I saw Phil Simmonds perform on June 28th. It was the day Justice Kennedy said he was resigning from the supreme court, and my friend and I had been sulking around Manhattan waiting for the show to start. We walked into the Rockwood Music Hall, and amid the chaotic summer bustle outside, the ambiance felt cozy – almost as if we were in a friend’s living room. Phil approached the stage wearing a wool beanie, an unreasonable choice for the heat but a completely valid one for setting the scene.
Phil Simmonds is an English singer-songwriter who started his career behind the scenes of some of the UK’s biggest stars. But stepping out into the spotlight for the first time, we see a reluctant hero and exactly what we needed to heal the wounds of that day. His approach to performance is honest, from the quality of his voice to the stories he tells on stage. His music feels like a group catharsis – both deeply personal and deeply relatable. Phil’s sound appears to gather inspiration from Radiohead, early Coldplay (read: the only good Coldplay), and Bon Iver, among others.
“It’s such a hard feeling to put into words,” he says of his first solo performance in New York City, “I was able to share my songs and stories with people on the other side of the world from where I grew up! I made my music because I needed to for myself, it truly saved my life doing so. How people respond and react is just getting to see more color added to an already colorful painting.”
Phil Simmonds on Releasing Saint Arc, Pt. 1: In the Oak
Phil recently released a Saint Arc, Pt. 1: In the Oak. Inspired by 90s alternative and British rock, the “track” clocks in at 20 minutes, and transitions seemingly in and out of up to six different songs. It’s an emotional and soulful vignette. “I think where my head and my life was at the time, the feelings and emotions I had spoke to me in sounds.” While it sounds odd, you can hear and feel exactly what Phil means.
Though the track could have easily been divided up into separate songs, that’s not the way it should be listened to. In an age where songs max out at 2:30 and the radio plays maybe half of that, releasing a 20-minute song feels like civil disobedience. Art doesn’t need to be fast or quickly consumable, and in this effort listening to the entirety of Saint Arc, Pt. 1 feels like a rewarding journey.
As the artist says himself, “I made it like this, it’s meant to be listened like this. So why wouldn’t I release it like this?” If that’s not some Thom Yorke defiance, then what is? I’ve long been a fan of concept albums (what sociopath is listening to Tool’s “Lateralus” out of order?) and I welcome more artists encouraging listeners to spend time with music and really listen. Though Phil stands by his resolve to make music for himself, I wouldn’t be surprised if he quickly picks up steam stateside. Keep an eye out – parts 2 and 3 of Saint Arc are due out this summer.
I highly recommend laying back and listening deeply to Saint Arc, Pt. 1: In the Oak, below:
If you’re not up for a 20-minute journey, you can watch the music video for the record’s single, “Drive”, below: