LETTERS AND WORDS: Singer/songwriter K Phillips — who plays Buellton’s Standing Sun Winery (92 Second St., Unit D) with his band Concho Pearls this Friday, September 9, at 7:30 p.m. — is a literate man. His biggest inspiration is a poem by Robert Graves, “Love Without Hope,” a piece of succinct storytelling about a passing moment between strangers. “In four lines, he [describes] this bird-catcher in industrial England … he tips his hat to her [the squire’s daughter], and the birds fly out of his hat and up into the heavens, and she’s moved, and he looks at her, and she looks at him, and he’s made this impression on this girl he would never have a chance with,” Phillips said. “I’ve never been a bird-catcher, but I know how it is to do dumb stuff to impress a girl.”
In his songwriting, Phillips is a storyteller himself, albeit a veiling one, who likes mysteries that unfold through multiple listenings. “The art is to hide the art — I want to lull people in with the simple lyrics that, if they can understand, they’re transferred, and they’re feeling emotions. Then they’re feeling, Oh my god, how did this happen?” he said, mentioning poet Billy Collins as a master of deceptively simple lyrical mystique. When asked if his songs were obliquely or openly personal, Phillips said he enjoys the use of narrators in his songs, through which he shares emotional truths: “I like narrators that are as truthful as possible.”
To be sure, Phillips has plenty of stories in his life. Raised on a West Texas cattle ranch by his grandparents in the Concho Valley, where he twice weekly fed “the ugliest cows you’ve ever seen,” Phillips saw the sometimes bleak horizon lines of life from an early age: The region was “desolate,” he said, and his grandfather was also a state criminal court judge. At the age of 18, both his close friend and girlfriend drowned in separate accidents. Throughout these times, good and bad, music was a constant companion — he took up guitar and started writing songs at the age of 5, and tried out his hand on organ and piano in bar bands by the age of 14. He inherited good music tastes, growing up on Van Morrison and “the great songwriters of Texas” — “I felt like I grew up with the best music a songwriter could grow up with” — and was even named after Kris Kristofferson, eventually switching to K. “It became too much pressure. I was up in my head about it.”
Like many musicians, Phillips doesn’t like to be confined to a genre, preferring the notes to speak for themselves. As influences, he also cites recent tour mates who are more of the pop genre, Adam Duritz (of Counting Crows) and Rob Thomas (of Matchbox Twenty). The tour has been a dream come true for Phillips and his bandmates, who all grew up on albums such as Mad Season and August and Everything After. “It’s been amazing — Adam Duritz and Rob Thomas are two of the nicest people you’ll ever meet, and it just so happens they’re two of the most influential songwriters of any generation,” he said. “It’s nice to know there’s humanity on the other side; they have everything they need, but they still want to help us.”
In fact, Duritz and Phillips both have a connection to Standing Sun Winery. Duritz collaborated on a limited-edition Wild Mouse Rhône Blend and Sky Rocket Syrah, released this year, with owner/winemaker John Wright and Counting Crowns album artist Felipe Molina, whose work will be on display at a reception prior to Phillips’s show, and Phillips was present at the piano when the trio hatched the idea in a New York City loft following The Outlaw Roadshow. With the holy trinity of music, literature, and wine all swirling in the mix, perhaps similarly inspirational thoughts will be born anew at Phillips’s show Friday night in Standing Sun’s Barrel Room.