Interview with Rob Rowley at The Grain Division

I had to talk to this guy after his latest CD Ghost Story blew me away one night. April 2004.

Rob: Hello. Please take the time to introduce yourself….

Phideaux: Hey Rob et al, I’m Phideaux Xavier and I live in L.A. where I do most of my recording. My drummer lives in NYC, where I also live some of the time. I consider myself a recording artist, mostly because I don’t have a band and need to live in L.A. for work purposes. I work in TV production to fund my overblown concept albums. So, anyhow, I’ve been a fan of music since I was old enough to hear and always wanted to make my own albums. I’ve liked the way music can transport you to an alternate reality. In a sense, music for me was like a time machine or phantom tollbooth. I’ve also always been a wee bit mad and been drawn to the quirkier songs, like early Zappa, Dukes Of Stratosphere, Syd Barrett, Beatles – anything that told a story. I’m not much for the love song (although I do enjoy some of ‘em)

Rob: From what I can gather, Phideaux the band is a studio-based project lead by yourself including a regular cast of others who record songs written by you…. what exactly is the set up?

Phideaux: Well Rich Hutchins is the drummer and everything flows forth from my team with him. The first album was a bit of a defining experience because during the final phase I was reintroduced to my Producer/Engineer/Sound Advisor Gabriel Moffat who is the glue that puts it all together. Although I have many musician friends, I’ve tried to limit the involvement to a predictable crop of folks who will repeat thru the albums and years. But, I consider the “Band” to be Rich, Valerie Gracious and Ariel Farber and Mark Sherkus. Other contributors include Rich’s wife Julie Hair and Gabriel’s wife Molly Ruttan Moffat and her sister Linda Ruttan Moldawsky. We all have played together in various incarnations over the past several years. Molly, Linda, Valerie and I were in a psychedelic pop punk band called “Sally Dick and Jane” in the late 80s and Ariel and I were in a folk rock experience called “The SunMachine” in the 90s. Rich and I have had a recording connection since 1997 and we also played together in a band called “Satyricon” until I moved out to L.A. in 1998.

Rob: Explain to the good people about your music and have a stab at defining your style….

Phideaux: My stuff is oft described best by others, but if I had to say it…. I play a kind of pretentious, proto prog, spacefolk rock music. I think there are elements of Joy Division and Jethro Tull, but people mostly tell me it is Bowie and Moody Blues (odd bedfellows). My vocal teacher tells me I do “storybook rock” – a term I’ve never before heard, but sounds appropriate. Although it is funny because early Genesis with Peter Gabriel had balls and venom, not so namby pamby as folks think nowadays. I would like to think folks get the humour in my stuff, but sometimes they say I’m pretty “SERIOUSSSSS”. Ah well, it’s all a developing catalogue…

Rob: You describe yourself as a ‘musical alchemist’, what are your key influences?

Phideaux: Well, I have a wide musical taste because my older sister (Jeri Riggs, quilted the cover for “Fiendish”) turned me onto music when I was a wee boy. So my musical tastes start in Mid 60’s and 70’s and then continue thru my own “era” of the 80s and thru to current music. As I mentioned, I like eclectic stuff, but mostly rock based. Anything Glam (Roxy, Alice, Bowie) post punk (Joy Division, Cure, Siouxsie) classic (Yes, Zep, Genesis) and brit rock (Supergrass, My Bloody Valentine, Boedekka). I also find myself now drawn to English folk and very depressing classical music.

Rob: ‘Ghost Story’ is your third comprehensive studio album; tell us about it, how does it compare to previous works?

Phideaux: Ghost Story is actually a retrofit of an album I never released. We dusted it off, re-recorded bits and generally gave it a new coat of paint. I’m glad I did because I like the songs and they deserve to be heard. But I’m torn on calling it a “re-release” because A) it was never released and B) it bears little resemblance to the original piece. It is more ROCK and I limited myself to a core group of three musicians and myself. I sang all the vocals, which is a different colour from my “mamas and papas” animal/animus stuff. I plan to go further in the direction of my partnership with Ariel and Valerie, but it is nice to also do the totally Male bonding rock album.

Rob: From the sleeve notes…. ‘A lullaby in nine movements’ and it refers to ‘your haunting’, can you talk us through the album concept?

