Philip Sayce: Scorched Earth Interview

Guitar hero Philip Sayce is set to release the live recording Scorched Earth Volume 1 on September 30th. The album features Joel Gottschalk on bass and Kiel Feher on drums. Sayce chatted with Blues Rock Review about the recording, getting back in the studio, and Jeff Healey’s Heal My Soul.

When and where was Scorched Earth Volume 1 recorded?

In April of this year we were touring in Canada and Steve Waxman who’s the Vice President at Warner Music Canada said, hey, let’s record one of the shows, so we recorded in Toronto at the Silver Dollar Room. It was right in the middle of the tour, a phenomenal audience, they were really cool, and a great turnout. So, the Warner guys sent in a recording engineer and a camera team and they sort of documented the evening. We had no idea what was going to come from it and so a couple weeks later we listened to and thought, oh, cool, let’s use a couple of these tracks.

With this being Volume 1 does that mean more live recordings are on the way?

That’s the plan. I think what we’re trying to do is keep a steady stream of music coming. So, yes, Volume 1 meaning there will be many more live releases coming hopefully and I think this is sort of just the first one. The idea is that Scorched Earth would become a series, so we’d have Volume 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, whatever. I have other live stuff that’s been in the can for a period of time waiting to be released that was recorded in the last sort of 18, 24 months or so. And this one was released first because it was sort of recorded as one night. So, I have other stuff that’s also ready to go, so I think we’ll kind of see what happens. Some of this material has sort of been sitting in limbo for a little while and I think I’ve been able to sort out some of these business relationships that have been impeding growth. So, now that I have things sorted out it’s time to get moving now.

When you know you’re recording a live album do you try to perform differently than in a normal performance or does anything change for you?

No, I’m just trying to play and sing the very best that I can and be as open as I can at every show. I’m gonna show up and I’m gonna give 111% of what I have available that day, so whether someone is recording or not. I mean, I try not to think about it because you don’t want to think about because then you’re in your head and you’re not in the moment. So for me I  know that every time I play I’m gonna give every thing I have. It’s hard, like, I don’t remember what we played, so I have to listen to it after to see if it’s something that really worked in the moment for the show but maybe on playback, yeah, that’s cool, but maybe I prefer a different version. It’s like trying to be in the moment and not overthink it but feel it. I would try not to do anything different other than be completely in the moment.

How difficult is it for you to pick the songs to put on a live album?

I want to kind of feel something from the overall listening experience because one thing that I’m really aware of on a live release is that if you’re in the room or you’re at the venue and you’re experiencing the show and say you record that show and you listen to it outside of that environment it’s a very different experience. The sound is different. You’re in a room with other people with sounds and smells and lights and whatever. There’s a lot of sensory excitement happening here, and so it’s very hard to translate that kind of energy into then a performance that say you’re listening to in your earbuds as you’re walking down the street. It’s a totally different experience, so I think being mindful of wanting to pick songs that certainly are good performances, but also ones that seem to translate a level of energy outside of being at the gig physically. It’s an interesting thing to try to take the music out of that environment and still try to get that impact out of it.

Also, in a live environment a ten minute song might make sense, but when you’re listening to it out of that environment you might say, wow, that’s a really long song. So, I think it’s also being mindful of that. I think it was a two hour show, we talked about could we put out a double live record or does it make sense to put out just a 40 minute release right now that’s certainly plenty for someone to digest and get a good idea. Almost like if you went to see a band and there was a support act you weren’t aware of and they played 40 minutes. This was kind of like how can we put out a concise live release, but at the same time, not give the listener too much to digest. Certainly some people might say I want a two hour live release, well, Volume 2 is coming, Volume 3 is coming. We might have ten hours of live releases, so for this one we wanted to make it digestible, pick performances that I felt OK with. There are no fixes on this record. It’s completely nothing is changed other than being mixed after the fact. It’s a snapshot of being on the tour.

How are things coming with the next studio album?

Things are coming along really well. I’ve got a lot of songs that are waiting to be recorded; actively writing and I also have songs that may have been written and never got used that I’ve forgotten about that I’ve gone back and looked at and I can update a little bit and put this out. Every time I’ve gone into the studio I’ve had a lot of songs and for whatever reason certain ones get recorded and maybe we didn’t have time to do the other one, or maybe it wasn’t finished yet. I feel the itch to get in the studio to record these songs really soon. I was talking with my friend Michael Nielsen about going in. He’s the gentleman I recorded Peace Machine with and we talked about maybe going in to go in and do some new music very soon. So, I’m just kind of wrapping my head around things and I think this is great. The live release is something that I’ve always wanted to put something out and I think this is the appetizer for the next round of live music to come and studio music.

Philip Sayce will release Scorched Earth Volume 1 on September 30th.
Philip Sayce will release Scorched Earth Volume 1 on September 30th.

And I think the way that the industry has changed in certainly the last couple of years, not everybody has time to digest a full album. As much as I love a full album it might be a really cool thing to regularly, let’s say every month or two to release two studio songs. So make that available and then two months later another two and then at the end of the year you can say here’s the collection of the year 2016, boom, 12 songs or whatever is. Then you keep a steady flow as opposed to every 18 months putting out a record and that kind of model that existed for 40 years. We don’t really need to operate that way anymore. A lot of places around the world I’m an independent artist. While I am working with Warner in Canada and in the U.S. have some work that we do together and in Japan, but in Europe I’m a free agent over there now after working with a company for a number of years. It’s an exorbitant amount of money still to make a record, so in some ways, making two songs at a time is a lot more economically viable for an independent artist.

Jeff Healey’s Heal My Soul was released this year. Had you heard the material before it was released or was some of it a new experience for you?

It was a new experience for me. I hadn’t heard it, certainly I hadn’t heard the song that I was playing on and had completely forgot that we had even done it. Obviously there are some amazing songs on there and I remember some of them going down in the studio because I was there at the time, but had not heard them since then. So, it was really pretty special to hear that collection of music be released and certainly during this year, which would have been a big year for Jeff with his 50th birthday, and I think a great reminder of sort of the high watermark that Jeff achieved. It’s such an inspiration to look at this watermark and think, wow, he was really getting into something special there. Those performances, a lot of them what I do remember is they were one take for Jeff. It was incredible to see him in the studio. It was, like, one take and the craziest playing you’ve ever heard and you’re like, what!?! And we’re done, Jeff just recorded a record in 30 minutes. He’s done. What!?! And everyone else would be there for days. That’s also the beauty of thinking about it. It was so natural for him.

What’s been your most memorable musical experience over the past year?

Each and every day having the opportunity to get up and play music and work on something that I love deeply. To have the opportunity in my lifetime to play music and share music that’s in my heart and then really care about it. It’s not sort of like getting up, oh, I’m just gonna try to write a song so I can get it in a commercial or write a song so I can try to get it into the radio top whatever. No, it’s more about how thankful I am for the opportunity in my lifetime to connect with music that I love and have an opportunity to do what I love, and share that with people, and then have an opportunity to have an energy exchange with those people whether it be a live venue, social media platform, or whatever. It’s sort of an every day thing and how thankful and how excited I am.

Interview by Pete Francis

Pete Francis

Pete Francis is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Blues Rock Review. Pete launched Blues Rock Review full-time in 2011 because he felt there was a major void in how the blues rock genre was covered. Pete is the host of Blues Rock Weekly and a co-host on the Blues Rock Show.

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