Frank Gutch Jr: The Anatomy of a Masterpiece, Part One: Dan Phelps, Plus Notes…..

 Frank Gutch young

The masterpiece in the header is none other than Jess Pillmore‘s Reveal, a 2005 release which swept me away and earned my pick for Album of the Year.  I don’t think there is a person out there who would not raise the brow, but like that old crusty umpire, I call them as I hear them.  I undoubtedly have most if not all of you at a disadvantage.  You have not heard the album and even if you have you have not studied it.  You are therefore unaware of the sweat and blood and emotion and, yes, genius which sets this album apart from so many others.  At first listen, even I had little inkling what was beneath the songs themselves.  At twenty listens I began to have an idea.  By one hundred, I knew.

Originally, I had planned to regale you with hypotheses and theories which kept Ms. Pillmore from surefire stardom.  I had planned to go over the music note-by-note in an effort to justify my claim.  But you know what they say about plans of mice and men…  One attempt to read what I had written put the finger of kibosh on the delete button and sent it into the great unknown.

Let me state that the music is outstanding, to be sure, and the album is every bit as good today as I had thought.  With that in mind, I have decided that the best way for people to understand is to read interviews I undertook in 2006 with both of the main parties involved— Dan Phelps and the aforementioned Ms. Pillmore.  This column will deal with that of Phelps, who produced and played on and arranged much of the music on Reveal.  Keep in mind that Phelps is ten years older and smarter and more creative and talented than he was back then, but my God, what he accomplished with everyone on the project, Pillmore included!

I hope that people will read this closely and are able to pick up on not just what they created but who they were and maybe who they have become and are still becoming.  While a certain amount of the conversation does not relate specifically to the album, I leave it in as an indication as to the kind of people they are and how and why things happened the way it did as well as what effect they had on the final result.

Next week, Jess Pillmore will have her say as she looks at the songs and the process of recording as well as her (then) past.

I pick up at the point I finally got the recorder working, interview in progress  (Dan is in Seattle):

Dan:    Last night, I played a gig with a band called Suffering & The Hideous Thieves.  It was great.  They are sort of a Seattle music collective that has been around for quite awhile and last night was the last gig for the lead singer, at least for the foreseeable future.  So it was intense and very rock ‘n’ roll and sweaty and today I am recovering from that.

Q:       Where did you play?

Dan:    A place called The Vera Project.  I think it is a not-for-profit place for all-ages shows.

Q:       Good crowd?

Dan:    Yeah.  Really good crowd.  It was great.

Q:       What made you move to Seattle?

Dan:    I just thought it was a great town.  It has all the things I find really appealing, like bookstores and coffee.

Q:       I hate to tell you, Dan, but they have coffee everywhere.

Dan:    But they don’t have coffee like they have here in Seattle.

Q:       Is that right?  Florida doesn’t have coffee?

Dan:    Florida has Starbuck’s, but that doesn’t quite cut it for me.  I’m a sort of coffee snob.

Q:       I guess I can understand that.  I remember in ’91 there was an article in one of the Seattle papers which said if you wanted a good investment, you should invest in coffee and I was looking around and there was a coffee shop every other block and I was thinking, no way.  They have too many shops now.  But if I’d had the smarts, I could have invested and made a bundle.  It just never stopped.  I assume that by now there are two coffee shops on every block.

Dan:    Pretty much.  And usually one of them is a Starbuck’s.  Actually, what they have done is kind of amazing in terms of making it a cultural kind of thing.  They brought their kind of coffee to the rest of the US.

Q:       Well, I am no Starbuck’s fan.  They’re too corporate for me.

Dan:    I agree.  It’s one of those things that becomes so large that you really can’t maintain quality control.  They can’t train their people individually.  There is a place up on Capitol Hill  called Vivace, my favorite coffee shop.  It’s run by a guy who used to calibrate test instruments for Boeing.  He’s a scientist and he’s absolutely crazy.  He basically did his best to eliminate all of the variables in the process of making coffee.  So you get the best espresso every time.

