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A Chat With: Patrick Damphier

Singer songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer extraordinaire Patrick Damphier is on the brink of releasing his first full length album as a solo artist; Say I’m Pretty, out February 1st via YK Records. With eleven tracks, the debut record takes listeners on a winding journey that combines breezy melodies and jangly guitars with dreamy vocals and pop infrastructure. Featuring collaborations with the likes of Molly Parden, Nicole Atkins, Jessica Lea Mayfield and the late Richard Swift, the album nods to Damphier’s chameleon-like ability to work with an array of artists, while also putting him in the spotlight for the first time. There’s a refreshing and eager energy that threads through each track, but it’s mixed with the touch of a seasoned musician—Damphier has played in The Mynabirds and Paper Rival and makes a living songwriting and producing for other artists.

Ahead of Friday’s release, Damphier took some time to chat with us about the journey behind the record, including his experience with the different collaborations and the stories that inspired the songs. Tune in to our chat below for more!

Photo by Satellite June

Photo by Satellite June

What was your first musical memory either as a fan of music, or when you started creating?

I’d say the Ghostbusters 7” single from my grandmother. I was, I wanna say maybe four years old and I was just absolutely obsessed with that movie and that song and I listened to the b-side, which was the instrumental. I flipped it over and just recorded myself singing the lead onto a cassette tape, like on a boombox. That was my first real creative musical memory.

Nice, that’s a good one! It’s a classic. So you’re about to release your debut album as a solo artist. How are you feeling about the release date being so close and just generally about putting this project out into the world?

Well in general I’m just super excited about it. This particular group of songs has been written for so long that it feels good to just have them out into the world. I’m really the only one who’s heard them for so long. I have a ton of other stuff written, so that’s sort of where my headspace is now. It feels ok to move on, now that these songs are going to be out. Like it wasn’t all for nothing. It felt weird--it almost felt like cheating when I was working on other stuff before, knowing that this was gonna come out. Now that I know it’s coming out, it feels good to move on.

On Say I'm Pretty, you worked with collaborators like Jessica Lea Mayfield, Molly Parden, Nicole Atkins and Richard Swift. What were some highlights from your experience of working with them as songwriters and musicians?

Swift was a really, really good friend of mine for years. I met him in 2010 through The Mynabirds. I was in that band touring, and I worked on the last two records in the studio, fully producing the last one. Working with Richard was great. His contributions were done both in Nashville and in his studio. His stuff was done a couple years back, just in between tours. Just sort of hanging out, like hey we’re bored, do you feel like putting some keys on my stuff? Sure, let me put some drums on your stuff. That kind of thing...That was really, really natural.

The other three artists all lived in Nashville, so that was a lot more planned. Like Jessica, Molly, and Nicole you’re in Nashville, can you show up to my studio at this date, this time and do some vocals for me? That kind of thing. Swift also did the artwork for that 7” that came out for “Under My Door.” He contributed artwork for the inside insert of the 12” vinyl that’s about to come out.

Oh that’s awesome, and I’m so sorry for your loss with Richard.

Thank you, yeah he did a whole, whole lot. He actually contributed these ideas for this about a year and a half ago. It just feels good that it’s gonna come out and people are going to hear it.

Yeah, and his memory lives on with this project. Then as far as your overall contribution with the album…you wrote the songs, recorded and mixed it, so you had your hands in all aspects of it. What would you say was challenging about that, and what was the most rewarding part of being able to wear all these different hats and work on each part of it?

I’d say the most challenging part of it was just the time aspect to it. Because I make a living writing and producing for other artists, so the challenge was sort of finding the time to do all of that. I don’t know, I mean it’s not too different from what I do already. A lot of the work I do with artists is multi-instrumentalist work. Where I’ll work with one artist and I’ll be the band, you know. So it wasn’t all that different from that, except they were my songs and then I had to be the one singing them too. The challenging part was finding the discipline to actually do it.

Going off of that, when you’re working with other artists as a co-writer, producer, or instrumentalist, do you tend to take a different approach when you know it’s your music versus working with somebody else? When you’re writing, do you ever think ‘oh I should keep this for myself,’ or how do you dictate what to keep for yourself or put towards another project?

You know it’s about half and half. There have been things that I’ve written for myself but then I’ll get an opportunity to write with someone else and I’ll be like man, this thing that I wrote with myself in mind a month ago would be perfect for X,Y, or Z artist. Then I’ll bring it to them and see what they think about it. Sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t. I guess more often than not when I write with other people I am writing with their unique, or at least what I perceive to be their artistic take, in mind. My approach to producing and writing is to sort of be a chameleon and serve them. So I can go a few different directions as far as the aesthetic, the arrangements or the production and the final presentation. So to answer your question, it’s super fun doing my thing because it’s all mine. It’s 100 percent my vision, 100 percent what I want to say. I don’t have anyone over my shoulder. It’s how I want to say it, and how I want to present it and I don’t have to keep anyone else in mind.

Cool, so you usually get in a certain mindset before working on a different project, versus working on your own.

