Jill Detroit-(actually known as Jill Phillips in Michigan)-changed her musical name because another person with her name was already recording. Anyway, she was passing through town and I was lucky enough to sit down with her for this interview. With over thirty CD’s released and 5 more ready to release, she has been nothing but productive, with no signs of slowing down in the near future.
What follows is the bulk of our discussion with some light editing.
Yeah, You better have a lawyer because anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law!
Alright. I’m just gonna start someplace and see where it goes.
When did you start becoming a writer? When did that happen for you?
I wrote my first song when I was probably about ten.
It was about aardvarks, and it said, “for every aardvark, there is another aardvark. For every fish, there’s another fish in the sea. Ah, but then, when I was about-I got a guitar when I was about eleven or twelve, and I wrote this song, My family used to go to the seashore every summer and I had an experience that was kind of life changing. You know, kind of a vision, and it prompted me to write a song-its called “The Sea”. That was my first real song. In fact, we even put it in a musical later.
Yeah, and so I’ve been writing since I was ten or eleven.
So, its been with you most of your life.
My mom said I sang before I talked, so music has always been integral to me.
Then, when you were growing up, did you know that’s what you wanted to do?
I didn’t think it was a viable career. I never thought of it as a career, you know, in my family, it was all about school and doing well in school and going to college and anything after that.
My folks never wanted me to become a musician.
No. That wasn’t a career. That was a hobby.
Yeah. Thats something “fun” to do.
Get yourself a job where you are suffering because of it.
And you could do this on the side.
Sing in church. But when I was a girl, I actually had an ulcer when I was pretty young, and I told my dad it was because I couldn’t stand singing with those sopranos in the church choir. And there were these twangy-oh, my God-and, really, my doctor said get her out of the choir at church. So he did, and my ulcer went away. I was convinced that music was such an important part of me that, if it didn’t sound right, I just couldn’t bear it.
Yeah. Its like if you’re in a toxic situation , you know, best to get out of it.
Yeah, but when your dad’s a minister, its kind of hard to get out of the choir.
So, you started writing when you were about ten and, ah, when did you create your first recordings?
Well, that’s a great question because I’ve been doing it for so long that I can’t even-but I did other people’s songs. I really didn’t do my own. I was a singer, you know and my own stuff was sort of on the side. Even with gigs and stuff, we did other people’s tunes-not our own. So I think-I mean seriously-I remember sitting down with Pat Schrein and Bill McKinney…
And doing six, maybe seven songs. Thats when i was serious about it. I tried to go in the studio on the east side. What was it called? Cloudborn.
Yeah. It was down there kind of by Grosse..
Grosse Pointe. I remember going in there and they had me coming in to do remakes of some tunes or to sing some songs, but I went, “hey, can I do a couple of my own too-and I did. I got to record with Earl Klugh. He came in and we did Somewhere Over The Rainbow, and things like that. And then, I wanted to put out my own album but other stuff came up and, you know, I never did.
Back then, if you were a gigging musician, that was a whole separate thing from becoming a recording artist.
You know, it was like there were people that just wrote their songs and then went out and recorded and toured, then there were people in town that were playing in bands.
And thats how they made their living. So when you are making your living week to week, day to day doing that, it’s different. There were lots of cover tunes lots of Hiltons and Hiatus and, you know. I remember my first gig-or the first time I decided I was gonna gig-doing five sets a night and my fingers actually started bleeding. Because I wasn’t used to playing that much. On steel strings. That many days and that many sets. It was like a Holiday Inn or something and I remember …ouch!
So, when you write, is there any order as to how things come? Do you get an idea for what you want the song to be as the first thing, or is it a musical cue that starts you off or a lyrical one?
It depends. It used to be they would come together like a phrase with some notes. But lately, I can’t depend on that. I see where sometimes a thought will come to mind, you know like-one of my recent tunes was I watched a guy go down on his knee during the national anthem. I was like, wow, how ironic because we can do that. Because we are Americans. You know, I want to write something about it. And I looked in this notebook where I write things down longhand and there’s like seven pages of scratching and this thing I wanted to say but I wanted to say it in a certain way and in a certain order and I actually incorporated parts of the national anthem in the song.
Do you keep a journal?
Of my songs, not of my life, but my songs are my life!
Of ideas and things like that?
