Interview: Christian Paul Philippi Makes His Fluttering Debut
Windows down. Wind whipping. Arms stretched out. Sun shining. Air fresh.
This is how Christian Paul Philippi hopes you enjoy his debut album — lulled into a state of summertime serenity, that West Coast kind of repose. With Gem, released on Forged Artifacts last month, the singer-songwriter offers seven dreamy efforts encapsulating the tropical energy and human softness that inspires him so much.
Christian lives simply with a complicated mind. “I just want to be happy [and] I want everyone to be good to each other… but I think and worry a lot,” he says, noting that even in a place as sprawling and crawling with leisure as Los Angeles, merely wanting contentment and connection doesn’t grant it when you’re trapped in your own mind. Somehow, though, Christian works through it, using his music as a vehicle for reflection. In just twenty minutes, Gem presents pesky inner turmoil masked by a warm sonic palette resulting in a mesmeric selection that’s just long enough for a drive to the grocery store before you’re so desperate for more that you take a spontaneous drive up the coast instead.
Gem opens with the woozy “ru.nao,” our first introduction to the dizzying nature of Christian Paul Philippi’s musicianship. Instrumentally, it’s awash in endless layers of searing surf-rock riffs, sunny melodies, and mountains of sound that grow and grow and grow until suddenly the song has gathered hundreds of tiny sonic details in a buzzing cacophony before settling back down again at its trilling end. On “Oahu ‘97,” Christian returns to “all the innocence, beauty, and exploration of nature and play [he] experienced as a kid on an air-force base in Hawaii.” It’s a pretty little ambient track, shimmering with keys and thumping along with subtle percussive pounds. “Tender” follows, a twangy 52 second interlude in which Christian’s voice is no longer the breathy wisp it was, but gritty and aching over acoustic strums and cloudy background noise, leading directly into “Oak,” a divine driving song that finds every element at its best. It’s a low-tempo slow-burn for the most part, but it’s golden, so there’s a strange sort of heat to it — its soundscape swirls in drowsy dream-pop territory before dancing into electric synth buzzes, a song that mesmerizes with every note.
As we near closer to Gem’s end, we get “Fascination,” a rumbling track in tune with its tropical roots. It’s fast-paced and feel-good, drunk sparkles abounding in the foreground as Christian’s soft voice is sent around like plumes of wind. “It Was The Mother” comes next, veering from the warmth and comfort of the rest of the album — there’s a darker energy to it, like the sun has finally gone down on Gem and now we must gather in the night. The production here is almost eerie in its rapid staccato beats and aggressive synth shimmers. Gem concludes with “Static,” a welcome return to the smiling sun and sweetness we now mark as Christian’s signature. The drums pound and loop in layers, tracking a steady base beneath distant bass warbles and that dreamy hook — “Won’t you please tell me anything I want to hear?” — but the addition of folk-tinged guitar, though fleeting, provides that last surprise detail on a record steeped in sonic secrets.
At its simplest, Gem is a sleepy jewel of psychedelic softness, but when we dig far past its surface, we learn that it is a humble masterpiece. With his debut album, Christian Paul Philippi has climbed up his very own ladder to put the sun in the sky with his very own hands, sending golden rays spinning in our world.
Listen to Gem below and connect with Christian Paul Philippi on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Read on for our exclusive interview with Christian where we chat about his architectural influence, Sugar Ray, and a whole lot more.
The Music Mermaid: First, can you tell us a little about yourself and your music?
Christian Paul Philippi: I’ve lived in Southern California my whole life — I grew up in a small town an hour and a half east of Los Angeles called Hemet. I started playing and writing music when I was 13 or 14 and I’ve been writing songs and playing in bands consistently since that time. I’ve gone through different phases in music but I feel what I’m making now is reflective of my personality which is very quiet, thoughtful, and a little delicate.
TMM: You’re based in the bustling music hub of Los Angeles. How have the varying music scenes there influenced your work at all?
CPP: LA is crazy. There’s so much insanely high-quality music being produced constantly. The biggest way I can think of that the music scene has had an influence on me is in the energy and work ethic of the people around me — everyone is so driven and works hard to exist here and to create and to share. I think because I’m fully immersed in that, it really helps me to stay focused and productive when it comes to writing and recording music.
