CEV Artist Interview


Sam Phillips

Sam Phillips' website





Push Any Button





Push Any Button:
CEV talks to Sam Phillips

CEV:  Back in 1988 when you first adopted the name Sam for the music you were creating/performing what did that mean to you and your music in terms of the direction you wanted to go and what you wanted to accomplish with your music? Was it a liberating or stressful period of time for you?   

SP:  When one changes his or her name, this typically signifies an ending or a beginning in life... For me it was both.  

CEV:  In what ways did this transition to Sam affect your whole songwriting process from that point forward?

SP:  I was very young when I signed my first record contract.  As I began to grow emotionally, artistically and spiritually, my songwriting and musical direction changed.  The people at the label I was on did not like my new direction, so I signed with another label.

CEV:  Having been a fan of your music since the beginning I was curious as to how your fans coped with the changes that 1988 brought about. Did they continue to listen to your music or did you start over building a whole new fan base who would not be carrying the baggage of who you were?


SP:  Here is an amazing quote from Martha Graham to Agnes DeMille: "There is a vitality, a life force  a quickening that is translated through you into action,and because there is only one of you in all time this expression is unique.  And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and will be lost.  The world will not have it.  It is not your business to determine how good it is; nor how valuable it is; nor, how it compares with other expressions.  It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.  You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you.  Keep the channel open..... No artist is pleased....There is no satisfaction at any time.  There is only a queer, divine dissatisfaction; a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than others."


CEV:  I read a quote by you about how you are always trying to reach the high bar of writing lyrics for your songs because you grew up listening to some “heavy musicians and songwriters”. Why are lyrics so important to the music that you write and why do you think that in modern songwriting in general they have fallen short of being spectacular?

SP:  The jazz, blues and country music of the 20th century is a great cultural treasure that, if discovered by songwriters with talent, could change song writing. There also has to be a stubbornness to stick to one's own vision.  


CEV:  As a songwriter do you feel compelled at times to use your platform in the public eye to write songs that have social/political ramifications if you feel strongly enough about an issue? Do you consider the impact it will have on your career before publicizing your views or writing about them in your songs?

SP:  Should songs carry political messages? Is that asking too little of them?   

CEV:  You’ve been involved with a few labels over the years that released your music. Overall what was your experience being a label artist and did the pros outweigh the cons in getting your music out to the masses?

SP:  One thing about being signed to a label was that you were picked from the bunch by people who believed that your music would find a substantial audience. Another thing about being on a label was that the people there didn't always know how to find that substantial audience.  Corporate fear and executive greed got a lot louder than the music as the Wild West of the Internet decided music should be free or a dollar a song.  Though it seemed like this was only hurting the record companies and it was, it left the recording artists and musicians stranded and cut out of the profits.  But this is only the small picture of the dollars and cents.  As far as I can tell we still need art and music and we will find a way to make it for people.

Photo by Lincoln de Fer

CEV:  In 2009 you did something very interesting with your music when you launched The Long Play as a subscription service for your fans to get your music out to them. Tell me about The Long Play and what it was that you wanted to accomplish with that concept.

SP:  I take a long time to write and record, so I wanted to see what would happen if I made myself hurry that up.  I loved being able to finish a few songs and immediately send them to listeners who were interested.  

CEV:  It has often been said that the Internet has leveled the playing field for all the indie artists out there trying to get their music heard in lieu of being on a major label. Do you think that statement is true? Why or why not?  

SP:  There are many opportunities out there, but it is also easier to be invisible in plain sight.  

CEV:  The Internet is a pervasive thing these days with social media humming all the time. How do you feel about losing a certain amount of seclusion during your creative process so that fans can vicariously share the process with you through v-blogs, blogs, and other electronic means of sharing the songwriting experience?

SP:  I think it's getting to a point where no one has the time to follow all the inner workings of an artist and perhaps the novelty of it is wearing off.

CEV:  Some of your fans may not know that you scored the Gilmore Girls and the Bunheads for television. How much different an experience is it for you as a composer to write music for shows like these than it is to compose music for yourself? Was the collaborative experience with the producers of the show a good one for you and how much latitude were you given in what you composed?

SP:  I love Amy Sherman-Palladino and her writing. No one makes the kind of of shows she makes and I hope she will continue to make films and TV shows for us for next 100 years.

CEV:  I watched Die Hard With a Vengeance a couple of times before I went up to IMDB to peruse the credits one day and noticed that Sam Phillips was in it. How did that role come about and what did you take away from the experience of being in a big budget Hollywood movie?

SP:  I met the most extraordinary people on that set.  

CEV:  Is there a theme on this release that ties the songs of Push Any Button together as a whole?  

SP:  I felt these songs were friends from the 20th century... Like my dream of asking pop music in 1968.

CEV:  As a songwriter how is it that you decide what songs make it onto a release like Push Any Button and what songs don’t?

SP:  I am tough on myself. That is why I take so long to make albums.

CEV:  I’ve seen many projects find their way onto crowdsourcing sites like Kickstarter for funding. As an indie artist what do you think of this type of financing for projects/albums that you might be involved with in the future?

SP:  It is moving to see people supporting the musicians and artists they like.

CEV:  As a songwriter/performer what constitutes a success in your mind when you put out a new album like Push Any Button?

SP:  Loving the performances of the musicians who played on the recordings, getting it to those who will like it and covering manufacturing, production and promotional costs.  Any prizes, or compliments that help to make those things possible are greatly appreciated.

CEV:  I noticed that Push Any Button will also be available on Vinyl as well. What do you think is motivating this resurgence in vinyl sales in such a digital age? Are you going to continue to release your material on vinyl for the foreseeable future?

SP:  When so much is virtual, we crave the physical.

CEV:  Do you have a release date in mind for Push Any Button yet and how will fans be able to get hold of a copy of their very own?

SP:  The general release date is August 13th, however pre-orders for vinyl, CD and hi res digital files are currently being taken on my website at www.samphillips.com. Pre-orders will ship around July 16th.  

CEV:  I would suspect that your job scoring television shows limits the time you can spend on the road but I will ask anyway. Are there any live shows that you will be doing in the near future in the California area or around the rest of the country spotlighting the music on Push Any Button?

SP:  I hope so.

CEV:  Thanks for taking the time out to answer these questions Sam and I wish you much success along your musical path.