A CONVERSATION WITH KELLY JOE PHELPS
Puremusic: Sorry, man. It took a little while to track you down. The number I got turned out to be the voice mail of some lady in the theater department.
Kelly Joe Phelps: Oh, man.
PM: I hope it doesn't cramp your schedule or style that I'm calling twenty minutes--
KJP: No, I'm okay.
PM: Okay, good. So, we met ever so briefly at that show you played at the Bluebird in the round with Steve Earle, Eric Taylor, and Greg Trooper.
KJP: Right, right.
PM: So how you doing, man, you working hard?
KJP: Yeah, well, I'm just getting started. I've only played two dates on this tour so far. It's going to last a couple months. I'm trying to pace the energy.
PM: Yeah, right. This new record, Slingshot Professionals, I think it's really, really great. It's the best one, I think, don't you?
KJP: Thanks very much. I like it--still. [laughs]
PM: Right, after hearing it a thousand times.
KJP: Yeah. It was a lot of fun to do, though.
PM: It's such a different conception from the ground up than anything you've done so far.
PM: There are so few singer songwriters who play at your level. As a result, do you find that people tend to regard you first as a player and second as a writer?
KJP: Yeah, I think that's a general sweep, for sure. But it's understandable if only because up to this point the music has been centered around the guitar. The recorded history, anyway, of what I do highlights the guitar far more, so maybe it'll just be a matter of time until that kind of focus is changed.
PM: Because certainly, yeah, the scope has grown, and the songwriting just seems to get deeper and sharper, and I don't know, pardon the expression, more brilliant every record.
KJP: Oh, great, thanks. I mean, that's where my energies are going. Developing as a musician over time is a very slow process, and usually you can only see it when you look back at what you've done, rather than at what you're doing. So you spend a lot of time trying to figure that shit out. Really what I'm trying to do is figure out a way to use words in a personal way--I mean, in a personally creative way.
PM: Right, something that's you.
PM: Strictly as players, though, do any favorite songwriters come to mind?
KJP: I'm sure there's a lot of them out there.
PM: There's precious few, I think.
KJP: [laughs] Oh, okay.
PM: But that's why I asked.
KJP: Well, man, I pay so little attention to it that they can slip by me without me even noticing. But no, there's not a lot, at least in my scope of vision, meaning what I see out there. It's hard to find people who inspire me to do something musically.
PM: It's funny that the kinds of people who like to write a great song and the kinds of people who just love to play their guitar are not necessarily the same people. And you're becoming one of those same people--"Yeah, I love to play the fricking guitar, and I'm all about a song."
KJP: Yeah, yeah, right. Who knows why that situation is? It's always surprised me that these types of musicians didn't pay more attention to the instrument.
PM: Yeah! People are often saying to me, "Frank, I like your songs, and you're using all those chords from the back of the book." And I'm thinking, "Are you serious? This is only the middle of the book. I mean, come on, get into it."
KJP: Guitar is an odd instrument, man, because there are very few instruments you can get away with being a hack on.
KJP: You know what I mean?
PM: I think that's part of it.
KJP: I mean, imagine, what saxophone player is going to get a gig if he can't play the damn thing?
PM: Yeah, right, it's like, "Hey, get off the stage, Clinton."
KJP: Well, this is turning into a good interview. continue