Interview: Phil Hancock
Brisbane singer-songwriter Phil Hancock is growing quite a fanbase with his unique brand of melodic piano pop, and if he wasn’t so lovely, we’d be more than a little bit jealous. We picked his brain about sleepovers, running through fields, and being a serious musician.
Congratulations on the release of your new EP ‘Fox’! How have you been celebrating it?
Well, I’ve been plugging away at promoting it, that’s pretty much all I’ve been doing! And the video as well. It’s been heaps of fun just getting it out there and seeing what people think of it…yeah, it’s been really nice.
How long did it take you to produce it?
I actually started last year around May, I think, and I worked with Yanto Browning, the Brisbane producer. He’s worked with heaps of other artists and he was amazing. I say it every time, he’s a genius. I loved working with him. Yeah, so about May last year we got into the studio and over the next few months we kind of just plugged everything out, and it’s only just coming out now! I had Orchestra which is the first single, it came out November last year, and then I just released the EP last week, so it’s been about a year, which is a long time.
How has your life changed since you released your first EP ‘Oh So Serious’ in 2013?
Oh wow, you remember that! It’s been pretty good, I kind of took a break after I released that, I went really hard, I put out a couple of music videos from that one and I went on tour as well last year to promote it and that sort of thing, and then I was sort of like, “Ugh, I need time off”. I just felt like I needed to relax for a bit, because I did quite a bit with all the music I was putting out at the time. That kind of gave me time to just rethink what I wanted to do with my music, because that EP was really poppy – like, overly poppy – and I just wanted to put out something that was a bit more organic this time.
So this EP, ‘Fox’, is all the instruments, all real drums and real guitar and real piano. It’s a lot different to my other EP which had a lot more…I don’t know if I should say ‘fake’ but, you know, computerised instruments.
Yeah, that’s perfect. So I really wanted to get more organic with this EP, and really just focus on that – making it more real, I guess.
It definitely sounds more grown up!
Well, that’s good! (laughs)
Speaking of your first EP, ‘Oh So Serious’ seems like a pretty ironic title, is the irony intended?
(Laughs) I don’t know! I don’t know.
It seems like you had some fun songs, like Geez (Get Over Me) – that’s about as far from serious as you can get – but then you had some more serious tracks as well. Were you taking things seriously at that point or just having fun?
Probably a bit of both! I mean, at that point in my life, I was deadly serious about being a musician, being a star…so I think everything I created was serious at the same time, I was just writing crazy pop songs, super fun songs people would love and really enjoy. I wanted it to be a really poppy EP, [I wanted to] really pop it up, go radio crazy.
I wanted people to have a good time, and at the same time I was definitely wanting to be serious at the same time, but I think with this new EP I’m wanting to be more serious than that one.
You mentioned releasing your Orchestra music video a few days ago – the first one from your new album – so what was it like filming that?
Oh, it was crazy, I had an amazing producer, Grace Julia – I called her up one day and [said], “I wanna do a music video, and I’ve got a small budget, but this is what I want, this is my idea”, and she was like, “Yep, I’ve got it.” I literally thought I would rock up on the day and there would be like two people there with an iPhone just getting ready to film, but she went crazy and organised so many people [and] incredible equipment – we had drones and so many different cameras and a huge cast and crew. I don’t know how she did it, but she just managed to pull all of this together, it was just…it was an extraordinary experience. I literally hardly lifted a finger, she organised everything. I had Bradley Murnane come on board as director as well and an amazing cinematographer, Brad Francis, and they just made magic, basically. They had the idea…escaping from a cult is basically the whole idea of the clip. I remember I came up with the idea and I had all these visions in my head, and everything they did on the clip was exactly how I envisioned it. It was such a fun experience and they made it so wonderful for me.
You must have spent a lot of time running through fields when you were filming it!
