THE PREPPY VOICE
Lew Phillips is the young, 23 year old Canadian musician that we stumbled upon a few years back, and since then we’ve been captivated by both his music and personal style. There are the many photographs of the handsome young singer in 50s clothing with his trademark cigarette dangling out of his mouth. At 17 he put out his first release, and shortly after he had a 45rpm with the highly popular Wild Records from California, as well as a follow-up album with Rhythm Bomb Records. Phillips has now gone on to consistently self-produce his own singles. We caught up with the performer to inquire about his background, as well as the evolution from his early rockabilly style, to his more 60s inspired, self-described, “Preppy Voice”. All photographs courtesy of Lew Phillips. https://www.reverbnation.com/lewphillips https://soundcloud.com/lewphillips https://www.instagram.com/lewphillipsmusic/?hl=en
PONYBOY: Lew, we first saw a video of you on YouTube a few years back and thought for sure it must be a Buddy Holly cover. And since, we’ve followed your music career. Tell us about your Canadian roots.
LEW PHILLIPS: I actually wrote the song “Your Love” even though I was heavily influenced by the great, late Buddy Holly. I did do a cover of a Buddy Holly number during the Wild Weekender in Santa Ana, California in 2013. I grew up in a small Canadian town of Quebec’s Province called Joliette. I am basically from French-Canadian and Scottish-Canadian descendants. As a kid, I used to be sick very often and my grandparents used to babysit me all the time. That’s where I got my first “so called” musical education. My grandparents being too old for rock’n’roll, they were from the Country music generation; so the first singers I heard were Hank Snow, Hank Williams, Hank “LaRiviere” Rivers, etc…
PONYBOY: Tell us how you first got into playing music.
LEW PHILLIPS: As a kid, I loved to grab my grandpa’s acoustic guitar and sing along with him. So, I guess we could say that’s where it started. I thought I could become a professional hockey and baseball player, but when I finally became a teenager, I realized that was wasn’t going to happen and that I sucked anyway. So, I realized my dream to become a professional singer, songwriter and recording artist and that was it!
PONYBOY: Your inspirations might be obvious to some, but tell us what musicians inspire you when writing and playing music.
LEW PHILLIPS: I guess you’re not only talking about the lyrics, but the melody as well. So, here’s the ones which I think are my biggest influences, not just because they’ve been highly proclaimed and called geniuses over the years, but mostly because they helped me shape and develop my own songwriting technique. I’d say even when I was a teenager who wanted to pursue a rock ‘n’ roll/rockabilly career, I was listening to a lot of Beatles music from their Hamburg period through the Rubber Soul album. There’s something about them and their music which I can’t explain, but love it. They were using non-conventional chords for the early 1960s. When I look at Lennon and McCartney’s songs and hear them, I feel like I’m with them and know what they had to say. Each time I listen to them, I’m like, God, they knew how to write perfect lyrics with amazing melodies. So that’s why they’re very important to me. Then, there is Brian Wilson from the Beach Boys. Do I need to explain why? I mean this guy had the whole thing in his head. He could hear the whole damn song with all the instruments in his head even before he started recording it. That helped me a lot, because I’m now able to do the same thing. There’s also Phil Spector, even though he wasn’t a musical composer, but in terms of musical production he was the best. Neil Sedaka and the whole Brill Building team are also among my biggest influences, because contrary to nowadays composers in pop culture, they knew how to write some real good pop music. Finally, the great, late Buddy Holly is a guy of his own class. Just like Paul McCartney once said, he was writing his own songs, played guitar, did the solos and sang at the same time. So, if he can do it, why couldn’t we?
PONYBOY: How would you describe your sound?
LEW PHILLIPS: I would describe it as nostalgic music with contemporary lyrics. But if you wanna get more specific, I’d say it’s modern vintage pop music with a touch of rock ‘n’ roll, vocal harmonies and a country music beat in the back.
PONYBOY: When we first became aware of your music, you had a single on Wild Records, and then recorded with Rhythm Bomb Records. You now self-publish your own music, correct?
LEW PHILLIPS: That is absolutely correct! In 2015, my contract with Rhythm Bomb was about to expire in a few months and I was supposed to be making a second album for them, but I was now at a point where I felt like I no longer recognized myself in this record label. They wanted me to make a rock ‘n’ roll album and I wanted to explore and go on a personal musical journey; and they didn’t accept it. They even publicly spoke negatively about me and my decisions and they even tried to sue me. But that’s their problem. I’m doing music because that’s my reason to live. So, at first I thought I’d find another label, like a commercial one in Canada or in the United States. Then I found out life was happening with it’s reality. Nothing was happening. I wasn’t making any money. I was broke. So, finally in 2017, I decided to create my own record label just so I’d have a label to put on my records and started recording in my apartment, but still, there was a lot to learn about. Not only did I find out it was much harder to make a great sounding recording, but also that it was much harder to promote yourself and do all the things that a record label normally does for you. So I started studying and studying about recordings and social media marketing and all those dirty jobs you have to do yourself. Finally, last Spring, I realized I couldn’t do it anymore without any financial support. My fiancee told me she was going to leave me if I didn’t get a steady job to pay the bills. I got hired in a supermarket in my neighborhood and started releasing digital singles and evolving as singer, songwriter, recording artist and producer. I bought myself a new little guitar amplifier (a very cool 60s Vox reissue) and I started to think like a modern artist, because the whole game’s changed. The only similarity with the 50s or 60s is that the only way to make music is to play gigs and tour. So, I started to do my research and try to find some promoters, considering I wanted to tour the US. But I found out you somehow had to have some connections and that maybe I should do it on my own, but it takes money. And my steady job at the supermarket wasn’t paying so well, so I applied for a job at a beer company called Molson, which is the very first brewery in North America (Sorry fellas, hahaha) that a guy named John Molson founded in 1786 and they are still brewing in the same old building. So I guess the rest will be history, eh!
