We were lucky to have a chat with Phillip-Michael Scales in anticipation of his upcoming 10×10 Series performance on January 26! On this episode of the Hult Center Podcast, we cover everything from the inspirations behind his signature “Dive Bar Soul” sound, to thoughts on his upcoming album, and even the surprises of living in Nashville – we’ve got the inside scoop to hold us over until we catch Phillip-Michael Scales on the Hult stage!
Dan: You are listening to the Holt Center podcast. And on today’s episode is our upcoming 10×10 artist, Philip-Michael Scales. How are you?
Phillip-Michael Scales: I’m doing well, man. I’m excited to come and play this 10×10 thing.
Dan: Yeah, it’s a great opportunity for people to come to shows that might not otherwise come to a show. Because you can’t beat $10.
Phillip-Michael Scales: You really can’t, you can’t. And that’s a cool thing I think too, is like music is like having a barrier to entry for live shows. So many things these days, whether it’s YouTube, whether it’s Instagram, whether it’s Netflix, like you’re competing with so much stuff, whether it’s price. And so it’s very cool to lower those barriers and get people into the room.
Dan: Agreed. So, let’s just start. It’s a new year. How’s the new year been so far?
Phillip-Michael Scales: New year, we’re four days in, we’re good, man. Last year was crazy. I just finished up an album. I got my wisdom teeth out 10 days before Christmas. So like, yeah, I feel like I did a lot of touring. Like it was a nutty, nutty 2023. So I’m stoked to be sort of on a fresh start on 24.
Dan: Nice. Did you have like chipmunk cheeks for a couple of days?
Phillip-Michael Scales: Yeah, yeah, definitely. Yeah, I have, I’ve had like, like mine came in like pointing it out of my mouth, you know, so they were under the skin. So it was it was intense. My dad’s a dentist. And yeah, just a lot of pain. But I got it done. Yeah.
Dan: Yeah, good, good. And so last question about last year, what was your top album of 2023?
Phillip-Michael Scales: Ooh, top album of 2023. What was I listening? Am I allowed to cheat and look at Spotify real quick? Just take a peek. Just take a quick little peek. I don’t know if I had like an entire album. I really liked that EP by Danielle Ponder. And then I really got into this record by Albert King called, what is it? I think it’s off of “I Wanna Get Funky.” Yeah, “I Wanna Get Funky.” It’s just like 1975 or something like that. And yeah, it was back when he was on Stax Records and it just, it’s cool. It’s like a blues record, but it also like, he wrote a bunch of it and also it just has that like Stax like horn feel, it’s cool. Yeah.
Dan: All right, well, let’s talk about your interesting musical journey to where you are right now. So despite a very personal connection you have to blues, blues wasn’t really your thing.
Phillip-Michael Scales: Yeah, yeah, well, I think it was like, you know, when I grew up, my aunt, my aunt was really good friends with BB King. And so I met him a bunch of times and we hung out and he called me his nephew and I called him my uncle and it was great. But I think, you know, one, it was like, you know, decades ago and the blues wasn’t quite the coolest thing in the world. And you know, you’re a teenager, so you don’t want to listen to like, you know, that music or whatever. And then also too, I wasn’t quite a guitar slinger. I’ve never really been a guitar slinger. So for me, I think it was one of those things where I was like, once I realized like, oh, there’s so much prestige here and all this, I’m just gonna run the other direction. And I fell in love with the Beatles and I fell in love with sort of a lot of indie rock and really concentrated on songwriting and sort of went that direction. But then, I got a little older and I think being a black dude in America and… and just sort of growing up, the blues gets a little bit more of, it makes more sense, you know what I mean? Like when you’re a kid, it’s just very like, cool, guitar things, whatever, you know? Yeah, so the heartbreak and.
Dan: It’s not just a genre of music. It has a lot, you know, that goes along with it. Yeah.
Phillip-Michael Scales: Absolutely, absolutely. And yeah, I feel like now, you know, I’ve had something to add to it. You know, I had a tune on my last album called “What Will They Say When They Put Me In My Grave,” you know, which is kind of like about legacy and, you know, like what how people came before me, you know, who came before me and how, you know, that plays into my life. And yeah, I think I couldn’t have written that song when I was 12 or 13, you know.
Dan: Sure, sure. First albums tend to be kind of a long time coming and deeply personal. So where did your first album come from?
