Most PledgeMusic artists will dig into the archives a bit when setting up their store for superfans to enjoy unique artifacts and one-of-a-kind offerings. Britta Phillips has a vault filled with such items, given her tremendous experience in the industry — from Luna to Dean & Britta, The Belltower to Jem. We recently asked Britta about her first-ever solo album, going through the memories, and how she often thinks of Scott Hardkiss.
The campaign store and your updates are loaded with all sorts of pieces of the past and present. Has this process provided some nostalgic moments for you?
Yes, absolutely! I started by digging into an old diary from 2000 and actually posted a bit from that, which I never imagined doing in a million years! So yeah, that kinda opened the doors wide for me to start mining even more stuff from my vast past.
What caused you to dive into that diary in the first place?
Well, I had to write my second update, and I decided to talk about the first song on the album, “Daydream." You can hear the intro to that song in the video on my project page. The song is the oldest original song on my album, and I wrote it when I was falling in love/lust with my bandmate in Luna at the time. I thought I should check to see exactly when I did write it and also to see if there were details in there that I’d forgotten.
Then I decided to post my old demo of the song from 2000. I’m loosening up about sharing these old demos now, even though they embarrass me a little. It always embarrasses me to listen to old stuff, but its kinda good, too, to not dismiss the past. It’s part of who I am, how I got here.
So then I went from 2000 back to around 1984 and posted some recordings I’d done when I was the singing voice of Jem, from the cartoon Jem & The Holograms. I had not listened to these songs in a long, long time. I wasn’t sure if I should post them because they are a world away from my solo album is now, but I know that some of my fans are big Jem fans, so I had to do it for them. One of the songs, “Don’t Think Twice,” was used in a skateboard movie called Thrashin’ with Josh Brolin, but it was re-recorded by someone else for the movie. I’ve never seen the movie, but over the years people have asked me for my version/demo of the song.
How long have you had thoughts or hopes of recording a solo record?
Heh…. decades, I suppose. But it’s often taken a backseat, and I’ve been quite happy to be the side man or part of a duo in the past. I was in a “shoegaze” band called The Belltower in London in the early ‘90s and split the vocals and songwriting with my ex-husband, Jody Porter, who went on to join Fountains of Wayne. Oh, I should post some Belltower songs on a Pledge update! There are so many chapters it’s hard to keep track sometimes.
After The Belltower broke up, I started writing song for a solo album, but they never saw the light of day and then I joined the mostly all girl band, Babysat — which then become Ultrababyfat — from Atlanta, GA. Then I did a tour with Ben Lee. And through that, I got an audition for Luna. The great thing about being a “sideman” is that there’s no pressure. I just show up with my bass. But after a while, I started itching to sing and do more.
With Dean & Britta, the band/duo with my husband Dean, who I met in Luna, it was back to sharing the duties and the spotlight, but then Dean did a solo album and my friend and producer, Scott Hardkiss, took me to lunch back in 2012 and said I should make a solo album with him producing. I’d been working on solo stuff in the background without any urgency at all until then. I was still really busy touring with Dean & Britta doing ‘13 Most Beautiful: Songs for Andy Warhol’s Screen Tests’ and also playing with Dean on his solo tours, but we found time to record here and there.
So that’s how it all started. I’m so happy with how my album turned out that I’m actually kinda glad that I didn’t make one before now. I think the end result is much better than it would have been had I made it 20 or even 10 years ago.
It’s been nearly two years since Scott passed. How much have you thought about him during this process?
The process stopped for quite a while after he passed away. It was such a shock. He was so young, only 43, and such a beautiful human being. A great friend and so supportive of me as an artist. So I got to L.A. and just worked with Dean on the film score for ‘Mistress America’ — directed by Noah Baumbach. That was a lot of work. In fact, we kinda wrote a whole score and then Noah went off to make ‘While We’re Young’ and when he finished that, he wanted to start from scratch again. And he was right about that; it turned out great once we figured out the right template.
Scott Hardkiss was the one who suggested the software we used for all the synth sounds on that score. So I never really stop thinking about Scott. He pops up in my head all the time. When I began to open up the Pro Tools sessions we’d worked on, I found audio of him talking to me, coaching me, giving me encouragement. I also found audio of his daughter singing the alphabet song. It made me sad, of course, but also so happy to hear his voice again. His wife sent me a track that he’d mixed that I hadn’t even heard and encouraged me to release it and that’s when I really started to dig in and finish the two tracks we’d worked on that we’re most finished.
The technical difficulties and the task at hand kept me from wallowing in too much sadness. I focused on figuring out how to make those two tracks the best that they could be. I kept the vocal he recorded of me singing “Landslide.” I hadn’t thought much of it at the time I recorded it, but Scott knew it was good and saved it and sent me a beautiful mix with Dean playing a classic Galaxie 500 guitar solo.
Beyond the new album, what else is on the horizon for 2016? Are there other creative plates you’re spinning or are you all-in on supporting the solo album?
Today, I’m in the studio with Luna recording some covers and they sound great! We’re just spending three days in the studio together to see how it feels after more than 10 years! I’ve also recording with Dean for a new “Space Cowboy/Spaghetti Western” album he’s making with Cheval Sombre.
I am super psyched about finding a beautiful and talented keyboard player to play with for my solo live shows! Her name is Marte Solbakken and she’s originally from Olso, Norway. I’m not planning on touring, but I want to at least play NYC, L.A. and SF at some point. And I’m opening for Luna in Texas in May and also in London and Paris in October. It’ll just be me in Europe, though. I can’t bring Marte with me for those two shows, but I’m hoping the Luna boys will join me for a few songs.
I’m playing a new Warhol show — ‘Warhol Exposed’ — with Tom Verlaine, Martin Rev, Bradford Cox from Deerhunter, Dean Wareham, and Eleanor Friedberger from Fiery Furnaces at the Barbican in London, the Paris Philharmonie and in Nantes, France in May. And we have the ‘13 Most Beautiful: 13 Songs for Andy Warhol’ show in Shanghai in June! Phew!
The big task will be learning how to play my songs live now, though. Oh, and I want to make more music videos!