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PHIL X – THE ‘RIGHT ON THE MONEY’ INTERVIEW

Phil X

Phil Xenidis may be known as the “new guy” in one of the world’s most influential rock bands, and the rocker who possibly saved them from disintegration, but that hasn’t stopped the Canadian from projecting his own story as the vocalist in his own band The Drills, through the release of their latest epic single.

It’s no wonder the L.A. based star is the master session guitarist, having worked with some of the best in the business with the likes of Alice Cooper, Chris Cornell, Daughtry, Kelly Clarkson – just to name a few.

Right on the Money screams positivity from the onset, manifesting from an upbeat tempo and energy, oozing desperation with a twist and unpredictable turns that beckons the end but weaving into a face-off between the drums, guitar and bass towards a glorious conclusion. The result is devastatingly transcending, sparking the next fire-breathing chapter of a band that has amassed a cult following, while gathering an army of fans from an iconic outfit.

It’s no wonder the L.A. based star is the master session guitarist, having worked with some of the best in the business with the likes of Alice Cooper, Chris Cornell, Daughtry, Kelly Clarkson – just to name a few.

Better known as Phil X, the guitarist of Bon Jovi (replacing Richie Sambora) speaks to Sheldon Ang on an in-depth reflection about the making of their latest release and the upcoming album Stupid Good Looking, Vol. 2 – a sonic boom built on a foundation from an awe inspiring cast of drummers including Tommy Lee (Mortley Crue), Ray Luzier (Korn) and Liberty DeVitto (Billy Joel).  The happy-go-lucky rocker also reveals some of their untold stories, “the twelve year old” Tommy’spredilection for music, life in one of the world’s biggest bands, and a heartfelt narration on the real Jon Bon Jovi.

Phil X

Sheldon: Phil!

Phil: Sheldon! Why can’t I see you, man?

Sheldon: Press the three dotted lines and click on the video thing

(and after some fidgeting)

Phil: Let me call you instead, dude!

(Phil rings)

Phil: Hey! Now I see ya!

Sheldon: Alright, woohoo! So how have you been, brother?

Phil: Good man, it’s been a weird time for everybody right? 

Sheldon: It’s really chaotic in L.A., hey. 

Phil: Man, it was as if Covid wasn’t a huge enough dilemma. It’s going really crazy, but I think for a time being it is a steady state of whatever it is. 

Sheldon: Hey bro, first for all congratulations on your single Right on the Money. It’s a freaking awesome single and it is right on the money (Phil: Thanks man). So, what does the single mean to you

Phil: I think Right on the Money – for me – since I was a kid has been… awesome!… “Man this is right on the money…woohoo!” It is almost like a bullseye. The intention of the lyrics says – no matter what is happening, there’s always a bright side. And my friends and my wife always say to me, “Man, you always find the bright side”….hold on I’m gonna close the door as my dogs are about to bark…(Phil goes off screen and closes the door, and returns)…sorry about that (as he gets back)…and I think it is important to have that attitude…and it seem I have that a lot…. and I think it’s because I’m a Canadian (chuckles). So, I always find a bright side…or think about it could be worse.

So Right on the Money – for me, whatever is happening is happening for a reason. I feel sonically inspired by this groove. I was driving, and I was like, man this tune (in my head) is a pretty cool tune. And I wrote some guitar parts and the reason I had to finish it because Chris (Lord Alge) who was mixing Stupid Good Looking Vol. 1 says, “I’m doing a master class on tracking a live band on the floor…you wanna come to Capitol Records in Hollywood, Studio B and record three songs,” and I was like “I’m not an idiot,” so yeah (chuckles), and I had to pick three songs (that I wrote) and I had all songs that had never been recorded before. So, I got the opportunity to record but he also put a fire on my ass to finish for Right on the Money.

Sheldon: And what’s the reason Right on the Money was picked among the three songs?

Phil: The reason why I picked that song to be the single was because the way it was the band…the way we created this vibe. Dan (Spree, bass/backing vocals) and Brent (Fitz, drums/backing vocals) they never played the song before, and I never played the song before. So we got into this room and we all lay down, and Chris walked in with a producer hat on, and said, “You know after the big heavy slow part, instead of going into a solo or chorus, why don’t you guys have a little drum break, and have it built into the last chorus,”… and I was like, “Yeah yeah sure.”

