A solid fan base and commercial success certainly haven't eluded Puddle Of Mudd
guitarist Paul Phillips
. Radio favorites like "Blurry
" and "She Hates Me
" solidified Puddle Of Mudd
's status in the rock scene during the early part of the 2000's, but as it happens for so many artists, Phillips
and his bandmates began to sense creative tension while writing/recording their third studio album Famous
. The strain led Phillips
to leave Puddle Of Mudd
for close to four years, and the guitarist admits that the idea of returning to the band wasn't even in the picture when he finally began chatting with vocalist Wes Scantlin
again. But with both musicians on the same creative page this time around, Phillips
did not hesitate to jump on board when he was asked to rejoin Puddle Of Mudd
The songwriting took a different turn for the new album Songs In The Key Of Love & Hate
, with Phillips
collaborating more than ever. According to the band's web page bio, the sessions were completed late at night with "Kettle One and a bottle of Southern Comfort
" a satisfying setup for the songwriting duo. The resulting album is full of the band's trademark hooks and more than a few possible radio hits. Phillips
recently talked with Ultimate-Guitar
about the evolving dynamic within Puddle Of Mudd
and how his own view of success has changed over the years.
UG: What initially spurred you to leave Puddle of Muddle in 2005?
When I departed in the first place, it was as we started to write the third record, which eventually became the Famous record. There was a lot of tension and a lot of bad vibes. No one was really getting along or talking. I live in Florida, and I was in L.A. and we weren't really working. Nobody was talking and I was just sitting there being miserable. It was just something I had to do. I had to get my head straight because it got to the point where it wasn't fun anymore and nobody was happy. Greg, our original drummer, left, and we were the only two talking at the time. As soon as he left, that was pretty much the nail in the coffin. I took off a month after that.
Did you just casually start talking to Wes, and those chats led to you returning to the band?
Yeah, pretty much. I was just sitting at home in Jacksonville. The band came through and was playing the radio show there, the all-day festival. I wasn't going to go, obviously, because of the bad vibes. All my friends talked me into going because it's something we do every year. So I said, All right. I'll go. Whatever. I ran into Wes and the guys, and we hung out. We went to a bar afterward, actually had a great time, and had a lot to talk about. Me and Wes started talking on the phone a lot. It wasn't anything about coming back to the band. It was just kind of natural. We were just talking and checking in with each other. Next thing I know Wes says, We have a show next week and we want you to come play. I was like, All right. Cool. I'm there. So I flew out to L.A., did the first show, started writing, and worked on the record maybe three months later.
Talk a bit about those songwriting sessions. I read some stories about late nights and a bottle of Southern Comfort. Was it a pretty easy-going experience?
"This is the first time that me and Wes wrote well together. We usually write completely separate."
Yeah! I really had to adjust my sleeping schedule to match Wes! I'm up at like 8 o'clock and go into the gym and stuff. I had to adjust to him. We would go to the world-famous Rainbow, have drinks, and then close that down. We would head to house, and that's where we started writing. We would sit there, drink, and write songs. I had a hand-held recorder, and I would just hit record when we had a good idea. As the night went on, it kind of got sloppier and sloppier! I would check the tape the next day and be like, Did I write this? He would be like, I have no idea. Did you write that part? He would be like, I don't know. I think you wrote it. Luckily a lot of times as we listened the next day there would be something that we liked. A lot of them were garbage, but some of them were good. That's literally how we did it. We would go into rehearsal, work it out, and then finish the whole project.
I know that you left during its making, but were there any songs on Famous that you personally wrote?
I wrote one song on Famous, and then I took off. A lot of the stuff that we were working on at that time, it didn't end up making it on to the Famous record. Maybe only two songs or so from when I was still in the band ended up making it. We had a lot. Then a lot of different songwriters got pulled in. They kind of went that route, which is the reason that record is a little more poppier and polished than our other records. I think that's the main reason.
Do you write most of your songs on acoustic? Are there cases when songs develop from jam sessions?
It's pretty much always acoustic. The reason being is that we don't really write together as a unit. I know some bands do the jams. That rarely happens to us. I don't know if it's because we all have ADD or what! Normally when we're jamming, it's going in so many different directions that we don't get anything done. We don't hone in on anything. We write separate a lot. This is the first time that me and Wes wrote well together. We usually write completely separate. This is the first time that it was the two of us. It's almost always acoustics. We do it in our homes, in our basements or rehearsal room.
