Interview with Shane Philip was done in October, 2012 by D'Arcy Briggs
Ska Fest: How are you doing today? You just got back from playing Tofino and Salt Spring Island, how was that?
Shane: Yeah yeah, it was great. It's good to be home and rested now. In Tofino I played at this new place called Humanity. It seated about, well I guess we were a good 100 people in there. It was really cool and the show went extremely well. I had a couple people from Australia as my roadies, I had an opener, it all went really well. The average age in there was between 18 to 25 I would say, it was a really nice energy. I drove straight off from that show to go to Salt Spring Island and played at Moby's pub. That show went equally as well. It was an older crowd, maybe 35 to, well, there was a 90 year old man dancing. It was pretty cool. It was two great shows in two days, and close enough to home that I got home the next day.
Ska Fest: Could you tell us a bit about your musical journey and some of your earliest memories of music making an imprint on your life?
Shane: Ok, well I have a few. The first big memory was when I was in grade 4. I was a part of the ukulele club at school. About 1 Friday a month we would get together, practice, and play ukulele songs. That is a really fond memory for me. I remember my best friend, Ray, played the guitar. We could pick whatever club we wanted. I picked the ukulele and he picked the guitar...I wish I had picked the guitar. I saw him with the guitar and thought "Wow, I want to be just like him." I remember seeing him play guitar a lot. That was my first foray into music. After that I played in the high school band, I played the drums. I learned how to play drums in high school. I played guitar in grade 6, so I sort of learned these instruments separately.
Another big impact was my dad buying me a Neil Young "Harvest" song book, because the guy at the music store said "Oh, you should learn how to play some Neil Young." I remember that really well. I used to be able to sing high like Neil Young too. I was able to sing pretty much every song Neil did acoustically, you know, I copied it. I would be around a campfire if I could remember any of the songs right now. After that I soon got to writing my own songs. I like to write my own stuff. I mean, there's been lots of stuff along the way, the didgeridoo, that's a new one, that's a fairly recent one for me. About 10 years ago I heard a guy play on Quadra Island, Zach Sukeweah, and he blew my mind with it. I had never heard a didgeridoo played like that before. Shortly after that I started playing it too.
I get inspired by watching excellence, you know? It doesn't even have to be with music, but I get inspired by that. So when I see something that just makes sense to me, I just, yeah, I wanna be just like that. I wanna try and be creative for sure.
Ska Fest: In 2005 you made the decision to become a full-time musician. What lead to this decision and what have been some of the obstacles you have had to overcome?
Shane: Well, what lead to that decision was a teaching career that I was involved in and I just didn't feel it was my calling in life. I thought it might have been before I got into it, but once I was in there I was realizing that the actual time spent with the kids, teaching, is minimal. There is so much work within administrative stuff - report cards, marking, and answering to people who didn't necessarily see eye-to-eye with you. They created things and I was always one of those renegade teachers, one of those one's that did what they wanted to do subversively...I wasn't necessarily applauded by them. For me, I didn't like it. I reached sort of a crisis point and I decided "Hey, I don't have to do that. I want to do something else with my life, and at this stage in the game I have to do something I am absolutely passionate about." I had always put off music. I had a previous athletic career before that, and I always focused on that and put music off. Finally, in 2005, like you said, I started my career and just dove in, not even caring about trying to make money at it. I was just trying to make music and express how I feel. I haven't turned back.
And the second part of that was what obstacles have I met along the way? Well the obstacles, I'm still trying to overcome them. I'm always trying to get onto bigger festivals. I go from one to the other, and I am getting there. At certain places I feel like "Wow, my career is taking off!" And other times I'm like "Wow, I can't even get into that festival!" It's, again just like the teaching career, it's not the music part or the audience part, it's the trying to get through the managers, booking agents, the music industry part that I find a bit challenging. The politics of it too, music is not always as honest as playing in front of people. I like it, but it is not always that way unfortunately. You have to remember to never give up and never get discouraged, you know? If something doesn't work, look in another direction and eventually things will work out, and I have been. If I look at where I have been and where I came from, man, it's been great. It just little steps, baby steps, all along the way.
Ska Fest: That's terrific! When I listen to your music I find two things. Firstly, it is quite personal. I feel that your lyrics are coming from you and I don't feel that you are writing because you feel you should go in a certain direction or play to a certain demographic. Secondly, I feel that your music is very connected to where you come from - the region and islands of the Pacific North-West. I was wondering where this voice comes from when you are writing?
Shane: Well I think for me it just comes from everything I've ever experienced in my life. It comes from within, you know, I don't necessarily try to seek content. I guess, like most song writers, I'm an observer of life, I see what's going on. I take things in, I make notes here and there on whatever piece of paper I might have or if I have my iPhone, I can do that these days. The life I live is fairly simple. It is on the island, so I write about the things that happen and affect me. I do a lot of outdoor activities like running, kayaking, hiking, skiing, all that stuff. A lot of things are also affected by my occupations. I'm also a father, I've got a little three year old boy, and he's my biggest inspiration. I find it would be pretentious if I write about something I wasn't personally connected to. I know a lot of songwriters can do that and sort of distance themselves from what they write about and write from a not so personal area but, I don't know, it seems like the songs that I feel are my best songs definitely very, very personal.
