INTERVIEW: Phil X - The Drills, Bon Jovi
He’s was one of the first prolific session guitarists in Los Angeles, having worked with some of the greats in the music industry from Rob Zombie and Alice Cooper to Chris Cornell and Halestorm. In 2016 he became an official member of Bon Jovi, he invented the ‘Flip Stick’, has amassed over 30 million views on Frettedamericana, and he’s now a Gibson Artist. He is the one and only Phil X.
We sat down to talk with Phil about his new single release with The Drills, his inventiveness on guitar and his relentless passion for fans, so much so he put them in the new video.
Elle Jay: Hey Phil, thank you for talking to The Rockpit
Phil: Hey, how are you doing?
Elle Jay: I’m good thank you, how are you?
Phil: Yeah, I’m good, there’s a lot of weirdness, but we’re doing our best right, everybody is, you’ve gotta learn to roll with the punches (Phil air punches)
Elle Jay: It’s definitely a weird world at the moment.
Phil: So, where are you?
Elle Jay: In Perth, Australia
Phil: Perth, you have the rock n roll statue there!
Elle Jay: Yeah, we have the statue for Bon Scott here
Phil: I knew it! Yeah Bon Scott, yeah! I played in Perth with Bon Jovi and they were like there’s a statue here of Bon Scott, and I’m like let’s go and they go no we don’t have time.
Elle Jay: Hey you can see it next time when you come with The Drills
Phil: Dude, I want to come over with The Drills so bad, people don’t understand how bad I want to go to places with The Drills. I’ve been to these places with Bon Jovi and it’s amazing. The Drills are my passion, I’m telling a story, I’m the narrative and I’m delivering the goods as a lead guy, with Bon Jovi I’m kinda in the back seat of the band adding colour. With The Drills I’d love to go to Australia, Brazil and Europe, we were supposed to be in Europe in March and we did eight shows in the UK then instead of going to Amsterdam we had to come home because of Covid, so we only toured part and it was really disappointing. And even now as an artist and as a musician, it’s very challenging every morning to wake up and think I’m not playing a stage until next year, I mean that doesn’t sound right but if that’s what it is, it is what it is. I’m sat playing guitar every day, I get to work on music every day, I get to be home, I get to be a dad with my kids which is amazing (Phil’s face lights up at this point) That’s the saving grace of this, it’s all about being positive, I mean hey, check out this Segway, that’s what Right On The Money is about! It’s all about being positive, things could be worse, put everything in a bright light and move on man, that’s what it’s about.
Elle Jay: It’s a really awesome song and I love the video with your fans, you all look like you’re having so much fun.
Phil: You know I really wanted to do something as a thank you to the fans because they’re so supportive, no matter what’s going on they’re always there and they’re always supportive. I launched the Phil X App last month so I wanted to do something special for the premier members with some exclusive content, so we put it out [to them] and said ‘hey if you send me a video of you singing the chorus we will put you in the video’ and surprisingly enough a lot of people, they started coming in and coming in and then I think my last count was fifty fans in the rock video and I that’s crazy, some of them were really quick with ‘Right’ and then they’re out but it’s a pop song, well I mean [deep voice] it’s got a heavy rock bridge but you know, it’s a catchy tune right?
Elle Jay: Yeah, I love it, it’s got everything there’s even swing jazz there in the drum solo
Phil: Is that what you’d call it?
Elle Jay: Yeah
Phil: Maybe, a little
*Phil breaks into an ad-lib scat jazz vocal*
Phil: Hey you know, if that’s what you say it is then that’s what it is. I think it’s an energetic track and I feel that came together because we recorded it live off the floor, we were lost, it was a brand new song, no body had played it before. As we we’re figuring out the arrangement, Chris Lord Alge, Grammy Award Winning Engineer (Green Day - American Idiot, 21st Century Breakdown, Boulevard Of Broken Dreams & American Idiot Theatre Album.Steven Curtis Chapman – All Things New) walked in and said ‘hey after that heavy section instead of going into the solo or the bridge we need a drum break’, and we were like ‘what?’ Brent then said ‘something like this?’ and he goes back into the control room and we play the song, we get to the second chorus and I’m (Phil’s acts like he’s biting his nails) but I’m playing guitar so I can’t bite my nails so you know what I mean, we’re looking at each other, Brent (Brent Fitz) over there, Dan’s (Daniel Spree) over there and they’re looking at me and I’m like ok, so I go to Dan ‘start playing bass’ and he started playing bass and I started getting feedback and I’m like how am I going to let these guys know when to go into the solo (Phil clicks his fingers with inspiration) I scream! So I get on the mic and I scream and we all go into the solo, then I had to signal everybody again and now I’m doing the chorus, I love that we didn’t fix that, the way we recorded it with all that animosity toward the arrangement, all those feelings of what the hell was happening, I think that’s how you hear it and I love that about that track, it adds an energy to it, I believe.
