Phil Madeira has been, for many years, the piano man for Emmylou Harris’ band. He’s written songs for Garth Brooks, Alison Krauss, Keb Mo and more. He’s also written songs for himself, and been the captain of the ongoing Mercyland project. He recently launched a Kickstarter for a new record, Open Heart, which he intends to complete and release on Valentine’s Day.
From his campaign page: “Open Heart is my most heartfelt record yet. Here are 10 love songs, all reflective of different stages of a romance from “When You Ain’t Got Love” to “I Could Learn To Live With A Problem Like You” to “I Will Be Here Like A Rock On Your Shore.”
MusicTAP dropped him a line with our patented “10 Questions” format, and Phil gladly obliged. After you check out his responses, you might want to take a look at Open Heart over here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/philmadeira/phil-madeiras-new-project-open-heart
The new album is slated for release on Valentine’s Day 2020 and is, consequently, a collection of love songs. What influenced your decision for the record?
After a particularly devastating loss, I found myself with the prospect of love, or something that looked like it. Songs ensued, no surprise! Open Heart is all about the joy of thinking you’ve found it, following one’s heart, risking it all, and win or lose, it’s good to have an open heart.
What makes a good love song and – with your experience as a songwriter – what are some tropes that you consciously steer away from?
There are a few angles you can assess things from, but for me the poetry must be right, the melody and groove must be engaging, and I’ve got to have something I can hang my hat on… a hook. I don’t consciously avoid anything while writing.
Are there any songs from others in your recollection that, when you heard them, made you say, “That’s exactly what I’d like to see from these new songs”?
Well, the Providence record is my best, period, so I wanted to ascend to that level of craft and playing.
What is the band makeup looking like for this record?
Same line-up as Providence with addition of backing vocals, of which there are none on Providence. I always start with the trio- myself, Bryan Owings on drums, and Chris Donohue on upright bass. James Hollihan is back on guitar, with Will Kimbrough making an appearance, of course. But the addition of several singers, including Cindy Morgan, is sweet. And what is love without harmony?
Because of your position as one in Emmylou Harris’ backing band, do you have more access to players you want to work with? Does that offer you opportunities you might not have had otherwise?
Well, it has offered me some good exposure, but the folks I tend to hire were friends long before I started playing with Emmylou.
Are there “love songs” that you know of that, to the average listener, may not come across as such without really focusing? What I mean is, there can be songs that say some fairly tough things, ask hard questions, and still reflect “love” and consideration…
I’m sure there are. The songs on Open Heart deal with romance, clear and simple.
When do you feel like a song is “done”? I’m thinking to the Mercyland recordings here. Have there been times when the song didn’t seem complete until the collaborators/singers/etc. got onto them, and then they opened up?
I rarely go to the expense of recording unless the songs are ready to go. That being said, the night before the last tracking session on Providence, I wrote “Dearest Companion” for the woman who was just that in my life. We tried different time signatures and grooves until it felt like it was done. But that’s a luxury I usually don’t entertain.
What is it like being a singer/songwriter, working particularly in the “folk” side, in these polarizing times? Are there more things to say, or are the things you want to say made more difficult by how fractured society seems right now?
I don’t limit myself to any genre. I’m not a “folk” songwriter anymore than I am a “pop” songwriter. I just write. The older I get, the more I do this for myself. I occasionally address the great divide in our society, but in the end I’ll do a lot more good by making music that feels good than preaching.
What can people expect through the Kickstarter campaign going on now?
Great, hand-made rewards, the chance to personally connect with the artist, and opportunities for your own music.
Where can they jump on board this campaign at?
Thanks to Phil Madeira for taking the time to do 10 Questions with MusicTAP!