I first became aware of Philip Wesley and his music in early 2004 when he sent his debut album, Finding Solace
, for review. I have enjoyed reviewing all of his albums since then, and have also been proofing and editing a lot of his sheet music. Philip’s music is very autobiographical, and his 2008 release, Dark Night of the Soul
, reached #1 on the iTunes “new age” charts last year. His latest release, Hope Endures
, is a sequel of sorts with a combination of original compositions and Philip’s arrangements of five traditional hymns. This interview is a candid and engaging look at Philip’s life and music. Enjoy!
KP: Hey Philip! How are things in Tennessee today?
PW: Hot! I think it's near triple digits today! I'm a cool weather person.
Me, too! You’d love it here on the Oregon Coast!
Your latest CD, Hope Endures
, is the sequel to Dark Night of the Soul
(2008) and more or less tells the rest of the story in music. Was it your concept when you recorded Dark Night
to have it be a journey told in two parts or was it just one of life’s interesting paths?
PW: When I began writing the music for Dark Night of the Soul back in 2006, it really wasn't my intention to have an album like Hope Endures follow it. It wasn't until after I released Dark Night that I felt it needed some resolve. Dark Night is a very heavy and intense album and Hope Endures is very light, so it seemed natural to tell the whole story.
KP: Dark Night is a vivid example of how the most difficult times in life can produce the greatest art. Do you want to talk a bit about how the music for that album came into being?
I think it is an interesting phenomenon that throughout history, with artists across a variety of media, that the best art comes out when the soul is tortured the most. It's very odd.
Dark Night of the Soul
is a musical allegory for going through and surviving major depression and a generalized anxiety disorder. Hope Endures
describes coming out on the other side of that and being so grateful for it happening because it made you a better person. It also lets you know how strong you can be, especially if you call upon God in the midst of great suffering. I had been suffering for quite a while and it all came to a head during the divorce in 2006, although I wasn't actually diagnosed until 2007. My life is back on track now and sweeter than it has ever been.
I don't regret going through such a dark period, though, because some really good music came out of it and has touched so many people's lives in ways that none of my other albums have. Dark Night of the Soul
is my 'Magnum Opus' so far and put me on the map, so to speak. It reached #1 on iTunes last year in the new age genre, and continues to chart well on the iTunes charts. It is consistently one of the top sellers on CD Baby in its genre. I can only hope my future works are as powerful and influential.
KP: Where did the music on Hope Endures come from?
PW: Hope Endures is a continuation of the process - of entering the unknown, beginning a new chapter in your life, and leaving the darkness behind. We’re surrounded by God's love with promises of a new day, second chances and redemption despite our mistakes. I distinctly remember an inner voice saying to me at my lowest point in life, "Don't you want to see how good I can make your life?" Maybe that was God speaking to me. I'd like to think so. :)
KP: Your next release will be a ten-year retrospective from you first five albums. How did you choose the songs and when do you plan to release the album?
I've been waiting ten years to release a retrospective album! My plan is to release one every ten years or so. It's closing the chapter on the first decade of music and moving forward with the next decade. I chose the songs based on fan favorites and which pieces seem to be the most popular. I chose only twelve songs and it was a difficult choice! Rather than using the same recordings that were on previous albums, I decided to re-record and re-master the songs with Joe Bongiorno at Piano Haven Studios; he does great work! The album should be retail-ready this fall.
KP: I agree that Joe’s work is excellent! Do you find that your pieces have evolved over time, or do you continue to play them about the same way now?
PW: Yes, I mentioned this in the liner notes of the album too. Each piece has definitely evolved. For example, my song 'Lamentations of the Heart' is much more intense and confident sounding. When you listen to the original recording of it on Finding Solace (2002) it almost sounds timid in comparison to the version on Dark Night of the Soul. Same thing with my song “At this Moment.” It is played slightly faster now and sounds more sure of itself.
KP: Let’s talk about your background. Where were you born and where did you grow up?
PW: I was born and raised in St. Louis, MO mostly, although I have lived in other areas. Growing up, I was a bit of a gypsy. :) I've lived in Sacramento, CA, Houston, TX, and now I call Nashville, TN home. Most of my family is still back in St. Louis, but I also have relatives in Louisville, KY and near Washington, DC.
KP: Are any other members of your family musicians?