What equipment are you using on Songs in the Key of Love & Hate? Did you experiment with anything that you might have not used in past setups?
I've been with Paul Reed Smith from the beginning. In the studio we used a combination of my favorite single-cut Paul Reed Smith as well as two of Wes' Les Pauls: a gold top and then a really nice sunburst. Also there were a couple of Strats involved for shinier overtones, light stuff. Other than that, we didn't go too crazy. It was mainly what we had, but the Strats the producers brought in.
On the production credits, there are a few different people that were listed. Was there a reason that other people were brought in after Brian Howes?
On this one we had planned on going with Brian Howes. He's a songwriter and we had planned on focusing on what we thought were a couple of really good songs that we believed in. We had really wanted to visit with John Kurzweg again, who did our first one. We obviously had a lot of success with that. Unfortunately he's gone into semi-retirement right now, and he's just kind of got over the hours. So we got ourselves Brian Virtue, who did the Chevelle record and we share the same management. We worked with him, and then during that process Kurzweg came and said, Ah, I wouldn't mind doing a couple of songs. So we did the last two songs that we recorded with Kurzweg. It's kind of weird how it all played out being three producers, but through the process we made it sound pretty cohesive. I can tell a little bit, but I think the average fan wouldn't be able to recognize the difference in their sounds.
Do you feel any pressure from your label at this point in your career?
The label doesn't really pressure us per se verbally. With the industry as fickle as it is, you kind of put that pressure on yourself. Executives, bands, and record stores everybody is dropping like flies. Here today, gone tomorrow. You've got to keep being viable and give enough reasons for your record label to keep invested with the band and keep invested in you as well. In buying the record or buying the single from iTunes and buying concert tickets, that's keeping your shit going. I used to get really caught up with where we were on Billboard and how many records we had sold and where the single was and how much MTV was playing us. Honestly, I don't even look at that. I have no idea where the single is. I have no idea how much they are playing our video. As long as I wake up and play a show and people are there and they know the words to the song and they're having a good time and we get to do this for a living, then I'm happy. I'm extremely happy that we can do that. Success isn't the charts anymore. As long as I can keep doing this for a living, I'm extremely happy.
Do you have any techniques or ideas that you can pass along to guitarists who might be in the early stages of playing?
"The label doesn't really pressure us per se verbally. With the industry as fickle as it is, you kind of put that pressure on yourself."
As far as skill level, it's just practice, practice, practice. There are two ways about it for me. One is to practice by yourself with a metronome. Go and do your scales. I kind of think that those finger exercises that you'll never use are a waste of time. I would much rather break down riffs with a metronome or break down licks from your favorite artist. You can play them slow or even go faster than they do. See where your limits are. Also you have to play with other people. You've got to play with a drummer and get your feel down. Otherwise, you're just a robot. Constantly play. Practice at home. Get your chops up. Then you've got to play with people to get your groove down and develop your own style.
What would you suggest for the business side? Do you think that touring as much as possible is still a viable approach to marketing?
That may work for some people. I don't know. I really think that's a complete waste of time, going to all these cities where people don't know who you are. You go to a bar and play for 10, 15 people that are there for the drink specials. Maybe if you're really good, then there will be 30 people. I've heard that. It never worked for me! I was always like, Why did I take off work and spend money to go play at some show. I think nowadays it's completely different. There is so much you can do on your own now. That's what you have to do now as a band because no label has money to spend on breaking in an artist. The more you can do on your own as far as your MySpace, your Facebook, and your YouTube or your merch, the more you can do on your own and the less of a risk you are to a label, the better chance you have of getting it. The chance of a major label picking you up and wanting to spend a gazillion dollars on you are slim to none. Unfortunately that's the way it is. Buy a van. If you make enough money, buy a van and the label doesn't have to worry about it. Anything you can do on your own is going to give you more bargaining power with the label.
Your next venture is the Carnival of Madness tour, which features Chevelle, Shinedown, Sevendust, and 10 Years. Have you toured with most of the bands on the bill?
We've played with all of them before. We actually played with Shinedown in January and February. We've done several radio shows with Chevelle. I think us and Sevendust are always in the same place. They're one of my favorite bands to play with because they're down to earth and they like to drink and they like to hang out. They're not hiding on their bus or doing the rock star thing. They're like us, walking the buses, barbecuing, and hanging out. It's going to be like summer camp! I'm excited about it. I think it's going to be really, really fun as well as really, really successful. All the bands are great bands, so it's a win-win for everybody.
Interview by Amy Kelly