In conversation, Phillip Phillips is as easygoing and unassuming as you'd imagine that any 22-year-old pawn shop worker could be – which leaves one a bit bewildered, when considering his "American Idol" win this year and the release of his highly praised debut album The World From the Side of the Moon (check out the album sampler player at bottom).
Phillips, whose soulful inflection sounds far more like a mix of Dave Matthews and Mumford & Sons than anything crooning alongside the Glamor Shots sheen of previous "Idol" winners, wrote or co-wrote the entirety of The World From the Side of the Moon, and in his drive to maintain integrity and creative control he's found himself in the welcoming company of some of rock's most respected figures. We caught up with the singer/songwriter to discuss a few of those, as well as what the future holds for the bright young star.
CraveOnline: There's a unique straddling of worlds you've got going on right now, that few people cross over. You go from playing to the Idol superfans at Mall of America to rubbing elbows with people like Pete Townshend and Dave Matthews. How do you reconcile that in your head?
Phillip Phillips: I've just always been myself, man. Music is a huge part of my life. It's therapeutic for me, and I like to try to do something different. Idol's always been so poppy, but I just wanted to share my music with people who wanted to listen. I feel like I've done that, and getting to talk to Pete Townshend and Dave Matthews and some other amazing artists… to have a conversation with them is just kind of weird. I feel like a guy who's just still trying to make it. But to build a friendship with them is awesome, when they've had so much great experience, and have been in this industry so long.
It seems like the people who have been around the longest have taken on almost a musical apprenticeship of their idols in a way. Take a band like Pearl Jam, who've looked to people like Neil Young and Pete Townshend as mentors in a way, that helped get them through some of the storms that come with the job and kept them in touch with the principle of sticking to your guns creatively.
Phillip Phillips: Definitely, man. Pearl Jam has been such a big influence, and Eddie Vedder, I love him. Some people don't even know that I was on Idol, which is really cool to hear. It's really cool what's happening right now, man. I feel like it's a blessing.
I hear you're a Tool fan – if you were pressed to cover a song of theirs, which would you choose?
Phillip Phillips: My brother in-law and I used to cover "Sober"… we had a medley thing that we did a whole bunch of different songs in Drop D tuning. I like that song, "Right In Two"… they have so many great songs. Maynard's insane, dude. He's awesome.
No question about it. It can be a pretty invincible feeling, with all the attention and adoration flowing in. When your entire reality is this tidal wave these days, do you have any tricks or rituals to help you stay rooted in who you are?
Phillip Phillips: Not really, man. I take every day as a blessing. To meet new people, whether it's on radio or after a show, I just try to get to know people, make friendships. You gotta be kind to people – that's how I grew up, and I have too many people, friends and family that would probably kick my butt if I tried to get cocky or anything (laughs)…. I wouldn't wanna cross that line.
Speaking of exposure, you've got more than half a million followers on Twitter. Even beyond the music and the press, that direct line to fans is an amazing thing these days. Is the tidal wave of attention overwhelming at times?
Phillip Phillips: Yeah, it can be. Being out there in the light like that is definitely overwhelming. I don't like being the center of attention…
Phillip Phillips: (laughs) I know… I always try to have the band on the stage as much as possible with me, because without them we wouldn't have sounded as good as we would've wanted to. Those guys always made sure when I went onstage that we always had a good time. I feel like we did that, but I hate being the center of attention. Every guy in the band deserves his own spotlight, solo or something like that. We have a good time, man. All the guys are amazing, and if we mess up, we just try to turn it into some kind of jam.
That makes for a more dynamic show, too, I imagine. The tour kicks off in February, right? It'll be you with a band – any specific ideas yet on spicing things up?
Phillip Phillips: Something like that, yeah. It's all in the works right now.
Any favorite guitars?
Phillip Phillips: I really like full-body guitars. That's what my Taylor is, it's a Gs7. I like some cutaways, but it's gotta be specific. I just love the full-body guitars. I like the big sound of 'em.
You just performed "I'll Be Home For Christmas" at Disney World – that was cool, seeing the crowd swaying like that.
Phillip Phillips: Yeah, it's hot as crap out there. I always get nervous doing Christmas songs, and I didn't get to practice too much on that one, but I did my best with it. It's always different doing Christmas songs, always changing range and so on.
Think you could ever see yourself putting out a holiday classics album?
Phillip Phillips: Oh, I hope not… (laughs)
Check out an album sampler of Phillip Phillips' new release, The World From The Side Of The Moon: