Paul Phillips isn’t taking anything for granted at this point in his career. The Puddle of Mudd guitarist briefly left the band back in 2005, but a little time away (a period in which he pursued the side project Operator) made him appreciate his multiplatinum success all the more. Reconnecting with frontman Wes Scantlin a few years later set Phillips on the path to recording Puddle of Mudd’s 2009 release Songs in the Key of Love & Hate, a release that certainly remained true to the post-grunge band’s trademark sound. For the band’s latest endeavor, however, the focus has shifted to an era that shaped many of the band members’ musical identities: the 1970s.
The album Re:(disc)overed
features cover songs by artists that you wouldn’t necessarily think the writers of “She Hates Me
” would be willing to tackle. Elton John
, Led Zeppelin
, and Neil Young
are just a few of the covered artists, with the original list consisting of about 30 selections from the legendary decade. Phillips
said that recording Re:(disc)overed
not only took him back to his formative musical years, the sessions actually inspired him to practice religiously – very much like he did when he was only 16 years of age. The guitarist chatted with Ultimate-Guitar.com
recently to discuss the process behind Re:(disc)overed
and the equipment that ended up helping recreate that vintage ‘70s sound.
UG: What prompted the band to record a cover album this time around?
Paul: It just fell into place. All of our business arrangements came up on the last record. They were all four album deals. So our record label came up, and there were a lot of things that we were kind of frustrated about. So we needed some time to put things in place. We took some time off to do that, and we kind of started getting ready to tour again. We really didn’t have anything. We got the idea of doing a couple of cover songs, and one thing led to another. We ended up with this whole list of 30. We dreamt up this idea of having some other musicians come in and help us make this cool ‘70s vibe. We just wanted to record a cool ‘70s record basically on modern gear, which was kind of our goal in doing this record.
Had you always wanted to put a focus on that particular decade?
It kind of just fell into place. There are a few eras of music that mean something to us. Obviously there is the late ‘60s and ‘70s era, the thrash metal bands of the ‘80s, and obviously the grunge movement. So we kind of figured we would hone in on the ‘70s because Nirvana and Soundgarden are still being played on modern rock radio as much as we are. As much as I’d like to, we’re not going to do a Slayer song or something. That’s almost a farther stretch than Elton John in my opinion. Once we honed in on the ‘70s, it was just about making sure that we chose songs that meant something to us or had been a part of our childhood. On a whole other spectrum, especially for me, it was tackling songs that were so left field that it allowed us to do stuff we can’t do. Or we could, but it may freak some people out. They were things that we had never done on a Puddle record. Even though it was a cover record, it gave us an opportunity to tackle different instrumentation and different styles of music that we had never necessarily done on a Puddle record. For me as a musician, that was extremely inspiring to put ourselves to the task of being able to pull that off.
Out of all the songs you chose, can you pinpoint one that you felt might have been the biggest challenge or risk?
There are probably two. One is the Elton John song “Rocket Man” just because it’s a piano-driven song and not a guitar-driven song. It was a totally different dynamic than what we do as a band. That one was pretty exciting and pretty challenging. The piano player that we had play with us was amazing. It ended up not being that big of a challenge because it kind of rested on his shoulders and obviously he nailed it pretty much note for note. It was definitely daunting at the beginning to see if we could do it. Then “D'yer Mak'er” by Led Zeppelin had the reggae feel. It was something we don’t do as well. It was very far from what we do, so that was kind of challenging as well to come up with that vibe. I think that song was weird for a Zeppelin record even. That was left field for them. So it was even more left field for us.
Were there any tracks that you personally asked to cover?
We shot ideas between me and Wes and our producer and our manager. That led to 30 songs that got weeded down to 15 that got weeded down to 11 on the record. I’m trying to think of anything in particular that I went for. I know I threw “Shooting Star” out there and “All Right Now.” We had a bunch of Stones songs on the list, but I ended up with “Gimme Shelter.” I know “Old Man” was Wes. He connected with that song a lot with his childhood growing up. It was a big collaboration and we all had to agree on it.
