On the heels of NPR’s tiny desk contest, Bob Boilen (NPR) and Rita Houston (WFUV) invited Phil Pickens and his band the Astronauts to play the legendary Hit Factory in the heart of NYC. NPR Music recalls his sound as “big-hearted” and “rootsy”.
There’s a push-pull in everything Phil Pickens says and doesn’t say, in what he sings and doesn’t sing. “The words I do not say speak louder than I want them to,” he sings in “Fool’s Gold.” Born and raised in Georgia, his crooked smile and royal blue eyes perfectly embody the double edge of kindness and menace in southern hospitality. Pickens has a bracing, expressive voice and a style that blends folk sensibilities and contemporary indie rock.
His upcoming album, Cathedrals, seeks solace in loss. “Re-accounting all the landscapes, the heartaches, and places yet to go,” he sings in Cathedral. To Pickens, each song is its own cathedral – a sacred place to ask questions without easy answers. In “Arizona”, he tries to make sense of his father’s mysterious death. In the studio, producer James Frazee (Sharon Van Etten, Anthony Da Costa, My Morning Jacket, Modern Savage) pushed him to go deeper, to face the thing he did not want to face. “We call each other out,” he says. The result is a song that pulses with an urgency to understand his own true nature.
As a boy in Georgia, Pickens’ picked up a used guitar at a garage sale and learned to play southpaw from a wise lady named Miss Genie. His friends would come over to jam in his parent’s basement to best one another in the latest guitar lick on the radio and later on sneak into clubs to check out the latests local bands at Eddie’s Attic or The Tabernacle. Pickens began writing his own songs in college. Taking influence from playwrights, poets, and novelists of the beatnik era, Pickens began to create his own writing style with a backbone in landscapes, unexpected characters, and unique story twists.
After college in southern Indiana and a year in Louisville, Kentucky, Phil made his way north to New York City. Over the last ten years, he’s lived in every corner of Astoria and now resides in Harlem.
It’s not unusual to find Pickens devoted to a conversation after a set. Not in a rush, but not wasting time. And in each of his songs, there is the sense of a new conversation being had – of a questioning that comes from a musician who needs to make music. Mix in his southern roots, his time in the fire of NYC and the result is the unique indie folk rock music of Phil Pickens.
“Big-Hearted, Rootsy” - NPR
“Pickens’ vocals come at us like a friendly carnival barker trying to hawk his wares” - Pancakes & Whiskey
Drums. NYC Native. Master of the Cajun Shuffle. Likes naps, 🎯🥁🎲🎳
Timeless dinner party 🎉 attendees: Mom and Dad, Don Rickles and Buddy Rich.
Daniel Kwiatkowski (DK)
Banjo and Electric Guitar. From Cheboygan, Michigan b@$*%tches. Likes 🎶🎭🌅✒️🌳🌎🌨🏒👷
Timeless dinner attendees: "Other than the cool friends and family I already have, I would say Sol LeWitt, Keith Richards, Bjork and Patti Smith".
Piano + all the things. From NEW JOISEY. WHEAH DAH STAHZZ SHOYNE. Likes: 🎩🤖🌮🗿🔥🏕🕵️👻🌘
Timeless dinner attendees: Justin Aaronson, Daniel Kwiatkowski, Richard Thieriot, and Phil Pickens
Bass. From San Francisco, in the city proper.
Timeless dinner party attendees: Jerry Garcia, Mark Rylance, and Joseph Campbell
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