Elle Jay: You got that whole track in one take?
Phil: No but yes, there was two takes prior before Chris said let’s do the drum break, so the drum break was the first take. As I sit here now, I still get goosebumps because it was such an incredible way to lay it down, Dan was like ‘what just happened’? And I was like I don’t know but it sounds great and then I get it home, so the main guitar that you hear on the left and drums and bass, that’s the track, that’s what we laid down at Capitol Records. Then when I got it home, I wanted to balance it out so I put a guitar doing the same thing on the right and then sang it and we had some friends over and they did some ‘Right, Right, Right’ and that was it. I mean the solo on the track is the solo I laid down on the floor with the guys in that take, it was all meant to be. My favourite records are (Led) Zeppelin recording at the same time, Black Sabbath recording at the same time and Van Halen recording at the same time, people don’t do that anymore, so when I can I try to do that as much as possible, I just love the energy that comes with it.
Elle Jay: You can see that energy transfers over in the video, everyone looks like there having a ball and it’s the first time you have played it together
Phil: Yeah I felt like how would I have felt if one of my favourite artists was like if you send in a video you might be in the video, then if I saw my face in one of my favourite bands video, I’d be freaking out, calling my Mom ‘Hey Mom I’m in the video’! You know so I can only imagine what it feels like, you know our fans are amazing so sending them a thank you and having them in something like this is fantastic. Also the premier fans that are in the video, they got the video before any one else, like you guys have it (The Rockpit) because you are so far ahead in the time zone (15 hour time difference) the rest of the US wont see it until tomorrow morning but our fans got it today, so that’s exclusive for them.
Elle Jay: You also have the new album Stupid Good Lookings, Volume 2 coming out soon as well?
Phil: Yeah but with that I want to clarify that ‘Right On The Money’ is a standalone single, so it won’t be on Volume 2 and I’ll tell you why, there’s another six songs that will go on Volume 2 that have six other drummers and since Brent is on ‘Right On The Money’, he was also on ‘I Want My Money Back’ on Volume 1, he’s on all the money songs, so I have to get more money songs haha. I, love Brent and he’s fantastic but I didn’t want to repeat drummers for Volume 2 so it’s six different drummers, including Tommy Lee, Ray Luzier from Korn, Gary Novak, Kenny Aronoff who’s worked with everyone, Ryan MacMillan and Liberty Devitto. I met Liberty Devitto who played drums for Billy Joel for thirty years whilst we were doing content for the ‘Hired Gun Documentary’ and we totally hit it off, I said to him if I ever have any work and get a studio, will you come and play on a Drills song and he was like yeah man. So, I ended up doing that before I played Madison Square Garden with Bon Jovi in New York so that was pretty exciting.
Elle Jay: Will Daniel and Brent tour with you when The Drills go out?
Phil: If Brent can, he plays with ‘Slash’ and well it’s the dynamic of being a drummer in LA, if you’re in LA and you’re a great drummer, you’re playing in ten bands which is why we don’t have a drummer, we always have different drummers. I’ll be like ‘Hey Man we’re playing the Viper Room on Friday night’ and I’ll get ‘I can’t I’m playing with somebody else’. So then I’ll go to drummer number two and he’s playing with someone else and then you’ll get to drummer number five and he can do it but he wasn’t your first choice haha.
Elle Jay: How about Daniel?
Phil: Daniel is always out, he’s the consistency for me, he is the glue between me and any drummer like musically, energy wise, because I can be a wild spoke in the wheels sometimes and he’s the one that just keeps the wheel together. It’s pretty insane, and we’re like brothers it’s an incredible relationship, if I booked a tour and he said he couldn’t go I don’t think I would do it.
