Exposed Vocals: How did you hear about Exposed Vocals? What made you decide to sign up?
Phil Circle: I found Exposed Vocals on Twitter and followed them, and was promptly followed back with a message asking whether I’d be interested in an interview. As to why I decided to sign up? Who wouldn’t in their right mind choose to be exposed to more listeners? That’s something any musical artist needs.
Exposed Vocals: So tell us your story. Where did you grow up? What made you decide to become an artist?
Phil Circle: I was born in Evanston, just outside Chicago and grew up in the area…that is, if I ever actually grew up. My Mom was a producer of musical theater and a musician herself, so I was raised around performers of all kinds and loved the experiences I had. I guess my first “press” was in an article about my Mom’s company that started with a bit about this wide-eyes kid watching a rehearsal. That kid was me. While all of my older five siblings and me were required to learn music, I was the only one dumb enough to choose it as a career, ha. It’s really just a great gift to do what you love and make any semblance of a living. I enjoy the hell outa coaching private students, and letting them know what they’re getting into…almost as much as I love writing, recording and performing.
Exposed Vocals: How did you come up with that name? What was your inspiration behind it?
Phil Circle: I was born Phil Jones, but my father left when I was eight months old. When I was two years old, my Mom remarried to a guy named Bob Circle. He adopted me, so I became Phil Circle. Everybody thinks it’s a stage name, but it’s actually my real name. Funny, isn’t it? Who knew I’d be adopted by a guy who carried the perfect last name for a legal stage name, ha? It was originally German (Zirkel), but somebody wasn’t listening when they wrote it down at Ellis Island Immigration, I guess.
Exposed Vocals: What do you think about online music sharing? Do you ever give your music away for free? Why?
Phil Circle: Needless to say, the ability to potentially be heard throughout the world via the internet is a great thing. We’re able to hook up multiple social networking sites, then Tweet something and have it go to all of them. That’s a ton of work that we used to have to do separately. What a great time saver! I’ve been doing this for more than 25 years, and it sure makes life a crapload easier! As to giving away music for free…I do have multiple free downloads on my sitephilcirclemusic.com. Mostly, they are either live recordings from shows or covers I’ve recorded in the studio, but when I record anything new, I offer it free for a time. The tricky thing about this business is, well, it’s a business. While I do this for the love of it, I also need to eat and pay bills and such. Not to mention that getting a degree in music at Columbia College Chicago ain’t cheap, ha. I believe it’s not too much of a stretch for someone to pony up a buck for a download when a cup of coffee costs more than a gallon of gas. It’s also important to not devalue one’s music. Use free downloads as a perk for something else people pay for or as a promotional tool. It’s a common sense thing from song to song, really.
Exposed Vocals: Since everyone was a start-up once, can you give any smaller or local bands or artists looking to get gigs and airplay some tips?
Phil Circle: Try NOT to sound like everyone else. If they’re Coca-cola, be milk, not Pepsi. Each of us has our own unique way of telling a story, whether it’s ours or our version of someone else’s. When you turn on mainstream radio, it can often lean on the lowest common denominators…the big hits. I think I speak for a ton of people when I say it’s nice when we hear something new with a unique twist or a lesser known song by a popular act. I did that on a recent release called “The Unsung” where I played lesser know songs, including one by a legendary songwriter…that one was performed on ukulele. Gave it a whole new spin. Using things like YouTube and all the social media is huge. Playing live shows thru an online video stream is also something that can get you out there. Folks wanna know that you don’t suck live. Anyone can be “fixed in the mix” at a recording studio. Live you’re on the spot. Most of the greatest musical acts are jaw-droppingly good in a live show. You gotta develop that, big time.
Exposed Vocals: Do you ever make mistakes during performances? How do you handle that?
Phil Circle: Of course. Who doesn’t. For one thing, most people don’t know what you meant to do and it’s unlikely that you made some glaring shanker. Whatever the case, you learn to play thru the mistake. Sometimes, if it seems more apparent, I’ll play the mistake a second time…people think you meant to do it. “Wow, man, that was sooo jazz!” Lol! Mainly, I just play thru it tho. There’s no reason to draw attention to it and it goes by so quickly, it’ll be forgotten if it was heard at all. Hell, I made one tonight in a live online show. To me, it was noticeable. I just smiled and kept going. It’s the overall performance that matters, not some little nitpicky move you’d hoped you’d hit. Not to mention, it’s our perceived imperfections that we typically write about, and that make us different. If we were all “perfect”, it would be one boring world. I think I’d wanna blow my brains out from lack of spice, ha.
Exposed Vocals: Do you tour? Anything interesting happen on tour that you think our readers would enjoy hearing about?
Phil Circle: I wrote a book called “The Outback Musician’s Survival Guide” and I’m working on a second edition with more stories and ideas. In it, I have both funny and moving tales, not to mention tidbits of advice. I’ve toured to all but four states; Utah, Nevada, Alaska, and Hawaii. I remember once in Washington D.C. after my show, while the next act was playing, I went next door for a slice of pizza after having several complimentary shots from patrons. When my tour manager and I came back, the doorman wouldn’t let me back in because I was too drunk. I guess the whiskey had kicked in, ha. My tour manager tried to explain that I had just played, but the doorman, said, “Yeah, aaahh, no. Sorry.” I don’t drink anymore. I think that’s probably best. There are plenty of stories revolving around that. At a show in Chicago at Double Door, I once looked down and saw seven shots of tequila placed at my feet by fans. It’s just too freakin’ easy! So, I’ve retired from that aspect of my work. Anyway, the stories are endless.
