Since the arrival of his sophomore album Behind the Light—a 2014 release featuring the top ten hit “Raging Fire”—Phillip Phillips has endured some life-changing shake-ups, both positive and painful. So when it came time to create his third album Collateral, the Georgia-bred singer/songwriter channeled all that upheaval into his most penetrating and powerful selection of songs so far.
“There’s been a lot of heartbreak and frustration for me over the past few years, but there’s also been so much joy and love,” says Phillips, who’s now 27. “All these different emotions ended up coming out in the new songs, and I kept coming back to the idea of good and bad happening right alongside each other.”
Along with adding a new degree of depth and complexity to his songwriting, Collateral greatly expands on the guitar-driven yet soulful sound first revealed in Phillips’s five-times-platinum debut single “Home.” In achieving that broader sonic palette, Phillips joined forces with an eclectic lineup of producers that includes Grammy Award-winner Dave Cobb (Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson), Ryan Hadlock (Ra Ra Riot, Cayucas), and Nathan Chapman (Lady Antebellum, Taylor Swift).
On “Miles”—the triumphant lead single for Collateral—Phillips brings his more self-assured artistry to a full-hearted anthem showcasing his dynamic guitar work. “‘Miles’ is about the feeling of being stuck and not really knowing how to move forward, but then just pushing through anyway,” Phillips explains.
That message of perseverance is made even more poignant by the fact that “Miles” is the first piece of music Phillips was allowed to release in three years, due to being tied up in a now-settled legal dispute with 19 Entertainment. “Not being able to put out any new music was really hard for me to deal with,” Phillips recalls. “It put me into this funk, and after a while I started feeling unsure of what I even wanted to write anymore.”
In an effort to undo that creative block, Phillips eventually teamed up with a series of co-writers and set to work on new material. Those sessions soon yielded such tracks as “Dance With Me,” a piano-laced, string-accompanied ballad born from another major moment in Phillips’s life: his 2015 wedding to longtime love Hannah Blackwell, whom he met while the two were volunteering at a women and children’s center as teenagers. “That song was our first dance,” Phillips points out. “During the ceremony I cried like a baby the whole time and she didn’t cry at all, but when ‘Dance With Me’ started there were definitely some tears.”
Once he’d reconnected with the songwriting process, Phillips felt newly inspired to take his music in unexplored directions. On “Magnetic,” Collateral kicks off with an irresistibly catchy, R&B-fueled powerhouse that finds Phillips’s rich vocals hitting a sweet falsetto. “We were in the studio and Nathan told me, ‘You can do it, you can hit that note,’” Phillips remembers. “I was totally doubting him but then I tried it, and it somehow it just worked.” Another track featuring a fiery horn section, “Don’t Tell Me” brings a stomping rhythm and classic-funk groove to its true-to-life storytelling. “I wrote that song after watching someone go through a breakup that really messed with his head,” says Phillips. “It’s about getting played, but also getting over it and moving on with your life.”
Throughout Collateral, Phillips proves his graceful versatility by taking on everything from old-school soul (the slow-burning “I Dare You”) to atmospheric alt-rock (the darkly shimmering “Sand Castles”) to folk-infused balladry (the quietly intense “Her Mystery”). And on “Into the Wild,” the album closes out with an infectiously hopeful epic built on bright guitar tones, thundering drums, and Phillips’s soaring vocal performance. “‘Into the Wild’ is basically a love song about doing whatever you can to make that other person happy,” he says. “My wife was my inspiration for so many of these songs; she was right there with me through all those hard times and stressful moments. I really feel like this album isn’t just mine—it belongs to her as well.”
From the bluesy swagger of “Love Junkie” to the snarling, serpentine riffs of “My Name,” Collateral also shows the sheer power of Phillips’s guitar playing like never before. “In the past few years I’ve started playing electric a lot more when we’re jamming onstage, which has felt really good,” says Phillips. “I love the attitude that it brings to the music, so I wanted to get more of that attitude into this album.”
Growing up in Leesburg, Georgia, Phillips first picked up guitar at age 14 and soon mastered riffs from classic-rock tracks like Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water” (mostly by playing along to his family’s karaoke machine). He also took up singing and songwriting as a teenager, in addition to forming an acoustic band with his older sister and brother-in-law. While studying at Albany Technical College in Georgia, Phillips continued playing music with his brother-in-law, landing gigs in nearby college towns and at festivals. With encouragement from his family and friends, he took a break from working in his family’s pawn shop and auditioned for American Idol in summer 2011, then emerged as the show’s season 11 winner. Premiering the same day he claimed his victory, “Home” marked the most successful coronation song of any Idol winner and the highest-ever debut on Billboard’s Digital Songs chart.
Released in fall 2012, Phillips’s first full-length The World from the Side of the Moon debuted at #4 on the Billboard 200 and quickly went platinum. With Behind the Light following in early 2014, he’s supported both albums with extensive worldwide touring, including a 2016 co-headlining run with Matt Nathanson. Increasingly known for his high-energy live shows, Phillips has also toured with John Mayer, shared the stage with Bruce Springsteen at the Rock in Rio festival, and supported the Goo Goo Dolls’ summer 2017 national summer tour.
Looking back on the making of Collateral, Phillips notes that the whirlwind of recent years ultimately pushed him to create his most emotionally rewarding album yet. “Sadness, anger, love, heartbreak—all of those feelings are important, because you end up learning something different from each of them,” says Phillips. “You’re probably never going to find all the answers, but you just keep going and do what you can. Hopefully this record will encourage people to reflect a bit and figure things out in their own life, and help them along with whatever it is they’re going through, good or bad.”
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