When it comes down to taking on all of these songs, did you learn them by ear?
A lot, yes. A lot, no. I actually go to your fantastic site! I use it a lot. A lot of things I can figure out by ear. People who are in the same genre as us, I can usually figure out by ear because I know the chords and I know what they’re doing. A lot of that stuff was so different and there was a lot of different stuff going on, for some of that stuff I did have to obviously pull up a tab. You can pull up YouTube or whatnot. It was really fun because it caused me to play guitar like I haven’t played since I was 16 years old. I locked myself in my bedroom and just go at it for hours and hours. I did it for about two or three weeks of just hitting it and making sure I was ready and prepared. Obviously I like to be prepared to go in and record a record. It was a lot of hard work, but it was fun.
With so many different styles of music tackled on the record, did that mean you had to tweak your studio setup frequently?
They didn’t use that much stuff back then compared to the pedals and the technology that we have now. My goal was to make a ‘70s record on modern recording gear. Once I did my rhythm tones, then that was pretty much it for the whole record. Then you kind of add color here and there, and maybe there are some different lead tones sometimes. I definitely dialed back from what we do. I didn’t want to go in and just do a Mesa or Diamond now. I would go in and do that and not go too heavy with it. At the same time, I didn’t want to do all combo amps. I ended up mixing up a few things and kind of dialed it down a bit. I mainly went with my Diamond and an old Marshall 800. So I had a little bit of both worlds going on there. I brought in a second guitar player who had a completely different style than mine so I could get that old ‘70s thing of two rhythm guitar players playing off each other rather than just doubling my stuff. I wanted to have two different things going on. I brought in this guy, Justin, who plays with Pink. He went the Bogner route. It ended up being a cool mix and definitely a different tone and approach to how we do things. Pretty much everything is live if possible. There are a lot of long, long sections that are all one take and then there is a chorus pasted onto that. It definitely wasn’t the multiple takes or stacking five or six guitars. It was one hard left and one hard right.
I understand you’re also beginning to work on an album of new material. How far along are you in that process?
There are a lot of ideas, but we haven’t been in a room yet to hash them out. Hopefully it will be November or December. We’re kind of taking it easy on the touring, and then the in between downtime will be getting in a room and honing in on the ideas. Hopefully we’ll have it ready to go in the January or February time frame. That’s the thing about this record. As frustrated as we were, it made us pick up our instruments again and start playing. That led to everybody kind of writing again. We all live in different places, so now it’s just about getting us in the same room and seeing what everybody has.
I want to rewind the clock briefly to talk about why you briefly left the band, which was supposedly due to creative differences. Also, what prompted your decision to return?
Creative differences…Sometimes that’s a cop out for “we hate each other.” There was definitely that going on as well. We weren’t talking and people weren’t showing up for rehearsals that we set up and people weren’t answering phones. It was just ridiculous stuff like that. Basically I got bored and left. I did another band called Operator, and we were on Atlantic for a few years. Then oddly enough, we started talking again. We ran into each other at a show and started talking, and it really wasn’t about me coming back to the band. It was more like, “Wow, I haven’t talked to you in a long time. We did a lot of cool stuff together. We should probably be cool with each other.” Then one day I got a phone call, flew to L.A., and we played a show. I’ve been back ever since. Things happen when you blow up so quickly. It messes with your head and things change. You kind of need to step back awhile and realize how fortunate you were to have that stuff happen. Why are we so pissed off all the time? Why are we mad at each other? We make music for a living! It’s way more mellow than it used to be.
Are those growing changes the reason behind Ryan Yerdon’s (drums) departure?
I don’t like to air too much dirty laundry. It’s just one of those things. You’re married to four or five different people, and being married to one person is hard enough. It’s a relationship that ran its course. I actually have nothing bad to say about Ryan whatsoever. I still consider him a friend. It was on the straight-up business level. It just ran its course. Everybody has to do their thing and carry their weight. The relationship just wasn’t working anymore on that level. I have nothing bad to say about him at all.
Recently you participated in an online chat on the site GuitarInstructor.com. Is teaching something you do frequently?
