Wie kan een muzikant beter interviewen dan een muzikant? Beter nog, een bevriende muzikant. Daniel Norgren is groot fan en goede vriend van Phil Cook. En, zo blijkt, een getalenteerd interviewer bovendien. Norgren gaf vorige week nog een behoorlijk goed optreden in een volle Pandora-zaal (TivoliVredenburg). In 2013 deed hij dat ook al in een uitverkocht EKKO. Phil Cook komt dit voorjaar weer onze kant op, met zijn band The Guitar Heels. We weten al dat zijn show behoorlijk goed gaat zijn, dat zagen we al bij zijn supports voor o.a. The Tallest Man On Earth, Hiss Golden Messenger en, jawel, Daniel Norgren.
First of all Phil, I just want to tell you that I’m honored to have this interview with you. I’m not a professional interviewer but I’m very curious about you and what you do. You’re an amazing songwriter, and to me the songs sound very obvious and full…so…have you ever thought about how you write songs? Do they come to you as they are?
Daniel, I’d like to offer you gratitude and praise as well. You’re a deep brother who writes deep music. I’m glad we’re doing this interview! Songwriting. Yeah that’s a funny one. I’ve had so little experience in writing my own songs. Southland Mission represents almost all of the full songs I’ve ever written. It took me about three years to write and arrange nine songs. I’m like a slow cooker, you just gotta wait til it’s done! It makes a lot of sense actually. I’m not a fast dude with anything in my life. I turn these little ideas over and over in my head until they spin into something, a chorus maybe. I have, no joke, probably a thousand snippet ideas on my phone. Each one between 3 and 10 seconds long. Just all these little tiny seeds. I sat on the nine tunes in pieces for about a year and then made a time to isolate myself in a cabin in Galax, VA for four days and get it all out. I think the process of letting the songs simmer for that long in my head was great. Then basically, like a stew, all I had to do was serve it. All the songs came out in their arrangement, tempo, feel and tone in four days. That’s my only story to really share about it so far. We’ll see how long the next record simmers for!
I get ideas when I’m out walking. I have this nice round through the woods where I live. How do you fish for ideas and inspiration?
Walking is really great. I had this little backpack carrier for my son Ellis. He and I used to walk the dogs on a long trail and I’d sing all these little silly phrases that came to mind. It was so free and honest and peaceful. Now he’s four years old and I must keep my eye on him always and it’s not quite as free. We Americans like to take drives. I love driving on little country highways with no place to be and only music on the brain. Lastly, the one that I most often use, is plugging my guitar into headphones when my family goes to sleep and playing for hours. I go to bed so energized and ready for the next day. It’s like meditation or something.
I’ve heard somewhere that scents are generally the most powerful memory triggers. As a musician I sometimes feel like I’m experiencing the same thing through sounds…not necessarily in music but you know like traffic, a distant chainsaw, church bells etc. A strange question maybe, but do you have a favorite sound? Let’s say “outside” music that really resonates extra deep within you.
Yes. This is such a good question. I think musicians should only allow other musicians to interview them. I grew up in a remote part of northern Wisconsin on a lake. Up in that part of the northern latitudes, there is water everywhere. Rivers, streams and lakes. The call of a Common Loon is the sound that taps into the center of my life’s experience. It’s so haunting and beautiful. Anytime I hear it, my whole childhood comes back to me. The feelings and my worldview, all of it comes back like a knock on the kitchen door.
I saw you playing solo in Holland once…Truly amazing! You also joined in with me and Anders on the harmonica that night. You seem to have a lot of strings to your bow so to speak, as a band member in Megafaun and Hiss Golden Messenger to mention a few, songwriter, producer, solo artist, multi-instrumentalist, singer etc. Now in September 2015 you released your first solo album Southland Mission, which in my book already is a classic. How was that? Must have been a lot of ideas and songs to dig into?
Yes, I’ve been so lucky for all these opportunities to share stages and ideas with great people in the last few years. I’m born to collaborate with others. It brings me joy to make connections on a musical level, which I believe is the deepest level along with marriage and family. There are people whom I feel are close friends even though we’ve only seen each other a few times because sharing music lets me see parts of their true identity and share mine. I tend to surround myself with people who are constantly driven to become better at their craft. It inspires me to do the same. After enough time, I had a chance to make my own statement in the world. It was made while thinking about all these people who I love and accomplish incredible things. I had no choice but to push myself and create something honest and meaningful and bold. The whole process has been amazing. Like I said earlier, I’ve written less than 20 songs total in my whole life because they take me years. Never painful, just slow and easy. Maybe they’ll happen faster as time passes, but who knows!
Recently I heard this song called “Do Your Thing” with Moondog. A friend played it to me, and it just stuck…so inspirational and uplifting. I also happen to know that you’re what one may call a botanist in the great garden of American roots music. Do you have a song or an album or an artist or just anything that has had an extra big impact on you, and encouraged you to keep on doing the things you do?
I’m listening to that Moondog song as I write this. Wonderful. I have many lifelong resources that I’ve drawn from during different times in my life. I think the one I make no secret of will always by The Staple Singers. America’s finest musical family. I will always relate to Pops’ voice and its twang and mood. Mavis’ rasp and moan. The way their voices swoop, smear and sway perfectly together will always raise the hairs on my neck. Especially songs like “Low Is The Way” and “Tell Heaven”.
Another family I’ve always gone back to is The Neville Brothers (they have a great autobiography!). They played a part of just about every great band and recording to come out of New Orleans for decades. The Meters, The Wild Tchoupitoulas, Dr. John, Allen Toussaint’s house band, Dumpstaphunk. Most of the members of the extended Neville family have their own bands that play in town. Just an incredible legacy and story.
Thanks Phil for your time and for doing what you do, and I wish you all the best with everything and especially the show at EKKO and the rest of the tour. I really hope to see you down the road again soon!
Oh we shall see one another soon I’m sure! Thanks for the great questions Daniel!
Geschreven door Daniel Norgren & Phil Cook
Foto (boven): Nick Helderman
Phil Cook & The Guitarheels spelen op vrijdag 29 april in EKKO.