Since releasing his five-times-platinum debut single “Home” in spring 2012, Phillip Phillips has put out two chart-topping albums and taken his earthy but expansive brand of guitar-fueled rock to stages across the globe. With his rich, soulful vocals and ruggedly warm sensibilities, the Leesburg, Georgia-bred 25-year-old saw his first full-length effort The World from the Side of the Moon go platinum soon after debuting at #4 on the Billboard Top 200. In 2014 his sophomore album Behind the Light offered up the lead single “Raging Fire,” a major radio hit that revealed his bold twist on anthemic folk-rock. Now gearing up for a co-headline tour with Matt Nathanson, Phillips is also at work on a third full-length album set to showcase his newly sharpened songcraft while capturing the fiery spirit of his powerful live performance.
Raised on rock-and-roll legends like Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix, Phillips thrives on bringing boundless energy and thrilling unpredictability to his live shows. “I always change it up onstage, keep it really free and open,” says Phillips, whose upcoming tour also features A Great Big World and Eric Hutchinson on select dates. “You never know what’s gonna happen—even I don’t know sometimes.” That approach has proved more than winning in Phillips’s past performances, which include touring with the likes of John Mayer and sharing a stage with Bruce Springsteen at the 2013 Rock in Rio festival.
In working on his forthcoming album, Phillips aims to channel that intensity into a sound that’s heavier and more urgent than ever before. At the same time, Phillips is tapping into his longtime affinity for experimental yet massively appealing artists like Peter Gabriel, exploring more intricate arrangements as well as moodier tones and textures. That dynamic is especially suited to the emotional center of the album, which Phillips describes as partly dealing with issues like separation and all the pain and freedom that comes from parting ways. “There’ll be some sadder and more serious songs on this one, but definitely some love songs as well,” notes Phillips, who married his longtime girlfriend Hannah Blackwell in fall 2015.
While Phillips made his first two albums in New York, most of his recent songwriting sessions have taken place in Nashville. “I needed a change of scenery and a change of pace, and Nashville’s been great for putting me in that headspace of focusing on getting the right songs for this album,” says Phillips. “I’ve ended up writing more than I’ve ever written in my life, and a few times I’ve surprised myself with what I’ve come up with,” he says. “I feel like I’ve grown a lot and learned a lot as a songwriter, and it’s gotten me really excited to keep going and see what happens next.”
Phillips first started writing songs as a teenager in Leesburg, Georgia, where he learned to play guitar at age 14. After mastering riffs from classic-rock tracks like Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water” and Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train”—mostly by playing along to his family’s karaoke machine—he formed an acoustic band with his older sister and brother-in-law and soon added singing to his repertoire. 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, Phillips took a break from working in his family’s pawn shop and auditioned for American Idol in summer 2011—only to emerge as the show’s season 11 winner. Released the same day he claimed his victory, “Home” marked the most successful coronation song of any Idol winner and the highest-ever debut on the Billboard Digital songs chart.
Now living in Albany with his wife (whom he met at age 18, while the two were volunteering at a women and children’s center), Phillips has racked up plenty of live experience in recent years and taken the stage in such far-flung locales as South Africa, Argentina, and Japan. Along with seeking to deliver a truly singular, once-in-a-lifetime performance at each and every show, he also uses the stage as a breeding ground for creativity. “One of the reasons why I like to change up the show every night is that it always challenges me to come up with something new, to take the music in a different direction,” says Phillips. “Something that starts out as a jam could turn into a whole new song that I never would have found otherwise, and there’s a real beauty to that.”
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