John Phillips on collaborating with others and following his own path

“I really wanted to go solo, so I could have the flexibility of not being stuck with a very strict band structure."

Australian indie musician John Phillips has been productively collaborating on a range of different projects, which includes a special tribute album that is dedicated to Greg Ham from Men At Work, and a music project and documentary called Bent Trax that draws upon different material created by the band Kikx.
Phillips has also just produced his new solo electronica gem So Tired (What A Year It’s Been), which integrates stunning beach visuals and a dynamic array of improvisation and warped guitar sounds.
“I was in the studio, exhausted and had been working on some other stuff with some other musicians,” Phillips says. “They all left and I was in this half tired state when I had this idea. I started mucking around with a rough sketch in GarageBand and within 20 minutes that whole thing evolved.”
Phillips didn’t want to produce a fixed pop-rock song, but rather wanted to create something that had off-the-wall spoken word and humour in it.
“I had a dinner party here sometime later back in Castlemaine, and I played the roughs and a lot of people said ‘Look JP, you should put that out,’” Phillips says. “It lay around on the shelf for a year or two, and then I thought ‘Okay I’ll do something with it and finish this one off’.”
In the developmental stages of So Tired (What a year it’s been), Phillips’ daughter, Nadia, an upcoming singer-songwriter, also contributed piano improvisations to it. Phillips brainstormed with other ideas, branching out to his childhood growing up on the beach in Geelong.
“I wanted to do a tribute to surf culture in Geelong, so we shot it in Bells Beach and later on at Port Douglas,” Phillips says. “In a sense, it was an assemblage of a whole lot of things over a couple of years, and one thing I wanted to do, since I’m a guitar player, is to return to some of that ‘70s freeform psychedelic improvisation guitar-y stuff.”
After playing in bands such as Unk The Funk, Kikx, Goanna and Urban Principle, Phillips eventually developed the desire to write his own material and go solo.
“I’ve always kept it open, since I like to do side projects with other acts and other artists,” Phillips says. “But I got to a point in the early ‘90s where I really wanted to go solo, so I could have the flexibility of not being stuck with a very strict band structure.
“I wanted to be able to write and work in a studio and bring in whoever I thought would be suitable for that track, and that’s what I’ve done ever since.”
Phillips is also expanding his filming through his two latest projects, one of them involving his collaboration on a documentary that will highlight Kikx’s legacy.
“I've been shooting interviews with the key band members and collaborators,” Phillips says. “There was also a lot of material lying around and that took about five years work to pull together from fans and people who knew us.
“We wanted to assemble that body of work, and there was also an unearthed, unreleased album that we found. But for now, we’re going to do a one-off performance for this show in Geelong. It’s musicians in Geelong over the decades that have pulled this big event together.”
The second project involves Phillips collaborating with UK producer Lee Simeone, who is aiming to produce a tribute album to Greg Ham from Men At Work.
“Lee knew that I’d worked at Greg’s studio and I’d done a couple of film projects with Greg, and Greg had been a mentor to me for over ten years,” Phillips says. “What Lee wanted to do was gather together a lot of people via the internet to contribute to this project.
“One of the tracks had been recorded at Abbey Road studios, and I was invited to contribute guitar parts and some singing to it. That track is one of the songs that Greg wrote that was on the last Men At Work album and that’s in the process of coming to official release.”

John Phillips’ latest single So Tired (What a Year it’s Been!) is out now. Keep up to date with music and tour news at his website johnphillips.com.au.