Phil Vassar Rides the Wave of Independence
Phil Vassar has enjoyed plenty of success on both sides of the fence, as the writing talent behind chart toppers like ‘My Next Thirty Years,’ ‘Right on the Money,’ and ‘Bye Bye,’ and as an artist with an impressive string of hits in his own right, including ‘Carlene,’ ‘Just Another Day in Paradise,’ and ‘That’s When I Love You.’ But after getting caught up in several record-label mergers, Phil decided to free himself and start over on his own, forming a new label, Rodeowave Records, earlier this year. The move proved to be a good one, as it fired him up creatively, inspiring him to do some of the things he’d never been able to on a major label roster, including recording and releasing a live album.
The Boot sat down with the singer-songwriter to talk about his fun summer single, his newfound freedom — and simultaneous responsibility — as a record label owner, his apparent lack of drawing skills, and how he sympathizes with Martina McBride when it comes to his home life.
Your new single, ‘Let’s Get Together,’ could be a theme song of sorts for your life, since you really love throwing parties and enjoying life. Was the song’s video really just a typical day at the Vassar house?
It really was. That’s always a fun time. I like to have people over, hang out and grill out at the house; whether it’s summer, winter, fall, it doesn’t matter. It really was a good time. Everybody came to have a party at the house, and a video happened. And that’s what that song is all about: being with your friends and having a good time. That’s totally who I am — one of those hang-out kind of people. I like to get everybody together, because when you travel a lot and you get home, you’re ready to see everybody, so you just put everybody in the same place, and that ends up being my house most of the time.
With the pool and big backyard, your kids must really enjoy the house in the summer!
I always wanted it to be a good place where the kids could hang out, and a lot of my friends have kids, so I wanted it to be a place where they could hang out and have fun, too. My daughters were in the video for ‘Let’s Get Together,’ too. My daughter Haley was in my ‘American Child‘ video when she was a baby, but now she’s grown up. And Presley was in this — she had a good time. They love being in my videos. They’ll say, “Dad, it’s my video, my video’s on!” It’s pretty funny!
Why form your own record label at this point in your career?
It was just time. I’ve been caught up in five mergers, and I don’t ever want to be caught up in one again. Hopefully this way I won’t have to worry about whether somebody buys out the company or this company merges with that company. It’s all a corporate world, and it shouldn’t be. It’s music, for goodness sake, and we should be able to make music and be able to do what we want to with it. A lot of artists sort of let their careers go, and I didn’t want to be that artist. I wanted to take the bull by the horns and do some things I’ve always wanted to do, and make it happen. Everybody’s got their own thing going on, and it’s hard for them to focus, because they’ve got 25 other artists to focus on, too. And nobody cares more about your career than you do.
What’s the story behind the name of your label, Rodeowave?
I wrote this song called ‘Waves’ on the new album, and it’s about being fed up with winter and being in front of your computer and wanting to go sit on the beach. I’m just a beach bum, a country bumpkin beach bum! Our logo is a dude with a cowboy hat on a surfboard. And that’s me right there! It’s just absolutely the perfect time for me to do this.
You’ve gone into the vault a little bit with some of the songs on this album.
We’ve been recording a lot of stuff at the house, and there’s a lot of different kinds of things on this. That’s what I’m excited about more than anything, is getting the opportunity to get back to doing what I do and being who I am as an artist and not who somebody thinks I am as an artist. We cut an old song of mine, ‘April Fools,’ and it came out great. There’s a bunch of new stuff. There are a couple of things I cut that I always thought, ‘Man, this song never got a shot,’ so there’s a few of those on there, too.
You also have your first-ever live CD coming out, which will be available on iTunes and at your live shows. Your shows are always high-energy. Is it tough to capture that feeling in the studio?
I think it is, and that’s why we cut that album. Some of my favorite records have been the live records, like [Peter] Frampton. I love live music, and I love going to live shows. Getting the chance to cut this thing in Nashville on New Year’s Eve was just so much fun. And I’m so happy with the way it came out! It has all of my hits on it — it’s kind of a greatest hits live CD.
You have daughters, so you must empathize with the Martina McBride song, ‘Teenage Daughters‘?
Oh, yeah! I know all about teenage daughters, let me tell you. I’m right in the middle of that stuff right now! Haley’s 12, she’s about to be 13 and she’s going into seventh grade. It’s really funny, my niece who’s about the same age, I’m with them both right now, and my little one, who’s seven, she’s going, “Dad, why are they acting like that?” Well it’s because they’re teenagers. It’s the greatest thing, being a dad. It’s the one thing I’m the best at. I love being a dad more than anything. Just seeing these girls grow up has been the greatest thrill of my life, and they’re something else. They’ve become great little girls with good hearts, and that makes me happy. They’re both totally into music, too, which freaks me out at the same time, though. But they’re great, they love to play piano and guitar, and they’re singing non-stop all the time. It’s really great to watch them grow.
You do a lot of charity work for girls from your hometown by supporting the Miller Home of Lynchburg (Va.) How did that become so close to your heart?
I love being a part of it and seeing these girls grow up, go off to college and become these young ladies. It’s such an important part of what I do now. I do a show and a big golf tournament every year, and it’s an honor to work with them and be part of something like that. It takes on a life of its own and becomes bigger than you. Now I’ve got really good friends I’ve met through doing this. My golf tournament is coming up on Sept. 12 in my hometown, and that thing is really blowing up. It’s just a thrill, I can’t wait to do it — my buddies are already calling me about it.
You own a lot of original art and support local artists. Have you always had a love for art?
I have. My little ones are really good artists, too … way better than I am! Presley’s really got a thing for it. She draws all the time. When she was four, she said, “Dad, draw me a pig.” So I was drawing her a pig and I handed it to her. She looked at it and looked up at me and said, “Dad, I mean for real, draw me a pig!” I got dissed by my four year old! I’ve got several friends who are artists, and I have their art up in my house — Jason Irwin and April Street, I just love what they do. I wish I could see the world that way, but I guess you do what you do.
What inspires you these days to write? Is it harder the more success you have as a writer, to stay motivated?
No, I think it doesn’t get harder to write, it just gets harder to find time to write. I was thinking about it the other day because I’ve really been back on the road touring hard again and visiting radio stations, getting back out and doing all that stuff and playing five or six shows a week, and it’s tough. But I love it. I like visiting stations, I like the people that you meet and seeing their hometowns and cities, and the restaurants you get to go to and the places you get to see. I really love my job.