Fueled By Death Cast Ep. 118 - PHIL X
MUSICIAN/SONGWRITER - PHIL X
"Somebody knocks on your door once. If you don't make an impression, they won't come back." Phil X, guitarist for Bon Jovi, The Drills
ABOUT PHIL X:
Musician and songwriter Phil X is on the podcast and we talk about how he started his music career and playing on albums for Alice Cooper and Chris Cornell. Actually, the list of albums and musicians that Phil X has lent his talent to is quite extensive including Rob Zombie, Tommy Lee, Kelly Clarkson, and so many more. Check out the Netflix documentary Hired Guns which features Phil X throughout. Phil also talks about touring with Bon Jovi and playing with his band The Drills. Learn all the details about the upcoming album from The Drills with tons of special guests. Plus, hear some great advice for any aspiring musician from this legendary guitarist, including how to be passionate about what you love and to work extra hard to achieve it.
Jeff: Let's start with the guitar, because I love talking to musicians, and one of the questions that is mostly different between all musicians is why you started in the first place. I'm always curious to hear that answer. What drew you to the guitar? What drew you to not only just the guitar, but the gamut of all the music that you play? What made you start that?
Phil X: Well, it was my dad.
Phil X: I don't know, man. It was like I was five. We were living really modestly, my mom, my dad, four kids, and sometimes my grandparents in a two bedroom apartment in Toronto, but my dad had a plan because it rocketed out of that into this bigness.
But my dad always played bouzouki, so Greek music was always playing in my home. He played and I guess he needed accompaniment, so he's like, "You're gonna learn to play guitar." I became a huge Elvis fan 'cause he liked Elvis and I liked Elvis, so it had a lot to do with my dad.
When I say we were living modestly, I was a five year old that asked for an electric guitar for Christmas and got it. I could barely hold it. Think about it. It wasn't a miniature. It was a full-sized-
Dustin: What kind of guitar was it?
Phil X: I don't even remember the name, but it was a semi-hollow teardrop-shaped, a cover ... I say cover like a cover song, but a replica of a Vox or something.
Dustin: Yeah, yeah. What color was it?
Phil X: It had this really terrible plywood sunburst on it.
Phil X: I say sunburst, I mean plywood, because he hung it on the wall and he says, "Hey." He didn't want it to get damaged and I don't know if we even had a guitar stands back then 'cause we were in a cave. He hung it on the wall, and he's like, "If you want to play it, let me know. I'll bring it down," but he was at work and I wanted to play it, so I got this stool and put a book on the stool and put a box on the book on the stool and I stood up. Up here I couldn't hold it, so it fell and split when it hit the ground. But he was pretty handy. He got some glue out and some [inaudible] and put it back together, but he said, "That's why I told you to tell me when you want to play." I'm like, "I want to play all the time."
Jeff: So you just grew up around music. That's I think important, especially for someone who eventually becomes a musician. This is now your career. Fast forward a little bit then, when did that happen for you? Was it always in the back of your brain, "I want to do this for my life," or was there a singular moment in your life where you were like, "This is the turning point"?
Phil X: It's not in the back of your brain. When you have a disease, it's in the front of your brain, so that's all you want to do. But again, it was early, because I got into guitar when I was five. When I was eight, literally Big Fat Greek Wedding, and my dad's like, "Hey, why don't you get up and sing a couple of songs 'cause the band's on break," and I'm like, "What?" But I'm eight, but I listen to my dad. He goes, "You can do it, man. Just do it."
So I get up there and I grab the guy's guitar. We asked obviously first, and I played and sang "Blue Suede Shoes" and "Teddy Bear". The room just stopped. It was like, "What is going on?" 'Cause there was no YouTube back then, right? You didn't see a kid doing that thing on YouTube. This was real life, and it went from silence to, "Holy shit," to everybody dancing and screaming and all that stuff. So that's the moment of ... Yeah.
Dustin: That's pretty young to get addicted to that feeling of-
Phil X: Oh yeah, for sure, but then-
Dustin: ... performing and killing it.
Phil X: But then that was it. It was in my head. It was almost like Glee in my head. I'm like, "What? [inaudible] I'm in. What? Something's happened at school? I'm in. What? I'm in. What? Putting a band together? I'm in. What?" It went that fast.
Dustin: So at what point was it a thing that could put food in the table for you?
Phil X: Whoa. That was later.
Phil X: The pay thing started happening when I was 17 when I could actually get into a bar and start playing. It's a really long story, but we were doing three 45 minute sets a night Thursday to Saturday and then Sunday I would take off and Monday to Wednesday, I was bartending at my dad's bar. I was done with school, man. I tell kids to stay in school, but you realize it's not for you and it's not gonna contribute to what you want to do for the rest of your life, so you figure out ... Well, I should've probably taken a business class really, but anyway, or marketing, 'cause then you gotta do everything yourself, marketing, business, accounting, all that stuff.
But that was one of those things where again, I listened to my dad, 'cause I'm like, "How am I bartending when I'm 17?" He was like, "Okay, so the drinking age is 19," 'cause it was Toronto, Canada. "You can serve when you're 18 and you can bartend if your dad owns the place." I'm like, "Well, that makes sense."
Dustin: That's what I did, man. I was bartending when I was 18 'cause my mom owned the bar, so I think it was allowed, allegedly. She didn't say allegedly, right?
