Phillip Phillips shows another side on new work

Phillip Phillips
Phillip Phillips
Photo by Nick Walker
| Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013, 7:27 p.m.

Many fans have gotten to know Phillip Phillips through his hit singles, “Home” and “Gone, Gone, Gone.” Those two folk-flavored anthems have propelled the 2012 “American Idol” winner to major stardom. But those same tracks have been criticized by some as attempts to mimic the arena-sized folk of the hit-making bands Mumford & Sons and the Lumineers.

Fans who own Phillips' debut album, “The World From The Side Of The Moon,” though, saw that there was another side to his sound. While the CD included a few of other folky tunes, such as “Hold On” and “So Easy,” it was equally defined by tracks like “Wanted Is Love,” “Get Up Get Down” and “Drive Me,” punchy rockers with a bit of funk and jazz that sound more like the Dave Matthews Band than any sort of new-school folk.

It turns out the rockers are closer to Phillips' musical heart than the songs that have put him on mainstream radio — and a better indication of where Phillips would like to go musically on future albums. He's the opening act for John Mayer on Aug. 25 at First Niagara Pavilion, Burgettstown.

“ ‘Home' came out, and it was really folky,” Phillips says. “I didn't want to step too far out of bounds from that (on the album) and kind of weird people out, like ‘Drive Me' is nothing like ‘Home.' My passion is more into the rock and jazz or whatever, so I kind of just put a mixture of them in the album and kind of got people to be a little prepared, (hinting at) steps into the future.”

So, perhaps it's not surprising that “Home” and “Gone, Gone, Gone” didn't originate with Phillips. They were brought to Phillips — albeit in a roundabout way with the latter song — by his record company, 19 Entertainment/Interscope.

“The label came to me and said let us give you two songs and you can have the rest of the album, so I was like, ‘Yeah,' ” Phillips says. “And they had a different song. It wasn't ‘Gone.' I just didn't like the song. I was trying to figure out, man, I've got to get a different song.”

That's when a pair of songwriters who happened to be working in the same studio — Derek Furhmann and Todd Clark — came to Phillips and his producer, Gregg Wattenberg, with “Gone, Gone, Gone.”

They liked the song, took it to the label and got the OK to put the tune on the album.

“I'm glad that happened, because that song's a lot better than the other song,” Phillips says. “It's funny how that worked out.”

“Home” was an obvious choice for a first single. Phillips performed it on the final performance night of “American Idol” and again as his coronation song after being voted the season 11 winner.

The song debuted at No. 10 on Billboard magazine's Hot 100 singles chart and went on to top Billboard's Adult Pop Songs and Adult Contemporary charts. It also crossed over to country, peaking at No. 6 on that chart.

“Gone, Gone, Gone” appears headed for similar success. It's Top 5 in Adult Pop and Adult Contemporary and has cracked the top 25 on the Hot 100 chart.

This success, obviously, has gotten Phillips' post-“Idol” career off to a strong start. But just winning “Idol” was a major test for him.

As he was going through auditions, Phillips developed kidney stones, but decided to push forward. He eventually went through eight separate surgical procedures to get through his “Idol” journey. He was still recovering from his surgery when he joined the “American Idols Live” tour last July. After the tour, he went into the studio to record “The World From The Side Of The Moon.”

Then, it was on to promoting the album, and more touring. He had to cut short a college tour because of ongoing kidney issues, exhaustion and dehydration — a product of the tour schedule that often featured six shows a week.

Phillips said he has recovered now and is ready for his summer tour, opening for Mayer. With a 45-minute set, Phillips will be able to showcase much of “The World From The Side Of The Moon” each evening.

Alan Sculley is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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