Q:       And?

Dan:    And it’s astounding.

Q:       So he did it, huh?

Dan:    Oh, yeah.  He has like the most tricked-out modified coffee machines around.  Everything about the water temperature and the pressure.  And when you work at his place, you have to train for about six months before they let you actually make coffee for a customer.

Q:       I hope he pays them well.  It would be a bummer to work for six months before you actually get to do anything.  So, what?  You’re a caffeine freak?

Dan:    I have been in the past, but now I try to keep it reasonable.  It depends upon what I’m doing.  If I’m working hard, then, yeah, I sort of hit it hard.  It’s my addiction.

Q:       Jess mentioned in one of her blogs that when you were working on Reveal that you got her back into coffee.  Is it true?

Dan:    Yeah, definitely.  Towards the end of that, we were working so hard that we were finishing tracks on the same day that we were mixing them.  We would mix in the day in a studio in Seattle, then come back to my studio to finish recording things.  It was kind of around the clock.  I think it was because of the scheduling that she got back into caffeine.

jessrevealalbumcoverQ:       How long did it take to record the album?

Dan:    The whole project was probably stretched out over a four month period, I think.  But as far as the actual time spent on it, it was probably closer to five weeks.

Q:       The process started with her saying would you help me with my next album and then, what?  You started digging through songs?

Dan:    I met Jess four or five years ago.  I used to work at a studio in Orlando FLA and on free times, she came in and we did a couple of things.  We started doing her record then.  Then I moved from Florida out to California and she was in North Carolina for awhile.  Then, when I moved up to Seattle, she moved to California where I had been.  During that whole process, we kept talking about doing her album— about doing something.  In the meantime, she had released her first album, Slightly Skewed, on which I played a little.  And she had done a record with Ron Morris, too.  So it was a very long time of just talking.  Finally, we both ended up on the West Coast and decided that we should just start doing it.   

At that point, Jess came up and stayed with me in Seattle for a little over three weeks.  WE went through her whole catalog of new songs.  Because it had been a couple of years since her first record, she had songs which were new and old.  So it was a long process of listening to things.  The first stage, we listened to about 40 songs and very easily cut out several from that.  Then we started working on songs we particularly liked.  We did demos and push the songs in different directions, trying different tempos and the like to see if they were working.  That weeded out more.  That was about a three week process.

Matt_Chamberlain_Craviotto_largeWhile she was up here doing that—  my studio neighbor is a really incredible drummer named Matt Chamberlain, who plays with people like Tori Amos and Fiona Apple.  He’s sort of a big-time dude.  So we caught him one night and he played on three songs, which sort of started the official recording of the album.  Before that, we had just been doing demo kind of stuff, not intending to keep much of it.

After those three weeks, Jess went home and we started planning on when we were going to record the rest of her songs.  A mutual friend, Craig Barnette, a drummer in Jacksonville who had played on Slightly Skewed, came out to Seattle for a week and we recorded more drum tracks for the album.  Which is a weird way to go about it.  I would prefer to record a band or at least several people at the the same time because you miss something when you don’t have that human interaction and it’s slightly different every time you play the song, but the way we did it was a very efficient way for us to work.

So Craig came out and played on about half of the album,  Once I had drum tracks for all of the songs, it was just a matter of starting to build the arrangements on top.  We had ideas from the demos, some of which stayed and some of which got axed.

Q:       So at that point you had an idea of where you’re going and then the drummer started it off?  And you work off of the drums?

Dan:    That’s what we did this time around.

Q:       Kind of a convoluted way of going about it, isn’t it?

Dan:    A little.  But for the parameters of the budget that we were working with and the time…  It is wildly expensive to get a bunch of musicians together and with studio time— and to get everybody’s schedules lined up is so difficult.  It is all preferable, but it’s expensive to do it that way.