And Brent didn’t even remember what he played, so he said “I had no idea what I just played.” And the funny thing about that is, there is some urgency from three guys on the floor at the studio, and we looked at each other, we had eye contact and making sure that we are OK with each other and then Brent started playing this thing…and I started doing this feedback thing, and then I screamed…and I gave everyone this que, I’m going into a solo!

And the amazing thing about this whole process was that’s what you’re hearing, and we didn’t edit or do anything. So what you’re hearing is what you got at the floor on that day…and I gave a que that we are going into the chorus. I feel like you can feel the urgency and chemistry that it came together – and it hit bullseye! It’s an amazing turn…and the song is called Right on the Money. 

Sheldon: So you’re saying that the last few minutes were all improvised?

Phil: Yeah! Who does that anymore (chuckles) 

Sheldon: Is Right on the Money part of the “Stupid Good Looking Volume 2” of the album.

Phil: No! this is a standalone single.

Sheldon: What I love about this single is the solo face-off, and it reminds me of Slash doing his solo. 

Phil: I never thought of that (chuckles). 

Sheldon: You guys are rock stars and therefore the masters of instruments. And sometimes the music oozes the message more than the lyrics. Do you write the music before the lyrics of vice versa?

Phil: Personally, it can go either way for me. I get inspired by the things I hear. Even my kids now, and she’s like four and she started singing in the kitchen. And I asked, “what song is that”, and she goes “is just a song and I’m just singing it”. And I’m like feeling it… and you know. When I’m driving around in my car, I don’t listen to music. I would rather hear what’s going on in my head. I hear something and sometimes the lyrics just pops in my head and I just record it went to my phone and listen to it in a couple of days. So, I have this whatever happens just happens, and sometimes it may be a riff and I just put it on the phone – and I get into my guitar. So definitely, I don’t think of a formula works for me. So that’s why I can write a lyric and put a song to it. Or write a song to it first – so I feel like I don’t want to be strapped to a formula. 

Sheldon: There are different drummers for each song on the upcoming Volume 2.

Phil: Yes, in this record we have Tommy Lee (Mortley Crue), Ray Luzier from Korn, Gary Novak, Kenny Aronoff, Liberty Devitto  Ryan McMillan, Ray Luzier and that’s the thing…Brent has recorded a couple of songs, and we never had a repeat drummer, and we want to have drummers coming in. So that was meant to be ten songs with ten different drummers and then twelve, fourteen and then seventeen…just too much content

Sheldon: That’s why you divided “Stupid Good Looking” into Volumes 1 and 2.

Phil: Yeah, the way people look at music today and the artist, the fanship is based on the content. They want content and a lot of content – but they don’t want all of them at the same time…that’s my theory anyway. So that’s why it came in two volumes.

Sheldon: Going back to drumming, there are multiple drummers – is this to provide the eclectic taste to the album?

Phil: Well, Tommy is a friend and I play all of Tommy Lee’s solo records. We have that going on for years, so I came up the song for Tommy.  I had him in mind as drummer, and I listen to Motley Crue live shows and a listen to his solos and I want to write a song to that groove, and I was like, “hey man, what do you think of this song…do you want to track it?”. He said, “Man, I want to track it, but I think it is a little too fast.”

So we went to the studio, and slow it down by ten beats per minute, which is a lot – say from thirty six to twenty six – that is a big jump! But that actually brings the song to live.  So I guess that’s why he’s Tommy Lee. So if you go back to Volume 1, I had Matt Chamberlain  (drummer) in mind. And I wrote No women in Mine with Abe Laboriel Junior in mind and I’m a huge Van Halen fan so I got Alex Van Halen onto the upcoming Volume 2. It’s incredible  experience because I love drums…I love drummers…I love drumming – but I suck at drums (chuckles)! – which is why I had so much fun doing this album, and them being a huge Motley Crue fan he was like, “are we playing with Tommy” and Tommy was like “yeah baby!”

Sheldon: (Chuckles) How’s Tommy Lee like in real life?

