Evan Phillips and his band The Whipsaws have long been staples of the Anchorage music scene. The group's 10th anniversary is coming this summer, though that includes a lengthy hiatus. In Phillips' mind, the time apart made the band stronger.
"We took a couple years off and played with other bands, and it made us all better musicians," the singer and guitarist said over the phone.
For Phillips though, it wasn't about taking a journey with another band -- it was all about working on a new solo record. His first was "Songs From Lake Irene," released in 2007, but he feels this latest one allowed him to be himself for the first time in his career.
"This is the first record I've actually made where I took all of the expectations off of myself," Phillips shared excitedly. "I just said, 'I don't have anything to prove; I just want to make this for myself.' Like it was an art project for myself."
The album is titled "Goodnight, My Dearest Stranger" and finds Phillips exploring influences that he has never touched on with The Whipsaws. When asked to describe the sound on this new record, Phillips struggled at first. "I think essentially I kind of belong to the classical sense of what a folk singer is," he said. "I sing about stories. I sing about where I've been. I sing about traveling, falling in love, falling out of love."
While you could make an argument that The Whipsaws' closest analogue is Wilco - an iconic alt-country band that The Whipsaws opened for at a Moose's Tooth parking lot show -- Phillips took this record in a considerably different direction.
The two artists he felt most influenced "Stranger" were indie-rock notables Broken Social Scene and Bibio. The former is the Canadian music collective that features breakout artist Feist and members of other successful groups like Stars and Metric among its ranks.
The latter is a more unexpected addition to Phillips' mix of influences, but one that stands out while listening to "Stranger" and the electronic-meets-folk sound of track "Her Glorious Morning."
"When you listen to Bibio, he paints landscapes in your brain. For me, it transports me to the wilderness or going on a beautiful trip or when I was a kid," Phillips said.
Not only is this effort a change of pace sonically for Phillips, he also went with a significantly different feel from a recording standpoint.
The album was recorded in two weeks on a $99 microphone. Phillips wanted to prove that he could make a record he was proud of without all of the trappings of modern music production.
"It's not about the equipment you have -- it's about your vision, your art, the things you feel," he said.
When he's not writing, recording and performing his own music, he often is producing records for other Alaska musicians, such as Meg Mackey and The Super Saturated Sugar Strings.
That experience helped him on "Stranger." "(I) probably spent 100 hours mixing it with my headphones on at night playing with effects," he said.
With the new release and The Whipsaws coming up on a decade, Phillips is excited about what the future holds for the Alaska music scene.
"Right now I feel like I'm part of the most exciting music scene I've ever seen," he said, before listing off a litany of Alaska artists who he said have to be seen live, including The Sweeteners, The Young Guns, Turquoise Boy, Ghost Hands and others.
He also said that the Side Street Espresso record release show is his last solo gig for a while, and he intentionally chose the small, 100-person capacity venue.
"When I'm playing solo, just me and my guitar, it's really important to get the audience connected immediately," Phillips said. "I want them to feel what I'm singing."
By David Harper
Daily News correspondent