with Phil Dole of Chord & X-Bax
Name: Phil Dole
Bands: Chord, X-Bax, Dots (ancient past as Deviant: Mary, Six Inches, The Economy, Deviant & the Clones, others)
Websites: chord.atomicmouse.co.uk, facebook.com/dole.xbax, twitter.com/phildole
QRD – How old were you when you first realized you wanted to be a professional musician?
Phil – I flirted with the idea on & off for a long time from as early as age six. I’d get the urge then dissuade myself because it was a ludicrous idea. When punk rock came into my life circa1979-80, there was a radical shift in thinking: you didn’t have to be a professional, you could just do your thing. It took a lot of the pressure off because the goal changed. It was what you could do right now that mattered as opposed to what you could become. I began writing & recording loads of “crappy” demos & playing in interesting but not very competent bands during the early 80s, but never thought about maybe trying to do it “for real” until after I saw Iggy Pop with DOA opening early in 1983. I’ve never been able to pinpoint why that particular show made a difference to me, but I’d gone to the show on my own & walked away with a different perspective. That was the first half of the equation. The second half came a few years later after I’d finally put together a band where every one was of age & could legally play in bars (19 in Canada). The first gig that band played was bottom bill of a local scene festival (24 bands over 3 nights). It was packed, we were terrible, we got paid, & we were immediately offered a follow-up show. I was never the same again. It kind of ruined me for having any kind of normal career track - I’d tasted the Kool-Aid & needed more. Age-wise, I would have been 23-ish. However, I usually say I’m “semi-pro” because I’ve never gone a full year without having to find other sources of income.
QRD – What are a few highlights of your musical career?
Phil – Personally? The highlights for me are those moments where you have an “am I really doing this?” moment. Especially the early ones when you’re experiencing things for the first time. The first big one for me was opening for Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds on Halloween 1986. Early shows with Swans, Bad Religion, L7 come to mind. Or when random people show up: like looking out & going, “Why the fuck is K.D. Lang at *my* show?” or “Why is Flea in my dressing room?” or “That asshole thinks he’s Bono - no wait, that *is* Bono…” More recently, I was excited to record at Steve Albini’s Electrical Audio in Chicago (with Chord for Progression). I hadn’t worked in a full-sized, fully equipped studio in a number of years (& it was a particularly enjoyable session).
QRD – At what age did you decide you wanted to become a father?
Phil – I met a woman who already had children, so it wasn’t so much of a decision about fatherhood per se. There was no being a mad genetic scientist with our DNA, I just stepped into a newly established family unit. Which seems to have worked because I don’t approach “being a father” as an intrinsically bestowed role with mystically understood tenets, but as a person (like Frank Zappa said, “Children are people, not property”). I guess I was 47. Ancient.
QRD – What are some positive & negative impacts your family has had on your career?
Phil – Positive: there’s a certain kind of focus that has returned to me that was becoming increasingly elusive over the years - originally it was easy to go “this is what I’m doing - mmmraaaowr!”, but over time & trying out new ideas, playing in other genres, I started to get bogged down thinking “where does this fit in?” - the family context seems to have reduced that kind of micro-analyzing quite a bit, making it easier to stay focused in whatever context I’m working. It’s grounding & a perspective which helps inform every aspect of your life.
Negative: things just take longer to do; I’m less eager & able to stay up all night when required (which may also be partially a function of advancing middle age); it can be hard to take advantage of last-minute opportunities.
QRD – What are some positive & negative impacts your career has had on your family?
Phil – Positive: I can’t think of anything. There’s a bunch of ways that part of my life could be a resource for the kids, but they don’t have a lot of interest in exploiting it. They still think of a musician’s worth in terms of celebrity access, not what you can help them do. The light bulb may go off for the youngest some day - I see the evil wheels turning in the back of her brain.
Negative: being away is always a potential negative, but I’ve scaled back accordingly - there’s a difference between “traveling for work” & being absent (it means short[er] trips & checking in like you would normally when at home); there was some nervousness that some of my past public behavior was going to get interjected into a custody dispute, but it didn’t become an issue.
QRD – Have your children effected the music you make &/or listen to?
Phil – No. It’s a shame they’re not a better source for finding new & cool music - I would love that.
QRD – Have you had problems with the lack of steady money from a musical career providing the security you feel necessary in your household?
