Im Interview: Phillip Smith

Foto: Dee Dee Kohl

Wie erging es euch, als ihr zum ersten Mal den Song Look Alive vom neuen Album Rebel Songs von Nathan Gray gehört habt? Hand auf’s Herz: wer hat sich bei dem dort enthaltenen Rap Part ebenfalls DIREKT in Phillip Smith, oder auch besser bekannt unter den Namen Eugenius, verliebt? So einige von euch, stimmt’s? Dachte ich es mir doch!

Faszinierend für mich war dabei tatsächlich, dass seine angenehme Stimme, sein musikalisches Talent, seine feine und geschmeidige Art des rappens sich so perfekt mit in diesen Song, mit in das gesamte Album einfügt, dass es mir so vorkommt, als wäre Phillip schon ewig an der Seite von Nathan. Es fühlt sich einfach heimisch, vertraut und verdammt richtig an. Welch ein Glücksgriff, welch eine Bereicherung für die Iron Roses Gang!

Nachdem gestern Bassist Jed zu Wort kam und damit feierlich die Releasewoche einläutete, geht es nun weiter mit Phillip: auch er fasst nochmal zusammen, wie diese Zusammenarbeit überhaupt zustande kam, was er an seiner neuen Familie liebt und schätzt und welche Songzeilen ihm besonders am Herzen liegen. Vielen Dank an Phillip!

+++Rebel Songs bestellen, Tickets & Merch für das virtuelle Releasekonzert: Hier!
MIDLIFE von Eugenius bei Friend Club Records bestellen: Hier!+++

What does music mean to you?

Music to me is a tool communication, medication, therapy, reflection, provocation, celebration and mourning.

Tell us something about Eugenius!

Eugenius is currently my main musical outlet. It’s rooted in Hip Hop / rap but also incorporates elements of Punk, classical, pop, noise and anything else that I’m inspired by. My current album is entitled MIDLIFE and there’s vinyl available courtesy of Friend Club Records. I also have many, many other projects that can be found here.

When and how did you first become aware of Boysetsfire/Nathan Gray and what is it like now for you to be a major part of the Iron Roses?

I’ve listened to BSF since about 1997/98. They were a big Influence in pushing my song writing into a heavier, emotional place. I went to a show and someone was wearing a BSF shirt. I thought it was a cool name and the next day I bought the day the sun went out. Fast forward to 2020. I had sampled the song After the Eulogy for a song I made in the wake the protesting that was happening. Emailed Nathan out of courtesy and he responded. This was coincidently around the same time he was starting to experiment with hip hop for the album that would become Rebel Songs. The rest is history. Being a part of the Iron roses is a pretty special experience. It started as getting to make music with some who had inspired me, but ended with me finding a new family. It’s been a joy to see this project, and everyone in it grow. I can’t wait to see what it blossoms into!

What feelings, worries or fears accompanied you on your trip to Elkton, what was going through your mind and how did you fare when you were on site?

There’s a common fear of meeting popular musicians. The fear is that they could be assholes, or completely different then how you picture them or how they portray themselves. This turned out to be not the case. Nathan is one of the most down to earth, humble and caring people I’ve ever met. There was never a time where I felt out of place or in the way. The term “Make yourself at home“ get thrown around a lot, but I’ve never had a place to call my “home away from home“ until I arrived in Elkton Maryland.

How would you describe Brian McTernan as a producer and as a person? What makes him so special?

Another fear I had was having to record with someone with the resume that Brian has. Almost all of Eugenius has been self-recorded, so the thought of having to work with such a tenured producer was a bit intimidating. I was once again proven wrong. He was very hospitable (using his house to record the album) warm and most of all, positive. He obviously has a great ear and is an accomplished songwriter, and was exceptional at using those talents and his knowledge to enhance the songs in constructive and unobtrusive ways. He was truly invested in making the best album possible, as if he was in the band.

Look Alive: How did the rap part come about? How did you guys approach this song? What was the most difficult thing about it (if there was anything at all)?

As I mention earlier, I happened to send Nathan my song at the same time him and his crew were working hip hop into his sound. He asked if I would Interested in collaborating and, of course I said yes! This was in the height of the pandemic so it was all done by send tracks back and forth digitally. And then I got the call asking if I would join them in studio to record it for the album. The biggest challenge for me was making what I do (which is usually more dark and aggressive) fit into something that was more upbeat and positive. It’s also very fun to perform live, which some members might disagree due to the amount of words needed to be harmonized in the chorus.

Radio Silence: How did the work on this song go? What hurdles and/or concerns were there in the beginning? How did you support Nathan?

