|Out Of The Blue
Publications Association, LLC
Interview: Styx Bassist Ricky Phillips
For 70’s rock band Styx, traveling the road continues to be a lifestyle and each city stop along the way is still what they
call home. The band’s timeless songs, precise live arena-rock sound, and early progressive rock influence carries on
to each generation.
In this interview with Out Of The Blue, Styx bassist Ricky Phillips discusses his upcoming album with late-guitarist
Ronnie Montrose, the characteristics of writing a timeless song, the band unity within Styx and much more.
OOTB: What is currently happening with Sytx?
We’re on the road as per usual. We’re on the road over 200 days a year and that’s kind of our lifestyle. It’s a fun show
to take city to city and we have a lot of songs to choose from, so the set’s never really the same from night to night
which makes it never get monotonous. It’s brought younger fans as well as a lot of the older fans. We’re out there
beating the turf some place doing a show all the time.
"I love being in a band, I get that. I've been in bands with guys who should not be in bands because
they don't get it."
OOTB: Since the band tours for a major chunk of the year, I bet you feel kind of lost when you’re not on the road.
(laughs) Well, I feel lost most of the time. (laughs) There was a period when Styx called me up and I was in the studio
for 12 hours, 14, 16 hours a day doing projects and that was kind of my lifestyle. I do kind of immerse myself in
whatever it is I’m going to take on. I don’t know if it’s the road life or the band life. I love being in a band, I get that.
I’ve been in bands with guys who should not be in bands because they don’t get it. They don’t know there’s a time
to speak up and there’s a time to shut up. To make the whole thing work, everybody’s got to know what their voice
is and where they’re useful. This band gets that and that’s one of the reasons I said "yes" to joining. Anybody who
has ever been in Styx, there has been some sort of connection. I was honored when I got the phone call because
Todd Sucherman [Styx drummer] and I did session work together in Los Angeles and I was always frustrated by the
fact that he was in Styx and I couldn’t work with him more. That’s a very exciting thing for a bass player, first of all to
be able to have that connection where all of a sudden for whatever reason your two specific styles just merge and melt
together to make a greater thing. There’s a lot of great guys that I’ve emulated and learned from such as John Bonham
and John Paul Jones. It was just one of those things that was a special element of me being here where I am right now
at this point in my career with Styx.
OOTB: Having such a large catalog of music, how do you decide on a set list from show to show?
There’s more to a set than just throwing songs together, so there has to be some type of choreography with how the
set moves. We put something together last night that was really cool so we’ll probably just do this set for awhile, then
if we get bored of it in a week or two, we’ll change something up or add a song.
"...there has to be something unique about the melody and how infections the melody is."
OOTB: With Styx having so many long-lasting pivotal songs, what would you say are some of the key parts to writing
songs like that now?
I think, in the case of Styx anyway, there has to be something unique about the melody and how infectious the melody
is. Songs that are very redundant I think are short-lived. They may be immediate hits, but they don’t have that
expansive time. There’s a song by Styx that’s a great example. A song called “Fooling Yourself,” which is not the first
place you go when you think of Styx. That’s not the first song that comes to mind. Some people think of “Renegade,”
some people think of “Come Sail Away,” “Too Much Time On My Hands.” But the song “Fooling Yourself” is a very,
very classy well-written, well-performed song that is one of those songs that whenever we go to play that song, I can
see the wave of response in the audience reacting to it. You can tell they’re excited even before you’ve gotten into the
first four bars. It changes time signatures, the melody is interesting, the storyline is interesting. It’s a cool song because
it poses that sense of being positive out of approaching the world from a negative side. So, there’s a cool message on
top of a cool arrangement that goes into this spacey, wacky keyboard middle section and then back with a huge
chorus. It’s a very clever song. I think what happens is that people are trying to write songs with a formula and you
do that and sure you can write a perfect song with that formula of verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge or solo or
whatever. And maybe it’s great, but there’s got to be something about the song, maybe one little catch phrase melody
that’s maybe on an instrument right on the vocal, maybe a time change that is so seamless that it doesn’t throw people
off. Something. There’s got to be some ingredient and usually that comes from writing a bunch of stuff and not trying
to be the flavor of the month, not trying to fit in, not trying to do what’s going on. Do what’s coming out of your gut,
your soul, your heart, your crotch and just let it happen. Then you get enough of those recorded and you might find
your sweet spot and your style and from there you might have something.
