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Evan Phillips

Evan Phillips of Anchorage is a songwriter, musician and podcaster perhaps best known as front man for his roots rock band, The Whipsaws. His new solo album is called “Cabin Vibes.”

    2017

  • Project Award
  • Music Composition

‘Time: Suddenly Too Precious to Waste.’

At a time when mastering the art of the hustle would seem indispensable for anyone pursuing a music career, Anchorage songwriter, musician and podcast host Evan Phillips recently opted to buck conventional wisdom and do what many peers would find unthinkable. After more than 10 years growing an international fanbase, releasing at least as many albums, and playing hundreds of shows across the United States, he intentionally stepped away from the spotlight. In the crude terms of this shameless self-promotion era, one might say that while Phillips continues to write and compose music, he is taking a long overdue break from the marketing machine branded “Evan Phillips.”

“I really love performing,” he explains over fresh coffee in his living room, “and I still love connecting with audiences in those live music settings. But my world has shrunk a bit in recent years, and with that so have my priorities.”

In other words, when he was first embarking on a music career in his early thirties, Phillips could afford to focus all his time and energies on his Americana roots rock band, The Whipsaws, as well as on multiple solo and side projects. Citing his family, his relationship with his partner, and the home they share together as his most stable anchors, Phillips sought to invest his irrepressible creative energies in more sustainable work.

The rigors of performing and placing oneself front and center drains emotional strength. But being a front man or solo artist is just one way to work as an independent artist, he is realizing, just one thread in a career-long engagement with music.

For example, he’s felt considerable relief and newfound creative freedom placing other individuals’ stories and narratives up front through his original podcast about the lives of mountain climbers, The Firn Line. His work producing each episode of the show, now wrapping up its second season, also has provided him with an unexpected and rewarding musical education, as he’s learned to craft each episode’s soundtrack to reflect the emotional truths and experiences of the climbers’ stories.

“The biggest shift I’ve made the last few years has been from struggling to make a living as a full-time musician to transitioning into a role where I can remain creatively engaged in my work while making a decent living.”

In addition to his podcast, Phillips thrives in doing production work on a variety of albums by different bands and songwriters throughout Alaska.

“All of the different streams I now rely on for income have required a degree of focus and discipline I’ve had to learn to steadily develop. Nowadays, for instance, my days are so structured that if I schedule two days to work on music, it doesn’t matter if I’m feeling inspired or excited about it or not: I have to commit to the task and do the work and not fudge or shortchange the process. Time has suddenly become too precious to waste.”

When he received a Rasmuson Foundation grant, for instance, Phillips saw it for the opportunity it was, and used his award money to pay himself to go to work on a new original album.

“Music remains the backbone to my life in so many ways,” he said. “I’ve become content letting songs take their time and to sit a while until I have the time to put the necessary work needed into them.”

This was the case with “Cabin Vibes,” the new album released in the summer of 2018.

“I looked at the Rasmuson as if it were a paycheck to go work on the album. I had to. When I was younger, I could abandon everything and disappear with my band into pursuing a project, but I’m not able to work that way now. With the Rasmuson grant, I paid myself at each stage of the recording and production process like it was a normal work week.”

His goals at every turn in his music career, whether fronting a band, recording alone in his cabin, producing other artists’ songs, or scoring next week’s “Firn Line” episode have remained consistent, regardless of where he finds himself in the creative process.

“I love the craft of making songs. I always want to build songs that are cohesive and stand on their own two feet, and that you can dial up two years later and still enjoy. I think I achieved that with ‘Cabin Vibes.’ I’m so proud of the production on that record and am grateful the grant afforded me an opportunity to make this particular album. I think the effort really paid off.”

Jonathan Bower is a musician and writer living and working in Anchorage, Alaska. He is currently at work on songs for his follow-up to last year’s album, “Light Years.”

Image credits - Gallery images 1-5 courtesy of the artist, image 6 by Jonathan Bower. Artist portrait by Kelsey Vrem. Writer portrait courtesy of the writer.