Phillip Phillips told an old tale for his new tune: the time-tested fable of turning lemons into lemonade; overcoming adversity.
It has been a minute (read: a few years) since we’ve heard from the “American Idol” winner and that isn’t a coincidence; Phillips was embroiled in a legal battle with former management, 19 Entertainment, claiming his contract wasn’t fair and thus he should be allowed to exit it. The dispute is now settled and the Georgia-born artist is moving on with plans to release a third album through Interscope Records.
“I’m a pretty patient and relaxed guy,” Phillips told me recently in an interview on Stage 17 when I brought up the lawsuit. “It takes a lot to get me angry.”
Phillips joked that under normal circumstance, the only thing that might irritate him is food that doesn’t taste good. And while the tussle in court might have left a bad taste in his mouth, the singer didn’t let that stop him from channeling that emotion in to his new single, “Miles.”
“Yunno, you gotta stand up for what you believe,” Phillips said regarding his inspiration behind writing the track. “You might feel like you’re stuck in something but there’s always hope and a little light at the end of the tunnel of it.”
The normally-jovial and light-hearted Phillips was sure to punctuate the statement with perhaps a phrase that he should use to title his next LP.
Say whatever you want about Phillip Phillips except that fame and fortune changed him.
“I’m just watching everybody else lose money,” Phillips responded to “Ralphie Tonight” last week when asked if he had a college basketball pick. The “Home” singer found himself in Dallas, the host city for this year’s Final Four weekend, to perform on “Conan.” He did not fill out a bracket.
“Nah, I’m too cheap to do that.”
You could encourage him to “never change” but at this point, he probably does not need the advice. Besides, who saw UConn winning the National Championship anyways? The Huskies going all the way was about as likely as a kid of a pawn shop owner from Albany, Ga. winning “American Idol” and selling over a million copies of his debut album.
Well, if the points about his betting habits and background illustrate anything, it is that Phillips is unique. Perhaps that explains the mellow guitar player’s early success. After a cross-country trek last year with John Mayer, it does not seem that Phillips is fading away any time soon. The “Idol” winner released “Raging Fire,” the first single from his sophomore LP Behind The Light, due out in May. It is Phillips’ first song to hit radio that he received a writing credit for.
“We wrote that one so quick,” he said of the track. “First it was me and Todd (Clark) in the room and we started pounding it out. Then Derek (Fuhrmann) came in. We wrote it in less than a week and it was just all craziness.”
Phillips had a chance to return to his old stomping grounds and perform the song live. He characterized the trip back to the “Idol” set as “terrifying” at first.
“It was like a nervous little kid going somewhere that you know everyone but it’s been a while and you don’t really know how to react,” he recalled. “But it was awesome.”
His persona obviously did not change following the show, but his music might. In addition to having a bigger influence in the first radio single for this project, Phillips noted that there was another difference for his second release.
“I had more time to make this one,” he noted. “I got to do more with production and producing it as well. I got to make it sound like me.”
Phillips classified the new record as “more rock” in part because he brought in a band for most of it. He is the only featured artist on the LP but revealed that Robert Randolph plays guitar on one track. Behind The Light drops May 19. Phillips will co-headline a tour this summer with O.A.R. to support the record.
And perhaps most importantly of all, the artist will do all of this in a good physical state. After a few publicized trips to the hospital for a congenital kidney condition, Phillips said that his “health is great” and should be for many years to come.
When Phillip Phillips was just nine years old, Max Harris was just beginning his tour of duty with the U.S. Armed Forces. The Allentown, PA native served as an Arabic Linguist. He remembers crossing in to Iraq on the first night of the war, and spending his last nine months working on counter insurgency.
In 2004, Harris received his discharge due to Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, a condition that is becoming too common amongst U.S. veterans. PTSD can lead to everything from nightmares to suicidal thoughts. A 2008 study by the RAND Corporation placed the prevalence of the disorder among Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom veterans at just under 14%. As knowledge and awareness of the disease rises, many believe that number increases as well.
When Harris was sent home, Phillips was 14 years old. He just started playing music. Sure he showed promise early on, but the Georgia native still had his sights set on high school, college, and working in between at his father’s pawn shop.
Phillips went on to win the 12th season of “American Idol,” release a single that has sold over three million copies, and drop an album that is on the verge of going platinum. But perhaps most importantly, the stories that Phillips shares through his music are now helping people cope with problems in all corners of the world. In Allentown, the Iraqi vet is thankful for Phillips’ new album The World From the Side of the Moon, specifically the next single, “Gone, Gone, Gone.”
“This past weekend I had some pretty horrible nightmares stemming from my service overseas,” explained Harris on “The Ralphie Show” via telephone while Phillips sat in studio and listened. “I really needed something to calm me down.”
Not able to sleep, Harris reached for his iPad and cued up the track.
“Something about the lyrics in that song… I heard things differently that time and it finally put me at peace,” he said. “I wanted to thank you Phillip for the amazing things that you’re doing. It’s been a long time since a story-teller has come along who really conveys that emotion in his music.”
Phillips, normally reserved and low-key, seemed to be at an even greater loss for words, yet was compelled by Harris’ story to respond.
“Yunno, music affects me in a lot of ways; it’s very therapeutic for me and then once you share it with people in the world you hear so many stories come out of it,” he said. “I respect you a lot Max for what you’ve done. You’re more of a man than I am.”
From hospital visits to family members making headlines, Phillips’ ride to success since “Idol” has been far from smooth. Yet moments like this help him to put things in perspective.
“It’s a little nerve wracking when you (share your music) because… that’s a big story,” said Phillips after we hung up with Harris. “I don’t know if you’ll ever overcome that because it’s always just so new.”
Our creative director Dan Kelly along with Monk from “The Big Show” produced the audio, and I edited the video together to the audio. Our hearts go out to all those affected by Hurricane Sandy. You can text REDCROSS to 90999 to donate $10 to the American Red Cross’ relief efforts.