By Michael Dunn
CALGARY – Calgary’s Tom Phillips has seen bands, venues, and players come and go in his 30 some-odd years as a professional musician. But the one constant in his time playing the bars of southern Alberta has always been a widespread interest in songwriting.
“I think there are a lot of people around here that are interested in songwriting, the craft of it,” Phillips tells BeatRoute after his regular Tuesday night jam at The Blues Can in Calgary. “Whether they’re younger and just starting out, or older and established, I think the Calgary music scene has always been about writing good songs. When I met Lorrie, we were both working at A&B Sound downtown. I was writing songs, and he was writing songs, completely different styles of course, but songs have always been the main thing.”
Lorrie, of course, is Lorrie Matheson, who Phillips enlisted to produce his latest record, Plastic Machine. it’s their second full-length together, after Matheson produced Phillips’ album of slightly off-kilter and obscure covers, Mister Superlove, in 2015.
“Much the same way we did Mister Superlove, the band hadn’t played these songs yet, so we all went in and worked them up in the studio,” says Phillips. “I like doing that with Lorrie because he’s got cool ideas for arrangements and production that aren’t exactly honky-tonk. I went in with my ideas, you know basic arrangements and ideas for about 20 songs, and we worked them up a little and decided what fit for a record. I like working in that room, you know? It’s a small room, everyone’s in there together and Lorrie’s right there too, and it all feels very immediate, really present and in the moment.”
Phillips has always been eager to finish the work and get it out to people, but with being so close to home at Arch Audio, and a few personal commitments coming up, he and Matheson decided to take a bit of a breather between sessions.
“We did a full week session, and then my daughter got married the following weekend, so we took time in studio when we could get it. I like doing that, it gave us time to feel everything out a little more. Sometimes we would question certain things, and were able listen back to everything and gain a different perspective on the music we were making.”
The band featured on Plastic Machine is Phillips’ new ensemble, The Difficult Transitions, or DTs, which formed through his aforementioned weekly jams at The Blues Can. It’s a different spin on Phillips’ sound with his other group, The Men of Constant Sorrow, which leans a little closer to traditional country.
“It’s funny, the band kind of formed around this gig here at The Blues Can,” says Phillips. “The Zadravec sisters [Shaye and Sydney] are in the band full-time now, singing backing vocals and playing acoustic and Nashville-tuned acoustic, and Tim Leacock’s playing both upright and electric bass, with Geoff Brock on guitar and Ian Grant on drums. It was really fortunate, Tina offered me the gig here, and it gave me an opportunity to put something a little different together. I love playing honky-tonk with The Men of Constant Sorrow, but this is a little bit different, and I’m really enjoying it.”
Catch Tom Phillips and the Difficult Transitions every Tuesday at the Blues Can (Calgary).Blues Can, Difficult Transitions, machine dream, Plastic fantastic, Tom Phillips