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Chingawassa Days festival headliner talks music, life, and new projects

Staff writer

It should come as no surprise that music and life are intertwined for singer-songwriter and pianist Phil Vassar, headliner for this weekend’s Chingawassa Days.

“Things are busy,” Vassar said. “We’re touring a lot, but right now I’m just sitting on the porch, drinking coffee before we go and cut some more tracks for our new album.”

Vassar’s band will likely play some of those new songs Saturday. However, he is not sure where they might appear in the set. His band doesn’t have a set list for performances. He said it helps spike shows with spontaneous energy.

“A lot of times I see bands play the same show, same set, with the same head-bob in the same spot on the stage,” Vassar said, “but that’s no fun. It’s like they’re robots.

“When we’re on stage we’re just like, ‘let’s do so-and-so,’ we’re just winging it y’ know, it’s a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants sort of show, and sometimes there’s a train wreck but that’s what makes it exciting.”

Vassar likes to work the crowd by asking audience members to tweet song requests to a screen on stage.

“We take requests from all my albums, new songs we’re working on, cover songs and everything,” he said. “We’ve done some AC/DC, Billy Joel, and Miley Cyrus in the past. It keeps it spontaneous and makes for a fun atmosphere. We just want to entertain.”

Audience members should anticipate comic relief, too.

“Expect a lot of nudity, “Vassar said and laughed. “Sorry, I’m just joking. I’ve had too much coffee today. We just let it flow and have a good time.”

Some of Vassar’s signature songs include 10 No. 1 singles and 26 Top 40 hits, including “Carlene,” “Just Another Day in Paradise,” “Six-Pack Summer,” and “That’s When I Love You.”

Vassar also wrote a number of songs performed by Collin Raye, Alan Jackson, Tim McGraw, Jo Dee Messina, and BlackHawk.

With influences like Willie Nelson, Earth, Wind and Fire, the Beatles, Merle Haggard, Billy Joel, the Eagles, and Elton John, Vassar said he doesn’t shy away from experimentation while writing.

“I’m a child of rock ‘n’ roll, pop, and country,” he said. “I’m not that ‘Just Another Day In Paradise’ guy. That song was 15 years ago. I’m at the point in my life where I just want to make music.

“My band is from such diverse backgrounds. Some of the stuff I can’t imagine me recording. Some of it is so far out there. It’s more experimental — I mean, we wrote a rap song.”

No matter if he is writing for or with another artist, or writing for himself, he said he always just “does his thing,” writes for himself, and sometimes people want to play his music.

“Music changes and evolves,” he said. “It will always be that way. It’s part of life and culture, but I’ve had enough of those ‘sitting in my truck drinking my beer’ songs. I want somebody to dazzle me.”

Vassar is astounded by an eclectic mix of bands that don’t fall within the country genre.

“Queen dazzles me,” he said. “Nobody beats Queen. Freddie Mercury was a freak show. He was just the best. If you’re going to rock, you’ve got to really rock, and Queen rocked. David Bowie is a badass, too. I’m a Bowie freak.”

While traveling with his 17-year-old daughter, he cut some tracks for a previous album in Switzerland, where Queen and Bowie recorded the massively popular classic hit “Under Pressure.”

“My daughter and I swap songs we like,” he said. “She turns me on to a lot of new stuff that’s out there. When I showed her ‘Under Pressure’, her eyes just bugged out, man. She knows good music and absolutely hates crap.”

When he’s not recording or performing, don’t expect to find him fishing.

“I’m an ADD human being, and sitting on a boat or bank for the whole day isn’t really my thing,” he said. “I’m more spastic. Bird hunting isn’t so bad. I’ve got a lot of friends who are hunters, but that’s their thing. I just go to the gym or something.”

He likes to try to stay healthy but does not eat that great all the time. As for beverages, he doesn’t discriminate.

“I’m not a big drinker but I like it all,” Vassar said, “I like to try a lot of different microbrews and things. Craft beer, bourbon, wine. Every time I go to Europe, the beer is so good, and the wine is so good in France. It’s like Napa Valley wine.”

Vassar has another project he’s been working on called “Songs From the Cellar.”

“It’s not out yet, but I’ve got a wine cellar in my house, and we set up chairs down there, and I interview different people,” Vassar said. “I’ve talked to Mike Tyson, Carrot Top, Peter Frampton, Steve Cropper, and Otis Redding. And Kevin Bacon is flying in to do a show. We just hang out and have a conversation, and the stories I get out of these guys just blows me away.”

Vassar said he was excited to play in Kansas again.

“I’ve played in Kansas a million times,” Vassar said. “I love it. We’re going to rock this summer.”

Last modified June 1, 2016

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