"There's a gift and a craziness and I think an insanity to every one of us that do this."
"... there's just something that happens when bands get it. There's some magic that's undeniable."
OOTB: What has been the biggest bump you’ve encountered personally in your career? Even going back to The
Babys and Bad English.
I think the people in music are the biggest challenge to overcome really. I think people getting along, people being able
to add to the mix, you know, add to the batch, the recipe and not detract from it. In the past I worked with a lot of guys
that really didn’t play well with others and that’s the biggest challenge. And all the guys I’m thinking of, I loved working
with. There’s a gift and a craziness and I think an insanity to every one of us that do this. There’s a wild side and you
can’t tame it or there’s goes the gift. There has to be a beauty to how all that creativity is released and some people
don’t have that ability. Usually you get into a certain point of your career where you’re good, you’re real good, you’re
better than most and so now how can you take that talent and present it and preserve it, be happy with it and let it
flourish. That’s the challenge. There’s so many bands out there that have a short lifespan because it burns out too
quick. It’s all real good, but the guys either get tired or one guy doesn’t want to do anybody else’s way but his and
those are things that I think are detrimental. I love the sound that’s created from a collaborative effort as opposed to
one guy. I do a lot of stuff where I play all the instruments, I write the entire song, I’ve done some great stuff that
comes out sounding really good, but nothing is as good as five guys or three guys or six guys whatever it is,
contributing. I don’t know why, they could even being playing the same parts, but there’s just something that
happens when bands get it. There’s some magic that’s undeniable.
"... I had some struggles there for awhile when there was a big change going on in the music world."
OOTB: Has there ever been a time when you thought about throwing in the towel?
Oh yeah. Man, when I found myself in Hollywood trying to produce projects and find good work. I had just done a
record with Jimmy Page and David Coverdale [Coverdale/Page] and I had really good ends with record companies,
but all the record companies were saying, “you know what, we’re not signing anything, we’re trying to figure it all out.”
Fans were rejecting anything that was ‘80s at that time and looking for something new. Nirvana, Alice In Chains, Stone
Temple Pilots. There were some really cool bands happening, but it was a rarified era. All of a sudden everything was
getting squeezed out. So, I started producing and I started writing music for film and television. Some of it I loved and
some of it I realized, “I don’t get this.” I tried to look for things outside of music to see if I could go with film production
or anything. (laughs) To pay the mortgage, I had to go back into my studio and force myself to be creative and I ended
up writing some really good stuff. I had a couple things done in film, got a few things put on television. It was always
music that was the savior for me and brought me out of it. I never really had a great length of time outside of music.
Although I had some struggles there for awhile when there was a big change going on in the music world. I started
working with my old friend Ronnie Montrose at that time, that was a great time.
OOTB: What would you turn to other than music?
When I went to school I was a psych major, but I specialized in not just child behavior, but I worked with hardcore
juvenile delinquents in summer camps while I was going to San Francisco State. I had a job waiting for me at the
probation department in California and that’s when I realized, “you know what, I’m not ready for this.” It was an intense,
heavy thing to get involved in. Working that passionately about anything I do I knew would have taken a huge toll
on myself and I needed to realize my musical aspirations before I got into that. I’ve always tried to be involved in
certain things and causes that deal with young people trying to find their way. Maybe that’s why I like the song
“Fooling Yourself.” It’s something that I’ve never committed to fully, so I saved myself from becoming an alcoholic
through those endeavors. (laughs)
OOTB: What projects are you working on outside of Styx right now?
I rarely have time to produce projects anymore. Right now the only project I’m working on outside of Styx is a record
that Ronnie Montrose and I did before he passed away. There’s a lot of great singers on it. It was Ronnie, myself and
Eric Singer [drummer] from KISS. We laid down ten tracks with different singers. Sammy Hagar did a track,
Mark Farner from Grand Funk did a track, Edgar Winter did a track, Gregg Rolie did a track. There’s a lot of great
singers on it. It’s one of those things that I need to finish this thing and get it mixed and out there. That’s the only thing
I’ve sort of taken on, I’m producing that project just by default. I’m really the only one that knows the music and Ronnie
was such a dear friend that I want to do this for him.