The thing about this record for Jess is that I felt like it was a turning point record for her.  Sort of a redefinition of her as a musical artist.  So the advantage of doing it the way we did is that we had a lot of time to sit on the songs, to think about how we were going to present them, to try different ideas and then live with them for awhile and decide if we were going to stick with what we had or start from scratch on certain songs.  It’s not the most ideal way of working, but it worked out well for this album.  And it is not all that uncommon.  It’s fairly normal these days for a drummer to come in and be there and work with a producer alone.  It signifies sort of a death of the original way of getting musicians in a room and actually recording a moment in time.

cowboypromoQ:       Did you ever ask Bill (Pillmore— Jess’s father and keyboard man and guitarist with country-rockers Cowboy) what it was like in the old days when he was recording with Cowboy?

Dan:    Yeah.

Q:       What do you think about in terms of what is going on now as opposed to what was going on then, in terms of what you could gather?

Dan:    Well, with music like Bill’s or Jess’s, I would prefer getting a group of people together to play at the same time.  The downside of doing it the way Cowboy did it is, for instance… Bill was telling me about one particular song where maybe three-fifths of the way through the song, there was a difficult guitar part— you know, like maybe this descending guitar part integral to the song.  They played it numerous times and got maybe four minutes into the song and the guitarist would make a mistake and it didn’t work.  And they had to keep doing it.  They couldn’t just stop and fix it because I think they were recording to only two tracks.  Just a stereo mix.  You couldn’t fix anything.  You couldn’t take anything out.  You didn’t have the controls to go in and do it later.

Q:       True, there was limited technology.

Dan:    But, you know, the technology has so much influence over the result, which I find interesting.  I would love to at some point work on something that was two-track.  The performance, in that case, is what it is.

Q:       Do you think that, had you gotten all of the people together for the session, the album would have turned out different?

Dan:    For sure.

Q:       In what direction, do you think?

Dan:    That’s hard to say.  There would probably be more warts on the album, which is not necessarily a bad thing.  Just, you know, more human elements and human inconsistencies, which I try nto leave in as much as possible, anyway.  Even though we did it the way we did it, there is definitely something to be said for working hard to get a singular performance on a song.  Sort of a definitive performance.  It is strange that so much of making an album is non-linear.  You know.  You work on different things at different times and you can jump around.  You can record a part on a song without ever really playing the entire song at one time.  It is strange because music itself is linear.  Yet the way we record so much of it is not.

Q:       Nowadays, yeah.  And it’s getting more and more that way.

Dan:    Definitely, because people have the technology now to fix performances or to basically dehumanize the entire process.

viktorkraussQ:       To a degree.  So Viktor Krauss was never in the studio up in Seattle?

Dan:    No.

Q:       So you sent the tapes to him, he listened to them and then laid down his tracks?

Dan:    Exactly.

Q:       Did you give any of the musicians direction in terms of what you wanted, or did you pretty much let them run with it?

Dan:    Well, I prefer to let people run with it until it’s not working, and then you have to sort of step in and offer direction.  But it’s a delicate kind of thing.  You pick people because of their strengths and their talents, and I think you handpick people for each project because of what you think they can bring to it.  In the instance of Viktor— on the demos, I had played quite a bit of bass so there were some ideas there.  He actually ended up using a lot of my bass parts as something to build on.  Which is really flattering because he is an outstanding bass player.  So there wasn’t a whole lot of direction as far as spoken or written things, but he took a lot of what was there and made it a lot better.  And there were some things that he started from scratch with his own ideas.  Those are just amazing.

Q:       How were the demos?

Dan:    Some were just guitar and vocals.  Some approached sounding like a record.  They wold have drums, bass.  We tried to keep it simple.  If it did have drums and bass, it was basic, and the guitar part would not be overly elaborate.  It would just convey the song.  But did we actually end up keeping…?  There are a couple of vocals on the album which were demos.

Q:       They just turned out good?