Phideaux: Well the album concept is not truly comprehensive as such. There is no overlaying theme, but I liked the title “Ghost Story” and it conjured up those old tales you’d hear at summer camp on camping trips, whatnot. I like to sing about two or three things: Strange phenomena, personal reflection and redemption. So, aside from the delusional paranoia and metaphysical word salads, “Ghost Story” is a collection of somewhat unpleasant stories and musings. Also, some of the songs came about quite instantaneously and felt like they were being wrenched forward across from the “great beyond” as though I didn’t actually write them. Something had some important thing to say and used me as it’s ouija board as such.

Rob: Where can people obtain your music?

Phideaux: Right now, I’m an online cottage industry and my music can be obtained on Amazon.com, CDBaby.com as well as some more boutique places such as Missingpiece.net an online shop for unusual and progressive music.

Rob: Tell me what you think about the music industry at large, Internet music and net piracy (my dissertation is on this very subject – and I asked the last lot the same question!)

Phideaux: Well, I am outside the music industry currently and it’s rather like ragging on the school prom cuz you can’t get a date, but for me, the Industry is pretty horrid and puts out middling music. I get my favourite new things from word of mouth or checking more independent sources. As for internet music, I wouldn’t feel good buying a song from apple store or whatever, because it feels so intangiable. If I like an artist I’d like to have the actual CD. I am on the fence as regards file sharing because it is just the same as making a cassette, although turbocharged. I don’t think an mp3 is ever going to be the same quality as the vinyl or cd format, but the kids don’t seem to mind. The industry has been predicting its own death for 20 years now and if the new crop of superstar musicians is any indication of what they are developing, then I won’t mind reading the obituary.

Personally, I’m glad to have folks download my music, but I hope it will cause them to buy a copy if they like it. However, I sell my stuff for anywhere from 5 – 8 dollars, so I try to keep it affordable. But, I work like a dog to earn money to fund my stuff, so if I was trying to earn my keep from my music (which I hope will happen sometime in my life) I’d probably be alarmed by the amount of online file sharing. But, in all things, I’ll default to the anarchist and underdog (not to be confused with terrorists mind you)

Rob: You told me the other day about your 24-hour-album project, that sounds like fun so tell us more….

Phideaux: Well I hired a studio, got several of my friends into it and said “Go” at 8 am on Saturday march 12 and concluded the session on Sunday March 13. We, sadly, failed to make an album in a day, but we did record the bones and some of the skin for 12-13 new songs. It might be an album, but I’ve not heard it since, so we will see. It was funny and fun to have no actual songs, but just ideas which we structured and morphed right on the spot. Participants were my singer friends Ariel, Molly and Linda. My keyboards maestro Mark Sherkus and drummer Rich Hutchins and Rich’s wife Julie Hair who played some bass, tore some paper and generally made a very fun vocal contribution to a song called “Run Singing Tiger” the words of which were inspired by a poem Gabe’s daughter Devon had written for school. I’m not above stealing from anyone, even my Producer’s 13 year old daughter!

Anyway, we had a lot of fun and tension and hopefully produced an artefact of rare and precious beauty. I’ll keep you posted on that one. I played more electric guitar than I normally do. One fun song emerged called “Have You Hugged Your Robot?”. I have high hopes for that!

Rob: Is there a plan for the future? What’s the next step, and is there any progress with securing a record deal?

Phideaux: I honestly don’t know the next step. I’m finishing up an album called “Chupacabras” which has some songs that didn’t work for “Fiendish” or “Ghost Story”. It is a bit of a clearing house, a lesser album for the friends and fans. Not exactly the album to win over folks. We have a week of sessions planned for April 4 to finish that one up. Cellist and Woodwind artist are already booked, so I’ll keep you posted.

I’m examining the results of my expensive experiment to see what happens if you give your album away for free to anyone in the world. I’ve sent copies across the globe and have gotten a bit of feedback, but folks rarely write to a musician with feedback, so it is a bit of an anti climax. But I’d like to make some more contacts in the music industry of independent labels who nurture unsual music. I’m going to have to be more proactive with “Ghost Story”. If I am to believe what folks tell me, it is more accessible than “Fiendish”, so any ideas are welcome and I’d love to hear from folks what they think of my stuff.