Photo by Stefania Rosini
Phil Simmonds is a songwriter, producer, musical director, multi-instrumentalist, and session musician from London, who’s worked with the likes of Jessie J, Leona Lewis, and Australian singer Conrad Sewell. Having relocated to LA, he’s added to his workload by moving front and centre to create his own incredible music too! The Chronicles of Saint Arc series is the result, a cinematic, artistic, and mesmerising three-part epic of extended tracks that draws you in and never loses you… a mean feat in music. He’s already appeared in a couple of Mixtapes, however his latest challenge is to face a Q&A, so read on to find out more about the series, moving to LA, the Sultans of Swing guitar solo, and expensive coffee!
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~ Where are you right now and what can you see?
Sitting at a coffee shop in Los Feliz (LA). It’s late, I can see a lot of traffic. Nothing too crazy! – A few palm trees, a few dogs!
~ The Saint Arc series is a stunning piece of work, so where did the idea come from, and why did you choose to make the music in this concept style, rather than as a traditional album of individual songs?
Firstly, thank you! Honestly that means so much. I didn’t mean to write the “Saint Arc” series. I wrote the first song (which was In the Oak, and is technically the 3rd ‘movement’), and just carried on writing – I’ve produced a few records for people in the past, where we wrote the record and produced it in song order. I guess for me, the concept is that the next song has already been written by the song I just wrote, and I know how I want to feel after listening to the last song. It’s a long-winded process to explain but makes sense for me.
And I still can split up the songs and release them as a traditional album, I may do that later, but I want people to listen to my music how it was intended to be heard, and yes, very much to the detriment of the record’s “exposure” in the “traditional” sense. Everyone is scared of a 20 minute song.
~ How did the composition process begin, and what instruments were at the heart of the initial songwriting process given that you’re proficient on so many?
Ok, so I had just bought a piano – it was a 1908 P. A. Starck Cabinet Grand (the tallest of the uprights). It’s the piano you hear so much in Part 1 – it sounds it’s best on “Drive” for sure!!! The piano has “Starck” written on the front, and I guess “Saint Arc” was the personified version of myself in my piano! – That’s how I saw it!
Each part of the series is based around a different instrument. Part 2 features a 12-string Taylor guitar we had lying around the studio – and Part 3 is pretty much all around a Gibson 339 with a TC Helicon modulation verb pedal! – So I mainly wrote each part on those! – plus a few outliers, depending how I was feeling at the time.
~ What proved to be the biggest challenge when making the series?
I think just staying sane – the writing is dark at times, and I for sure lived what I wrote about, as I was writing – and not allowing anyone or anything to influence me. Saint Arc at the end of the day was for me, for processing my experiences – I’m really happy people are responding to it though. I have an album that I really need to make that’s a bit more for the masses, which I’ll be doing in London at some point in the near future at Kore Studios in west London.
~ You live in LA now, but what led to the move?
I’ve always wanted to live here, there’s a cool undercurrent of excitement in this city. It’s also the most competitive city, which has its pros and cons. I also moved out to be Musical director for an artist called Conrad Sewell – I’ve been producing out here and touring with other artists for years, but Conrad gave me the opportunity to make the solid jump and stop commuting.
~ What’s the best part about living in LA, and what do you miss most about London?
I have a great group of people around me! Creatively just incredible too! – But that being said, that’s what I miss about London too! I don’t think it matters too much where I live, as long as the people around me are just good people and I have that musical kick and drive around me. For now, that’s LA – I do think I’ll be living in London again at some point though. I miss the seasons!!
~ Is there a musical instrument you can’t play that you’d love to learn?
Drums – for sure.
~ Are there any other new bands or musicians local to you in LA that you recommend we check out?
Talker – I produced her song that’s coming out soon called “Passive” – But she’s released her debut song called “Collateral Damage” worth checking out – could be up your street!! [it is, thanks]
~ What’s your earliest musical memory?
Ahh! I don’t know! Playing guitar at home when I was 10, trying to learn the “Sultans of Swing” guitar solo from a tab book when I’d just got my first guitar!
~ Who are your musical Guilty Pleasures?
Anything nostalgic for me rather than ‘guilty pleasure’! So – Paul Simon, Sting (solo & The Police), I’ve been listening to “Solid Air” by John Martyn a lot this week – but that’s not guilty!
~ Aside from music, do you have any other creative skills?
Not really!! I just get stuck on the music stuff!! – I occasionally skate some of the parks out in LA, but haven’t done it in a while.
~ What’s the least ‘rock musician’ thing you’ve done in the past week?
My week’s been pretty standard. I went to a private screening for the new Ed Sheeran film that comes out in a few weeks for the Producers Guild, Not very rock and roll, but fun! Great film.
So that, or just endless meetings drinking way too expensive coffee.