We had the good fortune of connecting with David Phillips and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi David, how do you think about risk?
My entire career and life is a risk. I took a risk and showed my first painting professionally at age 12. I played my first rock show at age 14. Music and art have completely controlled my whole life. I have failed so many times that I got good at failure. I became a survivor. I’m from absolutely nothing. The middle of America. Raised dirt poor by a single mother of three. I figured I had nothing to begin with…so why not aim high? Fuck it, I had nothing to lose. I knew being a full-time artist was an extreme risk because it takes you out of the system. You have to write your own rules. Do your own taxes. Pay your own health care. Be your own boss. You have to work six times as hard. You can never retire. What “works” or what “sticks” comes to you through persistence and experience. I’ve been a working artist in Los Angeles since I was 21 yrs. old. I’m 40 now. I own a home and a studio. Throughout that journey things got so rough I had to pick between booze or food…between friends or collectors…between family or colleagues. I had to sleep on couches…in cars…in hostels…in rat-infested motels. I had dozens of odd jobs. I still made art. I still wrote music and sang. I risked my entire being to create art and to create art on a high level with an extreme output. I’m so calloused to risk that I can no longer feel the gut wrenching burn in my stomach. I scared away my anxiety years ago. On your first high dive your knees might buckle…But after your 1,200th you swan dive into whatever may be below.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
My art has been reviewed and critiqued as “Americana Avant Garde” and my live rock shows have been described as “Raucous and Debaucherous”. A lot of things set my art apart from others but if there is an overall “arching” theme, it would be fun. I only took a risk to have fun. If something isn’t fun…I go the other direction. I don’t care about the money, or fame, or any other bullshit…I’m just trying to cram as much fun in my life till I go insane from laughter. I don’t go to art stores. I source all my materials myself. My frames come from discarded wood in alleys of LA. My paints are typically found there too. I’ve done this so long that people contact me out of the blue with materials left over from whatever Sunday project they may have. All my visual art is hand made. I don’t buy shit. I make it all from scratch. I take the same approach with my music. Art should be difficult. It should be hard to “make it”. Fuck these one off shows where people have 1 shot to make it. I’d rather play in 500 dingy, smokey clubs to bar tenders than have to prove myself to Simon Cowell. Give me the counter culture. Fuck popular. When has a mass group of people ever made a good decision? I’ll take the few. Where I have got today has not been easy and I’m glad it was not. I was born in a hole. I climbed my way out…And you know what happens? You get good at climbing. I got my head around failure. I like making mistakes. I got good at selling art by developing interpersonal relationships with collectors and galleries. When you don’t need either of those you’re in a really good spot. When people start coming to you for your art…you know you’re doing something right. I got over all my career challenges by hard work. Full stop. That’s it. I never gave up and I never stopped working. Every single day I tried to draw blood from working. Seven days a week and even on vacation. I’ve learned too many things too list but my favorite is that certain clichés are true. If you love what you do, it will truly NOT feel like work. Now I love the pain.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Oh man did you pick the right guy for this question. I’m obsessed with LA. I’ve lived here 2 decades and continue to find epic spots. If I were spending the day with my best friend…I’d start out with a hike in Topanga to Eagle Rock. We’d then roll a joint in my tour van and drive down PCH to Reel INN for Kona Blonde Beer and Oysters. After that we’d continue South and pop-off to Chez Jayz (pre-Goliath Billy Bob era) for Casamigos Tequila and Saint Archer IPAs. Then we’d head a little East to Lost and Found Bar off National for more tequila and I drink MGDs there. It’d be about lunchtime by then so a natural progression would be to Apple Pan for hickory burgers and root beer. I’d have to then take them to my hood in South Central to meet some Crips, smoke a blunt, and perhaps get some fried chicken at Charlie’s off Manchester or even the Ralph’s at Manchester and Western (the fried chicken there is epic). We might then do a quick stop at my house for a studio visit…but soon after we’d head straight to Highland Park/ Figuerora area to Goldline Bar for signature cocktails and vinyl. After that (pre-Covid) we’d head to Gold Diggers to meet up with my band and play an insane hour-hour half long set. After Gold Diggers I think we’d have to head Downtown to Seven Grand for whiskey or Tony’s Saloon for some pool or ping-pong…OR Musso and Frank’s for martinis. If we had the stamina I’d end the night by leaving LA for a 2hr drive to Joshua Tree where we’d take mushrooms and stare at the sky and chase a few coyotes.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
There is no way in hell I’d be anywhere I am now without my incredible supporters, collectors, and fans. Sean Jewell from my record label American Standard Time Records has helped catapult my music and band tremendously. My band mates: Robert Cook, Alexander Loweth, Guy Welles, and Omar El Deeb have had my back on so many countless nights that it’s ridiculous. The incredible KEXP DJ Greg Vandy has played my music before anyone ever. The epic gallery LA Louver in Venice has provided me with work and opportunities too many times to mention. The Downtown Art Center Gallery of Los Angeles took a gamble on me when I was so young and fostered the beginning of my career. My wife and my son allow me the time and space it takes to make a lot of art. I’m forever grateful to my family members who have stuck by me through the entire shitshow I created. My friends such as Brendan Crane, John Mascarenhas, and Ronnie Williams have held me up through difficult times and I owe them the world. My dog Charlie has been involved in a lot of my “art photoshoots” too.
Other: Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/album/5PejO6tr4fYpIJSGY8oyKP?si=cR32Ge85SSW4ZSWDydnA0A The Tennesee Star: https://tennesseestar.com/2020/11/06/music-spotlight-wino-strut-and-friends/