The S.B. Questionnaire: Marla McNally Phillips

Going Way In with the Music Publishing Maven and Supporter of the Arts

Marla McNally Phillips
Paul Wellman

Marla McNally Phillips has been a music business force to be reckoned with since 1979. She co-founded Emerald Forest Entertainment, the music publishing company that signed Marilyn Manson and Sophie B. Hawkins at the beginning of their careers. Later, with her other publishing venture, Children of the Forest, she signed Macy Gray. Last spring, she produced the off-Broadway play Under My Skin, written by Robert Sternin and Prudence Fraser.

In Santa Barbara, she’s heavily involved with many great causes, perhaps most notably the remodeled Granada Theatre, where she is vice-chairman of the board. The indefatigable Marla paused to answer the Proust Questionnaire.

What do you like most about your job?

When it involves creative people and talent who inspire me, just about everything. In music publishing I have especially loved working with and developing new talent at the very earliest stages. I don’t recommend this more difficult route for the faint of heart but it can also be extremely rewarding internally and a lot of fun. That said, it doesn’t seem to matter whether the artist is a rock band, an event designer, or a playwright….if I’m passionately drawn to the artist or material, I am “way in.”

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Every day. Being lucky enough to wake up early enough to catch the sunrise in S.B, see my favorite local peeps at the ‘Bucks in our fantastic community, work on a project that inspires me, jump in the waves and chase dolphins with dear friends at The Mermaid Cottage, watch the sunset and dine with my cute hubby and/or fantastic family or friends. (Add our dog Sausage in there too and the day is made even better).

What is your greatest fear?

You know, fear can be a source of inspiration too and my attitude regarding fear is a little bit of “bring it on.” But being bitten by a shark…..

Seriously, besides anything happening to my honey, Lee Phillips, or any of my family or friends, I think it would have to be “missing a moment.”

I don’t fear death per se. I fear missing out on those special moments in my kid’s lives when the inevitable happens. Will social media still be able to help me?

Whodo you most admire and why?

My mom, Sally McNally, Jacqueline Kennedy, Louie Zamperini, Michael Towbes, our armed forces. Basically I admire people who dare greatly and selflessly put their lives on the line or do “pay it forward” acts of kindness everyday for someone else. You never hear about a lot of these heroes, usually by their own choice, but I have extreme admiration for all of them and their sense of commitment to others.

What is your greatest extravagance?

Travel. I am a Capricorn and this sea goat needs to know what is around the bend and over the next mountain. I hope to get back to India, watch the crossing of the animals on the Grumeti river in Africa, trek in Nepal. I will be saving up miles to feed this extravagance but this is not a passing fancy. Travel is a lifeblood.

What is your current state of mind?

I feel extremely blessed and grateful to live in such a beautiful community with a close knit family, and fantastic, lifetime friends that I so appreciate. Top that off with a wonderful husband and a job that inspires me, and I’m moving into giddy.

What is the quality you most like in people?

Authentic. Kind. Hilarious. Interesting and interested.

What is the quality you most dislike in people?

Unfortunately I’d be lying [see below] if I didn’t have one. Entitled people. We are all pages of the same wonderful book, peeps.

What do you most value in friends?

Loyalty, kindness, and honesty.

I don’t think my friends have any idea how much support they provide for me daily. They “give me props” sometimes when I don’t even know how much I need them. I value their loyalty and integrity, their warmth of spirit, their intelligence and advice and so importantly, their ability to laugh at themselves (or me). They can be silly (playing games with me is a serious commitment) as well as responsible and are always there for me. My friends are a constant inspiration.

What is your most marked characteristic?

I would have to say an overabundance of energy, hopefully positive. I am grateful for this. I’m not sure others are….

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

You’re killing me, Larry. You can sleep when you’re dead. Oy, with the poodles already. Done (my favorite word) followed closely by magical.

Which talent would you most like to have?

Is flying an option? Can I choose more than one? A film director or an amazing tap dancer. I think they both go hand-in-hand. I would love to speak a foreign language FLUENTLY.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

Do you have an hour….hmmmm. I would love to have more patience and to never be late again. I could definitely be less hard on myself and a tad bit less responsible. With the support of good friends I have learned to ask for help a lot more readily than i used to. Is there a couch nearby, can I lay down while giving this answer?

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

Our two girls, Courtney and Camille, are the two best bands I ever signed so motherhood would have to be my first great achievement. Stepmotherhood counts big in my book too, as Eric and Derek are awesome.

After that, having five bands that I signed to publishing get nominated for Grammys as Best New Artists would have to be my second greatest achievement, so far!.

Where would you most like to live?

Right here in beautiful Santa Barbara at The Mermaid Cottage with allowances for my aforementioned travel that hopefully includes a stayover in Europe for a week or two.

What is your most treasured possession?

Possessions aren’t really my thing and I gather kids don’t count so I would have to say my beautiful old, cream colored convertible that my husband Lee gave me on our wedding day. My grandfather’s bible is a close second.

Who makes you laugh the most?

Robin Williams, Harpo Marx, Gilda Radner (“Let’s talk dirty to the animals….”), Rob and Pru Sternin, Card Sharks, Grabby.

People everywhere make me laugh on a daily basis, especially kids as I am a giant kid. Our family is very close. We are constantly playing games together, as are all of our close friends. Truly laughter is a staple and the best medicine of all.

On what occasion do you lie?

Unless it’s “down” and “in the evening,” I don’t. Okay, that might be a lie right there but I stick to little white lies under the auspices of not having someone’s feelings hurt. Does that count?

What is your motto?

Lead with kindness and live near the water.

Which historical figure do you most identify with?

P.T. Barnum and Walt Disney’s imagination.


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