Track x Track: Charlie Phllps – Pendulum

A few weeks back, Impose Magazine brought you the premiere of Brooklyn-based artist Charlie Phllps single “Memory.” The track is off of his just released LP, Pendulum, which Phllps is now breaking down for us track by track.

Get the full picture on the album and be sure to stream/save Pendulum below.

“Stay In The Moment” started as a very simple realization of struggling to stay present, struggling to stay fully engaged. What would it be like to change that for someone or something – to call yourself out. On the record its a huge track, theres a lot of little guitars and keys playing little rhythmic parts, but at the core its about that hook “I’M GONNA WAKE UP, I’M GONNA STAY IN THE MOMENT”. It’s a blue-rock song really. It’s all about the call and response, and the groove. There is a very particular swing thats happening from importing the original guitar part from tape – there’s a flux. Drummer John Morgan Kimock came into the studio and laid down the thickness on top of it. Spencer Murphy opens the track on this wild overblown 70s Hammond B3 organ. It’s one of the first tracks we cut for the record and it set the tone for what would follow.

Probably my favorite song on the record, “Shadowboxer” is a groove. We used a combination of programming, live instruments, and a tape machine to develop a very shifty feel. It comes early in the record, but it’s the hero’s comeback moment in the movie; it feels like someone shadowboxing in slow-motion under a streetlamp, chalking everything up to practice for number one.

From Charlie (primary artist)
“Little Red Light was written from a place of fear – a very physical fear of losing someone close to you; the fear of abduction. It was summer the summer of 2015 in New York City, and people were out in the streets protesting – protesting that fear of losing someone from senseless actions, protesting police brutality. I was at Electric Lady Studio studios on West 8th Street, home to Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Wonder, D’Angelo. I was sitting on the floor of the live room, listening to the silence of the room, listening for ghosts, and waiting on Phil Joly to finish up a mix in the other room. I sat for awhile at the feet of this old Fender-style Musicman tube amp – this little red light on the guitar amplifier kept blinking on and off at me – it looked like a UFO. It looked like a damn police siren.

There’s such innocence in that opening line of the song, “We were sitting in my room; we hadn’t gotten far. We picked a movie to watch about a car”, it reads like a 1960s sci-fi movie. The track represents growth as a musician for me, and a faith and trust in my producers. It started as this kind of 1960s R&B backbeat thing on a stratocaster, and grew into something totally different. The vocal is the original scratch vocal I cut in the closet of my apartment. I love that. There are tons of quirky piano samples, and 808 sounds, but dig that gnarly bassline Spencer is ripping. It’s all fuzzed out and I love that energy – it’s the driving force of the track.”

From Phil Joly (Producer, Engineer, Mixer):
“Little Red Light” is a song that Charlie wrote first as a guitar and vocal thread in off hours at Electric Lady. I think he came to visit me after we had both finished working for the day, and picked up a house guitar while I was finishing something up in the control room.

Spencer came up with this wild tom and drum sequence one day, which we manipulated in all types of ways. This song went through many different variations, with Moog Rogue bass line, and heavily electronic drum programming in some variations, almost like a dance track. In the end, we cut almost everything out of the track, recorded Mike Gordon playing live drums at Black Lodge, and Spencer replaced the keyboard bass at the last minute with a crazy blown up sound we pulled out of a bunch of overdriven gear on a fretless electric bass. We kept the first lead vocal charlie sang as a scratch, because it had the energy.

From Spencer Murphy (Producer, Bassist):
“Using a palette inspired by what was happening in the cutting edge of hip hop at the time, we re-arranged Charlie’s song into a pastiche of vocal processing and warped sound effects that reminds one of Peter Gabriel’s more explorative works.”

“Memory” is a brooding, existential pop-track. When you’re at your lowest point in life, confused and down in a ditch, can you walk out of the fire? Can you find something worthwhile in the lows, and not just the highs. What are we really searching for besides just a memory? The track was originally recorded as a Police-esque reggae track, we sat on it for a minute and decided to throw it all away. I came back to the studio one night and Phil and Spencer had built the throbbing low end drum track. Inspired by the late-great New York City blues/rock icon, Chris Whitley, I decided to do the unexpected and put a big steel resonator guitar on the track. We were to borrow a 1929 National Duolian from a guitar shop in the East Village, a guitar that may have even belonged to Whitley at one point, and cut the guitars in my tiny Park Slope kitchen – one of my favorite moments making the record. I love the rub of this super harmonic, pre-war instrument and these massive trap drums, with super dry vocals on top.

“Pendulum” was maybe the third song I wrote for the record. It was a breakthrough lyric for me because I felt like I stopped writing lyrics, and just started being honest. I can be a very reserved person, but once that lyrical and emotional openness was established, I tried to set that as the standard for all my writing moving forward. I’ll write something down and if it sounds like just songwriting, I’ll call bullshit and throw it out. I want honesty and I want groove.

With “Pendulum”, it’s a very intimate. It’s about two people showing each other their flaws, looking for that unconditional love. It’s that moment where you’re sitting on the edge of the bed tugging your hair and wondering, “are you doing this just to mess with me?”. And maybe you are, damn I love you and you’re still my rock.

If messing with me is all you know
you’ve got my swaying in a little row
and while you were over-thinking time
you were always my Pendulum

(from Phil Joly, producer, engineer, mixer)
Glass was created via edits to a live band take played by Mike Gordon, Spencer Murphy, and Charlie. We took loops for most of the song to give the verses a clean but sampled feel. Spencer’s baseline accentuates this, and makes for a blend between sampled, and live, as we left a few sections of live playing intact to build dynamics. Charlie’s layered, cloudy vocal approach here is also a new direction for him as a singer and gives the song its own character within the structure of the album.

“Nothing” is a ballad about commitment. It’s a very heartfelt moment and for as simple as the lyrics sound, it took me two years to get those words exactly right.

Wouldn’t it be the saddest line
grocery shopping all the time
can’t say I haven’t thought it through
holding an empty basket
just thinking of you

“Cotton Sweetheart” made the record because I love performing the song so much live. We do it quite a bit different on the record, it’s very parred down. Double-tracked big dreadnaught guitars for this Lindsey Buckingham kind of thing. There’s some backwards drums in the and a drum machine.