. Around 2001, I had the honour to do volunteer work at the base of the fallen World Trade Center towers. I was manning a red cross tent where workers in the inner perimeter could get coffee, food, gloves, supplies, etc. En route back to L.A. on new New Year’s Eve I reviewed my decision to stop making music. I observed that I really wasn’t interested in trying to “make it” in music. The music industry wasn’t very inspiring to me. However, I had been listening to a lot of new progressive rock music that I’d heard of via the internet. I knew there was something happening in music online. So, I decided that if I put aside all the aspects that I hated about music (engineering, marketing, hustling…) I might return to making a recording. I concluded that if I made an album just for myself with no concern for commerciality it might be a good thing.
I contacted my friend Rich and asked him to work on a new project with me. He was a bit leery because Ghost Story had never seen the light of day. But, I assured him I was not producing myself and it would be a different scene, so we rehearsed for Fiendish and came up with a lot of material that gave me back the spark for making music. Immediately after that album was finished, I set about revising and remixing and resuscitating Ghost Story. That was really the album I put all my love into, so I felt ready to approach it again.
So, my expectations were to have no expectations and to just make music that I personally would enjoy. I had a good job and could use the extra money to achieve my dream of making fun and eclectic music.
Phideaux: It was really intended as a recording project until Sebastien from Festival Crescendo contacted me in 2007 with an eye to performing in France. I contacted my friends and people seemed interested in trying to set up a live situation and from there we really “became” a band.
Brian: How did you enjoy your Summer’s End experience in 2010?
Phideaux: It was fantastic. I have never felt more of a vibe in a room. I thought we played well and it was so rewarding to see the faces of the listeners singing along with some of the songs. The audience was so great, the location was gorgeous and we had a fine time. I really liked the underground green room! It all went by so fast, I hope we can come again for an Autumn’s End show…
Brian: What are your thoughts on the progressive rock ‘scene’ in The US and elsewhere?
Phideaux: I am in a bit of a bubble with my own music. I don’t listen to as much music as I should because I don’t want to get too influenced. I also don’t want to be out of touch, so I read a lot about the new upcoming bands. I often order a disc to check it out. I like a lot of what I hear and feel fatigued by some because I’m not convinced it comes from the heart. However, I’m very happy by the listeners and the people who support the music and take the time to write me on facebook or wherever to comment or encourage.
Phideaux: That’s a tricky question because I would be so star struck to support a favourite act, but I guess it would be incredible to go on before Jethro Tull (I could see his fingerings close up! Crib some more capo ideas). As for someone supporting us, I’d love to see Mars Hollow because then I could delude myself into thinking that they haven’t yet overtaken us (of course, they would blow us out of the water, so maybe I’d better revise that idea). Honestly, whoever supports us better not have too much equipment because we have too great a stage footprint…
Brian: Any updates on the Mogon project? I’ve listened to it quite a lot and it’s very Phideaux-like. How did you get involved, and any likelihood of a full band release?
Phideaux: Thank you. The song “Snuff” which has been released and will be on a Musea/Colossus various artists album about Boccaccio’s Decameron is the track you’ve heard. What characterizes a Mogon song vs. a Phideaux song is that I don’t have any preconceptions about the music when it’s Mogon. I also don’t have to worry about using my full band. The music can be stripped down, and be somewhat simpler. Phideaux started out as my solo project and then it became a band. So, when I want to do something that is outside the box of Phideaux, I’ve chosen to call it Mogon. Actually, there were some recording sessions where a small group of the band mates did some music that had a quality that was quite apart from our normal repetoire. As we listened back to this other/strange song (called The Chairs) the word Mogon popped into my head. I got the idea then that this song should be released as part of a side project. And so, I began to be aware of musical ideas that were coming out of me that didn’t fit what I thought of for Phideaux. I set those ideas aside and had some sessions to explore these ideas and it became a set of Mogon songs.
Phideaux: Mostly because I think the audience expects a certain intricate compositional quality from Phideaux music and Mogon is seeking to find similar threads in very simple almost minimalist execution. The bass player, Mat Kennedy, recently came to record some bass for some Mogon songs and he was surprised because so many of the “rules” I have about Phideaux music were turned upside down on the Mogon material. It was fun to see how different the process could be.
Brian: What’s on your car CD player at the moment?
Phideaux: It’s boring, but I have had the bonus disc of the new Aqualung, plus Yes Relayer. Aside from that I was listening avidly to Guy Manning’s new album and I have a demo CD of the writings for the next Phideaux album (which will be called Infernal and is the concluding chapter)
Phideaux: Siouxsie & The Banshees, Melanie, Arena, Smile by The Beach Boys, The Beatles, Throwing Muses, Genesis, Abba, Boney M, Judas Priest, PFM, Le Orme, Beardfish, The Cure, Jefferson Airplane, Erasure, Ayreon, Kraftwerk, Univers Zero, Beethoven, Miles Davis, Errol Garner and Bert Sommer.
Brian: Anything happening on the Snowtorch follow-up, 7 ½ notwithstanding?
Phideaux: I am starting to finish up the demos for Infernal, which is the concluding chapter to our trilogy (Great Leap/Doomsday Afternoon/Infernal). Performing Doomsday material live has put me back in touch with some of the ideas that went into those albums and we have done a lot of good research and development for the live set which I’m hoping to utilize on Infernal.
Brian: You’ve made a guest appearance on Johnny Unicorn’s recent album. Any other plans to work with him on his solo stuff?
Phideaux: Johnny co writes a lot of the Mogon stuff and he’s a fount of ideas. The balance is to accept all his wonderful input while keeping true to my musical vision. He brings a lot to the table. I think he has soooooo many ideas that he doesn’t really need me on his solo albums, but I’m always happy to do whatever I can for my fellow musicians. The slight problem is that I’m not really a “player”. There’s no reason for someone to have me playing an instrument on their album because I don’t really play anything particularly strongly. I have a style and it works for my music but other people can do things a lot better than I can. So since Johnny doesn’t need any ideas for his albums, my input would become superfluous.
Brian: I really appreciate your time Phideaux, but I have one final question. If you had to pick one, defining influence on you and your music, who would it be and why?
Phideaux: The Beatles, naturally, because they pioneered the use of recording studio. I think a lot of their peers had great songs and were pushing boundaries, but George Martin and the lads really used the recording medium to bring something new to pop music. They were also the first music I heard as a kid. My mom listened to Jazz piano, but my older sister had Beatles albums and I was very intrigued by White Album, Mystery Tour, Abbey Road and Sgt. Pepper. Those four were my musical education (alongside Satanic Majesties by Stones and Volunteers by Jefferson Airplane). I am so glad to have grown up when I did and to have had Jethro Tull Thick As A Brick be one of the first concerts I ever went to (again, courtesy of my sister who went with friends for her birthday and had an extra ticket which little brother was given!)
Thanks for the questions and for your interest.
Thank you very much for your time, Phideaux. It’s really appreciated and I look forward to hearing your new material and hope to see you guys perform live again. Your Summer’s End appearance was a highlight for me (and, I dare say, many others) in over 30 years of attending gigs.