Yeah, I write them down.But, typically, if I get a thought, I’m immediately working on it. And then when I’ve written it, I’m done with it. I remember an interview with Billy Joel once where he did not want to write that song, “in the middle of the night”-he did not want to write it but he said nothing else would come out until he wrote it. That is how it’s been with me sometimes. There are songs where my children are like, really mom? Are you really going to write about that. And I’m sorry but for some reason it’s demanding to come out, you know.
Have you ever heard of a book called The Artists Way?
In the Artists Way, they are trying to get you to reconnect with yourself a little. Like, one of the thing you have to do is called the Morning Pages. You get a notebook and when you get up in the morning you have to write three pages about whatever is on your mind. And you do this every day.
I’m not sure I’m disciplined enough to do that every day,
I did it at one point. I haven’t done it for a long time but—
Did it help?
It inspired some really interesting songs.It also asks you to set aside a day a week to do something for yourself. Go to a lunch, a concert or maybe a movie.
Only once a week? Cause I do that all the time! (laughter)
After writing the morning pages for a number of days, its like thoughts just started to show up. I was going through thing at the time where I had lost a really dear friend. So I was trying to process this. Until you lose your first friend, death isn’t really that real. It was becoming more real, so I had to start asking myself a lot of questions about life and why I’m here. You know, whats it all about, Alfie? (laughter). But anyway
But I-you know-my brother writes plays and I write songs and people around us say, be careful what you say around Jill and Scott. It gonna show up in a song or a play.
And it does. People will say something and it just sparks me, and sometimes I’m like, you know, its three in the morning and I get this- I wake up and I have this idea and I’m like-seriously? I’m gonna have to write this songs now? And I resist but I don’t know how many songs I never wrote because I resisted it. I don’t resist anymore.
You’ve been incredibly prolific. like you have, what? Thirty albums?
I do, yeah…
Nobody has thirty albums! I don’t think the Rolling Stones have thirty albums. They’ve been around since the sixties.
Yeah, and ask me how many of them I’ve sold. (laughter). You don’t sell albums anymore.
Oh, gosh. Because of Spotify and all the streaming services…
Streaming? I just got my quarterly royalties and it was like five dollars and twenty cents or something. And that’s a lot!
I put one album on… through CD Baby and they put your music on all the platforms and that was probably ten years ago. And I finally got an accounting for ten yours worth of it and I got eighteen dollars.
Yeah. No. I’m not surprised.
Ha ha. It depends on who you are…
For me, at least, its not about the money. And thats why I worked on the side, you know. I could do what I wanted and not be accountable to anybody. I could do it the way I wanted to.
Do you sell albums or songs on Broadjam?
Yeah, Sometimes my songs are sold on there, but what I like about Broadjam is it gives you an opportunity to put your song up for people who are looking for song about something. So that’s why I joined Broadjam. And thats how I got on Women Of Substance radio. I have about fifty of my songs on there. I found them through Broadjam.
Is that something that is on Sirius Radio or internet?
Internet, yeah. Women of Substance radio.
So they play your stuff. Do they pay you royalties?
Uh, no. But it gets your name out there and your song out there and I know I’ve gotten sales because of it. But I’m not getting royalties off the actual station.
It’s not really fair to me how things are working. I had a song called What Kind Of Fool Do You Think I Am and would see it on Youtube. One day, I just went-you know? In my (royalty) statements, I’ve never seen any revenue from Youtube. So I called up ASCAP and I said, look, Youtube is using this song of mine and I’m not seeing any money. Why? And this guy said, I know. Let me go check. And he comes back and he says, well, Youtube doesn’t start to pay any royalties until 250,000 streams.
That’s not right,
So that means that everything under that amount, they are using for free. Free intellectual property.
I do get royalties from Youtube. Maybe they’ve changed it now or something? because I know I don’t have 250,000. But its like .001 cent.
Are you monetizing with ads on your site?
Great question. A lot of my songs are on Youtube but I don’t have a lot of videos on Youtube. I have maybe five.
You have 30 albums and you’ll probably have 40 or 50 before you’re done.
I actually have about five that are ready to go, but what I wait for is the artwork, plus I don’t want to put one out, you know, every week.
You’ve have five albums ready to go?
I do…I know. It’s kind of an addiction, but it’s a good addiction. Right?
Its too bad that you didn’t grow up in the ear of the Brill Building, when songwriters could earn a living being songwriters.
