Just seven months after the release of Ruby Electric, guitar hero Philip Sayce is set to release another new album, Steamroller. Steamroller will be out February 27 in the UK/Europe and Worldwide in May. We had the chance to speak with Sayce about the new album, his thoughts on the current state of the music industry, and more.
Ruby Electric was your most recent release, but your last album with 100% new material was Innerevolution, and with Innerevolution you really put a strong emphasis on songwriting. What was the emphasis on Steamroller?
I think the emphasis on Steamroller at least as far as I’m concerned was combining the rawness that I really love going for when playing, and also combining a lot of things that I’ve been spending time working on and learning over the last however long I’ve been working on things. I think just trying to make as good songs as I can, make them as strong as I can, and not over think things. That was sort of the emphasis on this record was being immediate and as in the moment as possible.
On Steamroller your vocal performance is fearless and your confidence singing seems to be at an all-time high. How important is it to you to be viewed as a great singer in addition to a great guitar player?
Well I can’t really control what anyone else thinks about it, but thank you for saying so. I really just sort of feel that if I’m being completely honest and truthful in the music and the art that I’m creating that kind of represents my experience in my life time, and what I’m going through that is the most important thing to me. Being technically good at something is fun and everything, but it’s more about being connected to something that is emotional. You know obviously if we did a couple takes and it was like “That’s not happening,” then we wouldn’t use it, but I think that the idea for me is really to be as in the moment as possible, and if that kind of approach happens to bring out a more emotional type performance that resonates with people then hey I’m all for that.
On some of the tracks including “Steamroller” you decided to part ways with your trusty Strat, “Mother.” What went into that decision?
I mean I always use all kinds of different guitars. I think that if somebody happens to put up a YouTube video or takes photographs that is with a Strat, I mean it’s a guitar that I play the majority of the time, but I’ve actually had this Gibson SG longer than any guitar I’ve ever had. I bought it in Toronto and I just walked into this store called the 12th Fret and it was on the wall. I remember plugging it in and it just had this real spooky almost like Cream At The Fillmore type sound. I was like “Oh my gosh, this guitar is fantastic!” And I’ve always had it. I just (don’t) travel with it a lot because it’s an old Gibson Junior SG and it’s super fragile, and the Strats are really strong for the most part, although I’ve broken a couple of those before and it wasn’t fun! (Laughs) I think it was really again just trying to layer different sounds and get interesting tones and I think there’s Strat on there, there’s Gibson on there, there’s whatever was laying around the studio. Dave Cobb has got all kinds of cool guitars, so we really aren’t operating on any kind of rules system, just trying to have fun you know?
Steamroller has been getting a fair amount of radio play in Europe and many think this will be the album that launches your career to the next level. What are your expectations for Steamroller?
You know what again I need to think like any of us we just gotta manage our expectations. As far as I’m concerned it already is successful. My goal was to make something that captured what I was feeling at the time we recorded it and put a message out into the world, really that is the whole reason I do this is because I’m trying to put something good into the world because I care about music, and I care about what that music means. I’m not trying to create something that is disposable flavor of the month music you know? All these songs are connected to my own personal experiences in my life and I think that there’s something to be said for that. Maybe other people will hear it. For instance, one of my main goals is that looking at Steamroller as a movement. And if people can see this as Steamroller not just being a song about a hot girl that’s going to steamroll you, but it’s actually deeper than that. It’s about steamrolling fear and I’m just telling you this on my personal outlook what this album is about. It’s about steamrolling fear and it’s about steamrolling all the people that say “Oh, you can’t do it like that, or you gotta do it like this!” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had the experience where some kind of record label, or manager, or agent, or whatever comes out to a show and they go “Oh my, I love it! Let’s have a meeting!” You get all excited and call your friends and say “Bla bla bla, so and so is excited about.” Then you go in and have a meeting and they say, “We love it. Now can you just make it sound more like this band, or this other band, or this band that’s been famous for six weeks.” I think that is such a major problem with art and music right now if you’re playing by the old rules, by the old model, and you’re just like “Please like me and I’ll do anything so you’ll like me for 15 minutes and then throw it away.” This is a thing I devoted my life to and that’s kind of the goal for me is maybe we’ll inspire other people whether they’re a butcher, or a doctor, or a school teacher, whatever it is. Maybe we will inspire them to be the absolute best they can be in their field and what resonates for them. I think that’s what we’re here to do is to try and inspire each other. This for me is about being as authentic and as in the moment and as honest with the art because it means that much too. Maybe someone else will pick up on that and infuse that into their life, and so on and so on, so we’re all passing it around back and forth to each other.
Many people today feel there isn’t a ton of great Rock and Blues music being made, though we’d beg to differ at Blues Rock Review. What are your thoughts on the current state of Blues and Rock music?
