Phil Hancock, the infectiously charismatic Brisbane-based musician is riding high on the back of his first tour, recent second EP launch, and music video release. “Fox”, his first studio EP marks the beginning of a more serious relationship with music, as he plans to take his personal brand of contagious pop global. We sat down over a super late breakfast to chat about his creative process and finding authenticity.
Your first tour was last year! Where did you go? Who did you tour with?
So I went with Holly Terrins, she’s a singer/songwriter/piano player as well. We went to Sydney first, then to Wooloongong, Hobart, Melbourne, the Gold Coast, then finished up in Brisbane. We flew, so at each place we had to organise getting a keyboard, so that was added stress. But we did it! We managed it.
What venues did you play in?
We played mainly in bars. In Wooloongong it was a restaurant. Hobart was a pub. Melbourne was an actual venue! Brisbane was at Black Bear Lodge.
Where was your favourite place to play?
Loved Brisbane! Home town, you know. Actually I’d say Sydney because we teed up with another event, so we had lots of people there. Everyone was super supportive and really into music.
Did you perform “Fox” the EP while you were touring?
Yeah I did! It wasn’t fully finished, but yeah, I performed all of those songs.
Was that the first time you’d performed those songs live?
It was yeah, and I remember the first time I played “Orchestra” was here in Brisbane, it was just this small show, just my friends, and they all came up afterwards and were like “that song, there’s something about it, it’s cool” so I was like, I’ll take it on tour and see how it goes. Every place, I could tell, people paid attention during that song, and applauded afterwards.
I remember in Wooloongong, because it was at a restaurant, no one was really paying attention, and that was the only song people applauded after. People actually stopped eating. So I feel like that’s a sign.
That song (Orchestra) really grabs you! Seriously, it gets stuck in my head so badly. That EP is such a detachment from what you had been doing before. Are you recording with a live band now?
Yes, I wanted to do it with a live band. My first EP that I released three years ago now, that was mostly fake instruments, on the computer. I wanted to be a bit more organic now. I think only one song had real piano, and that’s it. That’s the song that most people connect to on the EP, so I’m like, let’s bring that back.
I think particularly for pop music, and these are pop songs, you do have to spend a lot of money to get great producers to turn a pop song into something modern and now. I think to do that with fake instruments, it’s really hard to make it sound fresh.
Who were your musicians?
My drummer is someone I’ve known for several years, he’s been my drummer for a long time, Kai. My bassist has done a few shows with me as well, Adam. Sophie, I had on violin, I’d done a few songs with her before, Sophie Castriota. She’s big in Albania. I’ve recorded and written with her. Check her out! She’s a phenomenal violinist, so naturally talented. You’ll hear her in the last song on the EP “Change”, she has a solo. Then I have Jonathan, who plays the cello. I know him through a music school that I’ve done some work for. My producer, Yanto Browning, he did all the other instruments, like guitar. I played piano obviously.
How was the writing process? How was it different from your last EP?
I still write the same way, just me and a piano. I wish I had a piano with me 24/7. I’ve written so many songs, so I picked out the best ones, the ones I wanted to get out there.
So you write all the time still?
Yes, all the time. I write a lot of really poppy songs, like my first EP which was really poppy. With this one I wanted to go a bit more real, and emotional.
It is quite interesting how much you came across in this second EP. It feels like you weren’t trying to be something in particular, you just let it happen.
You hit the nail on the head. Definitely. With my first EP, I was like “I want to be a star! I want to be on radio!”. These big crazy dreams, which are great to have, you’ve got to have them. So that’s what I really focused on. What song is going to be a hit, rather than focusing on making music, being authentic, being real. Actually, on my first EP, the song “Cloud” it’s really authentic, so I’m bringing that back into this one. I just want to make people feel.
What was the driving force behind “Orchestra”?
It was the break up of a friendship. People that use you, and aren’t grateful for what you give to them. I’ve had a few friends where it’s like, “I’ve done so much for you, but you don’t really do much for me”. I have a naturally positive persona, and these people were bringing the negative. This song is about going out, but going out in style. “All I need is an orchestra to play me out.” That idea came to me first, then I wrote everything around that.