My late father, whom I was named after, was a drummer. Other than that, I'm kind of a black sheep. My large extended family is full of blue collar workers, from fire fighters to factory workers, to white collar accountants. I do have an uncle and a cousin who draw and paint extremely well. Musicians? - just me! I had an uncle named Gus who used to play the accordion - badly, I might add! He liked to play that old song, "Alley Cat." He kept messing it up, though, and his brother said "Gus, that cat is never gonna make it out of the alley!"
KP: How old were you when you started studying music?
PW: I was a late bloomer musically. I was an athletic kid, and played soccer and football. At the age of sixteen, after getting hurt a lot, I decided to take up music, starting with the guitar. I used to lock my self in my room for hours, listening to virtuoso guitar music and notating it in guitar tablature, perfecting my technique and polishing the guitar solos. I used to jam with all the greats in my room: Stevie Ray Vaughn, Eric Johnson, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, etc. I was one of those kids who always had his head in the clouds. I would be writing music in class and not paying attention. My grades suffered because of it, but when I went to college and studied music, I thrived and made good grades. I played guitar for four years before switching to the piano at the tender age of twenty. I was pretty good on guitar; now, not so much. Like they say, "use it or lose it!"
KP: Are you self-taught in both piano and guitar?
PW: I have a degree in music therapy, but other than my limited training in college, I am self taught.
KP: How old were you when you wrote your first song?
PW: I was in my early 20's. I think I had only played a year or so when I wrote my first song for piano. It made its way onto my debut CD Finding Solace many years later.
KP: Which song is that?
PW: “Journey Home.”
I met you and saw you perform at an early Whisperings concert in Birmingham, Alabama in 2004. Are you still active with the Whisperings Community?
Birmingham, Alabama. 2005
PW: It was February of 2005 to be exact. I have a crazy gift for remembering dates as well as pop culture trivia. I used to be able to tell you the year a song came out. I need to go on a game show and win some money! :)
Yes, I am still very active with the Whisperings community. It’s one of the best things that ever happened to me. I just wish we all lived closer together instead of being spread out all over the US and even the world! So many great friendships have come out of David Nevue's vision and I'm humbled to be part of it.
It is truly amazing how David has changed the solo piano world with his dream and unique vision. And you are absolutely right about the date. It was 2004 when I met David and hosted the second and third Whisperings concerts at my home in Hercules, CA. It was early 2005 when I made the trip to Alabama and Georgia.
You were a Music Therapist for ten years. What inspired you go into that field? Are you still working in Music Therapy?
Whisperings in Birmingham, Alabama February 2005. From left to right: Philip Wesley, George Skaroulis, Michael Dulin, Scott D. Davis, David Nevue.
PW: Yes, that is correct. In my early 20's, I needed to decide on a major for college. I was already passionate about music and I wanted to go into a helping profession of some sort. I heard about music therapy through my mom, actually. I talked to some therapists in the area and went to the Information Day at the local University that offered an undergraduate degree, and I was sold. Like most helping professions, though, there can be a high burnout rate. This is especially true for music therapy, plus the pay isn't the best. You have to truly love what you do to be in that profession, and my heart wasn't in it anymore. I worked as a board certified psychiatric music therapist. My job was to help run the in-patient and out-patient programming, and that included music therapy groups. We used to do songwriting groups, relaxation groups, lyric analysis etc. The population I worked with was very challenging and chronic. It got to be very depressing, actually, and I think being in that environment day in and day out for ten years really contributed to my own mood and anxiety disorder. People want to feel that what they are doing is meaningful and that they are making a difference. Unfortunately, the way our healthcare system is set up, particularly for people with chronic mental illness, it is like putting a Band-aid on an open wound. Plus the threat of physical violence was becoming very wearisome. It was time to move on.
What I enjoyed most about the job was the fact that I was the on-site clinical supervisor for music therapy students doing their rotations in psychiatry. This parlayed into the job I took when I moved to Nashville the end of 2006. I work for the Vanderbilt University Dept. of Psychiatry. I help the doctors run their academic programs, so there was a common denominator as a program coordinator on the clinical side of things and now on the academic side of things. I don't miss the clinical days at all. So even though I don't work as a music therapist anymore, I still am very active with my music and will never give that up as long as it brings me joy and continues to help pay the bills. I could actually quit the day job now if I wanted to because the music is doing so well, but I have some financial goals to meet first, including being completely debt free. That means the paying off the mortgage first.
KP: How often do you perform in concert? Do you have any performances coming up?