Like most of the songs, this was demo first by sending files over the internet. This song was probably the one that changed the most from demo to studio recording. Since adding Hip hop to rock can get pretty dicey, Nathan was very adamant on not letting him sound like an “Asshole“. I pretty sure we achieved that. Mainly by stating that “rapping“ on rock records isn’t what gets people in trouble, it’s the combination of vocalists trying to sound like a rapper and bands trying to Imitate hip hop beats that does it. Which thankfully does not apply here. It’s still very much Nathan, just a little more rhythmic. I ended up doing some background vocals as well.

Which lyrics speak to you the most and why?

My favorite lyrics land in the song Lost. “It’s in these moments I try and find a brighter light , When the darkness blurs out everything in sight, And I’m left with this dead air screaming deep inside my head, just take your losses and start again“ So many times, when life feels too heavy it’s important to look for reasons to keep moving forward. This is the perfect reminder.

Which song from Rebel Songs is your undisputed favorite and why is it this one?

My favorite song have to Radio Silence! It has so many different influences coming together. The bridge is soo intense!

Why is such a record like Rebel Songs so important?

There have been a lot of politically charged albums, especially in the last couple of years. What makes this album different and special is that it tackle the heaviness of the currents landscape with a sense of positivity and hope. The notation that there’s always better days ahead if we are willing to band together and fight for them is the tent pole of this record, and this band (In my opinion).

How would you describe your brand new family and what do you appreciate about them?

„A rag-tag band of misfits and outcasts band together to solve mysteries with power of music and coffee“ I truly love how truly positive everyone is, and how they put with me and all my quirks.

What do you think makes a Nathan Gray concert so special? What would you say? 

It’s very high energy. There’s usually an unreasonable about of smiling and dancing. Sometimes there‘s tears. I would say a central theme of our live show is that music has the power to connect, comfort and heal and I think that really shines through. There’s an almost church-like since of fellowship, with the focus on using the power within ourselves and the community around us to inspire and uplift.

What moments got under your skin the most on the past tour and what are you especially grateful for in retrospect?

I’m not the most photogenic, so I too wasn’t stoked about the amount of pictures that were taken. I’m grateful that I was just given the opportunity. Being an older musician, I often struggle with what I could or should be doing. It was a welcome validation that I still have left to give musically.

Some words about:

Fired Up: Fired Up was really fun to record. There’s basically a doo-wop part that Becky had a blast doing. If there are any contemporary doo-wop groups out there in need of backup singers, hit us up!

No Pasaran: No Pasaran is one of the most fun songs to play live. It has a very danceable vibe which was a little challenging to convey acoustically, but I think we pulled it off. It will be fun to play it with a full band!

Brian McTernan: An amazing producer, lyricist and all around fantastic human.

Nathan Gray: Nathan continues to be an inspiration. It grew from the typical ‚‘‘Guy in popular band I like’‘ to a testament in navigating the punk space in Midlife, activism and general kindness for everyone. And the amount of coffee one human consume in one day.

Becky Fontaine: Becky is one of the most selfless and caring people I’ve ever met. Her commitment and sacrifice is what makes this all possible. She’s the Palpatine to Nathan’s Darth Vader.

Gene Priest: When I met him the first time we quickly found out we are practically the same person. Gene is fearless in creating and he and Derek were a big part of expanding Nathan’s sound on Rebel Songs. There will be many collabs between the 3 of us on the future!

Jaelyn Robinson: Jaelyn is definitely the warm, calming of the group. Always greeting with a hug and loads of positivity.

Jed: Jed is always down to help out. The definition of what it means to be a team player. He was key in adding a diversity of sounds on Rebel Songs. The basslines he came up with are the foundation of many of the key tracks.

Michael: Spending almost a month with Michael, I learned a lot about him. You never are really prepared for what he is gonna say next, but it’s always funny (although whether you should laugh or shake your head is a constant conflict). He is also an amazing musician who was tasked with learning and performing the songs on an entirely different instrument in 2 weeks! It was a joy to sculpt the acoustic set with him in real time.

Friend Club Records: Rob and Crew have been fantastic to work with. For my entire solo career I’ve done everything myself, it’s been great to have some help promoting. They gave MIDLIFE a much broader lifespan than any other project I have done and seem committed to helping get Eugenius to a wider audience.

Be Well: Such a great band, especially for an aging hardcore kid (?) as myself. Brian’s lyric have been a great source of comfort for me personally. I can’t wait to hear what they do next and to see them live!

Anything else you wanna add?

A lot hard work went into making Rebel Songs, I think people will get a much more accurate idea of who Nathan Gray is by listening to the album and attending its supporting live shows! Also Eugenius has Vinyl for Midlife for sale, and would love to play your city!

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