One of last year’s biggest singles, the quadruple-platinum “Home” announced Phillip Phillips as a singer/guitarist of both rare authenticity and massive pop appeal. Centering on the American Idol season 11 winner’s rich, raspy vocals and masterful guitar skills, “Home” served as the lead single from The World from the Side of the Moon (19 Entertainment/Interscope Records)—a platinum-selling album that shot to #4 on the Billboard Top 200 Album chart upon its November 2012 release. Phillips’s widely acclaimed debutalso features the platinum single “Gone, Gone, Gone,” as well as a host of numbers that flaunt the 22-year-old Georgia native’s songwriting chops. Fresh off his first headlining tour, Phillips is now bringing that rootsy brand of rock-and-roll to arenas around the country as the opening act for singer/songwriter superstar John Mayer.
On The World from the Side of the Moon—a #1 debut on the Billboard Rock Album chart—Phillips channels his soulful spirit into acoustic-driven rock with an earthy yet high-energy sound. Produced by Gregg Wattenberg (Train, O.A.R.) and praised by Rolling Stone as “full of sweeping verses and uplifting power-pop hooks,” the album is mainly comprised of tracks written or co-written by Phillips over the past few years. Along with revealing his easy warmth as a songwriter, The World from the Side of the Moon showcases the dynamic guitar work Phillips has cultivated through careful studying of legends like Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan.
Raised in Leesburg, Georgia, Phillips took up guitar at 14, thanks largely to his older sister’s then-boyfriend (and now husband), Benjamin Neil. “Ben’s an amazing guitarist—he taught me a few chords one day and I just fell in love with it immediately,” says Phillips. Since the two lived in separate towns, Phillips kept on practicing guitar on his own (“mostly by playing along to the karaoke machine”) and soon found himself mastering riffs from classic-rock tracks like Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water” and Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train.” Several years later, Phillips formed an acoustic band with his sister and brother-in-law and added singing to his repertoire. “I used to always keep my singing to myself and never let anyone hear me, but then my sister and brother-in-law caught me one night and told me I had to start singing in the band,” he says. “We played at a church that Sunday and the room was packed and I thought I was going to pass out, but I did it.”
After graduating high school, Phillips began studying industrial systems technology at Albany Technical College in Georgia and continued playing music with his brother-in-law. “We got a name for ourselves, playing in college towns and at festivals, sometimes just playing for free or for food,” says Phillips. With encouragement from his family and friends, Phillips took a break from working in his family’s pawn shop and auditioned for American Idol in summer 2011—and soon found himself tearing through full-throated performances of songs by artists like Creedence Clearwater Revival, Otis Redding, and Wilson Pickett on the Idol stage.
Released the same day that Phillips claimed his American Idol victory, “Home” marked the most successful coronation song of any Idol winner—as well as the highest-ever debut on the Billboard Digital songs chart, with 278,000 downloads sold. On The World from the Side of the Moon, “Home” joins tracks that shift from moody meditations (“Man on the Moon”) to hushed ballads (“Tell Me a Story”) to dance-worthy rave-ups (“Get Up Get Down”) to sing-along-ready anthems (“Can’t Go Wrong”). “The album sort of takes you through all these different emotions—there’s feel-good songs and love songs but also songs that get a little darker,” says Phillips. “The most important thing to me is making music that comes from my heart and really connects with people on a gut level,” he adds.
Despite his near-constant touring since the release of The World from the Side of the Moon—including a stint as the opener for Matchbox Twenty—Phillips has managed to keep prolific in his songwriting. “I’m always writing, even if it’s just coming up with little ditties or jotting down lyrics or working on guitar parts,” he says. And in breathing his songs to life, Phillips often mines inspiration from both his classic-rock roots and singer/songwriters with a penchant for earnest, impassioned folk-rock. “I grew up on musicians and bands from the ‘60s and ‘70s, stuff like Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin,” he says. “Then as I got older I found Damien Rice and Dave Matthews and John Butler, which is what really set it off for me in terms of finding my voice as a musician.”
For Phillips, the past year’s jam-packed touring schedule has granted him the long-craved opportunity to play his own songs for live audiences night after night. “At first it was terrifying to share all my songs, but now we’re at the point where the crowd’s singing along—even to the ones that aren’t the singles—which is amazing to see,” he says. Above all, performing live offers a sense of freedom that Phillips finds essential to making music. “We just go out there and jam out and try to make it different and exciting, instead of playing the songs exactly how they sound on the album,” he says. “It’s all about real musicians playing real music that we’re passionate about and just having a good time, and hopefully we’re giving the crowd a good time too.”