I know. One of the producers that I work with in Las Vegas has made his living doing this all these years. His name is Tommy Moralda and he’s made a living writing songs and recording and stuff.
I guess if you get connected to enough things and you know what people are looking
for…And you are able to write it
Able to write in that way…like you were saying you can write from an assignment.
I can. But like I said, my brother and I, we’ll do musicals, so he’ll say I’m looking for a song about this. And i will sit around and go hmmm, and I can put it together but typically, I don’t write that way for myself. I am inspired by something and a lot of times, its like I remember I have this-I call it my songwriting couch. And its real comfortable and I’ll sit on it and I’ll just start doodling and a thought will come to me and I’m like, really?
Most recently I was sitting there, playing some sort of lick and it goes (sings) “I boarded a plane at JFK, just cause I had to get away” I’m like WHAT??!! You know, I’m looking around like, what? And that sort of tells you which direction the songs gonna go. What’s this song about and its called “Finding My Happy”. And its just, you know, so I went to the other coast and I found something there, you know, and the song tells you where it is. My son calls me the song catcher. Its like its out there nd you re just grabbing it and pulling it in.
Yeah, that really is the way it is, I think. You know, the songs tell you where they want to go. You can try and bend it to be something, but if it doesn’t want to go that way.
No. And it will sound like you bent it when it shouldn’t have gone that way. It won’t sound as natural
I think the best songs, they just come out in one lump sum.
And its like all there, because it was all one thought at one time. I mean, you didn’t have to sit down and go, what does this line mean?
I never do that. Never. But I remember being in the studio with a producer and we are just talking and I said, why lie? And he looks at me and I look at him and he says, which one of us is gonna write it first? I said I don’t know, but two days later the song was there. You know, why lie? You know, just look me in the eye. Why lie? And it was great because it wrote itself. The idea comes and its all there.
When you talk about grabbing something out of the air, Elizabeth Gilbert did a TED talk about genius and she said, you know, these days people call someone a genius but back in the early greek and Roman times, genius was something you were visited by and it was like you could get visited by the muse and you wrote this piece of music or whatever it was…if it didn’t work out or it wasn’t accepted, it wasn’t totally your fault. Its like this is what came to me. She said there was this poet. She said she’d be out gardening and she would feel the poem coming through the air and she would have to stop what she was doing and she said, I’d get a piece of paper and try to grab it by the tail before it passed me by.
I can believe that, though.
I mean, some things come to you like that.
But think about all the geniuses out there that we don’t even know about. You know, people that write songs and you never hear those songs but they’re—see, now there’s this competition-this TV show-competition for songwriting. And I don’t think songwriting should be a competition. because something will appeal to somebody that doesn’t appeal, and it will hit them that doesn’t hit somebody else.
I agree. Music should never be a competition.
Art should not be a competition, I don’t think.
And one thing I say to my family is what if you are the best tennis player in the world but you never picked up a racquet? And you just don’t know that you are? Or you do it like we kinda do our thing and, you know, maybe somebody will hear it-maybe not. we don’t know
We don’t know
But if it reaches people. I’ve had a few people that said they had to pull over because they were playing my CD. They had to pull over because the song touched them so deeply they started crying-I mean thats what gets you.
Yeah. And thats the thing. That is why art shouldn’t be a competition because great art is self evident.
I remember the first time I heard Yesterday…it just devastated me.
And, Paul McCartney thought he stole that song
I feel that way all the time. Oh, my God-I was walking home from the store, singing something and I’m like, Who’s song is that? Wait. Its mine. But I’m like, did I hear that somewhere else?
I actually tried writing songs that sounded like they’d been around forever and-mixed results. I write in a lot of different song forms. I don’t just do verse/chorus songs.
I’ll do a refrain song, like Georgia On My Mind. I like that form a lot too. And there’s some that are just AAA, you know?
My son, Sean Phillips, is a singer/songwriter. Amazing, really. He came out with a first album and he’s a lot more studious about it than I am. I’m sort of like, Ok I’m just going to go out with it, but he will spend time. Like figure it out, what works and this and that. I admire that. Now my daughter, Emily, is an awesome singer as well. I mean, she really kicks (my you know what)! She’s a really awesome singer. So I came up with an album where I could get the two of them to sing with me. And sometimes I will get them to sing on one of my originals as well.
That’s great. I’ve done that with my kids too.
Yeah. And its a great feeling. And then one Mother’s Day, a couple of years ago, my daughter came out to Las Vegas-that’s where my son and I live. She just came out and he say’s I’ll pick her up from the airport because I want to stop off and do something. They show up, its the day after Mother’s day, They had me this CD. They go, Happy Mother’s Day-a song that he had written that the two of them sang. It’s called “Because Of You”. Its amazing! It’s beautiful! And that’s what I get! Isn’t it awesome?
You know, I was kinda like you. I would write the songs and I just kind of instinctively know how structure was supposed to be. Then I bought this book called “The Craft Of Lyric writing” by Shelia Davis and she goes through all the different song forms, and why they work and little rules you can use to make them work the right way. Then I went back and listened to some of the songs I had written before I read the book and I was surprised by….
How much you followed that?
Yeah-how much my songs followed that and they fell into different song forms
But you didn’t know that.
I didn’t know that, but now that I know it, by rote, so to speak-when I’m writing a song, I’ll start to know-it will inform me what its structure wants to be.
I have to say that when I’m writing something, there’s times when I’m writing something and-I’ve never read a book about songwriting. Never studied it.
Well, it hasn’t hurt you any!
No…well I think a lot of it was listening to music all the time when I was a kid.
In any kind of writing, there are conventions that get used over and over.
Yeah, there are. I find myself using chord progressions over and over
Well, there’s only so many.
But when you are telling a story, there’s a way to tell a story that grabs people’s interest. In song, I’ve always been told the first line is incredibly important
It probably is
You’ve got to get somebody’s attention right there.
See-its interesting talking to you because I don’t even think about this stuff. (Laughter)
Mac McAnnaly had this song and the opening line was, “Barney came to the gossip bench, said I barbecued a dog, on a tractor axle yesterday down at the dump yard
I’m really fortune because for the last ten years I’ve worked with a producer in California. His name is Bill Bentley, and he can play any instrument and does. He takes my song and I’ll just go in and sing and he’ll go, OK. I hear it as la da da da. You know, I didn’t hear it like that. Whatever. But that’s why I have a producer because I write the songs but I’m not-
So what do you do? Do you give him a piano or guitar and voice demo and then he makes a track and you come back and sing it?
I sit there. he’s sitting across from me. We record with just me playing git on the guitar or piano and then he takes it from there.
Does he build a track around what you did or does he redo?
We redo. Occasionally we don’t. A couple of times he’ll say lets keep it just the way it is. I have a song called “Bozos On This Bus”-one of the most fun songs I ever wrote and he said I don’t want to do anything to it. I just want you to play guitar on it.
I’ve forgotten how to write fun songs. How do you do that?
See, I don’t have a lot of control over it! Its like whatever shows up in my head. And I remember writing it and this friend was listening to it and went-that’s a stupid song. Why would you write that? But it gets so many hits because of bozos on this bus-that was a Firesign Theater record.
I’ve probably written a few funny songs but they are more like sarcastic humor than anything. I wrote a song called TV Preacher with Gary (Griffin) and it was about this guy that had this dream that he became a TV preacher and he’s like shouting fire and brimstone and all this stuff, and the Lord comes back to him and says, listen. You got this whole thing wrong. You’re making me look incredibly phony. Then I had another one during the Iraq War kind of in the style of Randy Newman. It was about this guy that couldn’t wait to turn on his TV and get his popcorn and his diet Coke and watch the invasion. And its kinda sick.
I know, and here’s what I tell my children when they are appalled at things I write sometimes, I will say I don’t have control over it. I mean its not like I’m sitting down saying I’m gonna write-you know, I mean sometimes stuff comes into your brain and you are like, OK. I wrote a song for the first musical my brother and I did. The musical is called Paris On The Brain. And the song is called We Put The Fun In Dysfunctional. And its true stories about my family. There’s a verse about our dad, you know, I’m getting this call in the middle of the night-the car is upside down on the rock in the of the field you know! And that’s exactly what i heard him say! And then I was talking with another brother and I say, you know, theres this guy I see everywhere I go and I feel like he’s stalking me or something, but he has this walker. So you know I have to write a song called “Stalker With A Walker”
And then my other brother and I created a whole musical around that. Its called Old Folks At Home. And its all about this guy in an old folks home who thinks he’s a rock star and he’s always stalking these women. One of them actually takes him up on it and he goes, Oh, my God! Its been ten years since anybody even said yes. You know, I don’t even know what to do.
