Introducing Philip Marino

Philip Marino has recently appeared on my radar and I want to take this opportunity to explain why you should be aware of his musical talent. This American expat who now lives in the UK, has used his musical influences including John Mellencamp and Neil Young (to name a few) to create this great style of Americana music that has become a welcomed addition to my own music collection.

In May of this year, Philip released his debut EP ‘Self Made Man’ which shows he has used the combination of his influences and his own style to create a very impressive showing of his song writing ability. I am learning to appreciate the Americana style of music because of it’s soul filled feel, Philip shares this sound and wears his soul on his sleeve.

Each track he produces has a stripped down sound that feels as it would if you were listening to his music live. This EP is just a guy with his guitar who is sharing each story which he has written. When I am listening to this EP I can’t help getting pulled into the song because of Philip’s gentle and honest vocal tone. This is used to full effect to showcase his great lyrical ability and when combined with his guitar skills produces a wonderful depth to each song.

There are a few areas for improvement but overall this is a great debut that needs to be heard. With songs like ‘Walking in the Moonlight’ and my favourite ‘Self Made Man’ you can hear the natural talent Philip Marino possesses. I highly recommend you check out his album at his Bandcamp page (click HERE) and if you like it like I do then add the ‘Self Made Man’ EP to your collection today.

Philip is working on his follow up EP and he has the opportunity to have it produced by the acclaimed singer/songwriter Simone Felice in New York, which he needs our help to make this happen. I wanted to learn more about this and about Philip himself. I asked him about his journey into music, his approach to writing music, his new EP project and much more. This is what he had to say.

Can you remember the moment or the reason why you wanted to become a musician?

From a very young age, I think. Some of my earliest memories, I’m talking at around 6/7 years old, are of me staring at the album covers of the music that was always on in our home. Bob Dylan’s ‘Blood On The Tracks’, Cat Stevens’s ‘Greatest Hits’, Elton John’s ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’, and lots of Simon & Garfunkel. I would sing the songs and over time I would pretend that I was on stage singing them. Unfortunately, no one played any instruments in our home. There was great music, but no musicians. When I got older, I taught myself how to play drums and became the drummer of a classic high school garage band. We played everything from The Kinks to Iron Maiden. The guitar player was amazing. Mike Conroy. As far as I know he still plays today, although we’re not really in touch. I had a 9-piece Tama drum kit with 15″ Zildjian HiHats. It kicked ass.

Then there was a long period of only listening to music. Life and growing up and jobs and marriage and all that sort of stuff took over. In 2000 I decided to teach myself how to play guitar. So, living in Davis, California, I bought a cheap Alvarez acoustic guitar, and taught myself chords and started to play a bit. Mostly covers just in the living room, never for anyone else’s benefit/enjoyment. I was pretty bad, anyway. I moved to England in 2006 for my day job, and started playing a bit more often. Then, around 2010 my marriage started to crumble and suddenly I had all this stuff that needed to be released. I stopped playing covers and started to write. Learned some basic theory, you know like what chords are meant to go with particular keys, and a whole bunch of songs came out. Some okay, mostly crap, but I kept at it and eventually I had a few songs that didn’t suck too much, so I took them to a popular local open mic night here in Colchester (The Bull pub). I remember how nervous I was that night, playing and singing my own songs for the first time live, and how the time that I was on stage was a complete blur. No memory of playing the songs, actually. I had to ask someone later if I got through them okay. But I do remember the buzz of the experience, and the host of the open mic, Theo Pearce, saying as he unplugged my guitar, “Now he’s hooked”. He was right.

Who are your influences and inspirations when it comes to your music?

My all-time favourite singer/songwriter is John Mellencamp. Not the best known American artist here in the UK, although he did tour here a few years back. I’ve seen him live 10 times, once front-row center! He hails from the midwest of America, from the state of Indiana, which is a neighbouring state to where I grew up in Illinois. So, growing up in that part of the country, surrounded by corn fields and the ethos of hardworking, blue collar folks, you don’t necessarily feel all that connected to slick and chic art that comes from the two coasts (LA and NY). Suddenly this singer/songwriter is on the radio and on MTV singing about the struggles and truths of midwestern life, and filming his videos on long stretches of highway alongside corn fields, and you think, hey, this is my experience. It’s been that way for me and Mellencamp’s music from the very start… A sense that the songs he’s writing are about me and my life, not just about him. I guess that’s what I think a singer/songwriter should do. Not just make the listener feel, but make them feel that they are not alone… That their pains and joys are shared, common, normal. That’s the biggest long-term influence on my music. Also listened a lot to Neil Young and Bob Dylan and Jim Croce and Paul Simon and Van Morrison and Joni Mitchell and Tracy Chapman, all such great songwriters. More modern influences (in no particular order) are Jason Isbell, Ryan Bingham, The Avett Brothers, The Felice Brothers, Cam Penner, Bob Schneider, Eddie Vedder, Elliott Smith, Laura Marling, Horse Feathers, Ray LaMontagne, Shawn Mullins, Justin Townes Earle… To name a few.

I love how your début EP has a grounded and natural feel. Is this something that is important to you or is it a result of your musical influences?

Thanks for saying that. It means a great deal to me to hear that. When I went to the studio to record the songs, the co-producer I was working with, the very talented David Booth, asked me what I was going for and my response was “I want it to be authentic”. As I mentioned in the previous answer, for me, song writing is about exposing something about yourself that (hopefully) resonates with the listeners allowing them to know that they’re not alone in their experience. To make that happen, I think you have to start working from a very natural and organic place. An honest place, both lyrically and musically, and then the trick is to translate that honesty in the recording process. Obviously, I have more to learn about that part of it, but it certainly was a priority for me with the EP, as it will be with the next one, too! So, yes, it’s important to me, and it is also a result of my influences.

