5 Minutes With Kallan Phillips (Big Splash Wild Card)
Picked as a Wild Card semi-final entrant, Kallan Phillips chats to Bob Gordon about the premature death of his beard.
Words by Bob Gordon. Images within by Rachael Barrett.
Kallan Phillips on being picked as a Wild Card semi-finalist in The Big Splash:
“Well funnily enough, I’d been growing a bit of a beard prior to our Big Splash heat, and told myself that I’d shave it unless we got through. Got a call about the Wild Card right after shaving, so I felt somewhat miffed, initially. It was cool though, we came into that heat expecting some fierce competition, so to make it through even as a Wild Card was super flattering. Knowing now that three of the four acts from the night have made it through to the semis adds to the honour, too. Initially, I entered The Big Splash hoping that it might get me a bit of publicity and allow me to test if my peculiar brand music has legs in Perth, and it’s been a good sounding board in a way. It also forced me to release Lady From Shanghai, since I’ve been sitting on that one for a couple of years now and figured it was probably a good idea to have some new music kicking around for the semi-final.”
It’s anything but an existentialist crisis for this singer/songwriter.
Semi-Final #1 of The Big Splash happens at Badlands this Friday tonight, August 19, with Moistoyster, Moon Puppy Blues Band, Mung Dahl, Hip Priest
and Kallan Phillips.
Semi-Final #2 is at Badlands next Friday, August 26, with Figurehead, POW! Negro, Crystal Moth, Segue Safari and Moana.
Kallan Phillips’ musical upbringing sounds like a reluctant pursuit at best. Clearly though, he’s swung things around.
“I grew up singing in church and my parents put me through piano lessons as a kid,” he recalls. “I quit singing when my voice dropped - thanks puberty - and also quit piano around the same time.
“Then after a couple of years I decided to join a school band, and picked up guitar overnight. All credit to Eric Clapton and my dad - who's an awesome guitarist and singer in his own right - with teaching me guitar by osmosis. I didn't start singing again until a couple of years later, when I rocked up to church and was told I was gonna be singing lead that morning by a lady who loved to put me on the spot. Hated her at the time, but quite glad in retrospect.”
It was an unusual and at-odds path into music, which has made for an intriguing mindset in terms of the kind of artist Phillips would like to be.
“I've gone through a bunch of stages,” he says, “but these days I think I just want to make music which captures my headspace while still having a bit of funk about it. I'm a singer/songwriter in the sense that I tend to be quite introspective, lyrically, but I want to have an exploratory quality with the music too. Evocative of a mood like Gaye's Troubleman or the theme from the under-appreciated ‘90s Australian TV drama, Water Rats.”
An interesting set of goals, to be sure, but wherever it is, Phillips says he’s getting there.
“It's a difficult balancing act,” he notes, “since I'm leaning on a lot of existentialist writing for lyrical inspiration and while it might be fun for me, it's very easy to become self-indulgent and rather boring for everyone else. I'm trying to pare down my perfectionism somewhat, so the music I'm making might not necessarily be the grand, post-modern commentary on the human experience which my ego wants it to be, but at the very least it'll be a CD worth putting on in the car when you forget your aux cable.”
Taking his music to the stage in a band format, Phillips in currently joined in trio mode by Norberto Flamenco (keys/synth bass) and Dave Rajendram (drums) with an emphasis on individual musicianship.
“It's been cool, I made a point of playing a gig a month last year and it helped me to grow as a performer and make some cool network connections. I've been gigging acoustically for a long time now, and vocally I feel I have that down pat – but singing in a band is another world entirely, so developing vocal confidence in that arena has been a learning curve. We did a really cool Sunday night gig at The Moon a month or so back, it was packed so people were sitting on the floor and giving us their undivided attention which was super-flattering.
“All of the current crop of tunes we perform started life as instrumental beats, which I've worked on, scrapped, remade and generally toyed with over the last four years. I usually only begin working on lyrics when I feel absolutely happy with the musical element – and generally the process of lyric writing throws up a few snags. It's been four years of work though – somewhat hampered by my decision to record everything on my own, and in Garageband - and my friends have all bullied me significantly for promising an EP for that long, so I've been trying to reign in my critical gaze in order to finalise a release.”
That said, Phillips has only just released a single, Lady From Shanghai, so things are on the up-and-up.
“I made the beat for this one after listening to a Fugees song – they do this sick beat drop on Dave Chappelle’s Block Party when they play Nappy Heads and I wanted to replicate that. Over two years it kind of morphed away from that entirely into a more D’Angelo/Neo-Soul influenced tune, retaining only the chord progression. The title and main hook was inspired by the Orson Welles’ film noir of the same name, and is sort of about projecting when it comes to the idea of relationships. A lady from Shanghai is a person whose intentions I do not know, but I presume to nevertheless. Or at least that's what I think it's about, who knows though?”
An EP is in the works, with Phillips joking that it should be ready “by 2038.” With his musical momentum building, however, we’re sure it’ll see the light of day much sooner than later.
“I'm hoping it appeals to people who aren't necessarily a fan of the traditional verse/chorus/bridge song structure, and like some mild left turns in their music,” Phillips says. “Along with Rhodes e-piano. Lots of Rhodes.”
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