He was almost named Prince, and that’s really where the narrative of K Phillips begins. It’s apparent that his mother ultimately picked the Kristofferson reference, but it’s equally indicative of Kris’s fate to be a character of sorts, a kind of man born with stories and undecipherable yet charming traits. I joined his storyboard discussion for a couple of hours on a July afternoon, and, like watching a trailer, I knew the gist of the K Phillips series before I walked in his front door for a first-hand look at the set: A lifetime Texan with one album out and an affinity for aesthetic moves to Nashville to begin a sophomore season, one currently experiencing a ten-week tour supporting Counting Crows and Rob Thomas and promising a second full-length. And just like any movie worth watching or book worth reading, the protagonist is just as interesting as the plot, if not even more captivating. K Phillips is that magnetic lead. He’s a character is his musical creations and reality, and my behind-the-scenes tour walked in and out of both—that is, after stepping over several boxes of vinyl unfortunately delivered to the wrong band. He had definitely arrived to Nashville.
“Why did I move here? Because of that right there,” referencing the faint sounds that began to seep through the walls, created by his bandmates (and roommates). “These guys rehearse. And without me! I know that because I live with them. I moved to Nashville…because people here practice everyday,” K stated. Despite finding inspiration in a new city, he’s still undeniably influenced by his life spent in Texas. When growing up at his grandmother’s house, he taught himself how to play the organ, and the instrument has branded K’s sound with a Western mood that he’s been shading for years. It’s this formation of an identifier that strengthens his character, and it’s his visual intrigue, as indicated by his never-removed Stetson hat, Hank Williams-esque physicality and pictorial explanations of his band set-up, that furthers his musical narrative.
“I wanted to make a breakup record, and I just thought a breakup record had never been done before,” said K. His use of comedic relief was something that interjected enough to defend this enigmatic persona that he’s created, and it’s a mechanism found in his songs, too. Recorded at 12th Street Sound to tape, with a few songs recorded at Adam Duritz’s house, and produced by Gordy Quist (Band of Heathens) and Beau Bedford, Dirty Wonder is comprised of ten tracks that are sonically cinematic and lyrically poignant. Conflating his personal experiences with the lyrical narrations of his songwriting character, the expected album surpasses American Girls (2012), his first full-length, and is nostalgic country that conversely creates a much more evolved artist. Selecting songs like scenes and committing to the part, K’s voice sounds more conscious than ever before on Dirty Wonder, and the smears of blues piano and fuzzed out guitars complement simplified harmonies and structures. The personification of the album’s concept lives in impressionable melodies that stay with you for days, as if his lyrics weren’t memorable enough. “When Gordy produced [the album] he was like, ‘you may have to fall back in love to get through these songs, to get through it vocally.’ It was very taxing…but that’s the only way to do it,” he recalled. “Hadrian,” a song from the upcoming album featuring Adam Duritz that we’re excited to premiere below, poetically compares his past relationship with other couples in history. “Hadrian was one of the five good emperors, but he was a horrible dude, did a lot of horrible things. He was still one of the good ones. When I was in that relationship, sometimes I felt like I put my best self forward first. And then I slowly started to do less and less, and I shut down on this person,” K admitted, implying his likeness to the emperor. “It doesn’t matter once it’s over, but my album is my temple to this person.” I instinctively asked if the album is apologetic. “Is it? Is it?,” he repeated in a whisper, questioning himself. “No…yes…not outwardly. It’s more lamenting. I don’t know how to do an apology song. I can apologize in person, but the character would never.” At this point I didn’t know whether to call him K or Kris or the main character of Dirty Wonder, but whatever his name, he had proven that this story of K Phillips is too curious to ignore.
The Counting Crows and Rob Thomas tour cosmically ends in Nashville on September 30th at Ascend Amphitheater, with K Phillips and his band kicking off the evening. It’s not a show to miss, and to hold you over until this concert and Dirty Wonder’s release, enjoy this Lockeland Springsteen premiere of “Hadrian,” featuring Adam Duritz.