Dan:    Yeah.  It’s a psychological thing.   Sometimes when you’re making a demo, you’re thinking I’m going to redo this later on so it doesn’t matter if it’s good or not, and you will perform really well because there is no pressure.  You might even do something that you normally would think a bad idea but it turns out great.  Just because you weren’t worried about it.

Q:       That’s what happened on those tracks?

Dan:    I think so.

Q:       Did you find Jess easy to work with?

Dan:    Oh yeah, absolutely.  I mean, I haven’t worked with a lot of people who have been difficult to work with, but just the joy and the fact that she’s really open.  She is creatively involved in so many different things— with theater and dance.  I think she’s interesting that way because it affects her communication.  She can get an idea across in so many different ways.

JPcolorsmQ:       Do you think her other arts bring a lot more to her music?

Dan:    Oh, yeah.  It is hard to describe why, exactly.  A lot of people I have worked with communicate music in visual terms, which is kind of strange.  Especially songwriters who may not have a huge knowledge of music theory and the mass of music.  They will tell you some things about a landscape or a time or a color or some sort of adjective to describe how a song should feel or maybe how something should sound.  Jess has a much wider vocabulary to reference because she works in all the arts.

Q:       Is she driven?

Dan:    Yes.  I mean, I don’t know how you could do all that different stuff and not be driven.  She has a lot of creativity.

Q:       Do you think that having so many things going on in so many directions takes away from her music sometimes, or do you think it adds to it?  I mean, if she concentrated on being just a songwriter and performer, would she be better or just go in a different direction?

Dan :   Well, it would be different.  There is no question about that.  As far as better, I don’t know because she seems to bring a lot of her theater and her acting skills to her vocals.  A lot of her music is so intense and emotional.  And she writes about things which are— I am trying to think about how to phrase this— There are things in her life which are pivotal, be they good or bad moments.  But they are not the things you experience every day.  They shape who you are, but you don’t think about it.  When you’re singing about it, though, you can’t sing about it from a place where you’re removed from it.  If you’re singing about something as it happened, you can’t sing about it from the perspective of, well, it’s five years later and I’ve come to terms with it and yada yada yada.  That would be boring.  You have to go back and find that place where it’s still fresh and sing it from there— sing it emotionally— like it just happened.  Which is difficult because sometimes those things are not fun to go back to.  So she brings a lot of her acting ability to get there.  You know, we would spend time working on a vocal performance and sometimes it was tough, because she would have to revisit some really unpleasant moments.  She performed amazingly, I think.

Q:       You’ve seen her perform live, right?

Dan:    Yes.

Q:       What can she do with just a guitar that would make songs from an album like Reveal palatable to an audience?  Outside of, say, Quick, which would be fairly easy to reproduce.  Say, if she was going to do Desperate Dreams or one of the other tracks?

Dan:    Something that was a bit more of a studio creation?

Q:       Yeah, like Open My Mouth.

Dan:    You know, I think of the recording world and the live world as different.  It’s like the difference between seeing a movie and seeing a play.  I tend to get bored when I go see a band or an artist who sounds exactly like the record because I’ve already heard that.

Q:       But what I’m saying is that something like the recorded version of Open My Mouth is so deeply intense and layered, would she even attempt it with just a guitar?

Dan:    I definitely think she could.  I don’t see why not.  Live performance is all about a connection between the performer and the audience, about taking a chance and hanging yourself out there emotionally.  So if she does that, it doesn’t matter what the instrumentation is.  It is a good song and if she performs it well, it will come across.  Obviously, you can’t recreate the sound of ten people stomping in a big room for the middle section, but you find something else to do.  Or you just figure ways around it.  I don’t know if that answers your question.

