When Schenectady native Charlie Phillips began performing solo a few years ago, he tried the whole acoustic guitar, singer-songwriter thing.
But it just never worked for the 21-year-old guitarist, who started playing the electric guitar at age 16, inspired by Jimi Hendrix. Before playing his first solo gigs at the Moon & River Café, he had been accustomed to playing soulful blues rock and R&B with a three-piece band.
“I thought, ‘Well, the acoustic is the solo instrument,’ so I tried a few performances where I would use an old acoustic, and it didn’t feel as comfortable for me for whatever reason,” he said. “And then I started to play solo again [with an electric guitar], and it just felt more comfortable. I had more control over things; I could do things that I couldn’t do on the acoustic. It didn’t seem like it was necessary just to do the acoustic just because that was the way it had been done.”
Putting two together
Phillips’ songwriting had always been inspired by acoustic players, though — Bob Dylan’s 1960s work is a big influence lyrically. After playing a few solo spots on electric guitar, he discovered Jeff Buckley, which helped tie the two differing musical impulses together.
Charlie Phillips, Aaron Civic
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Where: Moon & River Café, 115 S. Ferry St., Schenectady
How Much: Free
More Info: 382-1938, www.moonandrivercafe.com
“I listened to a few things he did, and it seemed like sort of a similar approach, with just his voice and the electric guitar,” he said.
He has continued to develop his approach to songwriting and guitar, both in the Capital Region and at school at the State University of New York in Purchase, where he studies studio composition at the Conservatory of Music. He returns to Purchase in late August, so his coming solo performance at Moon & River on Saturday will be his last for a while. And with plans to relocate to Brooklyn after graduating to take a stab at a music career with a band, he may be playing his last show at the venue, period.
The move makes sense for Phillips, who has a band in Purchase featuring a drummer, bassist and tenor saxophone player, all from the New York City area. This ensemble can be heard on his self-titled, seven-song EP, which will be available at the Moon & River show and can be heard at his MySpace page, www.myspace.com/charliephillipsonline.
“I’ve been performing in the city with [a band], and we’re sort of, it’s interesting to see, because you kind of have to start playing the dives and work your name up,” he said. “Because, for me, I didn’t have a New York City following at all, so I’m just trying to build something up now.”
Ready for change
But despite the competition in the New York City music scene, he isn’t too worried.
“It’s intense, but I’ve always had this romantic view of New York, so I’d be hard pressed to choose anywhere else,” he said.
For Phillips, the Moon & River has provided a forum for introducing new material. The songs on his EP, which will be officially released with artwork on iTunes by September, were built from solo arrangements he worked out at the venue.
“When I started going to the Moon & River, I had to develop a solo act, and I sort of brought that with me to school and then formed a band around it,” Phillips said. “It was interesting. We tried to keep it as pure to the song. . . . In the back of my head, when I had written these songs, I sort of heard how they should be, and it was just a matter of putting that all together.”
The recordings, which were done at Purchase, feature fleshed-out arrangements of songs ranging from straight-ahead rock to slinky R&B grooves, and utilize instruments including flugelhorn, trumpet and saxophone. Songs like “Dollars and Dimes” also feature expansive vocal arrangements with multiple overdubbed harmonies — something that Phillips has yet to be able to reproduce in a live setting.
“There’s this R&B artist named D’Angelo, and he had a huge influence on the arrangements of a few of those songs,” Phillips said. “I love that thick vocal sound, layered. I think it just adds something, which I can’t do solo, so when we’re in the studio I want to take full advantage of that.”