Jeff: Yeah, right?
Phil X: Allegedly. But anyways, but then he went on holidays and I was managing a bar when I was 18 so I booked my band to play there so I could work and play at the same time. So I was juggling, which is the way of life, but then I started putting bands together, and then this producer saw me play at a Gas Works in Toronto and he totally lost his mind and said, "Hey, I'm recording a record. Can you come into the studio on Friday?" That was a Canadian band called Frozen Ghost.
The producer, [inaudible] he just texted me. We're still in touch. It was one of those things, man. I went into the studio and we totally hit off as people. We hit it off as musicians. He kind of mentored me for a while because he was an amazing keyboard player, songwriter, so I learned a lot of different chord things that you don't learn from guitar players. That was a really cool thing.
And then toured with his band and then I toured with Aldo Nova and then I was in [inaudible] for a minute, more of a year and a half long minute. I still keep in touch with those guys, too. I go to Toronto and visit my mom and Gill's like, "Hey man, want to go to Tim Horton's for a coffee?" I'm like, "Sure." He comes and gets me, we go and have a Tim Horton's coffee.
So that led to me really putting a thing together with music and dah dah dah dah dah, and finding that Canada wasn't working for me, so I moved to LA in '97, and then I started from scratch. No matter who you play with, when you move down to LA and there's like 40000 bands trying to make it and you have to compete and I didn't have a visa yet, so I was just keeping under the radar, but then I got a visa which was great, which turned into a green card down the road, and started doing sessions in '99. [inaudible] Tommy Lee, and that was funny, too. I know you asked one question, and I'm rolling.
Jeff: I love it. I love it.
Dustin: That's great, man.
Phil X: But in '99, I was painting a producer's garage because I was painting, messenger service. I actually wore a sandwich board for a company for a week, and selling steak and frozen chicken out of the back of a pickup truck. The freezer was literally bungee cabled to the back of a pickup truck and I was going door to door. So I was doing all these jobs, and now I'm painting Scott Humphrey's garage and he's working on Methods of Mayhem, and Tommy's like, "We gotta get a guitar player, man, to play on this record," and Scott's like, "Well, let's get Phil." Tommy goes, "The dude painting the garage?"
Yeah, so that's when the paintbrush got swapped for a Les Paul and I started playing and Tommy was like, "Dude, you gotta play on the whole record." And then Scott was busy at the time, so his next project was Rob Zombie. So Rob was coming by and he's like, "Hey, I love what you're doing on Tommy's record. You want to play on mine?" And then I'm playing on his and then he goes, "Hey, did Alice call you yet?" And I'm like, "Alice who?" He's like, "Oh, I gave Alice Cooper your number last week," and I'm like, "Right, Alice Cooper's gonna call me." Bring, and it's not Alice Cooper but the producer Bob Marlette, who was doing ... It was Brutal Planet. It was that record. So I ended up playing on that. It's one of those things, too. I always have it in my head, if you don't leave an impression, you'll be forgotten that fast.
Phil X: But I always go in with a fuck you attitude because you know what? You walk into a studio, and Bob didn't know who I was. Rob Zombie gave Alice my number and Alice gave my number to Bob and Bob, "Who the hell is this guy, but Alice wants to use him 'cause Rob said so, and okay, come on in, dude. I'll put you in a couple of songs." But I just walked in and punch in the face, destroy, and he was like, "I got more songs you can play on. Can you come back on Friday?"
That's the kind of thing that you gotta do, and that's the advice I give to young musicians, man. Somebody knocks on your door once. If you don't make an impression, they won't come back.
Dustin: How much of that is preparing for the part? How much did you sit around with the music and just have that drive to completely, in the back of your mind you're thinking, "Man, I'm gonna show up and fucking kill it, and the way I do that is sit here and I work this out." How much of it was preparation?
Phil X: Well, my preparation was my cover band, 'cause I don't really read. I still don't read.
Dustin: Read music, right?
Phil X: Yeah. I don't read music, right. But being in a cover band and learning Van Halen and ZZ Top and AC/DC and Black Sabbath when I was a kid, that trained my ear, 'cause again, no YouTube, no tablature. You're just on your own dropping the needle or rewinding on a cassette player and learning everything by these things. Everybody always comments. Scott Humphrey was like, "I can't believe your ear," and I'm like, "Well, you know, thank Black Sabbath."
Then it grew into just knowing. Even when I had a band in LA and you opened LA Weekly and there's literally 40000 bands playing 200 venues a week, you know you have to do something to stand out. Walking into the studio, you have to have this mentality. You have to have this mentality of, "I'm just gonna kill it. There's no choice. There's no option."
I walked in and Bob literally looked at me, still working on this Alice Cooper record, and the first song was "Brutal Planet". He goes, "Okay. I played all the rhythm guitars and the bass myself. I just need some pixie dust. Go." He pressed play and record just to see what I'd come up with on the spot. At first I'm like, "What the fuck?" And then I'm like, "Fuck you," then I started doing something. He goes, "Wow, that was great. Let's double it." I'm like, "Whoa. I have to hear it 'cause I don't know what I did," 'cause it was that fast.
But then again, it led to different things. By the ninth song, you're like, "What can I do now," right? You want to keep the motion going, the momentum going. He's like, "Okay, I really need a really interesting thing for this," and that's when I come up with, "Okay, you got a flathead screwdriver?" He's like, "Yeah."
So I unscrew the screw of the neck pickup that's in the neck pickup on this Les Paul and I tuck the high E string under the screw and tighten the screw onto the string and tune it to a high note that's in this little riff that I'm playing so it would sound like if you heard it, you probably couldn't figure out what the fucking hell it is, right? (making guitar noises) and that kind of thing.
Dustin: Oh. Did you do that before that moment?
Phil X: No, that was on the spot.
Dustin: Wow, what made you think of that?
Phil X: I don't know, man. I was in the mode. I was in the Gandalf guitar mode.
Jeff: That's awesome.
Phil X: And then that story started circulating.
Phil X: I was out somewhere and the singer of one band comes up, another band that Bob did, and he comes up to me and he goes, "Are you Phil X?" I'm like, "Yeah." "You did that thing with the string and the screw and the thing and the pickup and the thing?" I'm like, "Yeah." He goes, "Dude, you say the word, man. I'll kick my guitar player out. You're in." I'm like, "Okay, but I don't need a gig right now, but thanks." [inaudible] at the time, too. Whether he meant it, I don't know, but it started circulating. That must have been 2000 I think, and I finally met Alice Cooper last year.
Jeff: Oh my god.
Dustin: Oh my god. Oh, he wasn't even in-
Phil X: He wasn't in the studio. He was [crosstalk] doing something. So we finally meet, and I'm finally just, "Hey, I'm Phil X. I did all that crazy guitar stuff on Brutal Planet," and he goes, "I heard stories. Bob said you came in and cleaned it up." I'm like, "Oh, that's really nice. Thanks man. I've been a fan since I was a kid."
Phil X: That kind of stuff rarely happens. It's dream come true shit. That's another thing that I try to tell young musicians, right? If you work really hard, your rewards are limitless. Anything could happen, anything. You could play with your hero. You could play with your favorite artist.
I was doing a lot of work for Howard Benson at the time and he calls in and he goes, "Hey, we're doing a song with Chris Cornell. You in?" I'm like, "What? Yes. A thousand times, yes. When? What day? When? What time? Where do I gotta be? What am I bringing?" That was that. That was an incredible experience, just one song with Chris Cornell, and it was like-
Jeff: What was the song?
Phil X: He did a whole record with Timbaland.
Jeff: Oh, yeah.
Phil X: So the record company wanted a rock version of one of the songs, the single, which was "Long Gone". I got to admit, I brought my triple A plus game, and Chris wasn't there. It was like the Alice Cooper thing. Okay, okay, so I'm working on Chris Cornell's song, but I'm not gonna meet him, but at least I'm playing in the studio and his voice is coming out of the speaker, so it's surreal, that, as that happens, the voice coming out of the speakers and I'm like, "Oh man, this is amazing." And then they called and they said, "Hey, Chris wants to come in tomorrow night and be here when you do the solo. Is that cool?" This kind of stuff, when your arm hairs stand up, you've got goosebumps and you can't speak, it happens even now.
So, I came in. He was sitting on the couch and I'm like, "How do you break the ice with Chris Cornell," right? How do you do it? So I'm like, "Okay." I tried this thing that I do called bazooka tuning with two strings going into one nut notch. I'm getting a little technical. You tune it to the same pitch and it sounds like a bazooka, so that's why I call it bazooka tuning, and that's something I came up with a long time ago. So I thought I would do that.
So I started doing this solo. When I'm in the studio, it's like I'm onstage. If I lay down a solo, I'm bouncing around the room and just like that. So I'm thinking, "Okay, this is what I do. I'll just do it." And then I laid down a take and I look at him and he's like, "That was really cool, but I think you need a little more gain." I go, "Yeah, but it looked good, right?" That's how I broke the ice. He laughed. It was funny.
Dustin: That's awesome.
Jeff: That's great. I want to go back a little bit and unpack some of what you were talking about because I'm very inspired by you. I just want to say that because you touched on it a little bit. It's hard for musicians in today's landscape of music to break into it, but your story I think a lot of people need to listen to because at the end of the day, you love what you do and you're constantly learning and constantly bringing your A game, like you said.
You were saying you tell young kids, "Oh, stay in school," but you didn't really stay in school. I think you're always in school. I think you did stay in school. I think every time that you're taking a new job or you're learning a new way to manipulate your instrument, I think you're in school. I think that's refreshing and I think if more people did that, I think there'd be more success in this industry. I think that's lost on a lot of people.
Phil X: Well, I think the industry has changed so much.
Phil X: You read a lot of articles where artists don't need record labels anymore 'cause they don't know what they're doing, and that you could probably promote and market yourself better than any label could, but it is a lot of work. It is putting the hours in and the time in, and you're right. When people ask me now what university or college I went to, I was like, "It was a van with three guys and hitting every hole in the wall within a 500 mile radius for Thursday, Friday, Saturday night."
I think it's your mentality too, 'cause lot of guys do that to go and party and bang chicks, and they're still doing it. When we did three 45 minute sets and my band and friends and everybody went to party and stuff, I'd be in another room playing guitar until I fell asleep, and then woke up and started playing guitar before I ate, and then did three 45 minute sets again. So, you need a good work ethic, and it's not healthy.