Phil – Who can’t use a little more money when you need it? Fortunately, my wife earns a fairly solid income that is larger than mine (we jokingly refer to my music income as “taco money”). Also, I’m the other side of 10 years of simultaneously owning a print shop & a new media design practice/service bureau (disappearing for weeks at a time to tour). I eventually found a way to pull the plug & have a meager but steady income locked in. If things were like they were when I was in my 20s, there would definitely be huge problems with the erratic nature of the income. On the other hand, if I hadn’t sorted things out the way I did, I would have never met my wife.
QRD – Given the limitations having a family has on being a touring musician, would you have toured more earlier in life if you’d known?
Phil – Hm. Maybe. I thought I’d hung up my spurs when I was 30. I’d gone through a band break-up that devastated me & while I was recovering from that, I moved to a new city & then I went through a psychologically twisted divorce. So I didn’t really do much of anything for 6 or 7 years. Looking back, I could have made an effort to get something up & running again during that time, but I just felt like I was finished: too old, too estranged, blah blah, self-pity, blah. I eventually stepped back into music again, initially through helping people get their DIY releases realized, then I started tinkering with my own stuff again, got involved with other projects, etc… So, I guess I squandered a big chunk of my 30s, but I’m more annoyed at losing the writing & recording time than the touring time. But I was back at it in my 40s. I probably would have made more of an effort to play overseas if I’d known. I’ve recorded overseas, but I’ve never played shows overseas.
QRD – Do you think being a father or a musician has a greater impact on your community?
Phil – I don’t think there’s a generalized community really. I understand about making an impact on specific individuals; but the larger the group, the more nebulous it gets & the more it gets to be about perception than anything real. The amount of impact is some function of total amount of time spent in each other’s company (be it face to face or through media consumption). I doubt there are people who are obsessive enough about my recordings that they spend more hours listening to them than I spend hours with the kids.
QRD – Would you rather see your children eventually become musicians or parents?
Phil – Each kid is different. One musician, one parent, & one is too early to tell.
QRD – Both family & music seem like things that will take up as much of your time as you’re willing to put in. How do you end up dividing your time?
Phil – It’s all about scheduling. I have a rhythm going right now that blocks out household/family time, exercise time, project time, & time that is “flex” time that can go whatever way is needed. The biggest change I’ve had to make to make sure I don’t lose out on either the home front or the music front is that I watch far fewer movies than I used to & I’ve given up 90% of my video game playing. Video games are a black hole that squanders creative time. Video games also will take up as much of your time as you’re willing to put in! I love them, but nothing makes me crazier that not getting my project time, so I’m steering clear. I have to be diligent & stay more-or-less on schedule because what used to be “whenever I feel like it or not” doesn’t cut it when you’re trying to exploit holes in 3 or 4 other people’s schedules.
QRD – What do your kids think of your music?
Phil – The kids & the music are mostly in separate worlds, so I’m sure they haven’t encountered very much. I suspect they’d hate everything I’ve ever done! The only thing they’ve ever asked to hear was Chord because they found out Trevor (Shelly-de Brauw) played a Red Sparowes tour with my wife’s brother (Brendan Tobin). They were more interested in the degrees of separation than the music. I played them Progression - they didn’t get it. They also vaguely knew about an adult-oriented satirical rock project I was involved with for a while because I’d be gone for a week here & a week there for it, but I get the feeling they weren’t curious enough to fire up the Google. They were far more interested that the guy they’d met from it occasionally shows up as a featured extra on TV. Maybe they did Google it & were scarred for life, but I never heard about it. They also grew up around “big time” musicians, so I don’t think my “career” even registers: their bio-dad has been an arena/stadium roadie & general rigger for 25-ish years & their mom spent 10 years or so as a lighting tech (Buzzcocks, Guns N Roses, Metallica, Michael Jackson, etc.). They’ve played video games with Justin Timberlake & had tea with Billy Joel. I’m just the guy who gives them rides & makes diner. I’m not on The Voice. I don’t have a reality TV show. They don’t live in a world where, “I’m going away for the weekend to open for Sun O)))” has any real point of reference.
QRD – Do you think you could ever do a musical project with your children?
Phil – Each kid is different. One I could produce, one I could probably collaborate with, one I could not work with (for annoying pop-aesthetic reasons).
QRD – Any words of advice to young people?
Phil – Be yourself, but don’t be an asshole.