Exposed Vocals: Where do you usually gather songwriting inspiration? What is your usual songwriting process?
Phil Circle: That’s a tricky one. My approach continues to evolve. Each time you write a song, you’ve changed something about your psyche, your identity has gained a new flavor. It’s just like when you openly express yourself to someone, your relationship with that person changes. Certainly, I have autobiographical aspects in all my songs; either from the story telling aspect or the emotion that drives the song, or both. My process most of the time begins with the guitar part and then lyrics and the vocal line are added, but even this can be inverted. I wrote a song in my head while walking down highway 93 in Eau Claire, Wisconsin once. When I arrived where I was going, I snagged my guitar and wrote it all down. Another time, I had a dream that my wife had gone out on me! In my dream, I wrote a song about it. I woke up and put it to paper with very few adjustments. You never know how it’s ultimately gonna happen, and that’s a good thing. It keeps you from getting stale.
Exposed Vocals: Do you have a band website? What online platforms do you use to share your music?
Phil Circle: I’m on Facebook as Phil Circle, both my personal page and fan page. I also have The Little Blue Honda Tour (the car I drive on tour), and The Bent Corsicles (a side project I record and play with) on there. You can find me on Soundcloud, Reverbnation, CD Baby, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, Concert Window, and probably some other places. Just Google my name. My main site is philcirclemusic.com. It’ll lead you everywhere, too.
Exposed Vocals: What are some really embarrassing songs that we might find on your mp3 player?
Phil Circle: Cherish by Madonna; Dancing Queen by Abba, as done by Irish songwriter Luka Bloom; Several karaoke backing tracks; Cindy Lauper doing jazz classics; The Best Of Hootie and The Blowfish…I need to stop now, my rep is going down the drain, ha.
Exposed Vocals: If you were given half a million dollars and a year off, what would you do? How would you spend it?
Phil Circle: I’d pay off my tax debts, ha. I still owe on my student loans. Probably give some to charity to get the IRS off my back about it. Then, my wife and I would travel extensively and have sex on all the most beautiful beaches of the world, ha. Once I was done with all that, I’d get back to work. I don’t think I could possibly handle a year off from playing.
Exposed Vocals: Any planned studio upgrades? What are you working with now?
Phil Circle: When I record a scratch track, I just do it on my Mac with Garage Band. Once it’s time to get a new album out, I rent a studio, engineer and co-producer. I don’t like all the knobs. Just jam a mic in my face or at my guitar and say “go.”
Exposed Vocals: How do you find ways to promote your music? What works best for you?
Phil Circle: Whenever I run into a new outlet for promo thru something online or an email I receive, I give it a look. I also hear from fellow artists about his or that new outlet or tool. As with anything, I shop around a bit, too. I like to find new ways to promote, mostly online. All the other media outlets are still there. I use them, too. I get on radio and in print fairly regularly.
Exposed Vocals: If you could perform anywhere and with any artists (Dead or Alive) where and who would it be with? Why?
Phil Circle: I wanna play at the Roman Coliseum in Rome with a collection of great artists in the line-up. Say, Buddy Rich on drums, for that jazzy sound that also leans rockin’. On bass, let’s grab a good melodic bass player with serious chops who can solo like an animal…John Entwhistle. Give me a few back-up singers from a series of R & B, Soul or Gospel albums. Throw Jeff Beck on guitar. He’s got the ability to go anywhere in the galaxy style-wise, and has. Elton John on keys? Maybe someone more recent with a more soulful edge. Any big Latin name’s percussion section for several of the upbeat tunes. Gimme a string quartet picked from The London Philharmonic for a few songs. Some horns from one of the great New Orleans Dixieland bands for some others. Man, I’m getting overwhelmed with the production level here, so get me Clive Davis to handle that aspect.
Exposed Vocals: So, what’s next? Any new upcoming projects that you want to talk about?
Phil Circle: I’ve gotta finish the additions to my book for the new printing and possible hardcover publishing of it. I’m working on some new material that I’ll get to recording when I have enough of it. I was mostly out of circulation for the last year, with few exceptions, due to health issues. Now that I’m feeling good, well, great really, I’m getting back out for gigs. First, I’m hitting the upper Midwest with Chicago as my hub. Looking at bookings in The Chippewa Valley, Wisconsin, and in The Twin Cities. Elsewhere will typically materialize as word gets out.
Exposed Vocals: If you weren’t making music, what would you be doing?
Phil Circle: Teaching History and writing plays and movie scripts. I’m fascinated by history and love to write. I’d probably do more acting, too.
Exposed Vocals: Do you remember buying your first album? Who was it? What was going through your head?
Phil Circle: I can’t remember my first one, but I remember the first one that really hit me. It was The Who-Live At Leeds. I was familiar with them from the radio, of course. When I heard the album I was completely blown away. It remains, in my book, one of the greatest live albums ever released.
Exposed Vocals: How do you juggle the rest of your responsibilities while trying to stay ahead in your music life?
Phil Circle: Since this is all I do and I make my own schedule, book, promote and produce myself, I have a fair amount of freedom. If I need to hit the pause button, I do. I don’t get too stressed about little things anymore and live with the 24 hours in each day, getting things done in their own time. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t hectic times, there are. But, I take it all in stride and tend to fulfill my responsibilities with comfort and pride.
Exposed Vocals: What should fans look forward to in 2016?
Phil Circle: Lots of live shows in venues and online or radio. New recordings. Edition two of my book. Maybe another one in the works. There’s a good chance I’ll release a live album, too. Also, I have old albums that have gone off the shelf, so to speak. I may put together a fresh compilation…maybe.
Thanks for letting me in on this! I hope I can do more.