Elle Jay: He is a phenomenal bassist
Phil: He is and he’s the funniest guy on the road, which is more important haha
Elle Jay: We have spoken about the fans in the video, and you’re an artist who has had an incredible career working with everyone from Rob Zombie to Alice Cooper and Chris Cornell and now working with Bon Jovi, but whose video would you want to be in?
Phil: Ok first to play that game I have to be 14 again and then it would be Van Halen, I saw them in 1980 with Roth (David Lee Roth), I know you’re like man that is way before you were born, haha
Elle Jay: Only 2 years, I was born the year you formed Sidinex (1982)
Phil: Look at you doing your work, do you know what ‘Sidinex’ means?
Elle Jay: Yeah it’s cool it’s your last name reversed.
Phil: Yes, it is
Elle Jay: So, about Van Halen in 1980?
Phil: I saw them in 1980, 81, 83 and 84. I’m just going to go out and inject, that changed my life, Eddie (Eddie Van Halen) was my favourite guitar player, it wasn’t like he just got on stage and just stood there and played amazing guitar, he played amazing guitar whilst jumping off drum risers, sprinting across the stage and jumping on PA stacks. I was like ‘I want to do that’ it’s like a superhero, putting a cape and I can save the world!
When people ask how am I so energetic onstage, it comes from being a huge fan and being in the audience and projecting what I want to see on stage, which is energy you know. Whether I’m singing, I mean it’s hard being on a mic all night and that’s what I do with The Drills, I don’t get to run around as much, but when I get to do it, it’s an incredible feeling of control and loss of control, it’s a balance.
Elle Jay: So, what’s next for The Drills? I understand with Covid there’s disruptions to touring, maybe you can come here to Western Australia, we can have 30,000 people at a stadium within the month due to the success of our restrictions.
Phil: Get out, I’m going to talk to my manager as soon as I hang up, I’m gonna call my agent in Australia cos that would be fantastic, but we would have to quarantine for two weeks before we could play, then do the shows and have to quarantine to come back home. That makes sense man but 30,000, I have a theory that the smaller venues would be allowed to open first?
Elle Jay: Yeah, our venues are now open and bands are back gigging again
Phil: That’s amazing, there’s a venue here in LA called Baked Potato and their capacity is only 80 people but you’re crammed in there and they’re wearing masks, but you need to drink and you eat so you’re gonna take the mask off and you expose yourself, so I mean I don’t think they’re doing it right here in LA to be honest.
Elle Jay: Which do you find better to play, the smaller intimate gigs or the stadiums?
Phil: I feel blessed that I get to do both, I did a bunch of interviews when The Drills were playing in the UK (in March) and the ongoing joke was I’m travelling with a band, playing clubs and sharing hotel rooms and then in June I’ll be flying on jets and playing in arenas. I mean getting to do both is… well it’s not playing on stage with Bon Jovi that’s the dream come true, it’s being able to do both that’s the dream come true. I love intimate sets, I love being able to see the entire audience, people singing ‘Bed Of Roses’ in the audience, yeah it’s fun to see that on stage, but when I’m in the club and someone is singing the entire words to ‘Air Hockey Champion Of The World’, now that, that’s a buzz, I get a buzz off of that, that’s amazing.
Elle Jay: I much prefer seeing the intimate shows, we saw Alice Cooper on one night at RAC Arena, then Nita Strauss in her Masterclass the next night, with that it was like she was speaking direct to you as an individual
Phil: When I do clinics, I do a Q & A and that makes it even more intimate than just performing. A cool thing I’ve done, I did a clinic in Melbourne the night before the Bon Jovi show and that was a lot of fun but my favourite, the last time I was in Australia, I was in Adelaide and I played at an open mic night, I have a friend here who is a music producer and he was like ‘hey man do you want to do an open mic night in Adelaide on Monday with my friends who play bass and drums, they’ll learn anything you want’ and I was like sure. So, I didn’t post anything or where I was going but my fan club did on Instagram, so the placed was packed with Bon Jovi fans. I got up and we played and we nailed it, we played ACDC and Zeppelin and I had a blast it was so fun and then the next thing was the Bon Jovi show.