Honestly though, the city itself and my unique experiences within it are probably a bigger influence for me than the local music happenings. I enjoy walking around the different neighborhoods in the early evening when everyone is outside. I love taking in all the movement, sights, sounds, and smells and appreciating how it’s so nuts that we’re all alive and sharing this place together. The album cover for Gem was taken looking out my apartment window because there’s such a strong connection between the music and where I live. I also know I won’t always live in this apartment and neighborhood and that was a special way for me to memorialize it as very specific chapter in my life.
TMM: You released your debut album, Gem, last month on Forged Artifacts — what was the production process like for this record?
CPP: I had written very rough demos for three of the songs before I moved out to LA and had carried those with me for a few years, not really knowing what I’d do with them, but just keeping them around because I felt like they were such an honest and pure representation of who I was and what I wanted to create musically. The rest of the material was written once I made the move to Los Angeles and all the songs were rewritten many times before I felt they were completed.
After I had better, fleshed-out demos for seven or eight songs, I sent those over to my brother who is a drummer in a couple other rock bands and asked if he’d be interested in recording and playing the songs with me. It had been about six years since we worked on music together so I was thrilled when he said he was into the material and wanted to be a part of the project. I tracked the drums with him at a friend’s house in Pasadena and I took those tracks home and spent about three months recording everything else to the drums and mixing the record in my apartment. My original intention was to achieve something similar to those really clean and dry 70s Fleetwood Mac-style drums, but as the project evolved, it kind of took its own shape and I had to just go with it. I sent the music over to Forged Artifacts while I was working on it at home — they were super encouraging and supportive and we were in communication throughout the process of the album being completed.
TMM: What about the songwriting process? What kinds of things are you hoping to broach with your lyrics?
CPP: It’s been a little over two years since I moved out to Los Angeles and to say it was difficult is an understatement. A lot of the music and lyrics written during and immediately after the move were shaped by the mental and financial hardships I experienced from moving to a new city without having a job lined up, without really knowing anyone, and without having a solid plan or safety net. I’m also an over-thinker and almost detrimentally self-aware, so some of the lyrical themes are rooted in a gentle sadness, self-consciousness, and also feeling overwhelmed and constantly barraged with negativity from news outlets and social media.
I just want to be happy, I want everyone to be good to each other, and I want to be able to make positive music from a place of peace and contentment; but I think and worry a lot and as a result, peace and contentment elude me. Lyrics are a stream-of-conscious exercise for me. I almost always write music first and then allow the music to evoke thoughts and feelings to which I try out seemingly random words, phrases, and sentences. After that I’ll listen back at a later time and try to process and sift through what worked and what didn’t, and I’ll try my best to tailor the lyrics so that they’re cohesive and coherent to whatever the overall theme of the song shapes up to be.
TMM: Gem sounds so full. It sounds like it’s been given the space and time to unfold into what it now exists as. What sonic strategies did you implement to achieve this quality of minimalist arrangements stretched far and wide?
CPP: About half the songs were partially written two or three years ago. I hung on to those and revisited them all once I started writing the rest of the songs. All the ideas started from a very simple place of either just a guitar or keys and singing. There was a level of sincerity, honesty, and maybe plain desperation captured in the moment with some of the demos that was impossible to recreate, so some of the songs have the original demo vocals woven in with the overdubs and harmonies. Once I was mixing the record, I decided it felt like a somewhat lo-fi effort that needed to be pushed into the realm of hi-fi with more punch, crispness, and depth. Overall the process was an experiment in a lot of different recording, production, and mixing techniques. It was a huge learning experience for me and I’ll definitely take those lessons with me into future recordings.
TMM: You wrote that the album is inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture, which is super cool to me since I took a course on Frank Lloyd Wright a few years ago in college. I can feel the layered eaves and the sweeping, swollen circumferences and the smack-in-the-middle-of-a-beautiful-world characteristics of his architecture in your music. Can you tell us a little more about his influence on your work?