I think I agree with you. There is a ton of great Roots music. I also kind of get a little freaked out by boxes and labels and terms and that sort of stuff. I try to look at it as Roots music, you know any kind of music that is connected to human experience and human emotion are all a part of the same thing as far as I’m concerned. I think that there is tons of great Soul, Roots, Blues, Rock, Jazz, Funk, R&B, whatever, you name it, Metal, all kinds of music that comes from an emotional place that is being made today. I think there are tons of people, well known and unknown that are making good music. I think we are fortunate to be here in this day and age because we get to now embrace new platforms and not necessarily have to play by the old rules where some guy in a building says, “Oh you must make music sound like this! We had a band last month that sold 5 million records, so now every band on the label has to sound and look like the band!” I think that people are kind of hip to that, and I think this time you know we turn on our TV every day and it’s like the economy is in the shitter. This is kind of an intense time and I think in the history of the world this is when great art comes out during these times of strife and pain and things like that. Obviously I don’t need to tell you this, I’m sure everybody has felt it. Last year was a hard year for a lot of people. I think out of that we need to be accountable. If you want to call yourself an artist you need to be accountable with what art you’re putting out there. If you’re putting out something where you’re burning money, or you’re walking around talking about your Bentley’s and stuff that’s cool for a little bit, but I think there needs to be room for that as well. I’m totally down for that, and I get off on that too, but I think in this time there is so much great music. You mentioned Blues Rock, and yeah there is killer stuff going on. I agree with you 100%. That was the long way around of saying I agree with you. (Laughs)
This past fall you had the chance to play a few dates with ZZ Top. How was that experience?
Oh man, it was awesome! They were so cool with us. Their whole crew and everybody was real down homey. We had done some shows with them in Europe last year as well, within 18 months. We had met them before and we had a couple of parallel friends, and stuff like that. I think Billy was buddies with Uncle Kracker and also with Jeff Healey, so you know it was kind of a straight forward introduction, but he was a real gentleman. One day at sound check I was kind of getting my tone together and playing a little bit, and I kind of looked out the corner of my eye and just standing to my left about two feet away from me was Billy Gibbons. He had been standing there watching me kind of warm up a little bit and get my stuff together (Laughs), and I just kind of looked at him and he was kind of touching his beard or whatever and goes, “What you got here? What you running here?” (…) So we were talking about songs for a minute and I had a hard time talking at first because I was so excited, but it was a cool. They were cool guys, really nice guys.
You are heading over to Europe in March for a tour to promote Steamroller. What’s your favorite part of touring overseas?
You know I’m grateful to play music anywhere at any time. It’s something that I’m very grateful for and I don’t take for granted regardless of the geographic area. I think there are unique things to each different place in the world you go to whether it’s Japan, or if it’s Canada, or Florida, or wherever you are there’s gonna be certain things that are unique to each of those areas. In parts of Europe I find that the audiences just absolutely seem to be so well educated and sort of listen to music. I mean I can’t generalize or globalize, but there seems to be an underlying current or sort of a tone that the people when they go to a show, first of all have fantastic time, so when they all clap together as an audience they really clap in time. (Laughs) It’s really cool! But outside of that I think that people, not everybody, but a lot of people look at music in a different way. I don’t know if that’s because music goes back so much further in European countries or if it’s just regarded in a slightly different light, whereas a lot of music in North America is treated as a disposable commodity like a McDonald’s hamburger right? It’s really not that. You can devote your life to a hamburger of course, making the best burger in the world, you know whatever you want to do. That’s one of the things I enjoy in Europe. I feel that people listen to music a little bit differently. They are a little more somehow in tune with listening. It’s something that from the first time I ever went there with Jeff Healey when I was 18 or something and we went over there, and he was like “You’re gonna really enjoy these European audiences. They really are vibrant, there’s something about it.” And sure enough as soon as we start playing I’m like “Holy Shit! Crazy!” Sometimes it’s even hard to put into words. I’m grateful to play anywhere, anytime.
What can the fans expect on the upcoming tour?
I think we’re going to be playing a lot of stuff from the Steamroller album. I think just trying to see where at least for me, my approach is gonna be, where I’m at as a person and a performer when we get out there, how I’m feeling emotionally, all these things play a part in what the music is gonna sound like. I just sort of want to try and put all of that honesty into that music. So we’ll be playing a lot of the new stuff and some of the things from the last album or so. I think we’re just gonna do what we do is give 110% every time. We’ll probably play a different set list every night and change it up, try to keep it exciting, but we’re definitely gonna give it 110%.
Favorite album of 2011?
Rival Sons: Pressure and Time
Favorite TV show?
Curb Your Enthusiasm
One thing you can’t live without?
Interview by Pete Francis