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Phil Soussan

Phil Soussan is a renowned bassist and songwriter/producer who has worked with Toto and Steve Lukather on many occasions. Now he has released his first solo album called "Vibrate" and of course Toto and lots of other famous musicians have collaborated with him on this record. We talked to Phil about his new album and the work with his fellow musicians.
You have written the songs over a long period of time and are now releasing kind of a collection of the best ones. Has your approach of writing and arranging changed over the years?
Yes it has. At one time I would write cool riffs on the guitar, bass or keyboards and then spend a lot of time trying to find melodies that worked over them. I would always write lyrics that I would keep in a folder and then try to match one up to the other. These days the whole project tends to be more focused and global. I am working on each song as a concept from start to finish. I know what I am trying to say and I want the melody to reflect the sentiment as much as the lyric - kind of a classical music concept!
You've been working with lots of big names in the music biz When you write your songs, do you already know in what musical direction it will go? Or does this come with time while working on the arrangements etc.?
I know basically in which direction I want the song to go. Part of the music dictates that but there is always the "surprise factor" - that which you can never know. The way that I arranged the music for this record was to put down the basic tracks in the form of a demo into Pro Tools using maybe a drum loop, and then start to build upon that using all the different instruments, experimenting all the while. It is a very intuitive way of working because something is always guiding your hand and when you hear something that you like you react to it! Finally when I was happy with what I had I "cast" the players; picking the players that I wanted to play specific parts. They overdubbed and replaced most of my parts. The hardest thing sometimes was to allow them to do what they felt because the initial fear was that they were going to change something which I liked! However, as is always the case, when you allow your idea to be reinterpreted by another talented musician, then that is when the real magic occurs! You cannot do that on your own no more than to be able to have a conversation on your own!
You've also written songs for other people, is there a difference in writing a song for yourself or for someone else? Do you also know when you start on a song if it's going to be your own or if you'll be giving it to some other artist?
When I write I am always trying to personally relate to the song and so each song is personal. Sometime it is hard to part with a song because of that and to give it away - indeed I have no idea what I am going to do with a song, if I am to keep it or give it away. Some songs have felt naturally to be shared - such as the songs on the Luke album; we were both going through the same types of situations and so the songs were becoming to both of us. Other songs, such as a song called "New York Time" (given to Bernard Fowler of the Rolling Stones) that I wrote the lyric for was based upon my own experience of living in New York and was hard to part with because it was a big part of my life and I wrote it after 9/11 because I felt to so passionate about that.
Your lyrics are very poetic and full of images and metaphors. Where do you get the inspiration for them? Do lyrics come to you naturally or is it rather hard work to find the right words to say?
Thank you! Hmmm... Funny thing; I used to love English Literature at school - Shakespeare, Dickens etc, but it was the only subject that they failed me on!
I don't like lyrics that don't make you feel something.. I wrestle with lyrics to make them jump out, I close my eyes and try to picture the story as a play, as a movie. I look for the textures and colors and smells. All the descriptions and adjectives that can influence an everyday phrase. You add seasonings everyday to your food to make it taste different so why not do the same with ideas and lyrics? I was explaining it the other day to someone and I illustrated it with someone looking out of the window at some trees; If you are feeling trapped you could say that the trees are standing up like knives into the sky but if you feel wonderful you could say that the trees are standing majestic as statues... get it? Same trees, different seasoning, one with ketchup, one with mustard!
You play lots of instruments yourself on the album, was it important to you to stretch out a bit and also to retain full control of the instrumentation and arrangement?
The saying that "necessity is the mother of invention" comes to mind! I write a lot on guitar but keyboards I am not very good at: I have to program every keyboard part!! So I played a lot of guitar, experimenting with sounds and parts more than with improvisation or solos. Steve Lukather was very complimentary about my guitar playing - something that I don't always have confidence in! I liked the ability to make up the arrangements on my own without fear of trying so many things that might not work. I learned that sometimes the first guitar sound on any part that you play needs to be kept because it has the original impulse; I spent HOURS trying to recreate the bluesy clean guitar sound on "No Regrets" and although it is virtually there I still have no idea how I dialed in the amps on that one day originally! I embellished that string arrangements on "She Couldn't Cry" and "Water's Edge" with real violin (I studied that for 12 years when I was younger) in order to make that more real sounding. Steve Porcaro helped me with the arrangement on "Cry" and he did an amazing job! He is awesome.
Your guest players are "the creme de la creme" of the LA music scene - how did you choose the musicians, did you have certain people in mind for certain songs before you started recording?
Yeah, they suck!! maybe if they practice a bit they will be able to turn professional one day!! No, really, how fortunate am I to be privileged to work with such great people. Sometimes I just look around and think about the line in the Talking Heads song "Once in a Lifetime" ...HOW DID I GET HERE!
I have always had a great admiration for all the members of Toto and for some reason they seem to like the things that I do. Over the years I have been blessed to have participated in many things with them from engineering to playing to singing and even to writing one of my best songs with Luke which was "After You're Gone" on the MINDFIELDS album.
I cast the players based upon the feels of the songs. Gregg Bissonette was so gracious; he loved the songs I played him and he made me promise that I would let him play on them; he really got the songs, got the feel, got the power and got the sound that was appropriate. Simon was fantastic, there is a sound that he has that is so unique; ringing and full of power. He has the ability to play anything and find the groove in it effortlessly! On of may favorite songs is "Elderberry Trees" and the song would be much less without Simon's awesome groove on it. Luke was going to be playing a lot more on the record but he got caught up in his schedule and so we picked some well chosen moments together. Check out his awesome solo that he performed on "Haunted". Shane is a dear friend; we have played together with Johnny Hallyday and John Waite and there is a thing that he does that no one else can do. And of course Richie Kotzen who I have been playing with lately is such a phenomenal guitarist (and singer) that the world has a long way to go in needing to know more about him. Dave Paich and Jeff Babko came and performed all those great keyboard parts which I could always hear in my head but could never figure out how to program! Overall it was easy to hear the finished skeletons of the songs and to know who would be best playing on which songs.
The title of your record is "Vibrate". Is there any special reason you choose this title?
I chose the title because it is what I want to happen when people hear the record. I hope that the sentiments that I felt when I wrote the songs will resonate the same feelings in the listeners. If that happens then I will have done my job! When I look out into the audience I want to see people remember and relate to the songs; they can love them or they can hate them but I want them to think SOMETHING! It was one of the biggest compliments to hear from Luke that Eddie van Halen's most relatable song in years was a lyric that I wrote - "Broken Machine" off the LUKE album. That is why I like to say that I write provocative lyrics.
Like a tuning fork vibrates and makes everything that is comes into contact resonate; so I hope my songs will do.

Finally I just want to say that I had so much fun making this first completely solo album, I never sat down to write an album, it just happened; I am writing all the time, but one day I just looked around and realized that this album was complete and ready, and this was it's time! I hope everyone enjoys it!


For more information on Phil Soussan's new album "Vibrate" please check out the Releases section or his websites at www.philsoussan.com and www.myspace.com/philsoussan

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