Dustin: Yeah. That's intense.
Phil X: All I wanted to do was play guitar, and all I wanted to do was rise through the status of what the business hands you, you know what I mean?
Phil X: So I got lucky in some places. I don't think there's a lot of luck. I don't think any gig that I got was through luck. I know I worked my ass off and deserved it. I was going through band and band and band and people were like, "Oh, Phil X, he's lucky." I'm like, "That's not luck, dude." If I would've put the paintbrush down and went into the studio and didn't deliver, I wouldn't have recorded on that record.
Jeff: Right. No, true.
Phil X: That snowball wouldn't have happened at all.
Dustin: Do you still ... Oh, sorry, Jeff.
Dustin: Do you still keep up that work ethic of just waking up every day pounding it out?
Phil X: No, dude.
Phil X: I'm a dad.
Phil X: I have kids. I pick up a guitar when I have a gig.
Phil X: They're small, right? They're five and three, my small kids, and I also have a 21 year old. Him, I'm like, "Hey man, can you send some background vocals today?" "Sure, man." But my young kids, man, when I'm home, 'cause I travel, right? So I tour and when I come home, it's not a guilt thing, I was away so I have to make up for it, I just want to spend time with the kids.
Phil X: They're my heart and it's my passion. Sometimes I pick up a guitar and I still write and I still come up with stuff, but I play more when I'm on tour. I always have a guitar in my hotel room and then I'm playing backstage.
I love doing these hotel room jams and backstage tune up room jams and putting them on Instagram. It ranges from heavy metal from Sammy Hagar to Judas Priest. Hey, I got a piano and I suck at piano, so I'm gonna do "Jane" by Jefferson Starship or Airplane. You know what's funny? The Judas Priest "Victim of Changes", I think that got the most views. I can do AC/DC. I can do Zeppelin. "Victim of Changes", Judas Priest.
Jeff: That's crazy. I wanted to ask you too, as the term hired gun is thrown around, and by the way, that documentary that you were a part of was excellent and there was so much of a wealth of information there, but you I think stand out because like you said, when you go into a room, you're immediately just like, "Fuck you. Here's my A game," kind of thing, like, "I'm gonna bring it in your face and that's what's gonna get me for the next gig." You always have been at your core Phil X. You've always had that sound, had that mentality, but you've worked with so many amazing people throughout the years. Has there been a project that has I guess influenced you or your playing more than any of it, or have you always just stayed true to yourself through it all?
Phil X: I think I know my place, which is also key, like deliver and wow people, but know your place.
Phil X: Phil X and the Drills is my favorite project 'cause it's my passion. I write the songs. I sing. It's just a three piece, and I love that. Early on I always wanted a singer 'cause I love the Zeppelin Black Sabbath makeup, three guys rocking out and a singer out front. The cock's out, the vocal's out, the band rocks, everything's awesome. But we could never find a singer that sang better than me. I was like, "This guy's good," and they're like, "Well, he's not as good as you." I'm like, "I really want a singer." But I accepted my fate later on in life. I love the three piece. I love how it works. I read something. It was an interview with Harold Ramis, the writer and director.
Jeff: And Ghost Buster.
Phil X: Ghost Buster's [inaudible] actor, all that stuff. The question that he got was about, "Hey, remember doing standup? What was that like?" He goes, "For me it was all about killing, but not just killing the audience. It was about killing all the other comedians on that stage that night, too." I'm like, "That's how I feel. I want the audience to forget the band that played before us and I want to scare the band that has to follow us," you know what I mean? That's how it should be done. Everybody should have that mentality, you know what I mean, and just go out and destroy.
People are like, "Okay, you do that with Drills, but what about Bon Jovi?" I go, "Hey, that's Jon's job. I'm taking the backseat." Again, that's knowing your place. Nobody had to tell me what to do or what not to do when I filled in with Richie the first time in 2011. It was just, "Okay, I'm gonna learn the show." You can't just learn records. They sent me DVDs of current shows so I could watch, 'cause Jon does this cue thing. He does this jukebox thing. He does that thing and that thing, and you gotta watch and be ready for anything and dah dah dah dah, and engrain it into your brain, but then at the same time, if Richie's doing the solo like the record, that's what I'll do. If he goes out on a limb and strays a little bit, I'll kind of do that, too.
You can't mess with the solo in "Livin' on a Prayer" or "Born to be My Baby". Those are the solos of the songs of our youth, so you don't stray from that, but when we do "Keep the Faith", I'm gonna start it like Richie and then I'm gonna go out and do a little bit of my own thing. But again, full Phil X doesn't work. The way I describe it, if this is Richie and this is me, there's a guy in the middle that shows up and does the gig 'cause he knows his place.
Dustin: So you're not completely trying to hit every note that Richie's hit and you're doing a little bit of your own variation of that?
Phil X: Well, it depends on the song.
Dustin: Yeah, okay.
Phil X: I think it's impossible to literally emulate another person's playing, 'cause you don't have their hands and you don't have their heart. I think that's where it comes from. So what I've said in the past is it's all about respecting the band, respecting the fans, respecting the songs and respecting Richie, too, right? So there's a moment where you go, "Hey, yeah, I'm doing it right," 'cause nobody in the band's saying, "Hey, you're not doing that right," or dah dah dah dah dah, or, "You're doing too much," or, "You're doing too little," or anything like that.