This is a great story, I did a clinic in, we played ‘Rock In Rio’ in 2019, literally like a hundred thousand people, but I did a clinic two nights before I think in Sao Paulo and it was a bunch of Bon Jovi fans and this one girl was like (Phil holds his phone up like he’s filming) and the girl says ‘So my nephew is ten and he’s playing guitar but he wants to quit, do you have any words of advice?’ And I was like ‘wait are you filming me or are you Facetiming?’ And she says ‘I’m Facetiming’ so I grab her phone and started talking to her nephew, I see this little boys face and he sees that it’s me and he starts balling his eyes out, I had to hold it together infront of three hundred people. That was probably my favourite moment in Brazil, the Bon Jovi shows, Rock In Rio, all of that and this moment with this kid on the phone I say ‘Hey buddy, we’ve all got music in our hearts, if you don’t start playing music how are you going to let it out?’ It’s so crazy!
Elle Jay: Wow, you’ve just changed that ten year old’s life!
Phil: Yeah, those are the moments as an artist, working and being with fans, putting fans in your video and all this stuff, it’s a big cycle of appreciation. I appreciate the fans and they appreciate the band and that’s what keeps everything rolling which is why this virus sucks you know.
Elle Jay: It’s been good in a way for fans though as we usually see the superhero that you play on stage, with the virus we’ve gotten to see the real you at home, like here with your guitars behind you.
Phil: Haha yeah, I’m not even talking about my studio at the moment it’s a mess, I’ve been working so hard, I mean there’s a guitar just sitting there not even in a stand because I couldn’t find an open stand. I’m just happy, if I have a guitar in my hands I’m happy, I mean my kids now, my daughter sings all the time, she’s four, that’s right at the beginning of the video.
Elle Jay: Ah she’s with the drawing done with crayons?
Phil: No that was a fans video, Emma is the fan, her four year old daughter drew The Drills logo that I put at the beginning. My daughter is in the front yard going ‘Right, Right, Right On The Money…Right On The Money’! And so, I just put the audio in the video. Even my son he’s six and we were watching this movie, ‘Coco’, it’s a children’s ‘Pixar Disney’ film and it’s based in Mexico and they have this thing called a grito where they do this yelp on excitement before they perform so he does that grito on the video before I go into the scream in the solo. They’re so musical, they love messing around with instruments without any guidance, they recognize melodies and rules it’s pretty amazing. I’m not going to push it, it’s like ‘you do your thing cos I don’t want you to hate it’, I get so much from them, the best part about currently not touring is being home with the kids. I’ll be like ‘Hey X, what are you doing?’ And he’s like ‘Look you’re always on tour, OK, so like I don’t know what to do when you tell me to do something’, I’m like I’m your Dad, you have to listen to dad. Haha, it’s so funny.
Elle Jay: It’s nice you get to live a normal life for a while
Phil: Yeah, I do get to live a normal life, injected with…well right now I’m promoting the single, so I’m doing these interviews. Then when this is done I’ll feed the dogs and then I have a session that just came in so I’ll open up my ProTools and do this guitar session and then I’ll walk the dogs because it will cool off, then bring them back in. I’ll facetime the kids and kiss them goodnight as they went out of town with my wife so I can work, then I’ll see them this weekend. It’s one of those things where life is like a plan B right now and all we can do is roll with the punches, so it’s what I do, make the best of it, you know, Right On The Money.
Elle Jay: So, you were endorsed officially by Gibson earlier this year, congrats.
Phil: Yeah, Thank you
Elle Jay: And you’ve been playing the 64 SG Gibson with the fancy tailpiece
Phil: Haha the fancy tailpiece is the Maestro Tremolo (Phil picks up his Boy Wonder – Red SG) and I think it might have to do with why the guitar is so balanced, I’m really finicky about balance, like they send me a guitar and it went like this (Phil shows the neck diving on the guitar) so I send it back, but the SG’s, I took two on tour with The Drills and they were fantastic, there’s some lil dudes in here too, this one has ‘Antman’ in
Elle Jay: Ah yeah cos Robin got broken in half?