"...Ronnie wanted to do something that was real and not put together in a studio by a producer and
overproduced with all the magic taken out."
OOTB: Do you have a tentative release date?
Well, there’s a lot of people telling me when that’s going to be and I’m trying to explain to them that it’s done when it’s
done. It’s Ronnie’s last music that he wrote for a project and I think it deserves to be done properly. We tried to do it
all old school on 2-inch tape on an old Stephens Machine. We did it without any computers, but because we wanted
all these singers to get involved we did have to eventually make digital copies of everything so that people could do
their own work in their own studios. Absolutely any mistake that was made is still there. It’s real fresh. It’s so cool
because Ronnie wanted to do something that was real and not put together in a studio by a producer and
overproduced with all the magic taken out.
OOTB: Has that been difficult in general for you with recording and technological advances?
Well, I was just going to say I think the challenge is getting your ear used to digital sounds. Digital has come a long
way, digital sounds amazing now. When I first started recording digital I was so frustrated. It differed sonically and
the fidelity was just not there yet. Now it is. Whenever I hear something that was recorded on tape it still has something
special to it. It’s the natural compression and a lot of other factors that go into it, but I’m over it now. It took me several
years before I even started hearing anything that even came close to me saying, “well, okay, it’s not tape, but at least
it’s something that’s good in different way.”
OOTB: You’ve worked with a lot of musicians throughout your career, what musician have you not collaborated with
that you’ve always wanted to?
Oh, man. I’ve always said that if I could ever work with Jeff Beck. I love Jeff Beck’s band that he has right now.
Vinnie Colaiuta is one of the best drummers I think in the world and Tal Wilkenfeld, she plays just the coolest vibey
stuff with Beck. I would love to rock out with Jeff, I’d love to go in and do something balls out and full on. I’d like to take
him to a place that he probably hasn’t gone in a little while. I mean, that’s the thing, if I can wish I can wish the style,
I can wish anything, right? (laughs) All sides of Jeff Beck blow my mind, but there’s a side to him when he gets edgy
and tough and it’s still got ballsy rock & roll undertones. There’s very few guys that I think can even come close to him.
OOTB: What’s next for Styx?
Well, we’re always writing. That’s something that I don’t think people realize because whatever stations can play
Styx songs already have four or five Styx songs to play on heavy rotation. Instead of being the recording industry
where you record a record then you tour that record, now it’s the touring industry. All the rules have been changed
and redefined. If we were to write a closing song for a film or something from another outside angle, that would
probably warrant us to get into the studio all together again. We haven’t done it in a few years. The one thing I should
say about Styx is that everybody not only gets it as a band, but everybody is so good. I’ll get a board mix from a show
and I’ll put it in the computer in my room, throw on the headphones and it’s impossible to believe that it's a live
performance. Song after song after song, vocals are spot on. It’s not exactly perfect every night, but there’s many
nights where it’s just absolutely flawless and I’ve never really experienced that with a band before. This band goes on
firing all cylinders and then at the end of the night we come off stage dripping wet, toweling off and saying, “you know
what, tomorrow night let’s do this, this and this to make it better.” I think the motto of 'let’s make tomorrow’s show better
than last night’s show' really resonates to motivate and move us forward.
The Midwest Rock 'N Roll Express Tour 2013 featuring Styx and REO Speedwagon will stop at Kettering, Ohio in
Fraze Pavilion on Tuesday, June 25 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $35.
Styx on Facebook
Styx on Twitter
Ricky Phillips Website
Styx and REO Speedwagon will perform in Kettering at Fraze Pavilion Tues. June 25
and return to Ohio for the Ohio State Fair on Sun. July 28. (Photo By Ash Newell)
Styx bassist Ricky Phillips. (Photo By Missie Tong, OOTB)
|OOTB PUBLICATIONS | OOTB646.COM
|Local & National Entertainment Coverage Since 2001. For The Fans, By The Fans.