Did your music video for “Orchestra” develop organically as well?
That was out of this world. I can’t even explain how amazing that was. Grace Julia who produced it, she’s killing it in the industry right now and here I am still in Brisbane. I called her up, and said “Hey, I want to do a music video. Would you be keen to come on board? We don’t have much of a budget. We just want to see what we can do.” She was like, “I’ve got it! I don’t care about the budget, I love working with you, love the concept, it’s a good song, lets do it.”
Isn’t it great when people are so positive, and care about what they’re producing!
She does it for the love of it. Everyone who was on the clip, did it for the love. They worked so hard. We had about 30 or 40 people working on it over a weekend. I honestly though it would be a guy on an iPhone, being like, “I just want to make a music video!” but she roped in so many people and worked so hard.
And that was your concept?
Yes, I was racking my brains trying to think what to do this music video on.
So naturally you settle on a crazy cult!
Yes, a crazy cult. You know, the story was about getting away from people who drag you down and take you away from being with good friends, positivity and enjoying life, so you know. I think it was like midnight one night and it came to me. So for hours I was in my bedroom, acting it out with the song. Thinking of this shot, and this shot, and this shot! Literally everything I envisioned was in the clip.
That obviously shows that you communicated so well with Grace.
You’ve been making music for so long now. What keeps you inspired?
That’s a really good question. I think it’s seeing people’s reactions. When I released this EP and people would say, “I love that!”, then I was ok. Some people like it! I get inspiration from my own life or friends. The song “It Is Written” is a love song. That’s the song I sang at my cousin’s wedding. My cousin’s partner heard that song and wanted it at the wedding. It’s funny, because that song was originally about the start of a friendship, but she heard it as being about love.
That’s beautiful that people are drawing their own experiences from your music.
Absolutely! They can take what they want from it.
Have you made any new music since your EP?
I’m already thinking of the next one! I’d like to do more ballads, just piano. Like “Change” on the EP, very heartfelt. I’ve got a few love songs and a few heartbreaking ballads.
Obviously music is your life, but what do you do when you need a break?
I’m an entertainment industry kid. I love films. I think that’s why I wanted “Orchestra” to have such a top notch clip. I’m really film orientated. I love well made films and script writing. That’s something I’d love to explore.
You obviously have a very hands on approach, and manage all elements of your music.
Yeah, I like having control. Particularly the visuals.
Is it more authentic to you to come up with the visuals yourself?
I have done a clip, “Sugar Rush” which was all the director’s idea. I’m not that bothered because I love collaboration. I think it’s a lot more personal when I come up with the idea, for sure. Like with “Orchestra”, I love that that was my idea, but it’s just a small nugget of an idea. When everyone came on board, they turned it into what it is.
You personal style is very bright! You seem to have a penchant for brightly coloured blazers as per your floral contribution on your EP cover.
Yes! I do have to give credit to Grandma Funk. I stumbled across them in Melbourne and now a lot of my clothing comes from there. In most of the shots of me, I’m wearing them. They’re very out there and fun. They’re amazing. That’s definitely my style. I love quirky. I’m really into animals, flora and fauna at the moment.
Even whilst you were in LA last year, your friends were always ready to take a photo!
There were so many moments where I’d be wearing a jumper that I’d worn before, but I hadn’t worn the shirt underneath. My friend would say, “I know you’re going to be freezing, but take off the jumper, we’re going to get a shot in that shirt.” The shot on Melrose when I’m in a T-Shirt, the wind was insane. I was freezing! Great shot though!
What are your plans for the next five years?
I want to move overseas. London or LA. That’s the goal. Writing songs for other people is definitely on the radar. I want to do that. I want to take it a bit more global.
So you’re thinking of doing that soon?
Very soon. How I get over there I don’t know, but we’re going to make it work somehow. I’ll sponge off everyone else!
So London or LA?
I don’t know. Both!
For more from Phil, follow him on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Youtube. His EP “Fox” is available on iTunes. If you haven’t already, or if you just love it as much as I do, check out “Orchestra” and be prepared to have it stuck in your head all week.