Husband and wife team Phil and Phoenix Roebuck have for years entertained fans with their special brand of swamp blues. Sure, they play bars and large venues, but if you’re lucky, one day you might just catch them at a private party.
How did Roebuck come to be?
Phil: I had been solo for 17 years when Phoenix took up the bass and joined me on stage. The start of the band was different than any other I’d experienced because Phoenix had been touring with me, as manager, for five years and had heard my songs literally a thousand times before she ever played them. She knew the arrangements backwards and forwards, including my quirky tempo shifts and dramatic stops, and could follow me like no other, almost immediately. And it was a hell of a lot more fun for me up there, now that I had some company. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from all those solo years, it’s that music is not meant to be played alone.
How would you describe your sound?
Phil: I would guess we sound like somebody woke up on a church pew hung over as hell, stumbled home and tried to sing hymns to his family, couldn’t remember the lyrics, so wound up singing the words from Grandma’s cookbook instead, and it was so irresistible they all joined in. I’m not really sure how it sounds, but to play it feels sassy and visceral, sensual, sometimes sad or archaic, always reliable, and surprisingly thrilling.
You guys also play private parties at homes. How did you get into that?
Phil: Parties were actually the first gigs I ever played. I love playing private shows because the performance and overall experience can become so personal sometimes. Venue shows can be intimate too, but they rarely reach the depth of a snug house concert.
Phoenix: When you’re on the road touring, sometimes you need filler dates and someone will offer their home as a place to put on a show. There are lots of passionate supporters of music out there that are kind and generous enough to open up their homes to us and our fans (or people they want to become our fans).
What is the toughest thing about being a professional musician?
Phoenix: Inspiration and lack of time. The music business is a business like anything else, and that’s the worst part of being a musician — because you have to run the whole business yourself until you can afford a team to help you. You literally have to do the work of about three to five people, but all you want to do is to create and play music and it feels like a constant uphill battle.
Phil: I’d say the toughest thing is never being as good as I am in my imagination. Whether I’m writing, recording or performing, it’s always better in my head.
What are you doing when you are not traveling?
Phil: I’m either rehearsing music or exploring something not music-related. I also like to build things, especially when it’s something we’d otherwise need to buy.
Phoenix: There’s always something one of us is into — usually I’m chasing Phil down the rabbit hole of whatever crazy idea he has. But I love working on music with Phil, or shadow puppetry or whatever madness ensues. And goats. I love to work with goats.
What are you listening to these days?
Phoenix: I’ve been trying to quiet my mind, so I’m not listening to much. Mostly songs to inspire. Some old-timey folk tunes, field recordings, Peter Gabriel, Nina Simone, The Replacements. I think like anyone else, it depends on my mood.
What are you bingeing?
Phil: Mystery Science Theater.
What are you reading?
Phil: I’m a several-books-at-once guy. The books I have out at the moment are Rabbit Wellness, Romeo and/or Juliet: A Chooseable-Path Adventure, and Alfred’s Essential Dictionary of Music.
Phoenix: Amanda Palmer’s The Art of Asking, it’s so wonderfully written for my crazy brain, it’s inspirational, and most of all — validating. I recommend it to all artists.
– Interview by Clay Barbour; condensed and edited for space.