Q:       It pretty much does.  You know, when I ask these questions, in one way I am just asking the question and in another way I am looking for how you respond.  Because when you talk with people, a lot of what you get out of them is what they say and how they say it.  When I talked with Bill, it was very intriguing because I knew Cowboy— at least, their music.  Jess and yourself, though, are vague entities, even though I know Jess’s music very well.  I’ve listened to Slightly Skewed and Reveal a few hundred times.  But with Bill, I knew Cowboy like the back of my hand.  I had been listening to Cowboy for thirty years.  And I knew quite a bit about the band as well.  So when I interviewed him, I asked him certain questions not necessarily to get “the” answer, but to see how he answered.  Like when I asked him about his CD, I asked him what was going to happen when he played somewhere and got thrashed.  And his response was— and I know that this wasn’t his complete response because I know how brutal playing in front of a non-responsive audience can be— they’re not my audience.  And I’m thinking, maybe this is Bill’s attitude but it is awfully hard, like you said, putting yourself on the line, and when you get thrashed, it can be tough.

Dan:    It is hard to make yourself vulnerable, definitely.  That’s funny, though.  That is a very Bill kind of response, I think.

Q:       Is he actually that way?

Dan:    What do you mean by “that way”?

Q:       Well, let me just take a minute here and tell you what I got off of the interview I did with him.  We were talking about Cowboy.  See, he’s in the studio for the second album and all of the tracks have been laid down somewhat and in the middle of the session, in comes Chuck Leavell.  They brought Leavell in to play keyboards.  Now, Bill is the keyboard man.  But he just shrugged, he said, and said, okay.  Like it was nothing.  When the session was completed and they were doing the final mix, someone came to all of the guys (except Scott Boyer and Tommy Talton) and said, okay, you’re no longer in the band.  He had a very cavalier attitude, evidently.  His attitude was, well, okay, I’m done.  But you know, I got to talking with Tommy Talton later and about how the whole thing actually happened, about what it must have been like for Bill, I began to feel like it was similar to, say, Jess reliving some of her unpleasant experiences through her songs.  I had the feeling that it was a lot more than what Bill was letting on.  That it still rubbed him raw, in a way.  And I could understand it.  That was a raw deal.

billpillmoreDan:    There is a certain kind of attitude about Bill, where he seems to take it easy and not get too hung up on situations.  Things like that, you know?

Q:       Was he that way in the studio when you worked with him?

Dan:    Definitely.  I think that’s sort of— not his surface way, but the ground zero attitude for him.  His starting point.  But I know he doesn’t approach everything that way.  But it seems to be what he falls back on.  That’s the best way I can put it.

Q:       His defense mechanism, so to speak?

Dan:    Maybe.  A little, yeah.  And I think there are parts that are genuinely him because he does seem to take everything with a grain of salt and he’s a very happy guy and doesn’t seem distressed about too much of anything he can’t do much about.  That’s the zen side of Bill Pillmore.

Q:       Why do you think that is?  I mean, do you think that he was always that way?  Or does it come from living with three women who can be very hormonal?

Dan:    I don’t know.  I couldn’t speak to that, really.  That stuff’s like basic human— what you grow up around, what you live with— that’s what shapes you.  At least, on the most basic level.  Everything shapes you, but that stuff is deeper than anything I know about.

Q:       Did Bill ever talk about why it took him so long to get back to recording and performing?

Dan:    Not so much, other than that there was a time when he had to provide for a family.  That’s a damn fine reason to put music on the backburner, as far as I’m concerned.  It’s sort of like the band I played with last night.  Jeff is the lead singer and he’s been doing his music around Seattle for over ten years, maybe even fifteen.  So he’s been around the scene and he has a really awesome job right now.  He has a really good career ahead of him.  His second baby was just born.  And it’s sort of like he loves his music so much that he knows he’s going to do it, but right now there are other things he needs to focus on.  I can totally understand that, you know?  Some things are vital.  Music is vital, but it’s an art form, not a survival thing you have to have.

Q:       Well, I don’t know.  You are making it your career, right?

Dan:    Absolutely.

Q:       So it’s vital to you.  What is it that Jeff is going to do?  But I guess it wouldn’t matter if he’s got himself a good gig.

Dan:    He’s going to work in the music industry.

Q:       So he really didn’t change, per se.  He just changed direction within the industry.

Dan:    Yeah.  He has switched from the completely artistic side to now more of the administrative side.

Q:       Working with a label?

Dan:    Working with a label and managing bands which are in development.  I think that is going to work out really well for him and give him time to….. 

Q:       What’s his last name?

Dan:    Bettger.  He goes under the name Jeff Suffering.

Q:       Hence, the name of the band?

Dan:    Yes, exactly.

Q:       How many places are there to play in Seattle now?

Dan:    Tons.


Q:       That alone is a tremendous difference.  When I was there (the eighties), there were maybe five places to play outside of bars which would not let you play original stuff.

Dan:    There are definitely a ton of bar-type places to play original music now.  There are still a limited number of all-age venues to be found.  But I feel like I could put together a kind of musical project with performance art and music, maybe even a bit bizarre, and find a venue.

Q:       You didn’t see it in Orlando?

Dan:    Not so much.  Orlando is a place that is trying very hard and is on the cusp of being metropolitan, but it’s not nearly as metropolitan as it thinks.  It’s still Disneyland.

Q:       So basically it is where Seattle was ten years ago.

Dan:    Probably.  I don’t know.  There are a lot of talented people in Orlando, no doubt, but there is also unwarranted ego in a lot of musicians there because of the handful of famous bands that have come out of there.

Q:       And you don’t feel that way about Seattle?

Dan:    Not so much.  At least, I haven’t gotten that from the short time that I’ve been here.

Q:       How long have you been there?

Dan:    A little over two years now.  I played in bands in Orlando quite a bit, but it was a much smaller scene.  I was more interactive with other musicians there.  I played with certain musicians again  and again so if someone had an attitude, you definitely got a plentiful dose of it.

Q:       What was the hardest adjustment moving from Florida to Seattle?

Dan :   I moved to California first, so I don’t know.  I liked Florida fine, but had been ready to leave for some time.  So it wasn’t as much an adjustment as a joy.


Q:       Did you know anybody in Seattle?

Dan:    My folks lived up there, part-time, so I knew them, obviously.  And a really small social social circle around them.  And there were some musicians I had met working on other projects.  That’s one thing that pushed me to move.  The musicians I had met encouraged me to move here.

Q:       Has it been a good move?

Dan:    Definitely.  I don’t regret it at all.  If you were trying to get a break in the music industry, you would probably shoot for Los Angeles or New York or someplace like that.  But Seattle is such an intensely creative place and without it being Los Angeles.  I’m happy never to live in Los Angeles.  I think Seattle’s just wonderful.  I am so happy just to be here and I’ve just started meeting some amazingly talented and unique musicians.

Q:       Seattle always had the musicians.  I remember that when I first got to Seattle, the big thing was what they called New Music.  A lot of it was the ECM artists.  They were all over the place.  I mean, ECM and some of the weird jazz labels out of Europe that some of the musicians recorded for— Swiss and Norwegian labels— they were playing really esoteric things.  Some of them taught at Cornish.  I don’t even know if Cornish is still there anymore..  It was a definitely an intense city.  But, again, they didn’t have anyplace to play.  So it wasn’t so much a live scene as the fact that the people just liked living there.  And they had access to some pretty good studios.  There were only a couple of big ones, but there were a number of small ones they used to lay down tracks.

Dan:    That’s still the thing.  There are still a handful of world class studios here.  The interesting thing— or maybe the different thing about Seattle—- is that the kind of mid-level studios are owned and operated usually by the engineer.  They have a different vibe.  A lot of studios in industry cities like L.A. are owned and operated by people who really don’t have anything to do with the creative process.  That’s a bit different, you know?

Q:       That’s weird because I thought it was that way everywhere.  I’ve been talking to a guy who plays bass for It’s a Beautiful Day.  He wasn’t with the original band but plays with them now.  He is out of Santa Cruz.  And he and the keyboard player each started their own studios because they were tired of working in other people’s studios.  They wanted to work with their own equipment.  I guess everyone I am talking to right now is doing it, so I assumed that everyone everywhere is doing it.

