Britta Phillips | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Britta Phillips

Magic and Loss

Jul 15, 2016 Britta Phillips Photography by David Studarus Bookmark and Share

Britta Phillips has been making music with her husband Dean Wareham since 2001; in Luna from 2001-2005 and on their recent reunion tour; and in the Dean & Britta project that encompasses a wide breadth, including 2010’s 13 Most Beautiful: Songs for Andy Warhol’s Screen Tests. She was also the singing voice of Jem in the cult 1980s cartoon Jem and the Holograms and was in the ‘90s bands The Belltower and Ultrababyfat. Remarkably, Luck or Magic is Phillips’ first solo album. Composed of half originals and half covers, including an electro minimalist take on Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide, which Phillips makes her own via her downright gorgeous vocals. She reworks the original’s unsurpassable sadness into a celebratory catharsis, transforming the fear of age and death into signifiers of pure beauty, necessary aspects of living life. This sentiment imbues Luck or Magic, which didn’t go as initially planned when the record’s then-producer, Scott Hardkiss, passed away days after Phillips had been discussing the album with him.

“I’d been working on stuff over the years, and Scott took me to lunch a few days before he died, and everything stopped for a while. We were working on Noah Baumbach’s film America anyway, and moving across the country to L.A., so it probably would’ve taken a while no matter what. But when Dean did a record, the first thing that popped in my mind was, ‘I should do one too,’” laughs Phillips. “And Scott was so excited and so enthusiastic and Dean was too, but Scott was in my face and jumping up and down about it, encouraging me to do it. So losing him was difficult, at a time when Dean and I were moving to the West Coast and so much else was going on. I’ll admit that ‘Landslide’ is all Scott.”

The record has a timeless feel, like much of Luna’s work. “I love vintage sounds, but I used GarageBand, too. I need to give credit to Eric Broucek, who picked up as producer after Scott died,” says Phillips. “He likes stuff that’s modern and dance, and he culled all my stuff and made it sound like the originals were on the same planet as the covers.”

The gentle, dirge-like “Ingrid Superstar,” a tribute to the Warhol superstar, is one of the originals, with the music coming from a 13 Most Beautiful outtake. “It was like a fever dream from a poem,” Phillips explains. “I don’t want to take away from it. But when you look back at those Warhol days, the way they were doing drugs back then and how they kept the party going, they couldn’t have kept the party going without it. ‘Million Dollar Doll’ is another song I made up as it went along, and it stayed that way.”

Phillips’ originals are commensurate with the terrific coverswhich include a faithful rendition of The Cars’ “Drive” and a bittersweet take on Dennis Wilson’s “Fallin’ In Love.” They could easily overshadow Phillips’ work, but they don’t, thanks to her songwriting acumen. “I write, but I’m not a prolific songwriter. So [writing originals] was kind of therapeutic and self-defining. I don’t want to sound too heavy or pretentious,” she says with a self-deprecating laugh. “But this was a big thing for me.”

Phillips confesses that she was concerned with what her husband and musical partner would think of the album. “I wasn’t sure if Dean would like this album at all. But he does, and that means a lot to me.”

When the question of what constitutes success for her on her first solo album is broached, after decades of being a musician, Phillips harbors no delusions about making it big. She just wants the music out there for the public to listen to, if they’re inclined to do so. “Monetary goals aren’t an issue at all here, but just people hearing it, getting it, and digging it would be success for me…. I’ve never been a ‘front-person,’ so I hope it inspires others to start their own projects. It took forever for me,” she laughs. “But it was worth it.”

[Note: This article originally appeared in Under the Radar’s May/June 2016 Issue, which is out now. This is its debut online.]


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