Shane Philip doesn’t like to think of himself as a one-man band, just a guy who plays a bunch of different instruments at the same time
Shane Philip performs Thursday with the Tequila Mockingbird Orchestra at the Victoria Event Centre (1415 Broad St.). Tickets are $14.50 at Lyle’s Place, Ditch Records and ticketweb.ca.
Shane Philip was born in Toronto, grew up in Ottawa, and went to university in Thunder Bay, Ont. But if you ask him where he feels most at home, and where he imagines he’ll stay for the rest of his life, he’ll say without hesitation the West Coast.
“When I go to play in Toronto, where I’m from, they tag me as a West Coast guy,” Philip said with a laugh.
The rootsy singer-songwriter moved with his girlfriend and their 21/2-year-old son to Courtenay from Quadra Island earlier this year, a switch that has paid off handsomely for Philip. Artistically, he’s never been at a loss for inspiration. But in terms of his state of mind, the move to the Comox Valley has left him more refreshed than ever.
“I wanted to find a place where the mountains met the sea. That was my dream. I was always attracted to mountains, and always wanted to be by the ocean. There was always this pull to come out west. Once I got out here, I couldn’t go back. That was the end of it.”
Philip’s journey to this point has been adventurous, to say the least.
He has lived in Banff, 100 Mile House, Smithers, Gold River, Campbell River, Nanaimo and Ladysmith, among other locales. He taught high school social studies for seven years, and raced competitively at the provincial level as a cross-country skier.
Music — now his full-time profession — was kept on the periphery growing up. “It was always there, but I never really did it full-time,” he said. “My primary focus was athletics growing up, and I always put music secondary, or even tertiary.”
The self-professed “big fan of outdoor pursuits” has also been a whitewater kayaking guide, and still counts himself an avid jogger. But over the past few years, his outdoor activity schedule has slowed somewhat as he grows more accustomed to the freedom associated with being an artist, and balances his burgeoning musical career with his parental duties.
Philip had a solid year in 2011, the likes of which kept him on the road almost constantly. He took four months off at the end the year, in hopes of getting recharged and refocused. Philip said he can already feel the difference.
Soon enough, however, he will be back in action. Philip performs on Thursday with the Tequila Mockingbird Orchestra at the Victoria Event Centre, the warmup for a three-week tour that will see Philip open for Bob Marley’s backing band, the Wailers, in Vancouver on Jan. 19.
The amazing part of Philip’s success? Not only is he a one-man band outfitted with didgeridoo, aslatua shakers, djembe drums and Weissenborn-style guitar, he is entirely self-taught. He learned guitar in Grade 6 and picked up the drums in high school, but his formative years as a musician were limited by his relative isolation. “To find another drummer and another guitar player is a really big chore when you’re in farm country. The other drummer might be an hour away. When you’re 16, that
doesn’t work so well.”
A natural athlete, Philip’s focus was almost entirely on sports after high school. He studied outdoor recreation and kinesiology in university, taking courses that appealed to his interests. Upon graduation, however, he knew that life wasn’t right for him.
Philip worked various jobs during those uncertain years, the bulk of which allowed him to follow his career as a cross-country skier.
As such, he moved often. He raced at the provincial level for the better part of 10 years and enjoyed the lifestyle, but eventually he grew tired of competing.
“It didn’t take long to realize there was a definite end to that as a career,” he said. “My philosophy in life was developing at that time.
“I realized being 30 seconds faster than the next guy on that particular day, and then having him be 30 seconds faster than me the next week, didn’t mean anything. I needed more.”
He eventually took up teaching, and spent seven years at various schools in B.C. It paid the bills, but Philip was still unsure. He was playing music on the side, often for his students. But creatively he felt stifled.
He soon realized teaching wasn’t for the long-term. “If I’m going to spend my entire life focused on something, it has to be something I’m really passionate about.”
Free from the daily grind, he dove into music full-time and recorded his debut, 2005’s OM Cooking. “It was a real snap decision,” Philip said.
“I made it overnight. It was the first career decision I made that wasn’t influenced by how much money I would make. I did it trusting that money would follow, that I would be able to make a living doing it. I’ve never really been interested in trying to get rich, I just want to make a living.”
His music made some immediate waves in B.C., especially in areas well suited to Philip’s surf-friendly vibe. It didn’t take Philip long to realize his decision was the right one.
“Nobody knew who I was. But I just had to try. I had the sense that what I was doing was fairly unique. I did fine right off the bat, and it has been growing ever since.”
He released his second recording, Earthshake, in 2006, followed by his third effort, In the Moment, in 2008. As luck would have it, Philip wasn’t the only one-man band with a didgeridoo setup on the circuit at that point, which caused some confusion. Australian performer Xavier Rudd, who, oddly enough, spent time in Courtenay during the late 1990s and who bears a striking resemblance to Philip, was out of the gate first — to the complete surprise of Philip.
“I heard about him after I was doing my stuff,” he said with a laugh. “I thought I was completely unique, something that nobody in the world was doing. I guess it’s hard to be unique in this world.”
Philip need not worry. Barring vast changes to his setup, he will always be known as the guy with the vast artistic arsenal. “I do have a lot of junk with me,” he said of his cache of instruments, which evolves on a regular basis. “I’m the equivalent of a five-piece band, in terms of the gear that I have. There’s a lot going on.”
That said, if he could change anything about his career, it would be how people regard him as a performer.
“I don’t like to call myself a one-man band because people think of the old guy with the cymbals between his knees and the monkey. I’m just a songwriter who happens to express myself with a bunch of different instruments at the same time.”
By Mike Delvin