Dan:    Well, it is definitely more feasible now.  Before, when you had to buy a giant tape machine and a giant console and all of that stuff, it was cost and space prohibitive.  But I have been lucky to have worked in a handful of astoundingly big studios in Nashville and Los Angeles and those places because people go there and it is normally a project which comes with its own engineer and producer, there is not as much focus on having a resident staff which does the work.  Whereas a lot of the studios here are operated by musicians and engineers who work out of the same place themselves, produce a lot of albums, produce a lot of bands.  They have a lot of their own instruments and they have a lot of esoteric gear that they like.  It’s just a different vibe.  Here, I would actually choose a studio more based upon the talent that comes with it than I would for the quality of the studio itself.

Q:       Really.  And you would get that information where?

Dan:    People who you know.  You hear a record and it sounds really good and you ask who recorded it and where did they record it.

Q:       So, just from the musical grapevine?

Dan:    Pretty much.  It’s a big scene, but it’s small enough that you can find somebody you know who knows somebody who knows the person.  So you’ll meet up with him or her eventually so you can gauge if you can deal with them, personality-wise.

Q:       Have you been doing much studio work?

Dan:    Not so much, here.  I’ve been going back and forth to California a bit this year.  I do studio work in my own studio up here, basically.  And a little bit for some friends, but Seattle is still very much a band kind of town.  I haven’t met a whole lot of singer/songwriters who are looking for musicians to play on their stuff.  Even so, if there are any singer/songwriters out there, they are usually looking for somebody to commit to being in their band on a regular basis.  If there was someone I met who I thought astounding, I would be way into that, but it is not so much what I am focused on.

Q:       How old are you now?

Dan:    Twenty-three.

Q:       And you have been playing how long?

Dan:    If you count banging on pots and pans, for about twenty years, but I started seriously going after guitar about ten years ago.

Q:       And what was the progression?  Did you just one day pick up an acoustic guitar and say I’m going to learn some chords?

Dan:    My dad’s a guitar player.  He plays left-handed and plays on right-handed guitars.

Q:       Yeah, Bill mentioned something about making him a guitar box guitar for the left hand.  What is your dad’s thing with the guitar?  Is he an actual musician or is it just a hobby?  Or does he just own a studio and has guitars on the side?

Dan:    He was in bands.  Recorded records, produced albums.  He ran a record label for a little while called Heartland.  Have you ever heard of Lenny LeBlanc?

Q:       Oh, yeah.

Dan:    Dad produced a couple of Lenny LeBlanc albums.  He did that for a long time and then started a school for recording engineering.  Actually, it started out as a one-month workshop.  Over about 25 years, it has turned into a media college.  You can go there and learn how to make records or movies or video games.

Q:       Basically, then, an art institute.

Dan:    More or less.

Q:       A hands-on art institute.

Dan:    Yeah.  It’s a fully accredited college.  I think you can get a bachelor of science degree there.

Q:       Bill mentioned that your dad had something going on like that, but he didn’t go into details.  You get along with your dad?

Dan:    Oh, yeah.  We’re the best of friends.  One of my favorite things is being able to play music with him.  He’s a really interesting guitar player because he plays guitar left-handed on guitars which are strung for right-handers.  He just takes it and flips it over.  And then he is almost always in some kind of alternate open-tuning.  You can’t watch his hands to figure out what’s going on because that will just mess you up.  It makes what he does really unique, because most people would be picking out bass lines with their thumbs and his thumb is on the high strings. 

Q:       What is his name?

Dan:    Jon.

The Jon Phelps Dan referred to— his father— founded Full Sail University, the so-called “art institute” as I referred to it.  Dan still lives in the Seattle area and has his own recording studio and label (Oceanographics Records) which has a small number of releases available including Dan’s latest project with cohort Austin Willis titled Spirits Drifted.  He has also played in a group known as Modular, a collaboration between Phelps, Matt Chamberlain and Viktor Krauss, and worked with Claire Holley and Sara Groves, among others.