Phil: When it comes to music, he’s like a twelve-year-old kid – in a toy store. He loves music, he loves grooves…he loves people who get into music and dance, and that’s why he got into DJ’ing. We recorded Tommy later in the year…we were at his studio and we did something with Matt Chamberlain and Tommy walked in and he heard what we were doing upstairs and he was like, “Man, this is great…this is amazing.” And then when it gets to the riff the head bobbing stops and I’m like, I’m going to change the bridge because I wrote a bridge that made Tommy stopped. So I literally changed the bridge…

Sheldon: Wow! Tell me how did Tommy react to the change?

Phil: I have literally forgotten about the story, so you’re the first person to hear this! So we were talking and I sent him the track and I was like, “by the way I changed the bridge because you stopped nodding your head.” He said, “What?” And I go, “You were listening to the track, and you stopped your body language so I changed, and for you to stop the body language means the bridge wasn’t right.” And he said, “Man a like the bridge now, I don’t know whether it is my fault, but it’s awesome now.”

Sheldon: That’s total respect man, for both of you!

Phil: Yeah, so it is kinda like, you got to listen to the people you respect. As far as things go, in the studio Dan (Spree, bass/backing vocals) is my number one and I’m number two. I mean, he’s got song writing credits. I’d be like, “Hey what do you think of this,” and he’d say, “No, that chord needs to be a bit longer,” and I would say “there you go, go and get your song writing credit” (Chuckles)! And this is a really cool part… Dan actually wrote a song in Volume 2.  And a cool thing is we got to play that live in the UK, before we got sent back in March because of Covid. And that we had a great response and then Dan goes, “What do you think of this…if I put on my solo record?” and I was like, “It’s great, but you’re not putting on to your record…we are putting on to the next Drills record!” (chuckles). He gets the credit and I called him my left wing for life. And this is really important – no matter who is playing drums, Dan is the glue between me and every drummer and that means everything to me. I play a little bit on top and every drummer lays back, he just fills the little gaps – so it is an incredible situation to have. 

Sheldon: So what can we expect for the rest of Volume 2? Is it similar to volume 1?

Phil: It is, but there are some departures, and I am very open with my influences as you can tell so you will hear a bit of Led Zeppelin in my songs, and a bit of Van Halen, as well as your AC/DC’s in my song, set in a congruent continuation of music. And the very thing about the song with Tommy Lee was like, “Who’s singing?” And I’m like, “It is me…” and he goes, “You sound different…you sound great.” And I’m like, “I don’t sound great normally?” (Chuckles). And you’ll hear my modern rock influences, but it has more classical rock where you get into your chorus….(inaudible due to dogs barking) 

Sheldon: Is that your dogs barking?

Phil: (Chuckles) Yes it is…give me a sec (as Phil went to put his dogs away, and returns a minute later).

Sheldon: Hey, are they your new backing vocals? 

Phil: The dogs? (Sheldon: Yeah!)…(Big chuckles). Hey, where are you located at, my man?

Sheldon: I’m in Perth, Australia. You’ve been here haven’t you? 

Phil: (Fist pumped) Yeah! I’ve been to Perth man! Loved it there.

Sheldon: I’ve been to a Bon Jovi show here in Perth. And the one I went to…I think it was in 2010, and I was like, “Dude, why are you guys playing mainly country music in your concert…I want to hear your classics, while performing like the Jon Bon Jovi who I know!” So no Bed of Roses, no Always…I wanted screams from Bon Jovi, swinging across the stage – not him playing in his acoustic guitar! I was looking for the 80’s shit man…(chuckles).

Phil: (Chuckles). Yeah you know what, I hear that – a lot. I guess if you’re Jon, you can get away with whatever (musically). I suppose we do lot of the old stuff, and we do a bit of the country ones. And his new stuff rocks too. And watching a band grow is one thing…but being part of something else.

Sheldon: Speaking of Bon Jovi, how is it like to play in one of the world’s biggest bands?

Phil: It is pretty incredible. What I mean is, you play stadiums or arenas all over the world. I feel blessed that I get to play in both situations (in large and small venues with The Drills). If I was an artist I’d have two different canvases. So this came as a joke…in March I was doing interviews for The Drills and nothing was cancelled yet.

In March, I was playing in the clubs and in June I was playing in the arenas (chuckles) so I don’t mind climbing in the freezing van and play in the gigs and tune my own amp on the stage and play…and I don’t mind doing that because I love sending out my message. – they are my story, and I get to be hundred percent relax. With Bon Jovi, Jon is the driver of that band and I’m just the back seat person. But I love both positions…I love the fans…and the fans keep coming around because then they weren’t sure if Richie Sambora was coming back. It is amazing and a lot of the fans love The Drill now. That’s been blessing, and I just love playing the guitar and I’m a happy dude. 

Sheldon: The fans must be excited.

Phil: There has never been a year like this where you got to roll with punches and music is one of those things that get you through stuff…whether I’m just listening to it or just playing with it. So the household was listening to Right on the Money non-stop because I’ve been making a video of it. I’ve been editing the video.

It was a quarantine/band video. Quarantine because we can’t play together. And Brent sent me a video, and he’s not far away in Burbank…and I made a video from my backyard. I thought it is great to launch a Phil X apps last month. I was like, “if you sing Right on the Money in the video, I’ll stick you in the chorus.” So I had a like thirty or forty fans singing in the total fan video and once again no matter what’s happening in the world, it’s right on the money and is looking on the bright side…it could be way worst…and you know what, I think we’ll be ok as long as we don’t turn into zombies from this covert thing.

Sheldon: I’ve only got one more question. If you don’t mind me asking how’s John like in real life. He seems to be a very humble and unassuming guy.

Phil: He is. I mean when we go out, he knows what he wants. When I first started out and when I was filling in, I got a different Jon Bon Jovi. Every now and then people would ask how’s John like and I was like “ah…” because in 2013 when there was animosity over uncertainty whether Richie was coming back or not, and everybody on a whole tour including Jon, the band, the crew and somebody would walk up to me and say, “thanks for being here man…you are saving our jobs,” and so did Jon… and Jon was a guy who was looking at me “thanks for saving” every day.

So I got a special treatment, and then as I got closer, I became one of the normal guys in the band and I was like “You can yell at me if you have to.” But he’s like anybody else you know. He jokes – you laugh, and he laughs at your jokes. And if you don’t feel like you are hanging out with a rockstar until you leave the restaurant, until there are hundred people that want a photo. I mean there is one thing where if you want to go to a movie on the road we all go and they shut down the theatre (chuckles) and Jon would be like, “hey I want to see the Queen movie tonight…anybody wants to see?” And I’d be like, “Yeah I’ll go…” and he’d take the whole crew. And yes, he’s a down-to-earth guy…I see that.

Sheldon: Just like you mate. It doesn’t feel like I’m talking to a rock star right now or someone playing in the world’s biggest band. It feels like I’m talking to a long friend in L.A, you are such a humble unassuming guy… you’re so like a dude! 

Phil: Thanks for hanging out man!  I just know about this (of chatting casually)…and I don’t feel like it is an interview…I just love chatting, I would like to have a coffee or a beer and chat…and I like what you’re doing because it doesn’t feel like I’m being interviewed…but I like talking about myself… I’m kidding I don’t like talking about myself (Chuckles)! But when people asked questions, I got the answers man. I think I got a really good story and I love what I do and when I can share a positive attitude to other people…I think that’s a good thing.

Sheldon: Hey, last question – what do rock stars do after concert…I mean you guys are married now with kids but in your younger days…?

Phil: See…you are talking about the younger days…when you’re talking about the younger days you can get away with anything and going crazy after show. Now I’m fifty four I got to watch it.  and the good thing about Bon Jovi it is that we do no more than two or three shows in a row and then we get two days off.  And when I was in the UK with The Drills, I have shows and two clinics in eleven days. So I couldn’t ask around like, “Hey man let’s go and drink beers.” 

And when I do a clinic I have to scream my brains out… because I have to warm up for Zeplin or something so I have to look after my health…and when in March during the Covid, I was like ok man, “Stay away from me.”

(Phil’s phone rings)

Phil: Sheldon, it’s a great chat my man. I’ve got to take this. 

Sheldon: Thanks brother. When you come to Perth, let’s have a beer.

Phil: Yes, we’ll grab a beer and please find a place for us, find an open mic night so we can get some bros and jam together. 

Phil X right on the money

Buy Right On The Money here…

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