Phil: Yeah, my son wanted it back, he’s was like ‘Daddy can I have Robin back’? Yeah, sure here you go fine. Then he was like Dad can you glue it back together. I’m like ‘what did you do! Haha, and now this one (Phil shows his Wolvey – TV Yellow SG) has Wolverine
Elle Jay: Are you a Marvel or DC, which do you prefer?
Phil: No, I can’t choose favourites, I mean movie wise it’s Marvel. The Marvel movies are so fantastic, I have to say DC is close, I didn’t think ‘Superman’ was that good, I found too many holes in the movie, don’t you hate that? I wanted it to be good but dude, you’re fighting your enemy and he’s disoriented because he’s also Kryptonian on earth and you’re going to tell him ‘don’t worry man, you’ll get use to it’. Instead of just pounding him into the ground he’s like ‘oh no you’re freaking out because your senses are going crazy, don’t worry you’ll get use to it’. Like what!! And then ‘Batman Verses Superman’, “I’m gonna kill you!” ‘Wait, our mothers have the same name’?’ Cool!’ There are too many little things that you’re like, oh come on dude, come on. Then ‘Endgame’ is still my sons favourite movie, it’s so good.
Elle Jay: With Gibson, sorry I know we went off on a tangent then, I know you were speaking with the Luthiers earlier in the year, are you any closer in signing off on your signature guitar?
Phil: I think Covid slowed us down, but the cool thing is that, I have these guitars (points to SGs), I have my guitars and I get to, well I’ve just put a different pick up in another guitar, so while we’re doing this Covid thing and putting my signature on hold I’m still doing research. They sent me an Explorer that totally kicks ass and I’m like ‘Hey man can you send me the pick up that’s in the Explorer so I can put it in the SG that I got. There’s always something going on, I’m finicky, you know guitar players are the new nerd.
Elle Jay: You play around with the guitars yourself rather than letting your tech do it?
Phil: Yeah, I mean with this one (Phil holds up his guitar) I didn’t even put the back (plate) back on it, I used this for a video I made the other day and I didn’t even put the back (plate) back on it, man I suck. And there’s something wrong with it and I send a photo of it to my tech and go what’s wrong with this picture and he goes ‘Oh you’ve got to peel back the thing back here (points) and it will be fine’ and I’m like are you serious and he goes ‘totally serious’ and it worked! I’ve been wiring guitars since I was 17 and I never knew that.
Elle Jay: I saw in one of your videos when you recorded with Alice Cooper you used the Bouzouki Tuning and screwed the E string under the pickup screw. That is crazy, it’s not thinking outside of the box, that’s thinking outside of music, where on earth do you come up with these ideas?
Phil: I’m really good under pressure and I’m also resourceful, I don’t know if you guys have ‘MacGyver’ over there? (Yes, we do, it’s awesome) Ah good, cos I ‘MacGyver’ the shit out of stuff, and then I also have this creative side that thinks outside the planet and then it all comes together with the string under the screw so I could get that high F. It’s stuff that I’ve never seen anyone do before, I ended up being inventive on guitar from that event on. People always challenge this but you’re entitled to an opinion, I don’t think anyone changed guitar as much as Eddie Van Halen with the playing, techniques and sound of the guitar and the look of the guitar, I don’t think anyone changed guitar as much as him. So that, even when I was young I knew I didn’t want to be a copycat of Eddie Van Halen, I wanted to be me but what makes Eddie great is rhythm, his licks, his inventiveness, wow, his inventiveness, he did stuff that no one else did before. So, then I’m thinking well I’m going to be an inventive guitar player and my state of mind has been like that for thirty years, oh my god almost forty years.
Elle Jay: If I could just ask one more question before you go, obviously with Covid things have changed for planning but looking at everything you’ve done in your life, you’ve amassed a phenomenal career. You’ve worked with some of the greats in the industry, you are one of the greats in the industry, you’ve got a beautiful family. What the hell is left on the Bucket list for Phil X?
Phil: I just want to get my band to Australia, I want and this is no word of a lie, I seriously want The Drills to play everywhere. I think what we bring, even if it’s put on in a club, what we put on that stage I don’t think there’s a lot like it and everybody leaves smiling and saying that they had a great time and that is using music as a vehicle to make people happy, if I can do that all over the world then that is fantastic.
Interview conducted for The Rockpit, Australia on 3rd July 2020