Interview with PHIL SOUSSAN

August 2006

soussanSometimes one song is enough to make it or break it, but for Phil Soussan who wrote “Shot In The Dark” in 1986 while playing with Ozzy Osbourne it wasn’t really a launchpad, it was more a sign of what young bass player was capable of. Since then, Phil has become a pillar of the musical society with a ton of recordings under his belt and an acceptance in the TOTO – that’s a sign of class! – family. The more surprising, then, is that it took Soussan some two decades to come up with a solo album, “Vibrate“. It’s as good vibrations as only can come from such an energetic man, and the music’s a real reflection of Phil who we spent some time with over a cup of coffee.

– Being such a strong songwriter for some twenty years, the solo album’s been long overdue. Why it’s taken so long and why now’s the moment?

Thank you for the compliment! Truth be told, I don’t know! I have always wanted to do a solo album and I have spoken about it many times but every time that I would start working with someone else the question would come up as to whether I had any extra songs for the project. Invariably some of the songs that I kept putting aside would then be contributed to the project; I think that I may have written my solo album many times over! Finally, I was putting various songs aside when my friend Luke, Steve Lukather, and I were having a listening session one night and he pointed out that he felt that I had ninety per cent of the album there. I picked eight songs out of the twenty that I had and I wrote three additional songs, fairly rapidly, and that became the record.

– This is a very modern-sounding record, nothing like the one most fans could have expected from an artist of such a pedigree. Did you deliberately shape the songs this, non-classical, though classy way?

Again, as I had been writing and giving those songs to different artists over time, what I had been writing was progressively more current. This is not an album that was written a long time ago – although some tunes were! – most of it was fairly recent and influenced by whatever I was involved with at the time. One can definitely hear a more classic “prog rock” influence in some of the older written tunes further on in the record.

– Was it a challenge to handle all the vocals?

Yes, definitely! I have always sung backing vocals on other records – I am good at it and come up with unique arrangements; it’s one of my “things”, and I have sung lead vocals in a couple of my bands from time to time, but to sing lead vocals on a record… well, I decided to go and see a vocal coach and he had to retrain me to put more personality in the vocals, the exact opposite of what you want to do when you are singing backing vocals! It was also very challenging to produce my own vocals and to be objective about them; to make decisions about takes and phrasing. I would much rather have had someone there to make objective decisions. Next time that is what I would like to do.

soussan1– What is “Cannibal Jacket”? A band or a record?

It is a bike jacket made out of human skin! CANNIBAL JACKET was the first incarnation of my solo project in the form of a band with some demos. Randy Castillo came up with the name. Sadly the project never went any further due to a situation with the guy who wanted to sing with regard to the business aspects. That guy, Terry Ilous, had approached me to be part of this project but then he ended up burning many bridges that I was establishing for this project within the industry. I alway thought they were good songs even though Terry did not agree, although he did “swipe” one of them and put it on a posthumous XYZ record – my friend Tom Fletcher, with whom I worked on the “Luke” album and mixed a DOKKEN album, called me into his studio to hear a “great” track that he thought I would like – my jaw dropped when I heard “Another Rainy Day”. “That’s my song!” I exclaimed. “Wow…” said Tom, “…that explains why I liked it and thought that you should hear it and would like it…” Tom replied. He had no idea that it was my song!

– What do you consider the best part of your career up to this, solo point?

The time establishing myself with Ozzy, obviously the success of “Shot In The Dark”, but musically it would have to be the “Luke” album and world tour that followed. That was the most fun I ever had with my clothes on!

– Your stint with Ozzy has brought only one album. Don’t you find it a bit off-putting that most of the people associate your name just with this stint of yours?

Sometimes, but there again that album was a huge record and exposed me to so many people that it is understandable that most of those people know me from Ozzy. After I left Ozzy I went to work with Billy Idol partly for that reason… I did not want to become typecast.