So I made the right moves and I feel like I deserve to be where I am right now, but I do think the thing with what you asked about, the note for note thing, getting it as close as possible is important in most cases, and then straying a little bit. People are like, "What's the hardest Bon Jovi song you had to learn?" To me, none of it was technically difficult, but what's more important is capturing the intended emotion in the part. Does that make sense?
Jeff: Yes, totally.
Phil X: Yeah.
Jeff: I want to go back to what you were saying about knowing your place. You had such a good head on your shoulders right from the get go, and it shows from the work that you put in before joining Bon Jovi and all the different bands that you played with, and when you started to fill in, you never went out there being like, "I'm the next Richie Sambora." You were respectful to the band, to the songs, to the fans, and were respected because of that. I think that was a testament to who you are as a player and a person and knowing your place onstage and in music like that.
I wanted to ask, because you were so much of a good fit as someone stepping into this role for those couple years, and now as an official member of the band, I just wanted to know, was that something that was kind of always happening? Was the writing on the wall? Because we all know the story, unfortunately, with Richie and what he was going through and stuff like that. As fans of the band throughout all the years, I'm so happy that you guys are the powerhouse that you still are and are still able to do that, but was it a surprise for you to join full-time or was that writing kind of on the wall when that happened?
Phil X: I don't know, man. I'm still surprised when somebody comes up for an autograph-
Jeff: Oh wow.
Phil X: ... and holds up the vinyl jacket and says, "Can you sign right by your face?" That's pretty crazy, man, and then they're giving me tours of the VIP. They give them a tour backstage and I might be talking to my guitar tech, Mark, about changing a pickup in one of the guitars for that night's show and stuff, and then I'm taking photos and then somebody walks up and my face is on a tee shirt. That's still crazy. So it's hard for me. I don't think I'm full in 100%. I know it might sound weird. It might sound, "Yeah, you're full of shit," but I seriously, I'm still kind of like [crosstalk].
Dustin: Yeah. Do you think you keep in that mindset because it's-
Phil X: Rock and roll and everybody does reunion tours?
Phil X: That's the biggest paycheck, man, reunion tours.
Jeff: Right, right.
Jeff: Well, I mean, I'm just happy for the success you're having with Bon Jovi and for Bon Jovi as a whole 'cause it's been such a staple of rock and roll for years and years and years, and you guys are going out there and killing it.
But on the other side of that, I want to go back to Phil X and the Drills. It is so awesome for someone in your ... You could just be like, "Yep, I'm in Bon Jovi now and that's what I do," but you love this band, and it shows. It shows in the music that you write. It shows in the performances that you give. I wanted to ask a little bit on that side of it from the standpoint of a front man who's playing guitar and singing, where does that writing process start for you? Does it start with the guitar? Does it start with some of these amazing vocals you come up with? Where does that writing process start?
Phil X: For me, it's weird 'cause I have no formula.
Phil X: I feel like a lot of stuff happens when I'm driving around in my truck. I hear something and it triggers something. To be honest, the radio has always been broken in my truck. Somehow it wasn't hooked up to the speakers when I got it, so it made me entertain myself. I couldn't listen to music, so I made music.
Phil X: I adapted this work ethic. Even when I wasn't in Bon Jovi, even when I wasn't doing anything successful with music and the session thing hadn't started and I was shipping out merchandise at Zappa Records on Ventura Boulevard in Studio City, and I'm like, "You know what? I'm just gonna write like a maniac." I wrote 11 songs in 11 days. All but one have been on a Drills record. It was just the most outstanding 11 days of explosive, clever creativity of my life.
Since then, sure, I've written better songs. I've written equal songs, but I feel like when it just happens so fast ... We have a song on the third record called "Playing Fair" and when we play it live I call it our pop song because everybody goes, "Oh man, that song's great. Did you write that?" That's a pop song, right? That song wrote itself in literally three drives to the market or to a session, recording it on my phone on the way there and then collecting the data at the end of the two days and then bang, that song was done.
Phil X: Other songs, which are some of my favorites, they took a little bit of work, but I think when you read books about Lennon and McCartney writing or Zeppelin writing or anything, it's always one song, it was just ... Peter Frampton wrote his two biggest songs in one afternoon.
Phil X: That shit happens.
Phil X: And then you try to make that happen again and it doesn't, but in my case, sometimes it's a lyric. My favorite story, and this is true, I was sitting at a light hanging a left hand turn and it was going (making ticking sound). I needed a bridge for a song. I also got off the phone with my friend, who was seeing this crazy chick, and everything just happened at the same time. So he's on the phone. I go, "How's it going with so and so?" And he's like, "[inaudible] out of her goddamn mind," this kind of thing, right? I'm like, "Okay."
That phone conversation ends and then you're at the tick, tick, tick, tick (singing), and then I think pound, and I go, "Pound for pound, the bitch crazy. Pound for pound, the bitch crazy. [inaudible] She out of her goddamn mind. Pound for pound, my bitch crazy," so that bridge totally happened like that.
Dustin: That's so funny.
Phil X: And then when I got home and recorded it, it just made so much sense.
Jeff: That's so funny.
Phil X: So sometimes it happens like that.
Phil X: It could be a riff. It could be a lyric, like I said. It could be a melody. You're singing something. I record everything into my phone. Sometimes it becomes a song. Sometimes it just sits there and doesn't become anything, or it could become a bridge. If I'm, "This song needs a bridge. Well, let's go back to the phone," and you're scrolling, and idea 87, that's the bridge.
Jeff: That's awesome.
Phil X: If it didn't make it into that song, it'd probably be sitting in limbo somewhere, but it's got a spark, and that spark needs to be seen.
Jeff: Yeah, for sure, for sure. So, the question we come to on this show with all of our guests, and I feel like we almost touched upon it a little bit with you already, but I'm curious. Through everything that you've done, through your entire career, through everybody you've gotten to play with up until this very day, what fuels you to keep doing it? What fuels you to keep wanting to perform, to wanting to write, to wanting to play music?
Phil X: Death Wish coffee.
Jeff: And I just got a raise. No, for real, for real.
Phil X: It's one of those things. Every time I see a guitar, I want to play it. Every time I see a microphone, I want to sing. I think this kind of thing is so ingrained in your chemistry, in your blood, in your heart, and it just pumps out of here. I'm gonna be 53 next month.
Dustin: Goddamn, you look good for 53.
Phil X: Thanks, buddy.
Dustin: I mean that, though. Jesus.
Dustin: I'll take it. I'll take it.
Phil X: I'm still a kid.
Phil X: I went to Japan with Bon Jovi and played the Tokyo Dome in November, and then I went to Tokyo a couple weeks ago, January 21st, and I played with Uli Jon Roth and Rudolf Schenker from the '70s lineup Scorpions at the Sun Plaza, where they recorded Tokyo Tapes.
Phil X: Guys, I had an import of that on vinyl from Japan and I dropped the needle on that record endlessly when I was like 16, 16 I think, and I learned the solos, and then I met Uli Jon Roth, who was my idol in Germany in September. He didn't see the full 100% Phil X. He saw a percentage. I don't know what percentage, 'cause I didn't really do my thing when we performed together and I didn't really sing what I can do, but he saw enough to say, "Do you want to do some shows as a guest in Japan in January?" I was like, "Yes." So I did that. I went and did three shows, and I was a guest. I only played four or five songs in about a three hour show. He was celebrating I think the anniversary of three things, 50th anniversary of his first gig ever, 41st anniversary of Tokyo Tapes, playing the theater where they recorded it, and then something else.
Phil X: He kept coming up to me. We're texting, right, even before it happened. I'm calling my cousin, George, 'cause we were both Uli fans when we were kids and we're freaking out. I listen to Uli's guitar playing and I hear his thing in so many other places. I hear it in Eddie Van Halen. I hear it in Randy Rhodes. I even hear it in [inaudible] who doesn't give credit to anybody. I hear flavors of what he had in his style in everybody.
So, being onstage with that cat for three shows was incredible. I got to sing and Rudolf Schenker was there too, so I'm in between the two guys from the live lineup and the drummer, Rudy Lenners, who played on Entrance and Virgin Killer. So, those three guys and me singing, being 52 and my arm hair's standing up, and I'm just going out of my mind.
It was funny. One of the moments in my entire life is I'm getting emails from Uli Roth, "Hey, you want to sing Catch a Train?" I'm like, "Awesome, yeah, one of my favorite songs. Awesome. Killer. I can't wait." And then you get a text. You're doing something. You could be doing anything in your life. You could be changing a diaper. You could be at the market throwing bananas in the cart. You get a text from Uli Roth and, "Hey man, do you want to sing Virgin Killer?" [inaudible] man. I'm down. I'm down. I'm in. I'm in. It's like, anything. That kind of stuff when it happens in your life fuels you.
Jeff: Yeah, yeah.
Phil X: That was a long answer, but-
Jeff: No, but-
Phil X: But when that shit goes down, or other people in my life ... I've worked on a lot of big records that Chris Lord-Alge, one of the world's best mixers, he's mixed a bunch of stuff. I met him at a Christmas party or something. He's like, "You're Phil X?" I'm like, "Yeah." He goes, "I gotta tell you man, I love mixing your guitars." I'm like, "What?" 'Cause he mixes Daughtry and Kelly Clarkson and all these things that I did in the studio. So, not only do I get to put my thumb print on these artists' records, but the guy who mixed it loves what I do? What? You know what I mean?
So, it feeds your ego but it's not about ego. Again, it's about killing and stepping up the plate and hitting a home run if not every time, almost every time, 'cause there is probably stuff that I laid down that the next day I was like, "Yeah, that could've been better," "No, it's great. It's gone to mix. It's fine," and you feel like, "Oh, okay. That's all right," or you lay down a wicked, wicked, wicked solo on this artist's record and then you hear it on the radio and they cut the solo out.
Jeff: Oh, yeah.
Phil X: Oh, man. What?
Dustin: Oh, that's funny.