Yeah there’s just no limits to it whatsoever. It’s not that I feel limited working with other people. I’m really lucky in that I get to work with artists that I really respect and I’d say that 95% of the time, any ideas that are thrown out, are tried. I tried all sorts of stuff that didn’t get used on that record. That was another thing--I had unlimited time. I just tried all sorts of crazy stuff that I probably wouldn’t have tried on a record that had a time limit to it.

Yeah you get that total creative freedom when you’re on your own schedule.

It definitely yielded some pretty interesting results, in my opinion anyway.

Who would you love to work with who you haven’t already collaborated with, from a writing standpoint or featuring on a song?

I’ve wanted to work with Aaron Lee Tasjan for a long time, but now I’m going back in February. I actually just got this opportunity a couple of weeks ago, so it’s gonna happen. I’m going to do production stuff with him so it’s actually coming true. He and I had written a song together before all of this. I’ve worked with a lot of mutual friends of his over the last few years in Nashville, and I’m really excited to see what comes of that. I’ve wanted to work with him for a couple of years now, so the fact that it’s happening is very exciting to me.

Very cool! So kind of circling back, when you were writing the songs for Say I’m Pretty did you ever look outside to any non-musical art forms like movies or visual art to inspire the lyrics or where you were coming from with certain colors and tones of the songs?

You know, on this record all of the words were written before there was any music. And that’s something I’ll do a lot. I don’t always do that, sometimes the music is first. I think more often than not when it’s just my songs, the words will come first without any sort of music in mind at all. Then when I have the words in a place where I like them, then I’ll start writing music arounds those words. And then it becomes musical. It pretty much starts with, whether it’s a linear idea or not, it just starts with some sort of emotion. I don’t really write in a country music story-telling way, but there’s definitely a thread that you can run through it, with a common emotion. It all starts with that. So on this record in particular it all starts with words, so there wasn’t really any musical inspiration, it’s just where I was at emotionally. I think more often than not, it’s more about instances that happened to people in my life. As opposed to happening directly to me. More just sort of keeping my ears open when someone is telling me about something they’re going through or something that happened to them. Then I guess I would try to take whatever resonating feeling that anyone could relate to and write it down that way. So I’m not getting so specific that this person would know I wrote this about them, but that’s definitely the emotion that expired it all. Like that would have never been written if I didn’t have that conversation with my friend at the bar last Thursday.

Totally, so like a characterization of that story you were told, and you elaborating on it.

Yeah exactly. I’ve definitely done the exercises where you turn on the TV on mute and you write about what you’re seeing. I write all the time, and I like to write just for fun, but as far as this record goes, it’s more about these are very real things that happened to actual friends.

Nice! What would you say is the biggest lesson you’ve learned about yourself from your years of playing music in different projects and touring. Or maybe the best piece of advice you’d give your younger self or someone who’s just starting out?

Just keep doing it. You know. It’s so easy to get jaded and let down. There’s so much rejection and if there’s anything I would say to myself when I was 22 it would be just keep doing it, make the music you want to make. Just keep releasing it. No guarantees that anything is going to “happen” with it, but I think there’s a lot to be said for just continuing to do it. I have no idea where I’m gonna be a year from now, but I’m still gonna be doing this, I know that.

So now you’re based in LA, but coming from Nashville who would you say are some of your favorite artists, outside of the ones that you worked with on this record, based in Nashville? Anyone that we should keep on our radars?

I’m usually really good about this! I probably have 15 people I could say, but now that I have to think of it….I would definitely put Molly Parden on that list, but you’re talking about people I didn’t work with?

It could be people you worked with, or anyone else you’d like to shout out.

Specifically Molly, I’m really excited for her because we just finished mixing a record that she’s gonna put out this year. Nobody’s heard this yet, and I don’t know who is going to put it out, but it’s gonna come out this year. It’s so good and I’m really proud of her for making this record, so I’d like to give her the shout out because I just think it’s a matter of time before the rest of the world catches up with her.

Yeah, we’ve covered some of her shows here. She’s great!

Yeah I just saw her play the other night, and we literally just wrapped up mixing a couple of weeks ago, so that one is super fresh on my mind. There’s someone I’m going to work with, who has played in my band, who I’d like to give a shout out to. Charlie Shea of Charlie and the Evil Mothers. That is a Nashville project.

Then as far as live shows, do you have any plans for some shows or a tour that you can hint at?

I’m definitely going to be playing shows in Los Angeles and Nashville, but I don’t have plans for a tour because I’m still in the process of transitioning to LA and moving the entire recording studio set up out there. So that’s a pretty involved move. If the right opportunity came along for a tour, I would do it, but I’m still sort of geared more towards producing others.

Cool, any other goals or plans for this year besides the studio move and more production work?

Well I’ll be working on more of my own solo stuff this year for sure. That’s a big part of this move for LA. I’ll have more time to dedicate to my thing than I did in Nashville.

There you have it! Preorder Say I’m Pretty and keep up with Patrick Damphier on Facebook + Twitter + Instagram