Phillip-Michael Scales: Oh man, this first album under the name Phillip-Michael Scales, I’ve been writing a lot of records since I was like 13. So my first full length under my own name was called “Sinner Songwriter.” And I was approached by a label in France and they wanted to put together a record. And so it was like, they’re a blues label. And so like I kind of put together some of my tunes and it was kind of an amalgamation of like singles I had sort of put out over the years, plus a couple extra sort of new songs. So… It was definitely a personal record for sure. And it took me, I don’t know, yeah, I would say if you look at all the songs, it was probably a culmination of like five years, six years or something like that. The interesting thing about my new record that I’m working on, I’ve got singles coming out in February and April and June, is that it’s kind of like speaking of that Stax moment. The cool thing about Stax Records was it was just kind of a moment in time. So this was the first record that I have kind of written that was almost like, you know, I think the first song I wrote for it was in September, and then maybe finished it in June and then recorded it in July. So I’m really into the energy of like being the same person recording it, who is the same or who wrote it, you know, I think sometimes with that first album, you like write a song four years ago and you can’t access the feeling in the same way, you know.
Dan: Totally. Yeah. And actually, you know, it surprised me listening to “Sinner Songwriter” that I hear a lot of like pop in there. I hear a lot of Fall Out Boy vibes.
Phillip-Michael Scales: Sure. Oh, interesting. Yeah, I did listen to Fall Out Boy growing up. I don’t know that I necessarily like immediately put it in there, but yeah.
Dan: Like I catch a lot of things that I guess it didn’t strike me as like, you know, I would blues, you know what I’m saying? It was like it was much more eclectic than I first thought going into it, which is really cool.
Phillip-Michael Scales: Yeah, and I don’t think I’m, I appreciate that, man. Thank you. Yeah, I would, I don’t think I’ve ever really seen myself or called myself a blues artist. I know that like the comparison’s kind of right there. And so I kind of made my own genre up called Dive Bar Soul, which is like, you know, sort of that story of indie rock plus, you know, a little bit of the blues soul. But yeah, there’s definitely a lot of influences there that aren’t just necessarily that I kind of grew up listening to musical theater and like I said, songwriting and to me, songs I feel like are kind of just like people, right? So if you have really beautiful people, they look really good in whatever you put them in, whether it’s a tracksuit or a tuxedo or, you know, a pair of jeans. And then you have other people where, you know, like they need to stay in their lanes. And it’s kind of just like that one, you know, like this is my look and I got to keep to my look. And like, that’s how I do it, you know, so I think for me, the songs always took a higher priority and the genres are kind of like the clothes.
Dan: Sure. And so these new tracks, you were saying that you’re writing and recording them at a quicker rate. So you’re getting that final product closer to when you actually wrote it. And it has a like a beautiful like Motown vibe or you were talking about Stax.
Phillip-Michael Scales: Yeah, yeah, I think there’s a bit of that for sure right now
Dan: Yeah, it’s really smooth sounding. I’m really into “My Oh My” and “Better Than You” a lot. Yeah.
Phillip-Michael Scales: Aw, thanks man. Yeah, those were records that I did last summer, but I think my new record is kind of like a continuation of those and sort of a bit of center songwriter if that makes sense. But yeah, you know, I also, I moved to Nashville in the middle of probably at the end of 2019.
Dan: Okay. Perfect time to move. Nothing dramatic happened. Ha ha.
Phillip-Michael Scales: Nothing at all dramatic happened. So it was kind of cool, not cool, but like. It was kind of interesting because Nashville kind of ups your game a bit. You know, I’m a Chicago guy and, and yeah, just going out to clubs and, and seeing people perform, you’re just like, wow.
Dan: Every club has, yeah, they have four stages and everyone is like better than you at guitar.
Phillip-Michael Scales: Yeah, yeah, you know, and so, and everybody’s really nice and supportive. So it’s been nice to sort of like, definitely been to shows and been like, all right, I guess I’m going to go home and practice, you know?
Dan: Yeah, it’s yeah, it’s Nashville’s pretty crazy like that.
Phillip-Michael Scales: So definitely, it’s kind of like, you know, getting moved up to the NBA and being like, oh, I’m, I’m practicing out here with LeBron. That’s a very different, you know? Yeah. It’s a very different vibe. So it’s been cool.
Dan: And so what’s, are you, have you announced when this record or when can we expect it in 2024?
Phillip-Michael Scales: I got a new song called “Light Up the Sky,” and it’s going to be out on February 21st. So that’ll be the first of a couple singles. Yeah, yeah, I’m super excited. It’s like got horns on it, but it’s also a pretty rock and roll song. And you know, I’ve not really had a manager over the years. I’ve kind of manned this whole career myself. I’ve got a booking agent I’ve worked with for a long time, and I’ve had publicists sort of here and there. But for the most part, it’s been… It’s been mostly my efforts and I think this new song kind of encapsulates a little bit of that mission statement and the grit that it kind of takes to do it.
Dan: Nice. So the new life in Nashville is inspiring the record.
Phillip-Michael Scales: Yeah, I think I think like everything and yeah, I think everything kind of inspires it. I think musically it definitely is. I think that, you know, the cool thing about being in Nashville is you have access to better musicians, better producers, better, you know, just more people in general. It’s funny because, you know, you like, I need a bass player and like, oh, cool. What kind of music is it? You know, and you’re in Chicago and they’re like, oh, okay, these three dudes play bass or these couple of guys play bass, you know, but like when you’re in Nashville, you’re like, oh, it’s a soul record. And they’re like, oh, okay. Is it like Stax or Motown? Because those are two different phone calls.
