Phil Vassar Interview: Songwriting, Kellie Pickler & Songs From The Cellar

Phil Vassar Interview: Songwriting, Kellie Pickler & Songs From The Cellar

Yesterday, I got to chat on the phone with Phil Vassar. Yes, ladies, I got to talk to Phil Vassar on Valentine’s Day. ;) Seriously, though, he is one heck of a great songwriter and a talented singer in his own right. He’s written something for what seems like everybody in Nashville, so you have probably heard tons of his creativity even while you might not have been aware. My personal favorite songs of his are “I’ll Take That As A Yes” and “This Is God.” Check out my Phil Vassar interview and be sure to catch him locally this Saturday night at Phase 2 in his hometown of Lynchburg, Va.

Phil Vassar Interview: Songwriting, Kellie Pickler & Songs From The Cellar

Phil Vassar: It’s just another rainy day in Nashville today. It’s like, I need to build an Ark. I think it’s rained every day for about a month. I’m about over this.

EPR: I’m in North Carolina and it’s raining here, too. It seems like it will never stop.

Phil Vassar: I need a sunny beach, girlfriend! Where are you in Carolina?

EPR: Oh, I’m in Mount Airy. It’s near Winston Salem, if you know where that is.

Phil Vassar: Of course I do. Mount Airy. I know exactly where it is.

EPR: So not too far from you.

Phil Vassar: Yeah, not far at all. Is that your hometown up there?

EPR: Yeah, Sort of. I lived over the Virginia border in Galax. So, that’s where I am from originally. So, you’re from Lynchburg, right?

Phil Vassar: Yes ma’am. Born and raised.

EPR: I lived in Blacksburg for a little while, so not too far from there.

Phil Vassar: Oh really. Tech, mmm hmmm, Tech Town.

EPR: Yeah! Did you always live in Lynchburg, before you moved to Nashville?

Phil Vassar: I did. Of course, I went to James Madison [University]. And then after college I decided to move to Nashville. You know, that was it. It was my thing. I always wanted to go. I always thought Nashville was a pretty amazing place. It was either Nashville, New York or LA. And then Nashville just seemed like the place. I just felt at home as soon as I crossed the Davidson County line. I really did. I love it.

EPR: Had you visited Nashville before you moved there or were you just like, “I’m doing this?”

Phil Vassar: No, you know what, I hadn’t. I went down to look, I kind of gave myself a week. And I said, “Man, I love this town.” It just felt right. You know? And that was it. I found me a little furnished apartment in an area of town you sure wouldn’t want to live in anymore. But, anyway, it worked out for me. I love it and it’s just a great place.

And Nashville has grown so much since I have been here. And it’s on fire. This town is just ridiculous right now. It’s the hottest town in the country. We might have just bitten off more than we can chew, I think, but it’s a great town. Great music. Great art. Great everything. It’s great music and it isn’t just country, which I love. A bunch of my neighbors rock, Sheryl Crow, Tommy Shaw from Styx, and athletes like Jay Cutler or David Price from the Red Sox. I think a lot of people really just like the town. It’s just a great feel and, creatively, it’s just a nice place to be.

EPR: It’s awesome to live somewhere that you actually like. A lot of people just stay where they are and never venture out and discover something new. Do you get back to Lynchburg very often?

Phil Vassar: I don’t go back as much as I’d like but I always go back at least 3 or 4 times a year, if I can. We have the Miller Home Benefit stuff that we do twice a year. And I am playing there, coming up, which I am excited about. I haven’t done a real concert in Lynchburg in a long time. It’s been years. So, it’s kind of fun to do that and see my family, my mom and my sisters, and all my buddies that I grew up with and went to high school with or elementary school with or whatever. Everybody shows up and we just have such a great time catching up.

EPR: Do you feel different when you play in front of the people that you know? Do you feel more comfortable or do you feel nervous? Is it a different experience for you at all?

Phil Vassar: Well, I don’t know. When I start playing, it’s hard to say. You kind of just go into your zone and you just start playing songs and hope that you don’t forget them. I’m like, “Wait a minute, where am I?” It’s kind of fun to look out and see a bunch of people you know, so yeah, that’s going to be great. I think, to be able to go home like that and see everybody.

Phil Vassar Interview: Songwriting, Kellie Pickler & Songs From The Cellar

EPR: I saw you in concert a few years ago and you jumped up on your piano. And I was like, “NO! He’s going to get hurt!” Have you ever gotten hurt doing that?

Phil Vassar: Well, I don’t know if I’m going to do it right now. I just had double knee surgery. So, I just had that 3 weeks ago so I don’t think I am going to be jumping on a piano this weekend.

EPR: Definitely do not do that. Safety first.

Phil Vassar: I don’t think I’ll do that but in a few weeks or a few months maybe, I’ll be back on my normal “jump off the piano” routines. But right now? No. I’ve been doing it for a long time. It’s like I know how to kind of scoot up there and just do it. And it’s always fun. It’s funny. You find that after a show sometimes, “You didn’t jump on your piano tonight,” and people look at you like, “What’s wrong with you?” I’m like, “I did play it. That’s what you’re supposed to do. You’re not supposed to jump on it.” But it’s kind of funny. Isn’t that funny? They expect it now.

EPR: I know, it’s like, “Why didn’t you do it?”

Phil Vassar: That’s right, “What’s wrong with you?” [we both laugh]

EPR: Have you ever played at Phase 2 before?

Phil Vassar: Oh yeah. I have, actually. It’s been a long time but we used to do my benefit there. Charlie Daniels and I played there last together. Charlie did that with me and Little Big Town’s done it and Trace Adkins. I’ve had several people do my Miller Home Benefit with me, a bunch of my friends, Craig Morgan… So, it’s a good time, so I’ll be rocking the Phase 2.

EPR: So, will you tell me a little more about the benefit for Miller Home For Girls that you do?

Phil Vassar: We do a golf tournament in the fall every year. We always do a private, where you buy a table, like a corporate sponsorship thing. And we raise money. It’s privately funded. It’s not like a state funded girl’s home. They can’t live at home, whether they are abused or they are orphans or whatever. We started doing this around 10 years ago and it’s been the coolest thing for me. I used to sing at the Miller Home when I was in church and when I was a kid in my little youth group. The church would go over there and sing and I remember going over there for Christmas and singing to the girls and it just seemed I was always so sad. And I always felt like these kids, they’ve been dealt this hand, but they were amazing.

When I was looking for a charity to work with back home, my sister and my mom had just seen Stacy Garrett on TV talking about Miller Home. She’s the Executive Director and my mom and my sister said, “What about the Miller Home?” and I was like, “Is that still around?” It’s been around since the 1800s. So, it was on life support, I can promise you. So, getting involved, and making everybody aware of it, and all the corporate sponsorships and such now that we get, talk about changing these girls’ lives. Of course, seeing them all grow up, have their own children, go to college, it’s just like wow! You feel like you’re a parent to all these kids and it’s been life changing. It really, really has and, I tell you, it’s something I love doing and I’m honored to do it.

EPR: Do you get to hear from many of the women after they have grown up and moved on to their lives outside of Miller Home?

Phil Vassar: Usually every year I will go back and we do kind of like a little reunion thing and everybody will get together and the girls that were there before. They will bring their kids and it’s just so cool. I grew up with all women. No dad. My dad died many, many years ago. I had my grandmother who died at 90, just a few Christmases ago and my mother and my sisters and my nieces and my daughters. So, it’s all women, right? In my family, it’s just me and a bunch of girls face down in the estrogen pool.

It’s awesome and I love it. And seeing this girl power thing, I love it. Strong, smart, amazing women are just… I’m just lucky. I’m really, really blessed I get to do it. And, I tell you, I love being a part of it. And I hope I get to do this for a long time. It helps me.

EPR: Speaking of awesome women, you had a Christmas tour with Kellie Pickler. Will you be doing that again?

Phil Vassar: We had so much fun. We have talked about it. She’s a little Carolina girl. It’s one of the funnest tours that I have ever done. I mean, absolutely, hands down. I had so much fun working with Kellie. And she’s a dear friend. I have known her since she was 19. Getting out there and singing with her, every night was just a blast. I hope we get to do it again. I know both of us are doing a bunch of TV stuff in the fall and I don’t know if it’s going to carry over. I hope we get to do it again. I mean, I loved it so much. So, we’ll see what happens. But, it’s definitely a possibility.

Phil Vassar Interview: Songwriting, Kellie Pickler & Songs From The Cellar

EPR: You’ve written a lot of songs and I find it interesting that you wrote so many for other people. Is there anything that you wrote for someone else and then you were like, “Man, I wish I had kept that for myself?”

Phil Vassar: Well, honestly, I had no intention of giving my songs to anybody. I was just trying to get a record deal. The funny thing about it was I met Garth [Brooks], Alan Jackson and Garth and Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw, Clint Black. All of us, sort of, kind of, were in town at the same time. Right? So, we all knew each other and, Jo Dee Messina and Collin Raye, a bunch of artists. So, it was a neat little group of us. We were all just trying to get our own deals and all of those guys got record deals before me. So, I was trying like crazy and, I guess, being a piano player was sort of a hindrance and they were like, “I don’t know if this whole piano player thing is going to work,” and blah, blah, blah. Nashville is not a very forward thinking town. Musically, you know, they are sort of a bunch of followers. So, it didn’t look like I had much of a chance of getting a deal.

So, when Tim and Kenny and Garth or whoever came calling and said, “I’d like to cut one of your songs. Can I cut this song?” at first I was really hesitant. And, thank God, I convinced myself to let them go and then they became mega, huge hits. And then it changed my whole life. And then it was like every label was calling me to see if I wanted to do a record, right? “Do you want to do a record?” “Nah, I think I’m going to do an album over here.” So, I had a lot more leverage which, in any business, is the most important thing.

EPR: So, it definitely paid off for you in the end. And you are going to the UK and Europe later in the year, correct?

Phil Vassar: Yeah, we are going in April. I think April 8th or 7th or something like that. We leave and we are doing like 9 shows over there. We usually do 2 or 3 shows in London and we’re doing Manchester or Edinburgh. I think we’re doing Glasgow and Dublin, a couple other places I am trying to remember off the top of my head but I can’t. I’m not that smart.

EPR: [laughs] You know, you just don’t have a photographic memory. What can you do?

Phil Vassar: Yeah, you know, you look at your calendar one time and I don’t even know half the time where I play tomorrow. I think I am playing in Alexandria tomorrow, so that will be a lot of fun.

EPR: Is there anywhere that you have wanted to play that you haven’t gotten to yet?

Phil Vassar: You know, I’ve gotten to play just about everywhere but I’ve never been to China. So, I’m still looking at trying to go to the Orient. I’ve never been to Japan or China. I’ve been to New Zealand and Australia and Europe and all over the place. I’ve been all over the islands and all that stuff. But I just have never, ever gotten to play China. It’s a long way over there, though, and Korea. We talked about doing Korea, also, a couple times and last minute it just didn’t work out.

Phil Vassar Interview: Songwriting, Kellie Pickler & Songs From The Cellar

EPR: I hope you get to soon. So tell me about your “Songs From The Cellar” show and “wine infused musical conversation.”

Phil Vassar:Songs From The Cellar,” my TV show, just got picked up and it looks like we are going to start airing shows in April which is very exciting. I shoot that show from my house and the first year is already done. So they picked up the first year and we are already starting to work on the second year. So, that’s pretty good.

We shoot it in my wine cellar, most of them. We did shoot a Vegas episode with Mike Tyson and Carrot Top. We just get my friends and we just talk and we hang out and laugh and we will sing songs. John Rich did it and Tommy Shaw from Styx and Cam, Hunter Hayes. The first season is really, really great. Plus, I feature some of the stuff that is going on in Nashville which is a lot. We also have some of the biggest songwriters in the world, guys that have had mega, mega hits, that are in the Hall of Fame. We always have that kind of segment, too, so it’s a lot of fun.

You can catch Phil Vassar locally this Saturday night at Phase 2 in Lynchburg, Va. Check out the rest of his tour dates here.

Get Social With Phil Vassar

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About Dawn McAlexander

Dawn has been a music lover her entire life. She went to college in Boone, NC, an area that is rich in music and culture. She also worked as a radio deejay for 8 years and grew up in Southeastern, Va, a melting pot of different musical styles and traditions. She has been to more concerts than she can count in every genre you can imagine. She resides in North Carolina with her furbabies and her massive collection of Disney memorabilia.

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