by Kara Kokinos
[three_fourth]You’ve been a part of Cigarettes After Sex from the start – you were on the first EP and Greg Gonzalez cites your relationship as highly reciprocal. What captures you in a musical project and makes you want to dedicate yourself to it?
Greg had started playing with me and my band in 2009. He had played a little something during one of our practices that I liked and I went, “Oh, what’s that?” and he went “I wrote that!” so I was like, “Oh cool, maybe we should play together.” We just started playing, me in his band and playing for each other. The thing that attracted me to it was just the songwriting because the song was different. At that time it was more…synth-pop, really.
What has made your musical collaborations with Greg click?
We’re very close, he’s my best friend. I think we both have deep understanding of how music works. There’s not much communication that has to happen verbally for us to make something that’s good. It’s just easy. We like letting the song be in the forefront rather than the musician or the parts, whatever those may be. We both have that same mindset, that’s just how it happens.
All of the band’s music since I. has been recorded in NYC. Do you think that is a meaningful choice for your sound or simply one of necessity and ease?
Well I was taking care of my mom here in El Paso. She was sick and she passed away in 2012 and Greg and I had agreed to move to New York and I followed and I had a few things to take care of here in El Paso and I joined him in New York and we recorded stuff there because we lived there… but I moved back to El Paso at the end of 2015.
With the new album you really let things stay minimalistic. Was that a difficult choice to make or the inevitable direction of this album?
There’s a lot of different incarnations of Cigarettes where the instrumentation was thicker, the paces were quicker and we recorded that EP were everything was stripped down and had to be stripped down because we were at the station we were recording in – which was the stairway. We tried a fast song then and it got lost because it just sounded like a mess because of the reverb. It would get lost so you had to just play stuff really minimalistic and after that EP we went on started doing other things that were more involved and more complicated and it just didn’t seem to be going anywhere. So we ended up just going back to the EP and that idea of more space and letting the songs breathe. That’s why the record is in that same vein because that’s what works best for us.
What made you release the singles in the order and manner that you did?
We recorded a section of ‘Keep On Loving You’ after I had moved back to El Paso and ‘Nothing’s Gonna Hurt You Baby’ broke and Greg wanted to record something else, to strike while the iron was hot, so we just went up and recorded those songs and the session was done in one take so that’s the one we put out. There was, I can’t think of any reason for what was released when except for when it was recorded and then the other stuff was just – well the stuff is actually pretty old! Most of the songs on the EP were all recorded in 2015.
How do you gear up to perform these songs live?
For me at this point not much because we do it so often. We play more often than we don’t play so there’s not a lot of mental prep that I do beforehand. Usually in the dressing room we make sure it’s clear five minutes before and we’re quiet, we don’t really speak much to each other in those five minutes. And on stage the songs still effect you and it’s not mechanical in any way. Of course the crowd reaction feeds into that. But there’s no real process that I have personally other than just a little moment of quiet before.
How do you process afterwards? I’m sure it’s a pretty heavy experience to perform those songs.
Yeah, yeah, for sure it is. I mean it takes you a second to come back down to earth but usually there’s no time to really think too much because you have to tear down and then usually there’s a meet and greet immediately after. So really I don’t come back down to earth until I go back to the hotel, it takes a little bit.
It’s difficult not to hear the cinematic in your entire catalog. Was it surprising for you that your music was licensed for A Handmaid’s Tale and Gypsy?
No, it always made sense! Of course it was nice surprise but it just makes sense that the music lends itself to that. In the same way that the record is made so that you can listen to it intensely or you can leave it on in the background and go to sleep to it. I think that kind of music does well in movies or soundtracks, music that doesn’t demand your attention by being loud or being fast.
Well I’d definitely say the music is also pretty Romantic – what’s the most romantic thing you’ve ever done?
Oh, hm, well I definitely moved back from New York – this girl does not notice but I moved from New York to El Paso so I guess it was that. But I would hope she wouldn’t find out it’s her.
Don’t worry, Phillip, your secret is safe with us.
Listen to Cigarettes After Sex here: