Hi! I’m Phil Smith. I write and play American influenced country/rock. I’m based in Brisbane now, but I was born in Sydney in the early summer of 1970, at Manly hospital. I lived in Sydney for 15 years, picking up the guitar at the age of about 14. A tenant who lived in my mum’s house played for a living. I thought he was pretty cool. His woman was a ballerina, which was, in hindsight, maybe even cooler. I wasn’t much into music at that age. My mum lived with a jazz guitarist when I was about 4, for a short while.
Apparently he used to play in the house a lot. I don’t know, I was too young to remember. We upped and shifted north to Darwin, where I finished high school. I used to get into trouble fairly regularly, running with the “wrong crowd”. They seemed pretty right, to me, but your folks, they usually know best. No matter what you think.
I rode a motorcycle to high school, worked on the wharves after graduating, unloading prawn trawlers that would come steaming in from The Timor Sea and the Gulf of Carpentaria under cover of darkness, and always sitting low in the water. To this day, whenever I smell diesel smoke, it takes me straight back to Darwin harbour, loading 10 kilo cartons of frozen prawns into the back of a refrigerated semi under the fierce midday sun. For some reason, that is a memory I am fond of. I pumped petrol after the prawn season finished, until the station manager fired us wholesale for stealing money from the till. Turns out this had happened before, and it was actually him doing the stealing. There ain’t nothing stranger than people.
I left Darwin at 19, with a mate’s girlfriend, after he threatened to kill me for spilling the beans. I couldn’t help it. I liked her. She liked me. And I knew what road they were headed down. So I did what I felt was the right thing to do at the time. Funny thing the truth, it gets you into a whole load of trouble sometimes. We stayed in Queensland for some years me and her, doing odd jobs, before we too finally fell apart for much the same reason as she and hers had. I headed north again, this time to Cairns; with a drummer friend I knew who always had a plan. I lasted 2 years in Cairns, never did much like the place. Like Darwin, it’s full of people running from one thing or another. And tourists.
There was no way I could settle there, so I got on a plane and flew to London. I had an English passport, and it seemed like the only thing left to do. Spent a year down in Devon, putting up sheds and horse stables for my uncle, on my mother’s side. In the countryside. Pretty soon I found myself in Bristol Town, making hip-hop tunes on the computer with a Hungarian fella I knew called Attila. Spent a week in Hungary with him and his girlfriend once. We even visited his folks who lived in the country, far from the hustle and bustle of the twin towns of the capital. That was a step back in time. Old world. Old ways, and dark.
Anyways, I’m getting distracted, back to the story at hand. All this time I’d been playing the electric guitar, lead guitar for people, people like Attila. Melody. Wasn’t until I started writing songs for a Scottish lass I’d met that I became interested in singing, and folk music, and turning my ideas and fears into songs that I would sing to people. I started off pretty slow at first, listening to a lot of Nick Drake’s beautiful finger picking, and some Beth Orton songs, gradually getting an idea of where I wanted to be going, musically speaking. I moved to Brighton shortly thereafter, and then onto London, where I first heard of a fella from Carolina called Ryan Adams.
As soon as I heard this new style, alt country, country folk, Americana! Whatever you wanna call it, and being sung by him, the penny finally dropped. It had been a long time since I’d heard anything that moved me the way he did, and it kinda woke me up. I started going backwards from there, and so on and so forth down into Neil Young, back into James Taylor, who I’d forgotten all about. Joni Mitchell. I didn’t get into Dylan until real late, I’m embarrassed to even tell you how old I was before I started to appreciate what Dylan had to offer. Might have cut a few years off if I hadda started listening to HIM a little earlier. Anyway. I stayed in London for a year and a half, before coming back home to Australia on family business, business that required my immediate attention.
As you get older, and you start to learn first hand about death, and all it’s attendant misfortunes and unravellings, you get to realizing pretty quick that there ain’t nothing in this world as important as your own flesh and blood. Unless, that is, you have been unfortunate in one way or another in your dealings with your own family. Anyway, I won’t go too much into that business, save to say that it’s conclusion brought no one any happiness, one person the release they had been waiting for, and myself a growing up of sorts. In one way I felt diminished, but I also felt like I had become more of a man.
The present outcome of all of this that came before where we now are, both you and I, is that I am still trying to make my own way in this world. I have chosen a hard road that has very nearly broken me countless times, but I am still here. And the songs keep coming. I become better at my craft song by song, week by week, and until this changes I will continue on down this road and sing what truths I discover along the way. The songs I write have various influences, but the stories contained within them are mine. They are from my life. They are my losses, but they are not unique to me. I hope you have enjoyed reading my little story. And I hope, (for both our sakes,:) that you enjoy listening to my music 🙂 Have a wonderful day. Love Phil.