Standing In Motion: 
 AV talks with Holland Phillips


Holland Phillips

Listen to Holland Phillips




Standing In Motion


AV:  How would you characterize your new album to those who are curious about Standing in Motion (9/23/2022) and what is the significance of the title?

HP:  I’ve always concentrated on writing ‘immersive’ music; music that if you listen to it engages and lifts you, and pushes you toward your own thoughts and dreams.  This new album does that, I think, based on the feedback I’m getting from others.  I write instrumental music, obviously, and it’s usually categorized as
‘New Age’ music, but I focus more on the feel you get than the genre I’m playing in, so I might use bits from all kinds of genres to get how I want it to sound.
  This album tends to come closer to ambient, neo-classical and instrumental dream pop than anything else.

As far as the title, I think the Standing in Motion album name epitomizes what the music does for you.  I always write album notes for CDs, and for this album the notes end with this:  “So that’s who this album is for – those looking for solace, and for those that want to find a few moments to relax and breathe; to pause for a bit while the world continues its never-ending motion around them.”  And that kind of says it all - the music may help you escape for a time, to get lost in your own thoughts and dreams - but the world and you along with it are still moving forward while that’s happening.   

AV:  Tell me about how you approached this album in comparison to past albums that you've recorded over the years. 

HP:  I usually start with a theme in mind and then go from there. But for this one I simply sat down and wrote a song, and it became the direction for the entire album.  For that song in particular my goal was to incorporate more ambient sounds into the music than I had before.  I’ve tried that many times before but it never really has worked out that well, because even if I start slowly there’s way too much going on in the air and in my head to stay there, and the song ends up thick with textures and movement.  But in this case I did get a few steps closer.  And not only did it become the first song on the album, it became the title track and also provided the direction that the rest of the album would follow.  

AV:  With the ever advancing field of musical technology & digital recording techniques can you let us in on how you approach the technical aspects of realizing your music & recording it faithfully for release to your listening audience? 

HP:  First of all, let me say that I love the digital revolution because it allows musicians like me to express themselves more easily than ever before.  But I still utilize a mixture of both worlds, because I’ve learned that digital also has some downsides, and using too much of it can force you to sacrifice the quality of the music.  I use as much technology as it takes to get the best sound possible, but I mix down old school across an analogue mixing board, because I think that pure digital sound loses some of its quality and richness.  I’ll only use synthesizers and not digital samples because I think those sound a bit too sterile to my ears, and miss out on some of the harmonics that make a sound what it is.  That outlook is probably a result of playing to live audiences for so long.  And I record everything live instead of using sequencers, because I think that those nuances you get while playing something can’t really be reproduced digitally.  I did experiment with it once and recorded a nice song with downloaded digital instrument samples, and then played it for Ronnie, my co-producer in the studio.  When he’d finished listening he looked up at me and said, “I don’t like it.  And by the way I’m a bit pissed off.”  When I asked him why he responded, “I don’t know, it just happened during the song.”  So I went back and re-recorded the exact same thing with real instruments and keyboard based sounds and then played it for him again.  “Oh, now this one is much better than the last song you played for me,” he said.  “I like this one.”  When I told him it was the same song with different instruments he couldn’t believe it, and told me I must be mistaken; which just shows you the power of the harmonics that occur naturally in instruments verses digital samples. 

AV:  What is the instrument that you use as your musical voice on Standing in Motion and why? 

HP:  Oh boy.  I have a plethora of instruments, fifteen or so synthesizers, some of them digital and some go back to the eighties and are analogue.  I also have a bunch of guitars, basses, a flute, a saxophone, and I use whichever one has the right sound for the particular song I’m writing.  So the correct answer for this latest album would be – almost all of them at one point or another.  

For example, I might want to use an electric piano on a song, and I have ten instruments that all have electric piano on them.  So I have perhaps fifty pianos I can choose for that one part.  I’ll experiment with every one of them, and find the one that ‘likes’ the other instruments it’s playing with – where the two instruments sound sweet when played together.  You’d be surprised at how often they don’t.   

AV:  Are there any interesting stories you'd care to share with our readers as to how some of these compositions came to be? 

HP:  I had a dream one night, and in this dream I was walking up a road.  It was wilderness and there was snow piled up on both sides, but the sun was bright in the sky.  I could also see a huge mountain chain in the distance. As I crested a hill a town appeared in front of me, a beautiful, charming place that I immediately wanted to explore.  When I reached it and started walking through I realized that I didn’t speak the language so I ambled about, nodding to people as I passed.  I could also hear church bells ringing nearby, and the sound of them echoed off the buildings.   

I woke up right after the dream ended, and went immediately to my studio.  What came out over the next hour is on this album.  Interestingly enough, after I’d finished recording the basics I named it The Bells of St Moritz, because St Moritz was written on the signs as you entered the town.  When I looked it up later on the internet, found out that it did exist and was located in Switzerland.  The odd part of it is that I also recognized some of the streets that I had walked on in my dream.  And I’d never even heard of the place before. 

AV:  Are there any aspects of Standing in Motion that you were particularly proud of and that you would like to point out so that listeners might appreciate them along with you? 

