Interview with Phil Cook

southland-mission-phil-cookLast week, WQHS chatted with Phil Cook – singer-songwriter, banjoist, and musician – about his solo tour and debut solo album, Southland Mission. Check out what he had to say, and catch his live show on April 5 at Boot and Saddle at 9PM.

WQHS: How would you describe yourself to listeners who aren’t familiar with your music?

Phil Cook: I’m just a huge fan of the music that is grown and developed out of this country and all of its roots and branches. I’m someone who just seeks to join people together in celebrating that music.

WQHS: You just released your debut solo album Southland Mission – can you highlight a few tracks that really represent your sound?

PC: I would say that “Great Tide” is a really great song. To me, it’s the centerpiece of the record; it contains my best efforts to date of songwriting, composition, sound, and arrangement. All that stuff comes together in a great way that is filtered through this Southern music blend. There’s a lot of Louisiana shuffle influences: a lot of the grooves that we play are based in some kind of swing or shuffle or something that’s very much an American tradition, and we try to celebrate that. “Sitting on a Fence” is a great one because it brings together some twang, some punk, some soul, humility, and just a little bit of bravado in one five-minute time period.

WQHS: You’re a banjoist, pianist, and singer – what’s your favorite instrument to play and perform with?

PC: My performing has evolved a lot. I’ve performed on piano since I was 4 so I’m very used to that. I’m most comfortable playing piano live – I can close my eyes and dive in. Guitar I’m less familiar with, but at the same time I can stand up and walk around and interact with people.

WQHS: How is it different being a solo performer versus being in your band Megafaun?

PC: Being a solo artist is great, I’m really loving it. It’s all new, there’s just new aspects of it – leading a band, writing songs, making decision I haven’t had to make before. With all newness comes a bit of being uncomfortable, but in the middle of it feels great. I’m enjoying myself a lot.

WQHS: You used to be in a band with Justin Vernon (Bon Iver). What’s your favorite Bon Iver song?

PC: I love “Calgary” – that’s a great tune. I don’t know, it’s hard for me to separate his music. Its one whole thing to me the way I feel it. It’s a very specific place that I go to when I hear his voice.

WQHS: Southland Mission is a highly collaborative affair. What future collabs would you love to do?

PC: I want to collaborate for the rest of my life. Bigger, wider, deeper, all that shit. I’m all in for collaborations. I’ve got some upcoming – Blind Boys of Alabama, Bruce Hornsby, the Franchettes (a gospel group from North Carolina) and a lot in the future. I’m hoping for Mavis Staples and other people like that who are my heroes. And they’re far away and I’m fine with taking a long time to work towards them. But yeah, the process of collaborating with people who are your heroes and your elders makes a lot of sense to me in terms of how I live my life, how I learn, and what I hold important.

WQHS: What’s next for you after this debut album and tour? Do you have plans for a second album as a solo artist?

PC: I have plans for a second child at the end of May, so that’s the next biological album that drops for me. Another band will be releasing an album in the fall I’ll be with, doing some festivals, but it’s all mostly touring-based and show-based stuff. I’m hoping to get more studio stuff this fall as well. I love both being in the studio and being on tour, I think they both exercise really great parts of what I love about music.

WQHS: Favorite moment in a live performance?

PC: I would say we just played a show in Chapel Hill at the Cat’s Cradle, and it was during a snow storm. Everything was canceled but we had a show anyway and had a huge crowd of people that walked through the snow. We had an incredible, incredible performance onstage. The group dynamic and community spirit in the room that everyone braved the elements to be there made the atmosphere really special. That was great. Absolutely wonderful.

WQHS: Ever been to Philly? Got a favorite spot?

PC: I like Boot and Saddle, I’ve played Johnny Brenda’s 5000 times, Unitarian Church, a lot of great venues in Philly. I like sandwiches at Pizano’s – there’s lots of cool shit there, man. I like record shopping in Philly too. Sometimes I wish people folded their arms less in Philadelphia, but sometimes, that’s just what you get.

The tour is going really well and we’re all really stoked and excited to be playing every night- it’s awesome so far.

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