CPP: Yeah! I’ve been very casually into architecture for a long time but within the last couple years got really into studying it more deeply. I appreciate it so much as an art form that also serves a very practical and essential function in society and Frank Lloyd Wright was a huge inspiration because of his organic architecture philosophy. I love that in such an industrialized era in American history, he was so mindful of not encroaching on nature and his goal was to create beautiful and functional architecture that integrated and worked in harmony with its natural surroundings.
Fallingwater is one of his most well-known projects and is such a groundbreaking and beautiful milestone in architecture. His structural designs were very thoroughly planned out and that harmony carried through all aspects of his design. I feel a correlation of his ideas with my personal outlook on life and with music because I think rather than creating and working on individual and unrelated ideas or songs, I want to write and create albums that have a similar harmony and flow from start to finish. I want to create with the bigger picture in mind rather than the immediacy of a single song or piece of music. I also hope my love of nature and humanity is appropriately conveyed through my music. On a deep personal level I just want to live and exist with the same principles of respect towards and harmony with the environment around us.
TMM: You also say that Gem is coast-driving music. It’s the kind of album that feels like air, like it’s traveling along with you. What are your favorite albums to drive to?
CPP: I’m hopelessly in love with the ocean and tropical energy in general. I also have a kind of goofy taste in music that is heavily inspired by nostalgia and this love of tropical islands and the ocean. Music has always been my escape, and it was especially helpful as a full-time rideshare driver for the first few months after moving to Los Angeles where I spent countless hours in a car each day and listened to as much stuff as I could.
Driving albums are difficult to pin, but I could say with certainty some heavy rotation and go-to driving songs for me that were also probably a huge inspiration to Gem are: “Waiting In Vain” by Bob Marley, “Fade Into You” by Mazzy Star, “Can’t Hardly Wait” by The Replacements, “Atomic Bomb” by William Onyeabor, “Stay On” by Sugar Ray, The Equatic’s “Merry Go Round,” “Up On The Roof” by the Drifters, “Jesus Wept” from Mavis Staples, “Agoraphobia” by Deerhunter, Alton Ellis’ classic “I Am Still In Love,” and maybe some early 90s country jams like “He Thinks He’ll Keep Her” by Mary Chapin Carpenter. I also listened to the Clash’s album Combat Rock, Sandy Alex G’s album Rocket, and Ariel Pink’s record Dedicated To Bobby Jameson endlessly. Lastly, I think “Amber” by 311 is one of the best songs ever written and probably should go at the top of this list.
TMM: Who are three musicians you think the world needs to hear ASAP?
CPP: I’m gonna say Katie Dey’s new album Solipsisters, the new Crumb album, and Aldous Harding’s album Designer have all been currently blowing my mind. If I can add a fourth I’d say give Ryan Pollie’s fantastic new album a few good listens if you haven’t already.
TMM: What has been your most memorable musical experience so far?
CPP: Such a good yet difficult question! In reference to me personally creating and sharing music, I’ve had so many beautiful experiences connected to my hometown and the support that everyone there has always shown towards my endeavors. I’ve also been on a couple tours with close friends and those are full of some of my favorite memories that I’ll always cherish.
In reference to music that I didn’t create; when I was eight, I spent some time in Hawaii with family and Sugar Ray’s song “Fly” had just come out and was a huge hit that summer. It was always on the radio and was the soundtrack to my summer, so I connect that song to all the innocence, beauty, and exploration of nature and play I experienced as a kid on an air-force base in Hawaii during the mid 90s. I’m a huge fan of Sugar Ray probably as a result, and recently got to see them live in concert and it was kind of bad but perfect and I cried a bit.
The Music Mermaid: Finally, what’s next for Christian Paul Philippi?
Christian Paul Philippi: What’s next! I’ve assembled a band of friends to help me translate these songs live, so I’m hoping to play a bunch of shows through the end of the year. On the recording side I’m wrapping a collaborative EP right now with a good friend and we will hopefully release that in the fall. Also working on two new solo albums — one is a natural progression of the sound of Gem, the other is completely different. I’ve been on a really good writing binge lately so I’m hoping to get as much recorded and released as possible and I’m excited see where everything goes from there!