(Laughs) Oh my God, it was so bad. It was funny because when we put the call out for actors to be in the video, we didn’t mention any of that. We just said, “Come and be in a fun music video!” Then they rocked up and we were like, “Okay, we’re just going to run for two days straight!” We were just running through really uncomfortable ground…so it was probably the biggest workout I’ve ever done in my life. Definitely (laughs).
It must have been worth it when you saw the final product!
It made my legs look good! (laughs)
Where do you get the inspiration for the songwriting?
It’s all from my own personal experience, I think, everything that I’ve gone through, and I think those are the best songs [to write], the ones that are just so real – from the heart, [about] something you’ve actually gone through in life.
Particularly [with] the EP I’ve just put out, ‘Fox’, every single song is so personal to me which is why I love this CD so much. It’s a reflection of everything that I went through over the past year, and I think I just kind of take from everyday life, the things that happen to me. Love in particular, I think, is one of the biggest things that everyone writes about, so that was something that I really drew from.
You’ve said all your songs come from “you at a piano with a story to tell”. Do you ever collaborate with anyone else when you’re writing?
I have before, but not recently. I think, for me, it’s a really personal thing to write…I usually like to sit up at one in the morning, sit at the piano and be like, “Ahh, my life!” Just put it into song.
That’s the best time to do it, why would you do it at any other time?
Exactly! I feel like that’s [the time] when all the secrets come out – you know at sleepovers, how it gets to one AM and everyone’s like, “This is my dark secret.” (laughs)
It’s also been known as a time of great productivity!
Yeah! It’s like the last-minute uni assignment – one AM, up late…(laughs)
I’m all too familiar with this scenario. If you could collaborate with anyone in the world, who would you choose?
In the whole world? Wow…
Living or dead.
Now you’ve made it even bigger! God…I think…well, living, I think Emeli Sande is a huge inspiration of mine. I love her, she’s a piano singer-songwriter as well, and she’s really authentic and really honest. I really admire that. So she’s probably my number one, I would say.
That’s cool, I’m a fan of hers! Out of the tracks you’ve recorded so far, what’s your favourite song to perform live?
Oh God, that’s a good question…I’ve got to go through and think of them all right now! (laughs) I love doing Fox live because it’s so epic and fun…I love the drums and jamming along to that…and I also love the ballads. I love doing a song called Clouds which was on my first EP. I feel like people really relate to that song and they really enjoy it, so I love getting up and performing that for people because it’s a powerful song for me, and I feel like it really translates when I perform.
You toured around Australia last year, how was that experience?
We got to go to Sydney and Melbourne and Hobart which was so cool, and I really want to do that again, so once all of my crazy music video work dies down, I’m going to start planning that and putting that into gear. I think it’ll just be fun to get my music out to other places in Australia! I always really want to do that and go to people who can’t see me here in Brisbane.
Definitely, expand the fan base!
Exactly! That’s what it’s about.
I’ve heard that your live performances can get pretty theatrical! What can fans expect to see at a Phil Hancock show?
Hmm…well, it’s big and it’s fun, and I just talk heaps. I don’t stop talking, I don’t stop singing, my voice is just constantly going crazy for an hour!
Do you have any dance moves prepared?
(Laughs) I have in the past, but now I’ve noticed that I’m stuck behind the piano most of the time, so it’s really hard to kind of dance it out, but if I ever get the opportunity to say, “No piano in this song!”, then yeah, you can expect some dance moves.
We’ll be looking forward to that! Being based in Brisbane, what’s your opinion on all the drama around the Lockout Laws?
Oh gosh…all I know is that I’m against them. I think it’s hard to get people to come to shows in Brisbane, and I feel like this will make it even harder. People won’t want to go out longer, or stay out and see bands and that kind of thing. I think it’s going to make it a lot more difficult for musicians to get heard and be watched by audiences, and I also think it’s going to be harder for the bars and the clubs to get people [coming in].
Hopefully it doesn’t affect you too much!
I know, yeah…well, time will tell.
Phil Hancock’s new EP ‘Fox’ is out now!