The 2020 album by Zach Phillips, The Wine Of Youth made quite a favorable impression on eager ears and in 2022, he follows it up with Goddaughters. As was the case on The Wine Of Youth, the new album is a co-venture between Zach and co-producer / multi-instrumentalist Gregg Montante and they are joined by Bobby Cressey on keyboards.Compared with The Wine Of Youth, the 12-track, 41-minute Goddaughters rocks even harder than before; its emphasis on choice pop music influences are distilled into a truly contemporary Americana rock album. In fact, there’s a new energy here coupled with a more focused sound.
One could easily cite the 1960s folk-rock phenomenon and Goddaughters sounds equally inspired by early 1990s Roger McGuinn and Marshall Crenshaw meets Tom Petty circa 1988. As a guitarist, lead vocalist and main composer, Zach is firing on all cylinders here and the drumming, bass, guitars and more from Gregg Montante sounds totally in sync with Zach’s sonic plans. An album that improves with repeated spins, Goddaughters features mind-blowing artwork which really catches the eye.
Track highlights are as numerous as the tracks themselves, including the lead off track, a short but sweet instrumental overture of that soon breaks into the album’s centerpiece track called “Worshippers”. A curious, secular themed song that compares humans to ‘worshippers’, those devoted to their mission in life; not just music and for the most part is non-religious. Key to the sound of “Worshippers” is its breathtaking melody and expert musicianship. Whatever message you take away from this track, its majestic imprint is undeniable.
“Worshippers” leads us into track three called “New Star”. Zach has been compared to a “rock poet” and on this track he really lives up to that depiction. In fact, these first three tracks taken as a whole, form a kind of uber-meaningful rock suite that you will find yourself going back to time and again.
While just singling out the first three tracks as a superb intro, the entire album sizzles with a solid rock energy and the expert musicianship by Zach, Gregg Montante and Bobby Cressey is first rate throughout the entire Goddaughters album. Things slow down a bit on the title track, yet the song “Goddaughters” still retains a magical glow fortified by unforgettable lyrics.
The album reaches its zenith on “Courtesy Of A True God”, a praiseworthy song that speaks of survival and seeking God-like fortification in these times of troubles on turbulent seas. Featuring rock-solid rock tracks to deeper introspective insights on how to make it through tough times, Goddaughters is a pivotal point moment in the career of Zach Phillips.
mwe3.com presents an interview with
mwe3: Goddaughters picks up from where The Wine Of Youth left off. Are the two albums inter-related? Even the cover art is similarly effective. Did you seek some change of direction on Goddaughters?
Zach Phillips: The two albums are definitely interrelated. Goddaughters is a companion piece and dark sister to The Wine of Youth. They have a lot of similarities and some noticeable differences. For instance, The Wine Of Youth is loose and folksy; Goddaughters is tight and spacey. As you observed, that’s also reflected in the cover art for both albums.
The direction of Goddaughters was inspired by several threads from The Wine Of Youth that were unexplored — musically, lyrically and texturally. That, and the impact of the pandemic, informed the music.
mwe3: Like The Wine Of Youth, the Goddaughters album starts off with a short but sweet, atmospheric instrumental. As an opening track, “Cassiopeia” is very effective, tell us about the meaning of the title and its blast into “Worshippers”. Talk about shock value! Also a second version closes the album.
Zach Phillips: In mythology, “Cassiopeia” is truly great but suffers from hubris, which leads to a downfall. During the pandemic, I’d hoped we would transmute tragedy into wisdom by embracing humility, along with a shared sense of solidarity. That was my wish as I wrote the album. That feeling inspired the track, which serves as an informal overture to “Goddaughters.” At least that’s how I hear it.
The track reprises at the end with “Cassiopeia In The Stars.” And coupled with the second to last track, “Ocean Of Song,” it suggests to the listener that we’ve transcended the previous life as the song fades away. I hoped it ended with a sense of understanding and closure.
mwe3: Is “Worshippers” a song of faith and those lucky enough to devote themselves to survival without giving into defeat? What about the part about 'the earth is cold, the earth is hot’? Sounds like a religious title but it’s very universal in its message. Acceptance of life no matter what or how bad it gets?
Zach Phillips: That’s a good question. I’ve heard different interpretations of that song. Yours makes a lot of sense, and I think it rings true.
“Worshipers” for me is ultimately about living in the moment. It’s a statement of purpose for the album. “Worshipers don’t stand still ‘til the end / The end’s already come.”
The lyrics in the bridge that you referenced are about emotions that can overwhelm and remove us from the moment. Sometimes, the world is too hot, cold, harsh, dark, and throws a lot in our direction. Wouldn’t it be great to still maintain our equilibrium no matter what?
mwe3: As great as “Worshipers” is, “New Star” is equally effective. Is it about birth or rebirth? Armed with only words and no other way to fight back? It’d be nice if it was about a star in the galaxies but maybe we’re all stars in the constellations trying to stay in orbit without crashing and burning.
