Phillip Corder of TOSSM an online music magazine for independent musicians.
Interviewed September 13, 2004
When did you begin your music career?
I didn’t start playing out on my own till the early ’70s at various venues usually coffeehouses in the Philadelphia area.
Who are your main musical influences?
There’s a huge list, but at the top for a very long time would have to be Bob Dylan, The Band and Van Morrison. But there’s other people I’ve also spent a lot of time listenening to such as Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Leadbelly George Jones, Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard, Otis Redding, Ray Charles, Hank Williams Willie Nelson, and Bill Monroe would have to be in there as well. I’ve made it a point to listen to and see as many of the greats as I can. So that would include virtually all the Chicago as well as country blues artists, all the traditional country artists and later the honky-tonk artists, and then of course, all the rock and roll that was happening when I was a kid as well as soul and R&B.
If you had to pick a couple of songs you have written that you are most proud of, what would they be and why?
They’d usually be the ones that when you’re writing them, you have a feeling that you’re onto something. I felt that with “You Don’t Have To Close The Door” which judging by audience reaction is also my most popular song. That song just seems to really hit people. Early on, people who’d seen my band would come up me, sometimes even if they happened to see me in the street and say, “What was that song about the train?”
But I also like the songs that seem to write themselves, the one’s that come fast. They end up being the one’s that stay with me the longest. Of the one’s on the album, I’d have to say “Insignificant” and “You’re Not There” in terms of truly realizing what I was going for when I wrote them both in terms of mood and lyrics.
I’ve got four songs.If you don’t mind, I was wondering if you could go over how they came about or what was going at the time.
“Matter Of The Heart”
This is about the end of a relationship and it actually ended on the summer solstice which is what the line “at the end of the longest day” refers to. The hook line (which is also the title) “You might think it’s a matter of the mind, but I know it’s a matter of the heart,” came into my mind and I couldn’t shake it. I think I carried that in my mind for a really long time before I wrote the song and it took about 9 months after this breakup for the song to crystalize. Then it took until the album to get it right. I tried it with several bands, but it took Frank Campbell, a fine engineer and bass player from Austin who basically produced by album to realize what I was going for musically.
“You’re Not There”
I actually wrote this in a bar. I was going out by myself drinking and looking for love in all the wrong places. I ordered a beer, had a seat at the bar and the song came into my head. Luckily, I had my pocket notebook on me and wrote it down. I knew I had something. I finished writing and forgot about going out for the night, went home and took out the guitar. It was actually about a relationship that had ended a long time before, but every now and then showed signs of coming back to life.
“Here On Earth”
This is another song that kind of came out of nowhere. I was writing a bunch of songs at the time. I’d been seriously injured in a robbery and couldn’t sing for a couple of months. All these songs had built up in my mind when I started playing again, and when I wrote this, I may have just finished either “Up Against It” or “Mystery Mountain.” It was in the afternoon and the title came into my head. I just started writing and it pretty much came out the way it is. This big list of the horrors and evil of the world. I knew I had to find a positive way to end which was about the only thing I really had to do with shaping it in a sense. I really had to concentrate at the end because one of the people I lived with at the time came home, and I knew I had to finish the song. When Tangible Music picked up the album, the guy who ran the company thought the end was corny, but when I was writing it, I was keeping in mind something Woody Guthrie had said about hating songs that make you feel like you’re no good (or something like that). For whatever crazy reason, that was also in my mind while I was writing it, so the goal was to try to find a ray of hope somewhere at the end.
I really do believe in the muse, in the theory a lot of songwriters have including Dylan and Van Morrison that the songs are out there and you kind of tune in and they come. You have to be in a place and a state of mind to receive them of course. As Arlo Guthrie says, “Songwriting is like fishing.”
“Walkin’ In My Sleep”
This is really a song about a lost opportunity. It’s about two people who were in love with each other and missed the chance due to a bunch of outside pressures and influences. By the time they admitted it to each other, it was too late. Obviously it’s written from the point of view of let’s do it anyway, what the hell. It’s probably the most upbeat song on the album, but it’s actually about something very sad.
Where do you want to be in the next few years with your music career? Any long term goals?
Oh God, it’s really hard to say. For one thing the music business is just in a not good state at the moment in terms of doing anything creative. The major labels for the most part are ruined, due to the corporate thing taking over the world. Things are changing. Of course there’s the whole do it yourself thing, but having recorded in a real and good studio with both an engineer and musicians who really knew what they were doing, I would want to do it that way again. I would like to find another cool small label. The label that put out my album went out of business a couple of years ago. It was a learning experience in a lot of ways both good and bad. But I know what’s involved in making a record and what needs to be done to really make it happen. Tangible Music knew some of the things, but there were areas they didn’t concentrate on, so I learned from that. I’m trying to find that person I can work with who not only believes, but also has the power or whatever it is to open some doors. I have some newer songs, some I’m very proud of, so I’d like to be able to get them out there and see what happens.
What’s your fondest career memory so far?
It was probably making the album. There’s been some good gigs of course along the way, but the album was realization not only of a dream, but of a sound for these songs, a sound I heard in my mind, but wasn’t truly able to achieve with whatever bands I’d had. For whatever reason, all those musicians in Austin such as Cindy Cashdollar, Casper Rawls, and all the others who played on the record were able to pick up on what I wanted and lay it down, with me actually saying very little, occasionally suggesting the sound or style of a guitar player, or maybe a certain feel. They were just able to listen to the songs and pretty much immediately pick up the feel I was going for and get it right. So it was fulfilling and it was validation of everything I’d been trying to do in writing these songs for years and years.
Do you have a preference when it comes to playing, whether it’s acoustic or electric?
I really like them both. I’ve been playing solo more often mainly because of economics. I’ll go for the acoustic first because I started on acoustic. And the thing about playing by yourself is you can take the song wherever you want it to go, you don’t have to worry about it. You want to do a solo, you just do it, you want to hold a note longer, go for it. Sometimes I work with another guitar player, named Larry Broido, who is a great great player, and he usually plays electric and there’s been times when we’ve really taken the stuff to a whole other level.
But there’s a fun thing with a band too. I probably put on more of a show with a band, cause you get inspired to do certain things on stage. The trick is holding a band together long enough so the music grows. That’s hard at this level.
You are also an writer, tell people what you write about and who you have wrote for?
In terms of being published I’ve written mostly about music, though I’d like to take it into other areas. I wrote for a now gone (that corporate thing again) alternative paper in Philly for several years, doing album reviews, concert reviews etc. They let me write what I wanted to write which was great and were very happy if you went beyond the norm which I sometimes did. I also wrote for Gadfly Magazine, which was a very cool magazine about popular culture with really well-written, intelligent articles. By the time I finally got something in there, they had stopped being a print publication and were only on-line. They went out a couple of years ago, though the stuff is still on-line. I’ve also written for Bobdylan.com and The Band website. I got an amazing response to the stuff on Bobdylan.com. I never considered myself a critic, more a journalist. I was never into putting stuff down unless I absolutely had to. My attitude was I’d rather turn someone on to something good than turn them off to something bad. I had the same attitude when I did radio.
When you are on the road, what CD’s would be found in your CD player?
Well I have a ten-year-old car and it has a tape player, so you’re not going to find any CDs because I’m too poor to upgrade. Either way, it wouldn’t be anything current unless it was by someone I like and I don’t like too much that’s current. But there’d probably be some combination of the people I mentioned under influences or if I had say the new Steve Earle album or Gillian Welch, that would be in there too. But generally there’d be some Bob, some Van, maybe some Johnny Cash, some Otis Redding, some George Jones, some Muddy Waters.