PONYBOY: Your music and style has evolved from that 50s sound and look you had when you first started out. Would you say that you’ve lost some of the fans that first had an interest in you, the rockabilly crowd?
LEW PHILLIPS: Definitely! Which is sad, but I can’t force anyone to like what I do. I’m for freedom of speech and expression, so if they don’t like what I do anymore, there’s nothing I can do. That’s just life. I mean, it happens, but life goes on. I just want to make people happy with my music, that’s all.
PONYBOY: And what is your style of dress now? You describe yourself as “The Preppy Voice”. Do you wear primarily vintage? Are there any menswear designer’s/labels that you tend to like?
LEW PHILLIPS: Yes! I don’t wear vintage clothes anymore. I got sick of buying old and expensive clothes only to find out months later they were good for the trash. And I don’t like the fact that some grandpas or whatever you wanna call them, wore those clothes and might have had a little accident in those pants. I know it shocks, eh! Some will say, yeah, but we wash the clothes anyway. I typically reply, that doesn’t change the fact that they’re old and used to be someone else’s clothes. So I decided I’d change my wardrobe and get some at the “Canadian Macy’s” (Hudson Bay Company) to get some brand new and cool clothes and find my own personal style. I’m a big fan of British brands like Ben Sherman, Fred Perry, Topman, but I also love brands like Ralph Lauren, Lacoste, G.H. Bass & Co., etc. I love classic labels that offer classic clothes with a bit of a vintage touch.
PONYBOY: Tell us your thoughts and frustrations with the music industry.
LEW PHILLIPS: I think it’s mostly when it comes to booking and gigging. I mean, I can’t speak for everywhere, but in Montreal, the music scene sucks. If you’re not in some privileged gang, they won’t let you play their bars. They won’t even reply to your emails. But, eh, no need to cry like a baby. Instead of doing so, you wash your bloody hands, get your head off the sand and work harder and try to get booked in let’s say Ontario. So then when you succeed you can show those people who refused to give you a chance that you proved them wrong. And that is what I’m planning to do.
PONYBOY: How many records/singles do you have as of now?
LEW PHILLIPS: I’ve released an EP on my own before Wild Records, then “Mister Colter/Silent Love” on Wild Records, and then my first album on Rhythm Bomb Records. As for on my own record label called Barking Puzzle Records, my first single was “Dreaming About Summertime”, then “Give Up”, and then “Don’t Cry”, then “Big Wide World” and finally my newest one (for the moment) is “A Taste Of Love”, which by the way you can all listen to on YouTube, bandcamp, Reverbnation and Soundcloud.
PONYBOY: We’ve seen in some of your social media posts that you have a home based music/recording space. What does your recording process consist of?
LEW PHILLIPS: I’m working with a soundcard, one single microphone, a couple of free plugins and the room where I’m recording as a natural echo. I don’t use any effects on guitars or any other instruments, except reverb and delay for the final mix. I do overdub tracks. I do all the instruments, except for the drums. My drummer is the session player for the drums part. Isn’t it amazing that nowadays we can do more with a computer than George Martin with The Beatles in 1964!
PONYBOY: Being based in Montreal, do you have a fan base there? Is there a “scene” for your kind of music?
LEW PHILLIPS: Here’s the funny thing; there is no existence of any scene related to what I do and I think it has its pros and cons. It makes my music very original, since nobody else is doing the same stuff I do. But it also means it’s very tough to get people to know me and see me play. I think it’ll take time to make it happen, but I do think at the end it’ll be worth it.
PONYBOY: What modern day musicians do you have an affinity for?
LEW PHILLIPS: I basically love Nick Waterhouse, Leon Bridges, Allah Las, The Molochs, Nathaniel Rateliff and the Nightsweats. I think they all have something to offer to the world and it makes me happy to see these guys enjoying some success and popularity among the pop culture. It makes me dream and gives me hope that someday this could also happen to the young Canuck man that I am.
PONYBOY: Does being a Canadian make touring in the US difficult? Do you have any plans to tour the US or Europe in the near future?
LEW PHILLIPS: You want me to be honest with you? Look, I love the United States. In fact, I’m a huge fan of your country. A bunch of humble men got together to build a strong and free nation. You created the modern show business industry, you can do anything you want, and you can be anyone you want to. But we, as Canadians, your northern neighbors, we have always been into the shadow of the USA. We have always had to work harder than anyone else in the music industry to prove to you that we can make it too. Now, we are starting to get more recognition from you which I’m very grateful for. But some things never change; what I’m talking about is when it comes to touring. It costs $800 for Canadian musicians to get a visa and be able to tour your country. But, on the contrary, it doesn’t cost a dime to US musicians who want to tour. All they have to do, is to sign some form and show the merchandise they want to bring with them at the Canadian borders. But, that is mainly due to the fact the Canadian government has never had any balls whatsoever, so I guess there’s nothing we can do about that other than following the rules and do the right things legally. But it definitely ain’t your fault. I am definitely planning to tour the USA and England. My two favorite countries in the world, after my own country, my dear Canada.
PONYBOY: Finally, what plans do you have in store for your music career in the future?
LEW PHILLIPS: I’m taking it easy. Step by step. So, now my plans are that I want to release as many singles as possible. I’m already releasing one new single each month. I also wanna grow my audience in Canada, the US and England. I want to tour Canada and the US. The final step would be to quit my steady job and make my music a living, not necessarily being a millionaire, but just being able to live a decent life and making music my main and only job.