Phil X: Yeah. Stuff like that happens, too, but I totally hit it off with Chris Lord-Alge. He's been mixing the new Drills record and when Mix with Masters contacted him and said, "Hey, we should do something with you about tracking a band off the floor," and he called me and said, "Let's do the Drills. Let's do three songs with the Drills at Capital Records." So we did that. I sang. We did everything live off the floor, but it was a new song, and it was so new, I felt like I was compromising the guitar playing and the singing 'cause I'm reading the lyrics. So the guitar ended up being fine, but I was singing it yesterday downstairs in the studio, and it totally brought the song to life, so I'm so excited.
Jeff: That's excellent. That is really cool. Man, like I said earlier, you're really inspiring. I really hope that other musicians can be half of what you are, because I think that at the end of the day, if you're gonna love what you do, love it as hard as you can. You really do that, and I think that's really, really inspiring. I just have to say, we do appreciate all love you give to us here at Death Wish Coffee because-
Dustin: Big time, man.
Phil X: You know what? It was funny, too, 'cause when I'm on the road, I wear a medium, and then when I'm not on the road, I wear a large.
Phil X: 'Cause the weight fluctuates.
Jeff: I hear you.
Dustin: I get it.
Phil X: You come home and you be a dad again and you're putting a few pounds on.
Phil X: Dude, thank you, man. You guys have been great to me. I love talking about me. No, I'm just kidding. I love talking about music. I love inspiring. I aspire, and I said this in a thing one time and it sounded corny, but I truly aspire to inspire to be inspired. This whole thing is a cyclone of energy that makes everything worth it, you know what I mean?
I know there's a lot of young musicians out there and they need to hear stories like this. They do. They need to hear about hard work. It's not about winning American Idol, 'cause name more than a handful of people that won that and are still doing something in the last 13 years, right?
So, it's about, you can't rely on anybody else anymore. You gotta do all that you can and network. What did hear the other day? This is cheese ball. If you're not networking, you're not working, something like that.
Jeff: Yeah, but I mean, it's true. You said it earlier on. Every gig you go to, if you show up, you show up and you've put the work in beforehand and you show up and bring the best you can, then that's gonna get you your next gig no matter what. If you're just showing up or you're thinking you're gonna do it, you're not gonna get called the next time.
Phil X: Well, and the other thing too is a lot of people still haven't realized, there's a lot of old school people like me, but I think I'm more new school 'cause I realize that people are still mad that some people don't buy music. But you can't be mad at those people, because those people still buy tickets and tee shirts and mugs and all that stuff, so don't be mad at them. You have to find new ways to do things. You have to roll with the punches and you have to roll with the times.
That's what a lot of people that have an ear to what's going on today understand, and the people that don't understand that, as soon as I'm talking to somebody and I'm having a really good conversation and they're like, "Oh man, I'm so pissed [inaudible] streaming. People don't buy music anymore," I'm like, "I gotta take a leak 'cause we're done talking."
Jeff: That's it. So at the end here, I just want to ask, what's on the horizon? What can people be excited for? What's coming out from the Drills? You guys got a new record that's just hitting or about to hit, right?
Phil X: Yes. I'm excited. I have to look at my notes because I leave people out, 'cause we've been recording this record since 2014, so we're going on five years. The problem is, there's a different drummer on every song.
Phil X: Everybody tours, and I'm just gonna go down the list of who's on this. Okay, so Kenny Aronoff, who's played on a million records. Matt Chamberlain actually came off the road with Soundgarden at the time and played on this track. Randy Cook, he's a friend of mine and he plays with Smash Mouth. Brent Fitz is on tour with Slash now and also plays with the Drills live sometimes. Taylor Hawkins.
Phil X: Abe Laboriel Jr. Tommy Lee. Ray Luzier from Korn. Ryan MacMillan. He's played with Matchbox 20 and stuff. Gary Novak is a huge session guy in LA. Jeremy Spencer from Five Finger Death Punch. Brian Tichy, who's played with a million people.
Tico Torres. We had a day off in Vegas after playing the T-Mobile Center in March. I'm like, "Hey man, would you go into the studio tomorrow and record a song?" And he was like ... I know he loves his days off, so him coming in meant a lot.
Phil X: We also have Liberty DeVito, who I met obviously through the Hired Gun documentary. He lives on the east coast. I live on the west coast, and then here I'm in New York with Bon Jovi doing two sold out nights at Madison Square Garden and I call up Liberty and I go, "Hey man, do you feel like coming into the studio on Friday to record a Drills tune?" He's like, "I'm in."
Obie O'Brien is my best pal on the road. He's been Jon's best friend and broadcast engineer for 30 years. Me and him, I'm going, "Hey man, let's get the Power Station," which is, hello, who's been at the Power Station in New York? Everybody.
Phil X: Rolling Stones, Madonna. The list is endless, and, "Let's go record with Liberty DeVito." When you're in the moment, it's hard to be in the moment. This is happening, but I'm not really registering that it's happening.
Phil X: But we do a sold out night, Madison Square Garden, and the next day me and Obi go to Power Station. Liberty shows up. I record Liberty DeVito on my song, and then I take them out for a Mexican lunch, and then me and Obie are walking back to Madison Square Garden to do sound check for night two, and Obie's like, "Are you absorbing this?" I'm like-
Dustin: No possible way.