How do you approach writing a new song?

It doesn’t always happen the same way, but I guess the majority of the time I start with a melody, or a chord progression, or a small lick in a chord progression (small licks are all I can handle!), and I go from there. I’ve never written a song by first writing all the lyrics and then finding some appropriate melody. I do keep a document on the desktop of my computer where I keep track of ideas, lines, themes for future songs. So, for the song ‘Self-Made Man’ (the EP’s title track), I remember writing one night in that file something like, “Self-made man, but not in the traditional sense of people bragging or boasting about themselves, but as a way of saying I take responsibility for who I am (and who I’m not).” And from that came three verses of me doing just that, taking the credit/blame for who I am. Other times it’s much simpler than that. For example, in the file right now is the phrase, “Freedom’s prison”. The idea struck me one night that in my life I’ve had times when being alone and unencumbered allowed me the freedom to do whatever I wanted, and that the decisions I made in those times often led to less-than-wise behaviors, that eventually became fairly routine and, unfortunately, habitual. So, what freedom allowed, became its own prison. But rather than a whole song about that, it’s now just a single line in my new song called ‘Road To Ruin’. Still fits the overall theme of the song, of course

I tend to write in bunches. Nothing for a few weeks and then two or three songs over the course of a few days. Not always great songs, but I don’t really worry about that. When they come, I just go with it. There are times when songs I’ve started that never got finished, eventually get folded into some other song that has more momentum at the time. That’s why I just try to keep going, rather than judging the song before it’s finished.

Talking about song writing, which is your favourite track from your EP and why?

It’s funny, because I didn’t think this was going to be the case when I went in to record the songs, but for me it’s ‘Self-Made Man’. I think because it’s a song that I needed to write. A few years back I was very willing to cast blame on other people for where I was in life, but at some point I realized that it did me no good. I’m not saying those thoughts still don’t come quite easily to me, but I came to understand that the only real way forward was to take ownership of my life and try to forgive. There are lyrics in that song that still get me a bit when I play it live, because of their truthfulness in my life. “Well, I’ve dug my own holes… 
Yes, and often took a lonely road” and “Well, I don’t blame anymore… 
No, it’s just me in my little war”. It’s important for me to keep playing that song. Also, I really love the mandolin bit that David Booth played for the EP. Just beautiful.

Is there anyone you’d like to write a song with, or collaborate with?

Well, I’d be a fool not to say John Mellencamp. Truth is, if I got the opportunity to work with him I’d probably be such a nervous fanboy that I’d do very little to impress him! I’d like to have the chance, though!

Also Laura Marling and Ryan Bingham. I could learn a great deal from them, I’m sure. Plus, they seem like lovely people.

I know you are currently using the fan funding site Kickstarter to help with your new project. Can you tell me about it and why people should help support your project?

Yeah, this is new for me, the Kickstarter thing. I’ve been a fan of The Felice Brothers for years. Saw them live in London a few years back. I’ve also followed the career of Simone Felice, the brother who left the band to start a solo career. The brothers in all their forms are just great Americana songwriters/musicians. Very raw, pure, authentic. A couple of weeks back I noticed a post on Simone Felice’s Facebook page that he was soliciting demos from folks to potentially have him record and produce their songs. On a whim, I sent 4 songs that I recorded in my flat that are meant for my next EP. A couple of days later I heard back from Simone’s camp saying that he had selected me (and a few others) out of more than 100 people who submitted demos! I was shocked. Unfortunately, the rates for the sessions are quite high, as they cover time in a world-class recording studio, money for extra musicians, and Simone’s fees as a co-writer and producer. Add in the cost of airfare to the States and lodging, and well, I simply cannot afford to self-finance this next EP as I did the first one, if I took this opportunity. And it is an opportunity I think I need to make happen, somehow. It seems there are two obvious benefits for me. One is the artistic experience of working with a singer/songwriter who I have been listening to (and a fan of) for a number of years. Given his expertise and musical talents in my specific genre of music, it seems like a great opportunity to learn and to enhance my own sound/songs.

The second benefit is much more business-oriented. He is a fairly big name here in the UK, where he tours quite often, with a fair bit of press coverage when he does. He has earned the respect of many music industry gate-keepers here, and having him as a producer of my work sends (potentially) the message that my music is worth listening to. Maybe a couple of doors open that haven’t before, or a few phone calls are accepted, emails returned, etc. As an unsigned artist, the chance to work with someone who has great talent and great connections/respect doesn’t come up too often. In lieu of being signed and having a label pay for it all (which is fairly rare these days for someone in my position), this Kickstarter thing seems like something I needed to try. Plus, the songs that I have ready for the EP I think are some of my strongest to date, including ‘Feel The Fire’, which has been played on ‘BBC Introducing’ radio. So, yeah, I ask your readers to please check out the Kickstarter page and consider backing the campaign, as well as sharing it with as many people as possible!

I have not only shown my support towards his new EP with this blog post and on social media but I have put my money where my mouth is. I have ordered myself the new EP on CD when its released, regular readers will know the CD option always comes first! Click the link below to check out his new EP project and to show your support.

I do recommend you check out the music of Philip Marino by heading over to his Bandcamp page (click HERE). You can also keep up to date with his music journey by checking out his social media sites at Facebook and Twitter. If you like what you hear, then head over to his Kickstarter page. If you like your music with an honest acoustic soul then the music of Philip Marino is for you.