Dan: Super specific.
Phillip-Michael Scales: Yeah, super specific. So that’s been good. But I think it’s just, yeah, life and getting older and relationships. And yeah, being in the game, that’s kind of where I draw my influence from. And it’s been nice. It kind of taught me a little bit to be maybe less precious with songs. You know, I think that like when you go to write like a song, you know, sometimes you can miss out on like the little moment of, you know, a song. You know what I mean? Some of my favorite tunes are just like those moments that like almost seem innocuous or almost like, you know, you just like, somebody just had to get out the feeling.
Dan: Yeah, it’s I feel that way. It’s like some songs have everything. And then the thing that they don’t have is that’s that empty space. You know what I mean? It’s like, and if you if you work on a song too long and keep throwing in everything, at the end, it’s like, was that the song that you actually wrote or is it just layers of crap?
Phillip-Michael Scales: Yeah, well, I think it was, Quincy Jones was like, you know, leave some room, you know, for the spirit.
Dan: That makes perfect sense.
Phillip-Michael Scales: Yeah. Yeah, so I think you’re right.
Dan: Song’s gotta breathe.
Phillip-Michael Scales: Yeah, songs definitely got to breathe for sure.
Dan: So what are your live shows like? Are you playing? I mean, we talked about you have horns on the record, but are you constantly playing with a horn section or is it a little bit stripped down or?
Phillip-Michael Scales: No. So yeah, this I believe I’m going to be playing this one solo, which is I did a lot of solo work when I was I’ve done a lot of solo work over the years. And it’s been really fun. It’s been fun because I think that like, it’s easy to sort of like shift gears a little bit and I can kind of do more of, you know, what I what I want, whereas like, you know, when you have a band, you know, they know certain songs are ready for a certain order, and then you can’t really like change on a dime as quickly as you’d like to. But yeah, there’s just sort of an intimacy, I think, to a solo show. And I think as a songwriter, my goal, my drive, my sort of vibe is like, you know, really song focused. And so I think that sometimes those are the places where the song can breathe the most.
Dan: Yeah, cool. Do you have a favorite guitar when you’re playing solo?
Phillip-Michael Scales: Oh man, I keep toggling between these two. I got a Strat and I got a 339, which is like a hollow body. And so I kind of toggle between the two of those, but I do a fair amount of acoustic tunes. And then I just built this rubber bridge guitar. And I really liked the way that one sounds too. I basically took out a bridge of a guitar and I put a rubber bridge in it. So it kind of sounds like thumpy and dead. Yeah, it’s cool. It’s a cool vibe for sure. They used it on the Taylor Swift record and some Maren Morris stuff. It’s kind of like a newer production thing, but I found it when my producer and I sort of met up and he was like, yeah, you want to try writing a song together? And I was like, great. And then he wrote this really cool song on, what’s it called, on this rubber bridge baritone. And so then I was like, well, I guess I got to get one of those now. Yeah, for sure.
Dan: Do you got a favorite song to play?
Phillip-Michael Scales: Um, I think the new ones, man, I think it’s like as an artist, you’re just always excited to play the new, the newest, latest, greatest, you know, you can finish a record and that can be, you know, I’m sure there are Grammy winners out there who, you know, just get a Grammy for this, this record and they’re like, yeah, but you haven’t heard my new stuff. Yeah.
Dan: Yeah, that’s true. And you’ve toured a lot. So what is your, do you have like some, you know, things that you have to do at every stop? Do you have to hit the record store or a donut shop or what’s tour life for you?
Phillip-Michael Scales: Oh man, tour life is so different for me, depending on where I am and how I travel. You know, like if it’s a solo run, it’s a lot less, it’s a, you know, it’s a lot more sort of like up to me. I try to find a coffee shop. That’s kind of always the first like sort of order of business is finding out the coffee shop. And then, yeah, I just like to like poke around the town. There’s like a good bookstore. That’s definitely in my, in my, my list of things to do, but. Yeah, I just like to get to the venue and kind of get a sense of the city, find some good food and hang out and chat. I’ve never been to Eugene, so I’m super excited to come down.
Dan: Yeah, we’re excited to have you.
Phillip-Michael Scales: I think I’m just excited to get out there. And I think that if you’re hearing this before the show, I would love nothing more than for you to bring a friend and you know, you heard him on a podcast. And yeah, let’s make this relationship real and shake hands in person.
Dan: Phillip-Michael Scales will be here for our 10×10 Series on Friday, January 26th at 8 o’clock. All tickets are just $10. And don’t forget to get there early and grab a limited edition show poster. A quick special thanks to our 10 for 10 series sponsor Terrell Group and partners Threadbare Print House and KRVM 91.9 FM.