Interview: Band Of The Week - Phil Ayoub
Written by A.L. Harper
Published November 18, 2006
Part of Band of the Week
This week’s Band of the Week is deep-thinking, deep-feeling, Springsteen fan Phil Ayoub (pronounced A-yoob). This quintessential all American boy from Boston has taken the long way round to his music career. Phil did what all of us know we should after high school; he went to college. Boston College to be exact, and he earned his MBA. After college he joined a large investment firm but his secret passion for music wouldn’t die.
Slowly he made a name for himself, in the Boston area, as frontman for the indie band Riverside Train. Riverside Train’s popularity grew giving Ayoub plenty of experience performing live, writing songs, and recording. When they eventually broke up, Ayoub decided to go solo. A prolific songwriter, he had over 40 of his own acoustic demos ready for an album. That’s when he saw an ad on a local trade website from a musician/producer, Tim Bradshaw.
Bradshaw, long time keyboard and guitar player for David Gray — including the breakthrough album White Ladder and international top ten hit “Babylon” — had recently moved to New England and was now looking for new talent to work with. Ayoub took a chance and sent Bradshaw his demos and Bradshaw signed on to produce Ayoub's debut solo album.
Schoolbus Window Paper Heart is a warm, apple pie and cold beer album with the strong American music influences of Ayoub and the Brit Rock influences of Bradshaw. This accidental partnership has created a beautiful, deep, sometimes funny, soothing album filled with acoustic guitar, jangly synth and emotive, insightful lyrics.
Ayoub’s extraordinary ability to paint a clear, poignant picture in song and his love of pure natural music combine to lead the listener through his personal, frequently humorous thoughts and experiences. Schoolbus Window Paper Heart will leave you filled with honest, warm, happy feelings.
Ayoub recently agreed to let me interview him. A funny, charismatic and urbane man, he was relaxed and friendly, as if he had always known me. We seemed like good friends from the moment we met. After discussing apple crumble, his dog Bailey, Surreal Life and ancient pornography our interview started like this…
Phil: (laughing)Innocent... that's my shtick. I let people think that.
That's your shtick? I thought Boston Boy was your shtick.
No, no, no I let people think I'm innocent; lull them into a false sense of security, a false sense of knowing who I am, then I surprise them, in a good way, of course!
Of course! I was pleasantly surprised. I know that.
Well then it works!
Are you ready? We should start the interview.
Yup, go for it. By the way, my answers can be long-winded sometimes.
So Phil, tell me how an Investment Banker with an MBA becomes a singer-songwriter?
First, let me say that I wasn't an Investment Banker per se, but I did work for an investment company for seven years, cause my friend helped me get the job. As for the MBA, well I got that for two reasons....
First, I was a bit ashamed to tell people I wanted to play music and write songs. I didn't have much experience in it and got C's in music classes in elementary school. I wanted to keep my ambitions quiet. And second, in case music didn't work out, it would help me down the line. At least I think it will!
So I was working the day job and hating it, slacking off, and doing music the rest of the time. It was like having two full-time jobs. Finally, I tossed the day job aside and am trying music full-time
So how did you learn to play, sing, and write songs?
Well I did take lessons and, in the case of singing, I still work with a vocal coach. But I basically learned by playing Hootie and the Blowfish and U2 songs. I appreciate how they could do so much and write some great songs using basic, easy chords. With those types of bands as my guide, I started to come up with my own ideas and had a feeling that I was kind of onto something.
I was also always into writing, whether it was journalism in college or creative writing in high school. I was an English major and people used to assume that I read a lot. But it was actually almost all writing. Any reading I did was Cliffs Notes…(laughing)
I never wanted to be Eric Johnson on guitar or to sing like Josh Groban. I have no idea why I just brought him up. What was he like four when I started to learn to sing? I personally get more satisfaction out of hearing a great three or four chord song with a sly, ironic lyric and a cool melody.
Do you feel the music in your soul, Phil? Because it sounds like you do.
