On Tour

9 July 2012 | 11:07 am | Greg Phillips

After load-out we headed for a beach near Scarborough, north of Wollongong that I like to stay at. A full moon and less than a metre from the sand. This is the way I like it. A very calming way to finish off a day

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Thursday 3rd May

After the amazing Gumball Music Festival (outside Maitland NSW) and three days off at the brilliant underground music venue, The Junkyard (the only place in the world I actually have a room), we set out for the Brass Monkey in Cronulla. Stopped off in Sydney briefly to do an interview with a local blues station called 2RRR and made lunch in their car park. Really enjoyed the Brass Monkey show. It's one of the few shows on this tour that offers a more quiet, sit-down audience and atmosphere. They occur rather sporadically and create an atmosphere where I can experiment with slower, more lyrical and melodic pieces. I find I get as much of a kick out of the soft quieter shows as I do the crazy high energy ones, although in very different ways. As a performer you draw on different forms of energy as mediums to deliver emotions to your audience. This is an amazing area to experiment within and these quieter shows really offer it. The set-up I'm running with at the moment offers a lot in the way of dynamics, and I feel lucky in the sense that I get to experiment with different sonic levels depending on the shows. The stomp pad offers a more comforting hidden beat. It works well underneath as a rhythmic pulse that keeps everything moving. In the softer songs, I rely a lot on the delays on my harmonica (I have a separate microphone to vocal, though it picks up a fair bit of singing still) to hold the whole sound together. The vocals melodies and harmonica playing all sort of branch out with delays and add this ethereal wall of sound that lies underneath. The acoustic guitar IS the foundation, but I run three other lines that allow me to layer and soundscape. Often at these quieter gigs, I'll use the guitar amp with delays, reverbs and other effects after a volume pedal to create textures over the top of the acoustic guitar, which would be playing the main fingerpicking and chordal melodies. Having around 50 per cent of the effects after the volume pedal means they trail out even when I cut the signal. This way I can keep things clean and separate from the acoustic backbone. 

After load-out we headed for a beach near Scarborough, north of Wollongong that I like to stay at. A full moon and less than a metre from the sand. This is the way I like it. A very calming way to finish off a day. 

Friday 4th May

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Got up with the sun and went for a surf at Austinmer beach before putting up some posters through Thirroul in anticipation of my two nights at the Heritage Hotel in Bulli. Headed to the Illawarra ABC for a radio interview and played a couple of songs. I love radio performances. They offer a situation where you can experiment and try songs from a different angle. I have no effects or electronics here, just an acoustic guitar, harmonica and vocal. Such a basic set-up means as a performer you can put a lot more into your delivery and the pure transmission of emotions. I think it's very important to spend as much time honing in on these deeper subconscious abilities as it is to work on creating something sonically unique. For this reason I always try to do live performances when invited to radio. 

Left the ABC about midday and headed for our favourite Sydney 'Pho' restaurant. Pho is really my staple diet.  

Got to the Standard in Surry Hills around load-in time. Five sets of stairs and no elevator. Sometimes the load in and out can be brilliant exercise.

The Standard show was in many ways your textbook headline performance in a typical band room. A packed space of people who've paid a ticket price and have an idea of what they believe they'll see. Sometimes these can be hard as I always want people to go away satisfied, but at the same time I want to experiment and allow the musical journey to go where it naturally wants. As a soloist its so tempting to just do whatever you feel like within a song, and most of what I do has little rehearsed structure. Within these high-energy shows I rely a lot less on the stomp trigger. It's used more as a contrast to the Kick drum and Snare trigger, which offers a much more hard-hitting sound. Also, the role of the amp changes from textures to the real backbone of the songs. I use octave and distortion pedals to ramp up the gain and help build the energy of the pieces. Compared to the Brass Monkey show, this is a far different way to approach things. I still use the delays on the harmonica and often add a clear digital delay to the acoustic sound. As long as I am perfectly in time with this delay, and practice the fingerpicking patterns in the right way, this creates another level of percussion, as the natural thudding and tapping noises of the acoustic are delayed into a rhythm. Alongside the Kick and Snare triggers this gives me a fairly substantial rhythm section to build the songs on and allows me to imitate a band. The guitar has separate lines to focus on the bass strings and the low notes that are picked. By separating these, they can be specifically set up to imitate a bass guitar and sit underneath the acoustic, which sits in the middle. The amp is then responsible for all the screaming distortions and high-gain element of the sound. I use all the splits so my guitar and foot percussion have the basic sound of a whole band, allowing the singing and harmonica playing to feature in the foreground. As I have moved and experimented with this sound, I've found I sacrifice the freedom to do the guitar acrobatics I used to do. I find the fancy guitar work may drop people's jaws, but is far less nourishing for the listener in the long run. These days I'm more devoted to getting the song and all its emotions across. 

After a damned hard load-out down the fire escape's eight flights of stairs, we finally hit the road (2am in the morning) for the overnight drive to Narooma (around five hours) where, for about four hours the next morning, I would be busking, plugged into my close friend's coffee van at the Narooma Oyster Festival. 

Saturday 5th May

Busked at the festival until 12. I find busking a brilliant way to practice and make fuel money, as well as getting your recorded material out to a load of people who never come to venues or festivals. As the set-up is very basic again it's similar to the radio performance opportunities and allows me to focus more on the delivery of the raw song.

Had a very rushed exit at 12.30pm to get back to Wollongong for a four o'clock load-in and soundcheck at the Heritage Hotel. Luckily snuck in a few hours sleep before the show, which was sold out and incredibly raucous and demanding of energy. Again, a different style of performance. When everyone's that drunk, I am thankful for the kick drum and distortion pedals on stage. This end of my sound is always a lot of fun. Every line on full bore, kick drum going almost non-stop and just a damn good pounding out of rock and blues riffs. I got through most of my heavier material and finished up about 1 in the morning. Around 1.30am I was back behind the wheel for the overnight drive to Canberra, where I would be busking at the Bus Depot Markets in Kingston, one of my favourite places to busk. 

Sunday 6th May

Slept from 4 till 8 in the morning and headed in to set up for busking. The bus depot markets, apart from being one of the cash cows that keeps me going, is an amazing atmosphere to play in. I play for around five to six hours straight and fill it in with whatever material I can think of. Heaps of time to write and experiment in an environment with no pressure.

Left Canberra at about 2.30pm and raced back to Wollongong for our second night at the Heritage Hotel. This was a really fun gig. With not much more than eight hours' sleep since Friday and a good 12 hours of playing already done, I was worried I had little left. But this in itself creates a great desperation that fuels the music. It's almost like your body prepares and rises to the occasion. There's also fact that the last show of a weekend is a chance to really get stuck into the vocals without the worry of saving my voice for the next performance, I think it puts me in a great mindset for making music. I felt very free all of a sudden. With a slightly less rowdy crowd than the night before I was able to drop all kinds of numbers, which is also a lovely freedom. After an incredibly hectic few days it's back to Fairy Meadow, a few beers and a sleep in.