Sam Phillips

Sam Phillips Likes Secrets and Simplicity

Q. Has self-doubt and self criticism eased over the years?

A. I don’t think its eased but I know how to deal with it. I know how to keep it from taking over. I didn’t always know that and I remember sometimes taking months to write a record and being very hard to live with during that time. It affected my personal life as well. I think it’s always going to be there. It’s a matter of focus. I think I have to stop thinking. Usually at the point I get stuck and start being self-critical and I just try to return to what I love about what I’m doing, the melody I’m writing, or what I would like to say. I know when I’d perform on stage and felt like I was going off the edge, either singing out of tune or having a bad night, I would always think, this is part of the show. There’s some kind of great thing about being pathetic on stage. Go with it. Sometimes I would see myself as a truly pathetic singer up here. In 2004 when I was singing torch songs about the breakup of my marriage, it was just gasoline on the fire. There’s great humor in that, too. That is maybe the most vital thing, to be able to catch yourself in those moments and laugh. To not take the songs so seriously. It’s just a song. I can write another one. I’ve written a lot of them before. I’ll write a lot more of them.

Q. Do you think people sometimes run out of creativity?

A. I certainly have met musicians that it seems to be true for. That terrifies me, that the plug might get pulled. I do think if I’m still interested that plug is going to stay in the wall. It’s really how you go about living your life day-to-day. One of the things I was thinking about, it’s a small thing but really important, is what you surround yourself with every day. I’m not talking about leopard skin or trapezes. I do think that having flowers where you can see them, or maybe you don’t have as much plastic in your house, little things like that. You have meaningful things around you. Vinyl record covers. I have a picture of Thomas Merton playing the bongos, and Henry Miller, on a little bulletin board. I actually have a tag from one of my very favorite designers, this sounds very trivial and vacuous, Martin Margiella, he’s radically anti-fashion, anti-establishment, and has these blank white tags sewn into his things instead of the Gucci or Chanel logos. I think T Bone was one of the people that brought that into focus for me. I was so young when I met him, I was 23 and he was 38 and he taught me so much about life and I still adore him, and I don’t regret at all that we were together as long as we were and that things went the way the did, even though there’s been a lot of pain and I’ve worked hard to come to this point. He was one of the first ones to say, “How about not using a paper napkin, how about cloth napkins?” I really grew to love that.

Q. You mentioned earlier wanting to leave a trail for your daughter to follow. Did you have that?

A. Things have changed so much between my mother’s generation and mine. I don’t know how to be going into my fifties, which I will be shortly. I don’t really know what to expect or how to be, and I love that because I think there are a lot of possibilities. I remember in the ’60s, Andy Griffith’s Aunt Bea. You don’t see older people on TV or in the movies as much. I remember my grandmother, my great grandmother, they had muscular arms, they would swing, and I loved that, and false teeth and permanents in their gray hair. It was all very natural and great and part of my life.

Q. L.A. is my hometown, and it does not seem to me like a great place to grow old.

A. Growing old in L.A. is a constant challenge. I think because of Simone, my daughter, or my step-daughters, who are in their ’30s, these sweet girls, these beautiful things, they’re going to be where I am. And we’ve got to get down this path without causing ourselves too much harm.



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