Zach Phillips: Thank you, Robert, and again, I think that’s a beautiful read of the song. I’ll say first that Goddaughters is sort of a concept album. The emotional narrative of the album is about going from darkness to understanding. Finding a shared sense of solidarity by embracing what connects us all. It’s a theme of the pandemic, I suppose — at least for me.
In a sense, “Cassiopeia” and “Worshipers” are the album’s overture, and the narrative begins with “New Star”. The singer is left to the darkness, despite all the seemingly miraculous phenomena unwinding and manifesting everywhere — be it new life, new energy. The singer is stripped bare, armed with little and left to roam and seek. It’s not sad per se. It’s the human condition, and it’s where we all begin.
mwe3: Goddaughters your most rocking album yet. I say that because that’s what it sounds like on the track “Harmony Grove”. Is it a real place? The lyrics sound Dylan-esque. Tell us about the guitar sound on that track. Is “Harmony Grove” about reaching the end of the line?
Zach Phillips: “Harmony Grove” is a real place outside of San Diego. I hike there often, and in late afternoon, when the sun shifts, the hills cast some pretty dark shadows. To me, it seemed like the ideal metaphor for a song about the trappings of love and lust. It’s even in the name, which sounds like someplace alluring, even mystical, but not always what it seems. As a side note, local legend has it that the area is haunted.
mwe3: Is “Psychics” a kind of social commentary? Do you follow astrology? I have never been to a psychic but I have studied some astrological phenomena. Interesting you mention L.A. in the lyrics. Plus the part that says you’re not afraid of “Kingdom Come”; talk about bravery during hard times.
Zach Phillips: It’s a good question. Oddly enough, to me, “Psychics” isn’t about psychics per se. In fact, I’m fascinated and humbled by what we don’t know about the human brain and our potential. There’s so much left to explore.
In a way, “Psychics” is the most fictional song on the album. I read it as a somewhat fantastical, romantic conversation between a person and a loved one. The singer’s essentially saying, “Even if the world’s ending tomorrow, I hope I spend my final days with you.” I was trying to make it a little sweet, a little funny. At the end, I picture the couple on a California beach watching the sunset, even though they’re hearing that the world’s coming to an end. Again … embracing the moment.
mwe3: Was the title track “Goddaughters” written for someone you know? Is there a metaphor in that song? Is it about living for the children and passing the flame to another generation?
Zach Phillips: I like that read on it. “Goddaughters” basically asks, “Am I leaving the kind of imprint on the world that I can be okay with?” I would also say that legacy is a sub-theme of this album, and you might hear it in that song. “Goddaughters” wasn’t written for anyone in particular. I intended it to be universal.
mwe3: Tell us about working with Gregg Montante again, first with Gregg on The Wine Of Youth and now in 2022 with Goddaughters. How much of the guitar work was Gregg and how much did you play guitars? How would you contrast your guitar styles with Gregg’s playing? Tell us what guitars you and Gregg played on Goddaughters and tell us more about Gregg and what he contributes to the new album.
Zach Phillips: He’s a magnificent guitar player, producer and arranger. He covered all the parts that have that gauzy slide guitar sound on the album. You hear it on “Curses.” The guitar lead during the outro section of that song is him, after the band drops out. Same with those fluid lead lines on the second verse. On the other hand, I play the choppier lead guitar parts on that song and throughout the album. For instance, I play the lead between the verses on that track.
Then, there are a few songs, like the title track, “Goddaughters,” where we’re either doubling each other or playing complementary parts, like on the solo or with the atmospheric guitars in the background. That’s both of us.
mwe3: That guitar sound on Goddaughters is quite apparent on “Courtesy Of A True God”. Are you leaning on God on that song?
Zach Phillips: That’s another example of point-counterpoint with the guitars. Gregg plays the fluid lead guitar lines on that track. I play the solo. You can hear the complementary approaches.
I think that song is basically a plea for truth and surrender, somewhat like the album’s title track. And at the same time, it acknowledges the complexity of the search for truth and understanding. For instance, why do darkness and light often walk side by side? Why can the search feel so solitary? And still, I’m saying that it’s a path worth taking.
mwe3: Tell us more about what you are planning for 2023 and how do you think it will be different from 2022?
Zach Phillips: Right now, I’m writing songs for the next album. The current plan is for the album to be more minimalist. Goddaughters and The Wine Of Youth were elaborate albums from an arrangement standpoint because the songs called for it. Now, I’m challenging myself to try something different. It’s still early. We’ll see how it evolves.
Worshipers don’t only go out on Sundays
Worshipers, alone in the parade
They sing a sad refrain,
With joy in their hearts, they wait
Worshipers, they make the most of Mondays, in case Tuesdays never break
Worshipers, they make for strange companions
Worshipers, they’re loneliest by day
They set a lonesome sail, The world it whines and wails
Worshipers, they make the most of words
’Cause the words they have could fail
The earth is cold The earth is hot...
Worshipers don’t wait for the darkest moments
Worshipers, they know they’ve seen enough
The day it’s never done, The world it can’t be won
Worshipers don’t stand still ’til the end, The end’s already come
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