Whenever I do try to distance myself from my song writing, I find that the song isn't very good.
Ska Fest: You are currently promoting the song "Connections" for an upcoming release. Could you talk about the inspiration behind that song?
Shane: I started the song when I was in Toronto. Earlier this Spring I was waiting for a store to open. I found myself waiting in my van waiting for the store to open. It was a really busy street, Yonge st or something like that. I was just watching all these people, I love to watch people, and the one thing I noticed that I had never noticed before was that every single person, or what seemed like every person, was just looking down at their hands. They were all just looking and typing into their cell phones. It seemed like they would just barely miss each other as they were walking. You know, they were all just looking down at their phone and not even noticing each other. I thought "wow!" It would not be like that ten years ago. It just looked kind of weird and it just seemed to me like a society of robots. The worst part about it was that I could see myself becoming just like that. I'm just the same! I have an iPhone now, I use it all the time, and I catch myself using it an inappropriate times, I just think this is crazy what we're becoming. I saw a need to at least make a commentary about the necessity to have some sort of balance in life between that side of things and things that give me pure joy. I've got a park down the road from where I live; it's less than a minute's walk. I like to go running in the trails and my boy right now loves to go down and get himself soaked in the river. The salmon are running now and he has this little net that he loves to catch them with and let them go. It's stuff like that, just spending time in the forest and woods. That - that is when I am truly, truly happy. So the contrast between that kind of life that I grew up living and cell phone world that we have now, I just felt like writing something about it. That's what that song is really about for me, to try and find some kind of balance.
I mean, I know we need technology, I know it is important in our lives, but we also need to be grounded. We need Mother Nature, we need to protect the earth, and we need to feed our souls by spending time in nature. Honestly, that song wrote itself in about two hours or so. Once I started writing it, it just sort of came out. That's one of the things I love about song writing, the best ones just seem to sort of pour out. You know, if a song takes more than a few hours to write, I almost want to shelve it for later. Also, as much as I love to play didgeridoo and the drums, it gives me a lot of fulfillment to vary it up and play songs with a focus on the lyrics.
Ska Fest: So do you have any specific style for writing songs or is it different each time?
Shane: Usually if I am writing a riff, lyrics will sort of come to my head. I'll either record those real fast or write them down and try to work words around a riff. I do have a hard time writing lyrics without some sort of music in my head. It doesn't have to be with any particular instrument, but some sort of tune needs to be there. I find it a lot easier to write music than to write lyrics, I don't know why, that's just how it works for me. For my lyrics, I do like to have certain things in there. I like them to be good, be sort of clever, and have some double-meanings in there. I do put a lot of time in my lyrics, but it is a little more work for me than the music.
Ska Fest: Returning to the theme of 'connections', on your website you have links and connections with groups such as salmon are Sacred, SurfRiders. Do you feel that it is important to have these sorts of positive messages in music?
Shane: I do. I mean, I'm definitely interested in doing something to protect the earth, protect nature. I see a lot of people out there that are telling the facts, and they aren't necessarily coming up with solutions. I try really hard to come out with something positive. I have a line in one of my songs that goes "You gotta see a bright side for there to be a bright side." For me, I have to be able to see something positive to get something out of it. I think it is too easy to get caught up in the negatives, so if my songs and lyrics can help a little bit or make little steps in the right direction, then it makes a difference. All these changes can come from within.
Ska Fest: You do have a show coming up in Victoria on October 20th, at the Alix Goolden Hall. Did you want to speak about that event?
Shane: Yeah! I get to play with the Marc Atkinson Trio. Marc I've known for a lot of my life. He's a virtuoso on the guitar and it is a pleasure to be sharing the bill with him. I'm very exciting to A) be playing at the hall. I've never played there, but I've been in there and looked at the place. It's magical in there, such a beautiful place. B) I'm also really making an effort to play venues that aren't just bars or smaller venues. I love to open it up to all-ages and to people who might not want to see me in a bar location. It's a bit of a shift to from a nightclub to Alix Goolden. I think it will open it up to more people which is always a good thing.
Ska Fest: Finally, I was going to ask you about any more future plans you've got in the works.
Shane: Well, I just got back from Ecuador and that was pretty cool. It was great! Just the idea of travelling to a South American country, the whole travel experience, is just amazing. The way my music went over was pretty exciting. The people loved it! They didn't necessarily know what I was saying, but they still loved it. It's quite exciting and I can't wait to do more. I'm planning to go to Hawai'i in March. I was thinking about Australia in January. I would also like to keep expanding, maybe getting into California and the States. These are all directions I want to go in for sure.