Phil X: "Wait, hold on, I gotta get the phone. Oh, wait. Oh. My wife, what time does she want the car to take her to the gig tonight? I think she's taking the subway. I'll talk to you later," and then that kind of thing and he's like, "Dude, just take a moment and absorb what you're doing." I'm like, "Why? What's happening?" He's like, "Two sold out nights at MSG, and you just recorded Liberty DeVito on your song at the Power Station in New York." And then it kind of hit me, and he said, "I challenge any musician on the planet to have a better two days than you're having right now."
Phil X: I'm like, "Yeah, I really did not look at it like that at all." It's pretty crazy.
Jeff: That is pretty crazy. Are we gonna get this record this year?
Phil X: Yes. Now that there's so many songs, and again, the industry has changed so much, you get your fans. Everybody wants content, content. Content is king, but they don't want it all at the same time, so nobody likes full records anymore, right? It's either singles or mini albums or something like that. So we're gonna put out volumes of six every four months or something like that.
Dustin: Cool, man.
Phil X: Every song will have a video, including the drummer that's on the tracks, 'cause we videoed everything.
Dustin: Oh wow. That's awesome.
Phil X: So that would be a lot of fun. Yeah, and it's pretty amazing, 'cause I'm doing the cutting myself. So when I'm in the studio and I got Abe Laboriel Jr. from Paul McCartney's band that played on one of our killer tunes, and I also have a guest vocalist, Doug Pinnick, from King's X. He was one of my favorite singers. He's on a track, and that track just came out. It's just three guys jamming live off the floor, and then Doug sang his parts and I sang my parts, and it's such a cool jam. So having Doug in the video too, and he's singing, and then when you get Abe doing his thing, he's one of the most emotionally charged drummers ever, so when I got the clip of him and I synced it up with the record track and you see what he's doing while you're hearing it, those moments are like, "Ah! Kill me, kill me, kill me." It's so good you want to end because nothing could exist after that, you know what I mean?
Phil X: It sounds so dramatic actually, but you know what I mean.
Dustin: No, no, no. I get it, though. That's how you feel. You feel like, "I could die right now because everything's so good. Fucking take me." I love it.
Phil X: Yeah.
Jeff: That's excellent.
Dustin: Those are great moments.
Jeff: Well, I'm so excited for all this coming out from the Drills. Is there any news this year for Bon Jovi? You guys are doing more touring, right?
Phil X: Yeah. Actually we're going to Russia, Europe, the UK, and Israel in June and July, and then we're hitting South America again at the end of September, October, Rock in Rio, which we did in 2017. Yeah. We did it in 2017 or '16? I forget. '17.
Phil X: But we're doing it. That's a pretty amazing event of 100000 people.
Dustin: Yeah, that'll be insane.
Phil X: That's pretty awesome. We're doing that again. That's exciting.
Jeff: That's exciting. Well, you are-
Phil X: I love having the two different canvases. The Drills will play 200 people somewhere, and then you walk on an arena or a stadium and play with Bon Jovi.
Dustin: Are they equally fun?
Phil X: Being able to do both is pretty amazing. What was that? Sorry.
Dustin: Are they equally fun to you?
Phil X: With the risk of getting fired, I love doing the Drills more 'cause it's my songs. It's closer to me.
Jeff: We got Jon on the other line here. No, I'm just kidding.
Phil X: I'm not surprised. I was just kidding, man. I was joking. I wanted to see what you'd say. No. It's amazing.
Jeff: I get it, though.
Phil X: You know what? I've learned that a mega band like Bon Jovi, the fans are incredible. They truly are insane. Who wouldn't say? In Bon Jovi, I can only give a large piece of myself, and when I do the Drills, it's all of me, so who wouldn't choose that?
Phil X: The thing is is that a lot of Bon Jovi fans have been showing up at Drills shows.
Dustin: Yeah. That's [crosstalk].
Phil X: That's an amazing thing, too. I remember even in 2013 when I was still filling in and I was in Madrid. I think it was Madrid, Spain. I'm in the hotel lobby and somebody runs up and he goes, "Phil, Phil, can you sign something for me?" I'm like, "Sure." So what do they pull out? Drills CDs.
Dustin: That's so cool, man.
Phil X: That went, "What?" That was an amazing epiphany, if you can call it that. It's like, "Wow, man." And then, it's funny, 'cause then, "Oh, and I love the lyrics to this song. It really made me," and I'm like, "Wait, you bought my CDs and you listened to them?"
Jeff: Oh man. Dude, I'm so happy for all the success that you've got. You deserve it, because you really work hard and like I said, it's totally inherent that you love what you do and it's refreshing and inspiring to see that in someone for sure. For as busy as you are, I can't thank you enough for taking time and talking with us.
Phil X: Dude, like I said, it's spreading the word, right, a positive word to all the youngins.
Jeff: Yeah. Awesome, man. Yeah. This was a lot of fun. I know we'll be in touch for sure.
Phil X: Awesome.
Phil X: Thanks guys.
Dustin: Appreciate it, my dude.
Phil X: Woo!
Jeff: Yeah. Awesome.
Phil X: Oh wait, the shirt. I was wearing a jacket. I was on a plane, and a lady just saw the skull. She didn't see Death Wish or anything. She goes, "Where'd you get that shirt? I need a shirt like that for Halloween. My son wants to be a pirate." I'm like, "I get it, but yeah, it's coffee."
Jeff: Yeah, but it's coffee. That's awesome.