Phil X & The Drills

PHIL X needs no introduction, having been an integral full-time member of Bon Jovi since 2016, after filling in for Richie Sambora on the 2011, 2013 and 2015 Bon Jovi tours. Now he is back with his band THE DRILLS and a new single Right On The Money which is out now through Golden Robot Records.

Phil  X  (guitar/lead vocals),  Daniel Spree  (bass/backing vocals) and  Brent Fitz  (drums/ backing vocals) went into the legendary  Capitol Studios  with  Chris Lord Alge  so Chris could do a  Mix  With The Masters  master class  on how to track a band.  Right On The Money was one of three songs recorded  that day.  With an uncertainty of the arrangement and very few overdubs,  an incredible energy and urgency was captured by the band with Chris’s direction and here it is as a single for you, the fans. Phil speaks to Hi Fi Way about the single.

Congratulations on your new single Right On The Money. I think you have nailed this one.
Oh man, thank you. I feel like I nailed it. The message that I always try to get across, whether I am writing, if it’s not about a crazy ex-relationship, I feel like it’s always a positive thing. I mean, it is a crazy time. I wrote this back in 2018, but even then, I was thinking, no matter what is happening, it’s better to stay positive. If you think about it, it could be worse, that kind of thing. I feel like it’s gotten me through a lot of challenging times. This is a challenging time, it just seemed appropriate to put it out. I am so thrilled about how the song came out. We basically tracked it, except for I did a second guitar when I got home, except for that overdub and singing it at a different studio, the band’s performance was intact. Everything that you hear on that track is the drums as they were recorded, the bass as it was recorded, and the main guitar as it was recorded, including the solo.

There was a moment where there was confusion. I feel like that confusion between the band members gave this urgency, gave it this energy, it just added to the tension. We are all looking at each other going, “wait a minute, when does the solo come in?” something like that. I am like, “well, I’ll scream before I go into the solo and then, I’ll give you a nod when we’re going into the last chorus.” I did not even know when it was going to happen. I did not want to count bars, and Brent had no idea what he was playing because Chris Lord Alge just gave him the idea of playing this groove before we started with the solo. So, we were all kind of lost, but then, we all landed on our feet and it came together, and I just loved the energy that was created by that animosity on the floor.

Absolutely loved the film clip. I think there is nothing better than seeing you amped up in the backyard. I think that one might say it has a “a bit of an Australian feel” too. Everyone loves their backyards here.
You see a mountain in the back, the Rocky Peak. It is like, “wait a minute, you could be in Australia”.

Exactly.
I call it “the quarantine slash fan video” because the quarantine part is like, “how am I going to make a video when we can’t even be in the same room?” The whole isolation thing is happening in the US and especially in California. Dan being in the studio twenty miles away, me being in the backyard and then Brent being in Winnipeg, Canada, playing in his friend’s basement. I think it just added to the whole energy of the song and video-wise. I think the fan part of it was it fantastic. It’s our way of saying thank you for all your support.

It has been amazing. In the middle of the COVID thing rising, we were in the UK doing shows with The Drills and they were supposed to go to Europe to do eight more shows, but then they had to come home instead. All those fans were there and supportive and we were doing VIP meets and greets. All those photos that we got over there in the UK are in the middle of the video with all the fans. I mean, not all of them because I only have so much space, right? It’s our way of just saying, “Hey man, hey, there’s your face in our video. Thank you.”

Like you said before turning the negative in to a positive is that how you have seen this lockdown period?
Well, that is the thing, as stuff starts to open here in the US, I’m getting calls, “Hey man, I need you to play on something”. So, I have been doing remote sessions from home because I have a studio and I have gear so I can record. Someone can Dropbox me a session and I can record guitars times on it, and then send them the files. That is how we are doing a lot of things lately. I feel like I have not been inspired to do a lot of writing. I mean, I am finishing ideas that I started before COVID. I love performing so much and it kills me every morning when I wake up and have to emotionally get a bearing on not performing until next year. Obviously, I have my family. I am getting a lot of kid time, which is fantastic. My kids are fantastic. But artistically, it is challenging. I just got to play guitar. I am shooting a lot more YouTube content, it has been a lot of fun. The cool thing is that I got everything at home. The songs have been recorded, we’re just waiting for the mixer to be available to mix. Hopefully, that will be out in the Fall or right before Christmas or something like that. In the meantime, I opened up a session the other day and I’m thinking, “oh man, I totally forgot to play this guitar part on the song”. So that’s where your theory comes in. I can tweak it without having a deadline.

It must be great though. Everyone is craving and really missing that live element. They are probably going to be even hungrier for it when things do settle down, and that we are able to venture out and start seeing live music again say. That may well be the silver lining in all of this.
Yeah, I think so too. I feel like we are all gaining a new appreciation for a lot of things we took for granted, people we took for granted. Even errands, man. When I go to the store to get groceries, I got to put a mask on and then wipe everything down with sanitiser when I get back. I do not want to do that anymore.

