Self-taught Philips’s success is simplicity

One of Shane Philip’s earliest memories is of his dad smacking his hands for using the kitchen table as a percussion instrument.

COMOX VALLEY MUSICIAN Shane Philip is nominated for a Vancouver Island Music Award

COMOX VALLEY MUSICIAN Shane Philip is nominated for a Vancouver Island Music Award

One of Shane Philip’s earliest memories is of his dad smacking his hands for using the kitchen table as a percussion instrument while the family was eating.

Now the singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist is nominated for three Vancouver Island Music Awards.

“I’m surprised and excited,” says Philip who moved to Courtenay last year.

Philip is competing against other Vancouver Island musicians for Best Live Act of the Year, Album of the Year (Life Love Music) and Artist of the Year. Winners will be announced at a posh ceremony held April 21 at the Fairfield United Church in Victoria.

“From the day I was born, music has been a driving force in my life,” says Philip. “It was usually percussive; I’d make an instrument out of everything I could lay may hands on – the car dashboard, anything.”

“In high school, if you couldn’t play an instrument, you had to play the drums,” he adds. “So even though I knew how to play guitar I pretended I didn’t.”

But even with music bursting out of him at every opportunity, Philip didn’t pursue it as a career. Instead he raced competitively at the provincial level as a cross-country skier, worked as a white-water kayak guide and taught social studies in high schools for seven years.

“Then one day I realized I felt creatively stifled,” admits Philip. “I had to get out in order to survive. So I quit cold-turkey and dove into music.”

That was eight years ago and, according to Philip, the transition has been seamless. The secret of his success, he says, is to keep it simple.

“I’m not out to make a killing with my music,” he explains. “I make a good living, love what I do and have what I need. It’s really about controlling your needs.”

Another keep it simple trick is playing solo a lot of the time. “When you’re in a band it’s like being in several marriages at once,” he says.

But even when Philip goes solo, he sounds like a band. That’s because he plays the didgeridoo, aslatua shakers, djembe drums and Weissenborn-style guitar, as well as using a kick-box and singing, often playing multiple instruments at once. And he’s entirely self-taught.

The didgeridoo, a one to three metre long wind instrument originating in Australia, was the most challenging to master.

“I first heard the didge on Quadra about seven years ago and it blew my mind,” says Philip. “I loved the sound but more importantly I felt it.”

Philip, who was teaching school in Smithers at the time, bought a didgeridoo and began practising.

“After I managed the basics I phoned up the guy I’d heard and he’d play something for me over the phone,” says Philip. “I’d record it and use it as a reference. We went back and forth like that a lot. That was before YouTube, of course.”

For the first year or two Philip practised every day, sometimes until his gums bled. “It involves a lot of breathing and diaphragm development,” he says. “The great thing about the didge is that you can never play a bad note but you can take one note and make it sound really great.”

Philip’s performance schedule usually includes a winter and summer cross Canada tour, as well as shorter tours throughout the year. “It can be exhausting,” he admits. “And it’s hard to leave my wife and young son behind so now I’m trying to work out shorter trips.”

All Philip’s music is original and, above all else, he considers himself a singer/songwriter.

“That’s a whole other side of musicianship,” he explains. “I compose at home or, if I plan my tour well, I can write during the day. I spend a lot of time on tour observing and taking things in to write about. I’m so happy I bought an iPhone – now when I get some music in my brain I can just pull over, sing it into my phone and write it down later.”

“Writing music is a very internal, creative process that I do alone,” he adds. “Later I perform it live. So it’s a really neat job, I get to spend time by myself working on internal stuff and then take it out there and be social and work with people’s energy.”

Philip isn’t the only Comox Valley musician that’s a shining light on the Vancouver Island Music Awards nomination list. Also in the running are Luke Blu Guthrie for Male Songwriter of the Year, Helen Austin for Female Songwriter of the Year and Des Larson for Male Vocalist of the Year, with duos Kent Fiddy and David Sinclair (A Little More Heart) and Morlove aka known as Corwin Fox and Emily Brown (Views from Potsdam) competing for Song of the Year.

Shane Philip is also playing a show at Mount Washington April 7 at Fat Teddy’s.For more information about the VIMA, visit http://islandmusicawards.wordpress.com/.