See-now that’s what I call thematic. I’ve done things where I wrote one song and I kinda went, this is a piece of a bigger story. And then I would think about other aspects that fit into that theme. That’s how the Roswell Road record happened for me and it was like, oh yeah! And it ended up being a real cathartic thing writing these songs.
It is! And I’ve said over and over that I don’t know where this comes from, but I remember telling my brother-we were standing in an elevator-and I said stalker with a walker. A guy in the elevator just bursts out laughing-stalker with a walker-and we knew—that’s gotta be a song.
Was that on one of these CD’s?
Not one that I gave you but you can find it on Youtube or Broadjam. A dysfunctional song. We put the fun…
Its funny. What is this muse? Where does it come from? Its like a mystery, up know? You are capturing all this stuff, and, like you say, you’re not really in control of it. You’re just the medium.
The vessel. I’m the channel it comes through. That;s how I look at it, and every time that inspiration comes to me, I’m so grateful and I just say thank you so much.
When you said that you didn’t write for ten years, after your daughter passed…
Yes. I didn’t think I’d write again.
Did that channel close? Did that door close?
Yeah. I actually didn’t sing or perform or anything for ten years. I finished my education and I took a regular job and I thought I was done. Because I couldn’t evoke the emotion that I needed to be able to sing. I sort of shut down.
Your heart was shut down because of grief.
And so, a decade later, somebody came over to my house and he wanted to write song with me. I sat down and we tied it and I said I can’t of this. When he left, I started writing a song. (laughter), and its called ‘I’m Coming Home” and I just let myself go. I let myself fall, and i just let it all go. And then the songs started pouring out. So ten years I’be been working with Mr. Bentley out in California and then years of being in the studio as much as I can get him to show up and be there with me.
What does Mr. Bentley get out of this process?
I think what he appreciates is that I do let him take over and do what he does best. I’m ever so grateful for that. A lot of times, people will come into a studio with a fixed idea of what they want, and he’s just the engineer, but he’s really a producer and arranger.
So this taps into his creativity
It does. Oh-I’m so lucky to have found him. And now he’s doing film and things like that too.
Hopefully he will get some of your songs into some films
Well, yeah! I hope so.
There is this service called TAXI, which you are probably familiar with.
Sure, sure. Broadjam is like TAXI.
And they send out things-its like, we are looking for something that sounds like, you know, Linda Ronstadt. But, that’s what they think they want , but then you make something like that and they’ll say “It sounds too much like Linda Ronstadt!”
Right. Or its not current enough, or its not this enough or that enough. I’ve had that too.
I don’t know!
The music business seems like it has splintered off into so many micro elements…
I think with the advent of keyboards and all that and doing it yourself, there is a certain sound that is a sameness at times, cause if you get in the studio with real musicians—we were talking earlier about bands and the dynamic when everybody is playing at the same time.
That’s why I have all these different instruments, you know-dobro, a mandolin, acoustic guitars—I used to have a banjo and I’ve got different synthesizers and keyboards. Its like I want to have a big palette of colors. Some songs, I really want them to be in that whole acoustic vibe and other songs I want bass and drums and electric guitars. The song will kind of tell you.
I had this song as I was walking back from the store one day, cause where I live in Vegas, I can just walk to the grocery. Walking across the street, this guy stops his car. I’m looking around because I’ve watched too many forensic files in my life and I’m thinking, oh gosh. And he leans over and he goes, you know, he made some comment about my looks or something. he goes, are you attached? I’m like, no…I ended up going home and my son calls later. I go, hey-I had this guy, it was kind of flattering snd he goes, its kind of creepy. And so I wrote this song called “Creepy Flattery.” And it was sort of like, “I’m walking along minding my own business, when a stranger came up to me. It was the whole dynamic. And it was sort of a rap. But I never write rap. For the latest musical-the Burr musical-
I heard that opening cut.
Right. You can call me Al.
Its got like an 808 drum machine…
It does. It does! But I said, you know my brother said he wanted to parody the Hamilton musical with all the raps. So we opened it up with Alexander Hamilton rapping “You Can Call Me Al”.
Rapping about how his pictures still gonna be on the ten dollar bill