Artist Interviews

An Interview with Phil Bearce
July 16, 2009
Phil Bearce Interviews
Phil Bearce, Singer/Songwriter
from The Bay Area, CA
Singer/songwriter Phil Bearce has been performing and writing in the Bay Area for many years. Phil recently started using Lilac Writer. He graciously agreed to an interview about his music and his approach to songwriting.

Lilac Writer (LW): Phil it seems you have been involved with songwriting and performing for a few decades now. What is it about the music that has kept you engaged in the process for so long?

Phil Bearce (Phil): I love everything about songwriting. I've always been fascinated by people who can write, novelists in particular. It always amazes me that someone can expound for endless paragraphs on one subject. I just can't do it. I suppose that's why I write songs, there's an economy of words. You have to be a little craftier to get your point across in fewer words.

LW: How did you get started in music in the first place?

Phil: I learned to play guitar in high school and played on and off for years, mostly for myself, family and friends. I felt the need to take it further and auditioned for a non-profit organization here in the Bay Area called Bread and Roses. They provide entertainers for folks who are currently living in institutions and cannot get out to hear live music. I only knew cover tunes, but they asked me to play for folks in psych wards. It was so much fun, I truly got bitten by the performing bug - and that lead to writing my own tunes.

LW: Tell us a little bit about how you write songs. Do you have a process or routine, or do you wait for inspiration to strike?

Phil: I have a couple ways of writing, both start with an idea or a clever line/title. These ideas come to me while driving back and forth to work. I try to flesh out the story or idea by writing (in long hand) as much of the story or idea as I can, with no thought of rhyme or meter. The only thing I worry about here is, "is it a complete story with a beginning, middle and end?" And, "Is it interesting?" Then it starts taking shape and I rewrite it as many times as I need to before I think it's a song. This is the part I love, the crafting and honing until it's perfect. I almost always write the words first - then make music to fit the words. The other way is that I'll have no ideas about anything, and I'll sit down with my guitar and noodle away until something happens.

Lately, though, I've been participating in the on-line songwriting challenges, FAWM and 50/90. FAWM ( is an acronym for February (is) Album Writing Month - and 50/90, you're supposed to write 50 songs in 90 days from July 4th to October 1st. Last year I only wrote 26. I've got 5 so far for this year.

LW: You have recorded quite a bit of material both solo and with your band. Have you gotten into home recording for your projects or demos?

Phil: Absolutely! It's all about the gear! My first CD with an acoustic duo back in '99 cost me about $8000 just in studio costs. While it was an amazing experience, the next album was recorded mostly in my home studio, (iMac and Logic Express), where I recorded 90% of the instrumentation for the 11 songs. The files were uploaded at a real studio where the vocals and a couple guitar parts were then recorded. So the only costs I had were minimal studio costs and then mastering.

LW: You have just started using Lilac Writer. How do you see it helping your songwriting?

Phil: The best part (so far) is that I don't have to keep my songs and parts of songs in my little flash drive anymore. Napkins were replaced by the flash drive and Lilac Writer will replace the flash drive. My lyrics are right there anywhere I go. I also really like that I can go back to earlier iterations. And although I haven't used this functionality yet, I'd like to try out the collaborative bits as well.

LW: You said you often start from the lyric then make the music fit the words. At this phase in the process, do you start recording demos or do you work the song out with guitar and voice before moving on to recording? The point of this question is, do you use recording as part of the writing process or do you record after the song is mostly complete?

Phil: I try to have most of it worked out with my guitar before I start to record something. Although the writing process for me continues all the way through the recording phase. Rewriting goes on even after the song is 'done'. I kind approach it like an engineering project in that as I get closer to completing the project, the stuff I've come up with so far actually suggests alternative paths I could take. There always seems to be more than one right answer.

LW: You play guitar, electric guitar and mandolin. Do you play other instruments on your solo work?

Phil: Yes, I've managed to learn and include bouzouki, dulcimer, banjo, harmonica, percussion, loops, ukulele, and bass into my recordings

LW: Do you have any guitars or equipment that give you special inspiration for songwriting?

Phil: Yes, I do. It started with my Martin acoustic. That guitar has a lovely tone and it has suggested two or three of my songs. My electric guitar though has given me many more. It's a older Parker NiteFly - playing it is like buttah.

LW: Have you worked with co-writers on any of your original songs?

Phil: You bet. My first experience came when I was playing with another singer-songwriter, Tim Ryan, we called ourselves Pale Moon Sky. Tim and I wrote about 16 songs together. Mostly I would write the lyrics and Tim would offer up the music, sometime the other way around. I've also collaborated with songwriter Michael Jerome, two songs from my solo CD, "Strangely Familiar" were co-writes with him. Both of those guys are not currently active in music, unfortunately.

LW: When recording, many songwriters get frustrated with dealing with the complexity of the software and equipment. It is hard to stay in a creative flow when you needed to engages so much left brain thought into the recording process. Do you have any approach to stay creative while in the recording process?

Phil: I go through that as well. Sometimes there are forces at work that will try to stop me, but I've figured out how to get around it. I have more than one way to record something. Aside from the Mac and DAW software, I also have a old Boss BR532 standalone workstation (records on 128 meg SmartMedia Cards), I also have an Alesis ProTrack that allows me record right onto my iPod. So if one thing isn't working, one of the others definitely will be ready. The two alternative ways are only for demo recordings though. I like being able to put something down when I have the idea or I find it just evaporates.

LW: What's next? What projects do you have coming up?

Phil: During one of the last songwriting challenges, I used the opportunity to write a collection of instrumental tunes. My youngest daughter had just graduated from film school down in LA and had asked me to compose a few different styles of music that she might use for her little indie films. I am currently about half done with the final mixing of 12 of those songs, the working title is "phylosophy". I'll get it mastered and self-release it. The only other thing I want to do is to talk my current band, Country Grunge, into recording some of our songs. We're starting to get real tight and I'd sure like to capture that magic when it happens. And more songwriting, of course.

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