HP:  I’m most proud that the feedback I’m getting from early reviews is exactly what I was trying to accomplish with it in the first place.  My goal was (and always is) to put out an album that – when you have finished listening to it – you feel uplifted and energized.  It should also take you on a journey, to someplace inside yourself – maybe to a memory you’ve long forgotten or someone you knew a long time ago.  It should also push you toward your own daydreams.  And that’s what I’m being told is happening to those who listen to it. One reviewer recently commented that “this might be New Age music, but if you listen, it’s New Age like you’ve never heard before.”  That’s one of the nicest compliments I’ve ever received. 

AV:  Do you see your music evolving with each new album you release and how does that make you feel as a composer? 

HP:  I like to think that each album is better than the previous one, and that my compositions are evolving over time.  People tell me that and I hope that what they tell me is true, but the fact is that I don’t really know the answer to that.  I write because I have to, and I have to because I hear music in my head all the time; if I don’t get it out on ‘paper’ so-to-speak then I get all fidgety and confused and not much makes sense.  It’s almost as if the music starts getting louder than people and their voices, and I have trouble understanding them.  Then, after I’ve gotten it out and recorded the world makes sense again for a while, at least until the next song comes along. 

AV:  Were there any particular influences that you remember being Aha! moments in your musical career? 

HP:  I don’t think I would classify them as ‘aha’ moments, but there were a multitude of little significant events that added to the ones before it and finally brought me to where I am today.  For example, my mother was a music teacher and always had instruments lying around, but to me that was just normal, and I assumed everyone had things like that around them all the time.  That particular fact caused me to start playing music when I was very young, both guitar and piano and whatever else was lying there, but it wasn’t until I got to college and became a music composition major that I learned how good music – from classical to jazz to rock – is constructed.  I also studied Music Therapy during that period where I learned how certain sounds and notes affect the human body.  And all that helped me compose better music and a greater understanding of how to create it, but that didn’t help me play what I could hear.  So after that I spent quite a few years on the road touring, and that experience helped me build the chops I needed to be able to play what I hear in my head.  And although that was exciting and fun and significant, it didn’t help me record what I’d written.  I took lessons from Paul Simon back when he had a small studio on New York’s upper east side, and that was where I learned how to mix and build a great recording, and listen to the different parts of a song and how they might fit together.  That was a significant influence on me, but it was only when I got into a studio that I learned how to implement those concepts to make a good recording.  And that was a long process because the only way to really learn how to record and mix is to do it over and over, until you get good at it. 

AV:  As you look at this album in its finished form what would you say about it if someone asked you to comment on Standing In Motion? 

HP:  I would say that it’s the absolute best of what I’ve ever done…so far.  And if you really want to hear what the music is capable of you should listen to a high res digital or a CD of the album along with a set of good headphones. That’s really where your ears and your imagination will get the best possible workout.  

AV:  Are you comfortable recognizing when a project is complete & that you have done your best & then putting it out into the world? 

HP:  A friend asked me a while ago how long it took me to write a song.  Without thinking I said, “Usually, about 45 minutes to an hour,” which is about how long it takes to flush out a new concept.  After I thought about that statement for a few weeks I went back to him and said, “Okay, I was wrong before. I’m pretty sure it takes a few weeks to a month to write a song.”

Then I thought about that for a while, and finally went back to him again.  “Now I think my answer is somewhere between a month and never.”  He laughed, and told me that it was obvious that I had no idea what the answer was.  I could only respond, “You may be right, but now I’m not even sure what the question means.” 

Here’s why it’s so hard for me to answer that simple question.  I have a bar for songs that go on any album, and a step-by-step process to get them radio ready.  The bar is simple; if I don’t think it’s the best I’ve ever done with that particular idea, arrangement and set of instruments, then I don’t put it on an album, period.  That, and I have to be able to hear the song when I’m not playing it – in other words, it has to stick in my head as I’m going through the finishing process,  which can take anywhere from a week to a month or more.  Third, the song has to play nice with the other songs on the album, and compliment them.  If any of those conditions aren’t met, then I set it aside and write something else.  That’s probably why I have a bunch of albums worth of material sitting around at any given time, all of them waiting for their chance to get out and meet the world.  Some might make it eventually, and others never will. 

The step-by-step process to get a song radio ready is pretty specific.  Once a song passes the ‘bar’ I’ll play it back daily over a period of days or weeks, to make sure the instruments are the right ones, and everything is playing the right notes at the right time.  I’ll make adjustments as necessary, and keep doing that until I think it’s as perfect as it can get.  If it makes it through that process, we’ll do a final mixdown and then put it in the ‘done’ hopper, which is a holding area for songs that might make it onto an album.  Then it’s a matter of finding out if and where they might fit onto an album.  So the long and short of it is that I’m comfortable with the steps because they seem to produce good solid albums, but the process itself isn’t an easy one.  It’s fun for me and I love doing it, but I’m not sure that anyone can help me figure out when “complete” actually is. 

AV:  Well thank you very much Holland for taking the time to answer my questions and to give the readers of Ambient Visions a good look behind the scenes and into your creative process at how your music comes to be. I appreciate your efforts.


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