People ask me to do that and I’ve done a few lessons. People hit me up all the time to do it, but I never really have. I’ve thought about it. It’s not something I’m against. I almost think it would be cool to go to my hometown and give lessons to kids who maybe think it’s cool that I’m in a band on the radio. It might be a really cool experience for a young person. I would definitely be more excited about doing that and making impression on a young person’s life. It would mean a lot more for me to give something back to a young person. Who knows…maybe. Maybe one day. I’m definitely cool with the online thing. That’s the easy way to do it and touch a lot of people.
What quick tips would you offer to someone wanting to advance his or her playing? Are there specific techniques or is it just a matter or locking yourself in your room and practicing for 10 hours?
For me, my actual learning to play guitar happened when I learned the power chords and a friend showed me tablature. I just locked myself in my room and learned “Master of Puppets” by Metallica front to back. For me, it was about the rhythm. I always wanted to be in a band. As much as I thought guitar solos were cool, they never rang out to me as much as James Hetfield’s rhythms. That crushing rhythm was what I was into. So as soon as I got my bearings, I went right into playing songs. I never even learned scales. I can’t read music. I have since learned scales, but I didn’t learn scales and my way around the fretboard as far as a lead player until my mid 20s. I started when I was 15, had my first band when I was 17, and I was playing out with my first band at 18. I just went straight into it. That’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to have songs that people dug and made people’s heads move back and forth and made people mosh. I’ve mellowed in my old age, but that’s what I was about when I was young. I had a lot of friends that could shred my ass off. They’re all fat and bald working behind a desk or something. So my advice is learning your basics because you have to. Get your picking and your timing down, but start playing with other people immediately. Learn how to count to four. It’s amazing how many shredders can’t stay in time. Get out there and play with other people. Write songs.
Are you still playing primarily with the PRS collection? I know occasionally you play with Gibsons as well.
I am Paul Reed Smith. I own a few Gibsons, but I am a Paul Reed Smith man. They came to me in the very beginning, and they have been very, very good to me over the years. I’m lucky to have been approached by them at the very beginning, and I have been with them ever since.
Are there any specific characteristics like the neck size or tone that draw you to the PRS?
Growing up, I was 90 pounds and 70 of it was my hair! So Les Pauls were quite a heavy thing on my little shoulders. I didn’t gravitate toward Les Pauls, but I loved them. I was a huge Slash fan, Jimmy Page. I strayed away from it, and Paul Reed Smith was my second choice. They were so expensive. When they came to the plate, it was the only other guitar for me that I could imagine myself playing at the time. Later in life I loved Fenders as well. For the music and the style of the music that I wanted to do back in the day, it was all Paul Reed Smith. I love the necks. They have nice, thinner necks. For my ears, they are the only tone and playability that is comparable to a Les Paul. That’s why I’ve been with them for so long.
Have you picked up any pieces of equipment recently that perhaps a lot of people might not know about or that you consider to be diamonds in the rough?
Yes and no. That’s the thing about instruments. It can be the same year, same model and all the different specifications – but it’s a science. Everything is going to be different. I’ve played a bunch of Marshalls that are garbage. I’ve played a few Marshalls and it’s like, “Oh, my God.” I’ve been lucky to be in studio situations where you get your hands on some great vintage gear that just blow you away. You go to Guitar Center to try and buy that same amp and it’s like, “This is garbage.” You said it right. There are diamonds in the rough. With a lot of the newer stuff, you can pretty much know what you’re getting. They’re going to be a little bit different here and there. Some of the same items like guitars might play a little bit different here and there, but you can usually find it at the store. As far as the real diamonds in the rough, over years you may get lucky and find it or you may not get lucky and find it.
For the coming tour, are you going to focus your set list on the cover songs?
No, we’ll treat it like any other new record. We’ll be playing a couple new songs that are obviously covers, and the rest will be the tried-and-true Puddle favorites. We’re going for a month and then we’ll go to the UK. In November and December we’ll polish up the new record and hopefully we’ll be back in it at the beginning of the year.
Interview by Amy Kelly
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