I would like to perform more than I do now, but the day job puts a damper on that. Right now, I try to perform at least 8-10 times a year. This year has been slower due to an eye injury I suffered earlier in the year. It’s a scratched cornea that became a recurrent corneal erosion. I’m still having to take medication for that six months later.
I have two concerts coming up with David Lanz in the fall, plus I'm planning an eight-state midwest tour with Joe Bongiorno and Michele McLaughlin. I have a Christmas concert with Danny Wright in Nashville, and some Christmas shows in the Northwest. I hope to be back in Southern California in January. I need to hit the east coast in 2013 because my fans are really chomping at the bit in some of those states.
KP: And you’re scheduled to play here with Joe Bongiorno and Joseph Akins in early December! That’s gonna be a great Christmas concert!
PW: Yes! I’ve never performed at your place, but I am looking forward to it!
KP: Have you played in concert with David Lanz before? He’s the nicest guy in the world, but it must be difficult to play for someone who has had such an huge impact on your own music.
PW: Yes, I played a show with him in Nashville at the Sound Kitchen back in 2009. Paul Speer showed up too! I don't think it will be so difficult since I have already played a show with him. You know, life is funny - one day you are admiring someone from afar and you idolize him, then twenty years later you are performing with him and considering him a colleague and fellow artist. I've had lots of musical influences throughout my life, but Lanz by far is my biggest influence. I think he knows that, and long after he is retired, we will need a future generation of artists to carry the torch for our genre of music. I'm already starting to see that happen with me. I have fans that look up to me and say, "You are my hero!" It's like I have become their David Lanz.
KP: That must feel great! Who or what are some of your other musical influences?
PW: Aside from Lanz, my earliest influences were the hard rock bands of the late 80's/early 90's. Later it included Yanni, Jim Brickman, Suzanne Ciani, Jim Chappell, John Tesh, Enya, and pretty much anyone considered new age. It didn't matter if they were acoustic or electronic - I devoured it all and loved it.
KP: Have you done any composing for films and/or TV? Is that something you want to do?
I haven't yet, but if the right offer came up, I would consider it.
KP: What has been your most exciting musical moment or experience so far?
PW: Performing with David Lanz, seeing my music go to #1 on iTunes, and seeing my
income increase five-fold over the past six years.
KP: Wow! Is there a particular philosophy that you try to convey in your music?
PW: I think that depends on the album. Lately, it has been that we all go through difficulties and challenges in life, but it is possible to use those moments to rise up and fight, to not give up. There is hope and light at the end of the darkness.
KP: Who are your favorite composers?
PW: Classical- Beethoven; Modern- Lanz. I have just become a huge fan of Jennifer Thomas! That girl has got the “it” factor!
KP: She’s incredible, alright! Illumination is going to do it for her, I think!
Who are your favorite performers?
PW: Without a doubt David Lanz. He is amazing to watch and brings a kind of zen energy to his performances that is unmatched.
KP: I couldn’t agree more! I’ve really been enjoying proofing and editing your sheet music the past few months. I understand you sell a lot of sheet music. Do you sell mostly from your website or is it mainly in concerts?
PW: Yes! Tons! That has been a pleasant surprise! I sell it mostly from my website. Most of my fans happen to be piano students and they all want to play music from Dark Night of the Soul!
KP: Are you going to do a songbook of the music from that album?
PW: Yes, eventually. I have been releasing a steady stream of individual sheets from all my albums. Once I release a dozen individual songs in sheet music form, then I release into a solo piano collection songbook. I have Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 out right now. I’m getting ready to release some more individual sheets this month and then the Vol. 3 songbook collection in the fall. More individual sheets will follow in the winter and then the Vol. 4 songbook etc. When all the songs are transcribed into sheet music form then I will release the full songbooks per album. I have several options for sheet music on my website, as PDF that people can download or physical books that I autograph and ship.
KP: What’s up next for you?
PW: Well, I am in the beginning stages of working on a project for release in 2016. I'll just say that if things go according to plan, it will sound very different from the first ten years, but will be unmistakably Philip Wesley. :)
If you could have any three wishes, what would they be?
PW: To reach my financial goal of being completely debt-free, including the house.
To continue making enough money from music to quit my day job to spend more time on music. To tour more and travel.
Those three wishes will come true if things continue in the right direction. :)
KP: Is there anything else you’d like to “talk” about?
PW: Unless you have any other questions I think that about covers it :)
Many thanks to Philip Wesley for taking the time to chat! To learn more about Philip and his music, be sure to visit his website
and his Artist Page
here on MainlyPiano.com.