Six years ago I had some songs, a sound in my head, and a few cowboy chords. I still don’t know how I convinced Jonathan to move his family up from Virginia to start this thing! The memories we’ve made, and the friends we’ve met across the US is more than a lot of bands ever get the chance to experience. Before Jonathan and I started Phillip Fox Band, there was a lot I didn’t understand about the music business (hell, there was a lot I didn’t understand about music). I didn’t understand why my favorite bands would break up, how rare it was to find a band that could last a decade, or how hard it actually is to just keep your head above water as a musician. It all looks so easy on “Before They were Stars” and “American Idol”, right? So I want to spend some time in this letter addressing why PFB is disbanding, not because I’m upset about it or because I feel cheated (the opposite, in fact) but because you’re probably asking “Why?!” just like I used to, and I want to give an actual answer. I also want to combat the “10 minutes of struggle, lifetime of fame” story arch that has been pounded into our brains from rock documentaries and TV shows alike. Because to be honest, y’all, that’s horseshit and it’s not helpful. For anyone.
But before we get into that I want to say that this was a long, hard decision for all of us and our families. We all invested so much time, energy, soul, sweat, blood, and tears into PFB and we really did have a very rare and very special musical synergy. We didn’t take any of that lightly, and we aren’t disbanding due to bad blood or emotions. After months of thinking, praying, talking, researching, and soul-searching, we all agreed individually and as a band that disbanding was really the only good option for everyone involved. It made it slightly easier to swallow knowing that we were all in agreement and all on good terms - but only slightly.
We honestly should have made this announcement sooner. We cancelled some shows, we cleared our calendar, and we’ve been silent. Though it was the right decision, making it was one of the hardest things I’ve done in my life and it was just too painful to talk about all at once. I needed time to grieve and to process and to just get some damn rest. I feel like I’m moving toward wholeness and it feels good.
One of the questions I get every time I’ve broken the news to somebody is “what are you going to do now?” And I get it. There is a part of me that wants to know too, but there’s another part of me that feels like someone I loved just died and I’m not in any shape to replace them yet. In time I will be, but there’s not an app to tell you when your heart is mended and grief can be a “two-steps-forward, one-step-backward” experience and I want to give myself and my family as much time as we need. I’m saying this as much for my own sake as for anyone else’s. I naturally like to be busy, I’m learning how to like resting.
So for those who are interested in the nuts and bolts of “why”, feel free to read on. If you do stop here, we’ll keep you posted as we know more about where Jonathan and I will be making music next.
I really want to strip away the “rock star” image the 70’s and 80’s gave us of musicians. For most of the full-time musicians out there, the “job” looks and feels very similar to a trade or “blue-collar” career (carpenter, electrician, mechanic, etc.). It’s very physical, and requires expensive, specialized equipment, and years of “on the job” training. For Phillip Fox Band nearly every show was a 12-16 hour physical commitment of loading gear, driving, fixing gear, and for a small percentage of the time – making music. Being a traveling musician can add the detachment and isolation costs of somewhere in between an off-shore rigger and a deployed soldier. Unlike any of those careers, though, as a musician there is no minimum expectation of income from putting ten years in on the job. This is especially true for those who write their own music. To play it is treated like a privilege and one that most artists pay heavily for.
Whether you realize it or not, nearly all “successful” bands you’ve heard of have borrowed big money just like any other startup business would. From conversations I’ve had, it takes from $100,000 to $1,000,000 to establish a band. We were fortunate in that we were able to fund, through our touring income and the generous support of our fans, two albums independently, and by that I mean we didn’t borrow a cent. We reinvested much of our income and owned our van, our trailer, our sound system, and some recording equipment. There comes a point, though, with a band (as with any business) when you need to “level up” so to speak. Equipment ages (getting stranded on the side of the road states away from home is an adventure the first time, by the third time it’s something else), families grow, and you need to keep putting out music. Last year we realized we had some big decisions to make. We looked at every possible scenario of keeping PFB alive, but when it came down to it, we really didn’t have the momentum of support (both from a large enough fan base and from the industry) to justify borrowing the kind of investment capital it would have taken to simply stay mobile and gigging and put out new music. And the toll of being on the road wasn’t helping the matter. I’m not saying we didn’t have any support. We have some amazing fans that travel states to watch us play, but we had to embrace the reality that we were a niche band, a very niche band, the kind of niche band I love, but niche none the less – and not as “commercial” (that’s industry speak for “easy to sell”) as we would have needed to be. We did consider what it would look like to be more commercial, and honestly that would have just been a completely different band and it wasn’t something we were interested in.
For the latter half of 2016, we slowed our gigging schedule and focused on writing which was incredibly fun. If there’s a disservice anywhere in this, it’s that we have nearly an album worth of material that who knows what will happen to. If we could have gone the Beatles route and just been a studio band we would have jumped at the opportunity. However, the reality of music today is that no artists make their money back from recording. Records are considered marketing expenses for your live show and merch. We spent over $30,000 recording, printing, and releasing Heartland. We still get quarterly checks from Spotify for $2.27. We placed songs with licensing libraries, hoping to land a commercial, movie, or TV placement, but we just don’t sound enough like anyone else to get a request. A typical ad might read: “mid-tempo blues-rock song with the words ‘home’ or ‘away’ in the vein of Black Keys sung by a female lead. Can’t have specific location or name references”. You can see why our songs never came up in the database searches.
In short, every band you’ve ever heard of had a “break”. We tried lots of things in our six years as Phillip Fox Band, but never found our place to break through. And while we didn’t try everything, we tried all the stuff that didn’t require a quarter of a million dollars. At some point you just have to look at what you were able to do and know you did all you could. We got to play around 600 concerts all over the US, we made two high-quality albums, we were a ridiculously tight band, and we got to make the music we wanted. That’s not a bad run. And while it might be the end for Phillip Fox Band, it’s not the end for Phillip Fox or the Band. There’s plenty of music to still be made and I’m starting to get excited again about making it!
Thanks for al your support over the years. We'll keep you posted on the future.