Remember, next week we will feature another 2006 interview, this time with Jess Pillmore, in which she talks about the album Reveal and working with Phelps, et. al.  Right now, though, why don’t we take a look at a few…..

NotesNotes…..  It is not always easy writing about music.  Sometimes the words come and sometimes they don’t.  Sometimes I spend hours researching or mulling over ideas or writing reviews in my head, ad infinitum, and I feel time slipping past me.  I take music and the people who make it to heart way too much and make their struggles mine, for the world I have lived in I would love to live in again but has changed.  Music, though a part of our centralized social life, is no longer a driving force but more a background noise.  I still live there, though, if only in my dreams, and I spend way too much time bookmarking pages to which I hope to return to in hopes of finding that musical gem.  I bookmarked this page on a guy named John Mallinen last year and am not sure why.  Sometimes it is through recommendation of a friend or PR person, sometimes a whim.  Mallinen is one among many musicians born out of time, at least in terms of acceptance which might lead to success.  He talks of his frustration at the beginning of this eight minute-plus video on the making of his album, though it is more about him and his music than the album.  This video is an encapsulated view of what many musicians go through for their art.  When the time comes, they sell their house or busk for pennies to make it happen.  Some might hear yet another musician reaching for the stars— another “american idol.”  This is as far from that program as you can get.  Listen closely.  The words and music tell a story of what it is really like for artists.  As Long John Baldry sang years ago, “It ain’t easy…”

When I clicked on this video, I was cleaning up my bookmarks, some of which go back years.  This one was from May of last year and I wish I had listened then.  Right after watching, I found my way to Mallinen’s bandcamp page (click here).  I plain hate to see albums like this overlooked.  This is good, good stuff.

We’re Here to Help You, Honest…

Just read a piece published on the Los Angeles Times’ web pages regarding Spotify and one groups attempt to help songwriters get paid what they are due from such streaming outfits (read link here).  More gobbledegook from legal eagles as far as I can tell.  There was something which struck me as odd.  An association known as the National Music Publishers Association, supposedly fighting for the rights of the songwriting and publishing interests, evidently looks upon its job as a political process.  This from the article regarding David Isrealite, head of that association:

David Israelite, head of the National Music Publishers Assn., said he sympathizes with artists like (Melissa) Ferrick. However, he argues, direct negotiations with the streaming services are more effective than the lawsuits that (Jeff) Price has been encouraging.

“It’s going to get resolved through negotiation rather than protracted litigation,” Israelite said.

In other words, have your people contact their people.  Always nice to get advice from someone who is more invested in the system than the ethics involved.  Or the people involved.  Probably not cost effective, which is always one of the top considerations for such organizations.  Jeez.

Gris-de-Lin… A Good Bet…

I’m betting on her.  I posted a couple of videos a few months ago which you may have missed, to wit:

Well, she finally came out with a live video and while the song only skirts the styles in the previous vids, it shows amazing promise.  I really have no idea the direction her music will take in the future but I am putting my money that it will be adventurous and creative.  Here you go, sports fans.  Something worth hearing, for sure.


Frank’s column appears every Wednesday

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dbawis-button7Frank Gutch Jr. looks like Cary Grant, writes like Hemingway and smells like Pepe Le Pew. He has been thrown out of more hotels than Keith Moon, is only slightly less pompous than Garth Brooks and at Frank bottle capone time got laid at least once a year (one year in a row). He has written for various publications, all of which have threatened to sue if mentioned in any of his columns, and takes pride in the fact that he has never been quoted. Read at your own peril.”

One Response to “Frank Gutch Jr: The Anatomy of a Masterpiece, Part One: Dan Phelps, Plus Notes…..”

  1. […] Dan Phelps (if you missed his interview— and I think it a really good one— you can access it by clicking here), regarding that […]

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