The lack of live musical performances has taken its toll on both fans and artists, but many musicians are trying to make the best of the situation.
Dive-bar soul artist Phillip-Michael Scales is savoring the solitude while it lasts.
Scales is our guest on this week’s Chicago Sound Check Presents livestream concert/interview series, brought to you by the Daily Herald and Mike’s Hard Lemonade at 7 p.m. Friday, May 29, on instagram.com/chicagosoundcheck.
“I think having time is the ultimate luxury. As a musician, whether you work a nine-to-five or whether you play music to make ends meet, there’s a lot of scrambling we feel like we’re doing,” Scales said. “Promote this thing, make this video, all that sort of stuff. … So when you take out the pressure of booking and touring and playing shows and even recording time, it really forces you to sit and write and get better at saying what you want to say.”
Scales, who moved to Nashville last year after playing around Chicago for a few years, shows a unique side of the singer-songwriter genre, introducing his trademark soul stylings to his emotionally compelling songs.
With blues being such a communal experience, a stripped-down acoustic take isn’t as common on area stages, so Scales prides himself on what he presents onstage alone.
“I love the theatrics of it,” he said. “And I think that I make a lot of noise solo. But that’s by design.”
Channeling that originality and vulnerability into his music takes work.
“I love to think that my lyrics came from some great ether or whatever, but they come as a result of the books I’ve read and the experiences I’ve had. … And I think that as I continue, the well can run dry if you’re not putting things in it,” he said.
“A lot of that work doesn’t look like work,” he explained. “It’s absorbing, sitting down and staring at something, sometimes it’s taking a walk and journaling or messing with a lick that isn’t going anywhere or whatever.”
Early on during the quarantine, Scales released the single “Find A Way,” which showcases his soulful tones folded into a ’90s-alternative-influenced trip. He’s also played a number of livestream performances. But one thing he’s particularly proud of is his dive into Season 3 of his podcast, “The Company You Keep,” where he explores deep conversations with friends, many hailing from in and around the Chicago music scene. Find it at coyoukeep.simplecast.com and most major podcast sites.
“I think podcasts are a rare opportunity for people to sort of deep dive on those people that they know,” he said. “I think that you only get so much in a song, you only get so much in an Instagram video, you know? You don’t really know how they see things and what they think like. We want to know how people feel about things, and we want to align with people. At least I do when I listen to people’s conversations. And I wanted to be able to sort of give that extra bit to people.”