At the start of the pandemic lockdowns, dive-bar soul artist Phillip-Michael Scales relished the chance to slow things down, replenish his creative well and turn his focus inward. But now that things are opening back up, he’s happy to be returning to the Chicago area, including a show at Hey Nonny Wednesday, July 14.
“I think the deal with the pandemic is it caused a lot of artists to feel like they could go deeper,” he said. “As we get back into the swing of things and touring and all that stuff, it’s so easy to feel like I got to put these days in, I’ve got to do all this stuff. For a moment in time, it was cool that we were able to just go deeper, you know? Everybody’s sidelined, nobody’s going on tour. So it’s kind of a time to be able to be like, ‘Alright, let’s do some personal work and do some deep work.’ That’s the key to the whole thing. I think it makes for more quality at the end of the day.”
Scales, who studied at Berklee College of Music before making Chicago his hometown for years, left the Windy City for Nashville not long before the pandemic. But getting dates back on the books after the shutdowns — not only here but also across the Midwest along with tours to the West Coast this fall and the East Coast next spring — gave him the opportunity to return.
“There’s a lot of fun stuff in the works,” he said. “I’m just excited to get out there and get after it.”
Not that Scales hasn’t been getting after it during this hiatus from shows. As a part of his personal and professional growth during the lockdowns, the singer released a long-simmering recording of the searingly personal single “Tell Me How I Sound Again,” an up-close look at the subtle racism he’s experienced since childhood and the rippling effects it has had on his life. He played a number of livestreams and produced the third season of his podcast “The Company You Keep.” Earlier this year, he also earned a slot playing on the Rock Boat XXI this November, where he’ll be sharing the stage with Andrew McMahon, Sister Hazel, American Authors, Switchfoot and many others over the course of a five-day cruise.
In addition, he struck a deal with Dixie Frog Records, a label in France, and has been recording and refining a new rootsy-blues album with them for release this fall.
“I’m a highly motivated person, but I say I’m externally motivated,” he said. “Having this, it gave me purpose for my days, so I was able to spend the rest of my pandemic time basically writing the record and sending tracks to my musician friends.”
The album’s rollout will start with two singles Scales’ fans are already familiar with, leading into a lineup of new tunes, some of which he’ll be treating folks to at Hey Nonny as part of a trio joined by local musicians Alex Piazza and Aidan Kranz. Nikki Morgan, who appeared on Scales’ “O, Hallelujah,” will open the night at the intimate performance venue.
“I always play that she’s my Chicago kid sister,” he joked. “She just has an incredible voice and incredible spirit, and I’m excited for her to be on the bill.”
Scales adjusted to the pandemic life, harnessing the virtual world to bring his music to audiences around the world. But he is definitely ready to move back to giving concert-going crowds his trademark powerful experience under the stage lights, to making connections with new and old fans.
“Capturing people online is cool,” he said, “but capturing those fans who are going to see live music — catching up with those people is huge.”
SEE MORE: Visit our gallery from the show
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Phillip-Michael Scales with Nikki Morgan
When: 7:30 p.m. (doors open at 6:30) Wednesday, July 14
Where: Hey Nonny, 10 S. Vail Ave., Arlington Heights
Tickets: $10-$30; (224) 202-0750 or heynonny.com