– What have you learnt from playing with Ozzy?

soussan3That when you bring a great deal of input to some people, they treat you well, and that when you leave and take the value that they need with you they get very weird! Ozzy goes out of his way to never mention me or acknowledge my input – I guess that is the ultimate compliment of the extent of my input! Really, though I learned how much of a music show is music and how much is vaudeville. Ozzy is an iconic frontman due in no small part to his antics and personality on or off the stage. One can see that in his TV show! I always thought he was really funny all the time!

– The first prominent band was WILDLIFE, with Simon Kirke and the Overland brothers. It’s surely not too difficult to adapt to Simon’s drumming style – or was it? – but did you feel like breaking into a big league?

Simon was great to play with. He really educated me in the style of “back-beat” playing. Knowing how to place your bass notes just behind the beats separates “feel” players from the masses and I credit Simon for that. Sure we felt as though we were going to be part of the big time but it was not meant to be. After the politics between our label, Swan Song and Atlantic, caused the fall apart of our deal, Simon left and we continued for a while. I suggested that we take our brand of American AOR rock to the USA and try to finance our own visit and tour, but the rest of the band disagreed. We eventually split up and went our separate ways.

– Was it then, working for the Swan Song label that you were introduced to Jimmy Page and Paul Rodgers? And why, working with Jimmy and Chris Slade, you didn’t end up in THE FIRM?

Yes, that is how I met Jimmy. We started rehearsing at Nomis Studios in London. Jimmy had not played in many years and so much of that time was spent just the three of us, Jimmy, Chris – and later Rat Scabies – and myself, running through many ideas for new material. One of my ideas ended up in the form of the song “Closer” on the first album! After a few months of this I ended up with an invitation to join Ozzy’s band and I had to weigh up whether to go out on tour straight away or to continue with Jimmy, who had no definite plans at that time. I spoke to Jimmy about it and he confirmed that and so decided to go out with Ozzy. Jimmy and I are still good friends although I have not seen him for some time now!

– You worked with many drummers. Who do you as a bassist feel most rewarding to play with?

soussan2All of them! Seriously, all the drummers I have worked with have been fantastic. As a bass player they are my other half and so everything changes accordingly! The ones that really spring to mind in recent years have been Gregg Bissonette, Simon Phillips, Franklin Vanderbilt and, of course, always Randy Castillo, RIP.

– Until recently you’ve worked for American Bronze Records but, when with Robin George, it was the original label, run by Gerry Bron. How different was the attitude of the two labels, and Brons senior and junior?

Yes, I became Vice President of the label, running the LA office and also house producer. That was my reason for doing it; to give me an outlet for my artist development and productions. The whole thing was flawed, however; back then and now and I did not agree with the “Bron” way of conducting business. I felt that it was outdated and exploiting to the artists and that it represented an old world paradigm. Despite the best intentions for it to not be the old label when we re-started it, it ended up meandering back to that.

– You played on many tribute albums, backing – though not in real time – people like Ronnie Dio. Which of these records did you find the most interesting to do?

It is always fun to play great well-known tracks especially when it also presents the opportunity to play with musicians with whom you might never get to play with otherwise. I suppose that the ones that stand out would be the “LA Blues Authority” album, the Alice Cooper tribute and the METALLICA tribute.

– You master several instruments. Which of these you’d like to play better than you do? And how often do you get to play harmonica?

Definitely guitar! I find myself playing more and more guitar these days! I get a little self doubtful when I get to work with such great players although Luke has always been very encouraging about my playing! I would like to be a better jazz, impro player – but that is maybe true with anyone! Harmonica I play regularly in the bathroom.

– Is it a privilege to have Paul McCartney subscribed as your friend at MySpace?

Yes, although I doubt that he spends to much time on his page personally.

– And, finally, why the Blue Cat in the title of your site?

Why not? Haha! …Something to do with the Pink Panther… I’m BIG fan! – see “Shot In The Dark”!

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