I do, actually. Music is the only thing I've ever done where, no matter how bad I was at it, or how discouraged I got, or how much I thought I sucked at times, I just kept doing it. And kept going back the next day, not sure why, and not really consciously. I just kept doing it because, for some reason I couldn't explain, I had to. It was programmed in me. Kind of like how animals often do things on instinct. I was watching some PBS show about penguins in Antarctica last night. (laughs)
Even when I do get discouraged — and let's face it music, both as a hobby and a business, can be unfairly discouraging — I'll see things, like someone playing a guitar on TV and then I get this feeling inside like "Yeah, yeah... this is what you do."
So tell me about your debut solo album.
Well, after my old band had broken up, I had some songs that I'd been working on and decided to make some acoustic demos. I was doing them with an excellent local engineer named Viktor Kray. As we were going along, I really wasn't sure what I was going to do with them.
I thought there was an album in there somewhere, but wasn't really sure what kind, where I would make it, or with who. Some had a country feel, some sounded good acoustic, some you could hear potential with a band but I really had no direction. I had applied for a job in New York City, but didn't have interest in it. I had booked a trip to Nashville to check out that town, but had to cancel. I had these demos and really wasn't sure what to do with them.
I was online one day and saw an ad on Craigslist for a producer and musician who had just moved here from London and was looking for local talent to work with. I answered the ad and we went back and forth on email a bit. It turned out that it was Tim Bradshaw. He was in David Gray's band and also had been in the band Dogs Eye View. He was on a break between the recording of Gray's album and their next tour and was looking for a project.
I have to admit, I was definitely intimidated by the fact that here was a guy who had been involved in making "real" records. All I had done was a home-made album with my old band and some acoustic demos. But the more we spoke and got to know each other it quickly became clear that it just felt right, for both of us, I think. We had similar ideas as to how we liked to work and, if I may say, we're both very easy to work with.
The title of your debut album is Schoolbus Window Paper Heart, where does that come from?
It’s a line from the opening track on the record "White Feather". That song, which I think is pretty much one of the only very clear songs on the album, was written in the few days after 9/11 and is about the events of that day. Basically, from the perspective of someone like myself… someone who was not directly affected — in that I didn't know anyone involved — but who was still deeply affected nonetheless.
So when I was thinking about a title for the record, it jumped out at me. I liked it for the reasons I mentioned, but also for another reason. And in fact, I don't think I ever really came out and told anyone this reason, maybe one or two friends. But, I also thought it appropriate because, in many ways, that is kind of the perspective I have. I feel like, for better or worse, that's how I view the world. Kind of naively, idealistically, and maybe still like a child.
Who are your musical influences?
Many, but a lot depends on the timing of things. And what I mean by that is, if I'm planning on spending an evening working on some songs and I hear a song earlier that day that strikes me in a certain way, then that's the style that will be in my head the rest of the day. And likely, that will influence my writing later on. So in that case, I kind of think that "timing" is my biggest musical influence.
If I had to name artists, I would start with a couple of people who aren't necessarily my favorites but who I do get influenced by. Dylan, because there have been so many times where I've heard a song of his somewhere, and it has made me just want to go home right away and write music. John Lennon is one because he basically wrote about himself and things that were important to him or things that affected him.
I also find influences in Neil Diamond, Neil Young, U2, and Oasis. Oasis comes up with melodies that at first I think are silly, but four listens later, I love. I guess what I'm saying is they humanize song-writing. And sort of make it okay for me to be human, or not perfect, or whatever in my song-writing.
If you would like to listen to Phil Ayoub’s debut album Schoolbus Window Paper Heart you can find it on Phil's website or at his MySpace profile. Or better yet just buy it at CDBaby. His poignant, honest lyrics and simple melodies are more than worth it!
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A.L. Harper is an American lost in the history and passion of living in Scotland. She enjoys motorbikes, music, wanking and daydreaming. And not only is she the freakin' Assistant Music Editor for Blogcritics she is also the Reviews Editor for AllThingsGirl.com and a freelance writer for hire.
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Schoolbus Window Paper Heart
Interview: Band Of The Week - Phil Ayoub
Published: November 18, 2006
Filed Under: Interviews, Music: Acoustic, Music: Indie Rock, Music: Pop, Music: Roots Rock
Part of a feature: Band of the Week
Writer: A.L. Harper
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