Interview with Phil Roy (continued)
PM: Did you know you were writing your own record when the songs for Grouchyfriendly started to gather? Or did a group of songs that weren't as pitchable to others start to look like your own record?
PR: Well, most of the record was written for something else, probably 90 percent. I could go through track by track and tell you what project each had been written for.
PM: Songwriters might find that very interesting, as well as fans of the genre.
PR: One of my last L.A. scenarios was something that I was really excited about, and it brought on a nervous breakdown at the end. That's a strong word, but it did induce some level of temporary mental illness. [laughs] I got a call from Hans Zimmer, one of the biggest composers worldwide for film. This year alone he did Pearl Harbor and Blackhawk Down. He's the President of Music Into Film at Dreamworks. The call was about a new animated feature coming out this year, which Paul Simon had already done some work on. The ball got passed around a lot, and Brian Adams ended up with the job. But I got a call when Paul was still on the project. I was asked in to look at some very rough animation and storyboards in progress, and I worked on the project for several months. I thought that I had finally gotten a big break, and it all fell apart for me, ultimately. I mean, the last songwriter on a big Dreamworks animated feature was Elton John. So I thought I was entering a new league, being asked to write songs for an animated feature, like The Lion King.
PM: So how did it fall apart?
PR: It just fell apart as part of a process. Every step of the way it can fall apart. The music I did for it was some of the best work I'd ever done, with a man named Gavin Greenaway, who continued to work on it. If it wasn't for the work I'd done with Gavin for this film, and the introduction to Gavin by Hans Zimmer, I don't think I'd be talking with you right now. I got so hurt and so angry that these songs were going to sit on a shelf, I just thought, "Hell with it, I'm gonna make my own record." "Show Me the Way Home," and "Where Do We Go From Here" which was co-written with Hans Zimmer, are both songs from that project that ended up on Grouchyfriendly. "Everything My Heart Desires" was from the film As Good As It Gets. You know the movie? Okay, well, the part where Jack Nicholson is saying "You make me want to be a better man..."
PM: The best part of the movie.
PR: That song is playing in the back of that scene, for seven minutes. You'll hear a woman singing it, named Danielle Brisebois. No one really heard it, it was on the soundtrack record that didn't really sell. So I decided I would put it on my album. So probably ten out of thirteen songs on the record were written for those and similar projects. "It's Alright" was originally written for Adam Cohen's project. But I finally realized I couldn't do it anymore, that I couldn't take it anymore. "Why do I write all these songs and nobody hears them?"
So I gave them a voice, and made an album in the old fashioned sense of making an album, which is an art form. It's not about singles. You make a record. Something about my instincts must have been right, because people are really responding. I knew that it must not sound like anything else, and that it should be on the quiet side. I knew that the only chance I had at 41 in the folk and acoustic pop world was to be uniquely myself. And you saw the press and the compilations I got on with a lot of big names at the top of AAA and acoustic pop scene, without a manager or a label, without a publicist.
PM: So how did your record get so many places without all those things?
PR: I did have one person I think you should mention. There's a company called Sound Advisors [www.soundsdvisors.com]. Louise Coogan and Peggy O'Brien. Louise was an on-air personality in NYC and an independent AAA radio promoter. Peggy was a music business attorney. They saw a need for people who were between novices and people with major deals, in the arena of career development. One of the first things I did was send the CD to Music Choice, which is MicroSongs. On satellite dishes, you get all these music channels. One of the little channels is "Unsigned." So I figure that's me, and I send it in. I didn't hear anything for two months, and then the phone rang. The woman at the other end of the phone said, "My name is Louise Coogan. I host the show on Direct TV. I have submissions piled up to the ceiling. You are the first one I have ever picked up the phone and called. Who are you? This is fantastic." It was one of the first indications that maybe I had done something very good. The very first indication was that Tom Waits liked it very much, and gave me that beautiful quote.
PM: How did that happen?
PR: I'd known Tom and his wife Kathleen through friends, intermittently, for about ten years. One time we ran into each other after a show of his, and Kathleen said, "You know, Phil, you've written for all these big people, but we don't know what you do. We don't know what your music sounds like. Please send us some music." And so, instead of putting my Ray Charles or Joe Cocker cuts on a CD for them, I put together six or seven songs of what I considered to be me. Not necessarily successful tunes, but ones I liked. And he called me back a couple of days later, to say they really loved it. They're both really amazing people, and it was a beautiful thing he did for me, there. It was a time in my life when I was very confused. That phone call gave me enough encouragement to go ahead and finish the record. And his generous quote when the record was done made it possible to get others to listen to what I'd recorded. The film director Wim Wenders also came to the table with a quote, as did Leonard Cohen.
PM: What's the story there?
PR: Wim, in a restaurant. In L.A, these things are more normal. One of my co-writers on the record, Nicholas Klein, wrote the music for the last two Wenders movies.
PM: Well, sure, Nashville has that in its own smaller way. My first day in town, I sat down with a sandwich at a deli. To my right were The Judds, and to my left was F. Lee Bailey. I thought: "I'm gonna like it here."
PR: Of course, there you go. Absolutely right. But naturally, the Hollywood thing is the Hollywood thing. So I gave Wim my record at a gallery one day, very humbly, I'd met him before. I didn't hear anything more about it. Two or three weeks later, I saw him in this restaurant. He came over to my table and said, "I love your record -- it's incredible." But you know, you just never know. You send a CD out sometimes. You may not hear back right away. If I hadn't had the good fortune to run into Wim at that restaurant, I wouldn't have known that the disc was knocking him out.
PM: So, how did you turn that good fortune into a good quote for your press kit?
PR: I just basically told him how much it meant to me that he liked my record, and that his words might help other people hear my music. If it was possible that he might say something about it that I could quote, that would be very cool, if not, totally cool. You know what I mean? It's a tricky situation.
PM: Nicely done, though. "Your words might help other people hear my music..." I like that. continue