Most people won't have heard of K. Phillips, but his new album American Girls is getting some serious critical raves. Checking the list of personnel on the album -- Rick Richards on drums, Bukka Allen on keys, Jimmy Pettit on bass, Kevin McKinney on guitar, Pat Manske as producer, and Rolling Stone alum Bobby Keys on sax -- rave reviews aren't that hard to understand for the virtually unknown Phillips.
Part of the pleasant mix on the album is that the San Angelo born-and-raised Phillips is a clever lyricist and an accomplished multi-instrumentalist in his own right. But the true charm comes from his Stax/Muscle Shoals take on music.
Phillips also has a very catchy NSFW ditty called "Rambler" that will either have an audience howling in laughter or heading for the nearest church.
He plays Under The Volcano tonight around 8 p.m. if you would like to peep him live. We caught up with Phillips at home in Austin.
Rocks Off: You grew up in San Angelo. Were you in band, etc. or are you self-taught?
K. Phillips: I took band in junior high, but I was finally kicked out in eighth grade for making up my own tuba lines. The band director wasn't too happy about that.
RO: Does that San Angelo/West Texas upbringing figure in your writing?
KP: [laughs] Oh, yeah. I wrote my first love song in seventh grade after I found out this friend was making time with girl I wanted to like me. That was the beginning of all the dirty songs, I guess. I've been disappointing my family ever since.
RO: On the album, you play keys, guitars, banjo, harmonica. What was your instrumental progression growing up?
KP: After I got kicked out of band, I smoked a lot of weed and fooled around with guitar. But when I got to Texas Lutheran Unversity, I wanted to learn this Tom Waits song, so I started going into the practice rooms and just trying to figure it out for myself.
Then I got lucky and met an instructor there who agreed to work with me even though I didn't read music. And he helped me learn what I needed to do the job I do now. I was just very lucky to meet him.
RO: Your bio mentions you've worked as a sideman.
KP: Yeah, I've toured with Seth James. And I've played with Javi Garcia. And I've done some studio work.
RO: You're album is on a label called Rancho Azul. What's the story with that?
KP: Luck. Right place, right time. I played a gig in San Antonio, and this guy named John Pettit saw me. Anyway, not long after that, he called and said he was interested in helping me put out a record. So we talked, and I told him I'd need about $5,000 to do a proper album. So he told me to put together two budgets, one for a no-frills album, and one he called my Rolling Stones budget. Anyway, he decided we should go with a bigger budget, so he told me to start putting my dream team together.
Rancho Azul is John's label. The Pear Ratz are also on it.
RO: The other players on the sessions I understand, but how did you get Bobby Keys into the mix?
KP: Well, my producer Pat Manske plays drums with Joe Ely in the Flatlanders. And he thought we should bring in Jimmy Pettit, who plays with Joe Ely and is John Pettit's uncle. At first I was a bit wary, like maybe there was something political with bringing Jimmy in.
But it turned out that Jimmy probably did more to make that album than any one of us. He just had all these great ideas and composed these great parts. Anyway, Jimmy approached Bobby and he agreed. I've got say, Jimmy Pettit has become one of my very favorite people.
RO: How many pieces in your road band?
KP: Counting me, there will be seven of us.
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RO: The album is kind of a white boy soul thing, which is not exactly the normal template here in Texas. What's behind that?
KP: My favorite singer in the world is Van Morrison, so there's definitely some of him in my mix. Leon Russell, I think you can hear stuff that I've just absorbed that are vocal and music traits of his. I also dig Gregg Allman as a singer and a piano player.
RO: "Rambler" is a cool song and has a great feel, but obviously it's not radio friendly without some censorship. What's up with that?
KP: Like I say, I've got a penchant for dirty songs. And like I said, continually embarrassing my family.