It must be great working with some of the different drummers on this album as well. I think that is a great idea and brings that fresh sort of dynamic to each song.
I appreciate you saying that. I did not realise some of the versatility that was going to be present when we started looking at drummers. I did not want to just throw songs out and, “Hey, we want to do what?” When I called Tommy Lee asking to play on my record, I wrote a song with him in mind, and I sent it to him. It was the same thing with Matt Chamberlain because we had done a couple of other artists records together, we already had a relationship. I’m like, “Hey man let me send my record and he’s like, sure. I sent him a couple ideas. Like, “which one you want to do?” He’s like, “I’ll play on anything”. That is not what I wanted right? I did not want him to just play on anything. So I go, “Okay, Matt”. I wrote a song with him in mind and when I sent him that, he was like, “Oh man, I got to play on this song”. I did not want it to be a favour per se. I wanted it to be, “I want you to be excited. I did want you to just commend, of course we’ll have fun, because it’s fun recording, but, if you’re excited about the song then that makes it more exciting for me and more fun at the end of the day.”

Is being in the studio almost like your second home? It just sounds like it is just such a great space, even more so now, given what is going on around us.
We have to, right? I keep saying, if there has ever been a time to roll with the punches, this is the time. I feel like when you got the COVID thing, there is a punch in the face. Then, you find out that a friend has it and that is a punch in the face. Then you find out that your sister’s brother died from it, and that’s a punch in the face. I mean, there’s political stuff going on, like what happened here with the demonstrations and that is a punch in the face. You do not have a choice. You can either get up and it can bum you out or you could carry on and teach your children that it’s better to stay positive. You cannot teach that if you do not endorse it, if you don’t live it.

On reflection, you must be doing cartwheels with how well album number five has turned out. Is that how you feel, particularly when you look back at what you have done previously?
Wow, that is a good question. I think every time you put something out, I think every artist works on a record and they put out the record and either they think, “this is the best one we’ve ever done” or they are convincing themselves “that’s the best one we’ve ever done”. A lot of my favourite bands go back to the first four records was their best work, and then after that, it’s okay. In my case, as a writer and as a musician, I want to put out music that I like and that the fans like. There’s no pressure because I don’t have to worry about if my band is playing arenas and then we put out a record and then it doesn’t sell so good, so then we go to the small theatres because that’s depressing I guess if you’re a huge star, right? In our case, I love that The Drills are underground because it is a great canvas for me, I have so much fun in an intimate setting playing to up to a one hundred to two hundred people. Then with Bon Jovi, I get to play in front of twenty thousand to eighty two thousand. I love having both canvases to create on. I feel blessed every time I think about something like that, where man, “how did I get to get it so good?”

Plus you got the healthy challenge of, “How am I going to top that with album number six?
I feel like in my case, like I said as long as I get to write something and put it out there and get a response. That’s why we do stuff, right? We want people to like what we do, but deep down inside, it’s got to make you happy even before you present it to the public. That’s how I feel. Right On The Money really, really spoke to me. The way I described it was recorded and the theme of the song, it really spoke to me and then when we put it out there, and got such a great response, it’s nice to have that affirmation, but you got to realise as an artist, it can’t be all about affirmation. You got to really love what you do. It’s like any job. If you love what you do, you feel like you’re not working.

Once the dust settles is Australia a part of the tour plans for Phil X and The Drills, whether that’s later next year or going into 2022.
Oh man, I’d love to. I love Australia and I love the people there. Where are you?

We’re in South Australia, down in Adelaide. Last time we saw you, you played with Bon Jovi in Botanic Park. It was a massive outdoor show.
I remember the bats! At eight o’clock I wasn’t wearing my glasses, I don’t want my glasses on stage. But, at eight o’clock I see all these things fly out of trees and I’m thinking, “those are weird birds. Wait a minute, those are bats”. I got up at an open mic the night before. I think it was a Monday night, because I have friends there that are music makers and they’re from Adelaide. My buddy was like, “Hey, if you want to get up at an open mic night, I have a great bass player and a great drummer out there that will learn whatever you want, and you can get up and play”. Then that’s what we did. We got up on a Monday night, me and my buddy’s friends just played Zeppelin and ACDC. I did not post it on my Instagram because I thought it would be crazy and I did not put the sign up at that the place we played, but my fan club posted that I was going to be there and the place was packed. You could not move, it was so much fun. I’m being positive about it. I think that the smaller venues will be rolling ahead way sooner than the larger venues. I think the smaller clubs and small theatres will be starting sooner than the huge stadiums and arenas. If it is the big places I’ll be playing with Bon Jovi, if it’s the little places I’ll be playing with The Drills. There is that blessing again.

You must be itching at the bit for that Bon Jovi album to finally be released. So you guys can start thinking about getting back out on the road.
Yeah. I do not know why it was delayed because it was done. I know it was delayed but it’s crazy that record was supposed to come out. Not only supposed to come out in 2020, but it is actually called 2020, and it got delayed. I don’t know, I haven’t seen any word on the released date, so we’ll see what happens. You’ll probably know before I do to put it that way.

Interview By Rob Lyon

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