Malcolm Phillips: Portrait of a Songwriter


Outside of the Maple Leaf Bar, my boyfriend and I, along with a close friend, await the arrival of Malcolm Phillips, a very self-definitive and incredibly unique singer, songwriter, and guitarist. Though the bar is closed, we have chosen it as a known spot at which to meet with this talented gentleman. He arrives, guitar mounted on his shoulder with what I would describe as an iconic swagger.

After some discussion, we agree to travel further down Oak Street to Euphorbia Kava Bar, a popular vendor of Kava and other unusual but very awesome beverages.

Malcolm suggests an isolated, somewhat private area inside the establishment where we begin our conversation.

When asked what he does for a living, he tells of a climbing gym where he enjoys working as well as his excitement of soon becoming a Charter School Physical Education coach (many of whom had very positive influences on my own youth). Malcolm, who is bound to be a wonderful influence, seems ideal for such an important role in the lives of school children. As the interview commences, this assumption proves increasingly correct. 

Margaret Marley: Are you originally from New Orleans?

Malcolm Phillips:  I’m not. I’m from Jackson Mississippi. I moved to Metairie first. I was couch surfing there (Laughs) saving up to get my own place uptown, so I’ve lived here for about 2 years.

MM: Cool, you’ve gotten used to the city it sounds like then. So when did you first become interested in music and what way or ways did you pursue it?

MP: Well I have always been in a musical family, my father has been playing piano for the church since he was like 11 years old. He taught himself how to play. My mom has always been in the choir, so I would go with them for choir rehearsal like every week or so. It’s like I just absorbed it you know. I didn’t get into guitar until I was about 12. My dad just brought home a classical guitar one day and was like messing around on it and I was just like captivated. And I was just like, “Can I play?” and he was like yeah, and then he never picked it up (Laughs) ever since that day. So like, I think he did that on purpose.

MM: Mmm, hmm, parents are tricky. (Both laugh)

MP: But yeah, so then I just played for fun mostly. It wasn’t until college that a lot of my friends were like, ‘dude you should, like, pursue this in some kinda way,’ so I was like, ‘OK, sure.’

MM: That’s awesome, sounds like it was a real connection.

MP: I kinda taught myself how to play, which may have been a hindrance, but I don’t know, I like the rawness of it.

MM: Who are some of your favorite musicians slash influences? 

MP: I think as far as like an icon goes, the first person that comes to mind is Jimi Hendrix right, ’cause he was like this black guy that taught himself how to play, and completely accepted the counterculture of his time you know, but I don’t really play music like him. I feel like metaphorically we’re kinda the same, or like I wanna be like him, but as far as like my actual music influence, it’s a lot more folky. I’ve got this gospel background, which has a blues background so you can hear that in my music, but my taste growing up was more like folky/indie kinda thing. So it’s encompassing both of those. How I like to explain to people how I think my music sounds is I’m a mix of John Legend and Bon Iver.

MM: Awesome, yeah, from what I’ve heard that makes sense to me.  What was your youth like?

MP: I was raised in West Jackson, which is a pretty low-income area but I had a very strong family unit, fortunately. I’ve got two older brothers, one who is 11 years older than me and one who is two years older. So as the baby I was bullied, (laughs) but that’s alright because they love me. But, umm, I was fortunate enough to go to private schools and stuff which is like a catalyst to why my genre is so diverse, because, on the one hand, I had hip-hop, blues, and soul, but then like I went to this school that was like in a suburb of Jackson where I was exposed to more like white culture. I hate saying it like that but it was more like rock, more like folk and indie stuff and so I just had all these different things that I could pick and choose from and it all came together in this melting pot that is me (laughs).

MM: That’s awesome, I love that.  If you could collaborate with any musician or musicians, current or past, who would it be?

MP: The Gorillas come to mind. they are freakin’ awesome! Umm, or Jimi Hendrix, but he would just blow me out of the water, (laughs) so I don’t know.  I would definitely collaborate with Justin Vernon as well.

MM: That’s awesome, very eclectic.  So, as far as your songwriting goes, what are some of your favorite subjects to write songs about? 

MP: So usually they turn out to be love songs which my friend was making fun of me for the other day. But it’s like a weird turn on love songs because pop-culture likes to paint love as like this happy butterflies thing in which it is I guess, but I was having a discussion one time about the meaning of true love and my input was that true love itself is more about sacrifice right, like, you know true love because it’s painful. It’s like instead of what can you bring to me, what am I willing to give to you kinda thing. That’s how I define true love, and so a lot of my songs will have like this contrasting bittersweet idea of love. But they’re not all about love. Some of them are just fun songs. Some of them are about stress or depression ’cause I have friends going through that and I’ve gone through that myself. It’s usually just what’s ever happening to me in that moment.

MM: Sounds like you have a very good grasp on your subjects and are aware of how the people and situations around you influence you.

MP: A lot of the times I have to interpret my songs after I write them ’cause they just kinda come to me sometimes subconsciously. People go, like, ‘what does that mean?’ and I’m like, ‘I don’t really know, (both laugh). Like, I’m analyzing it myself right now.’

MM: Well I look forward to hearing them, definitely. Well, my final interview question officially is, overall, aside from success of course, what are some of your biggest aspirations for your music and what do you hope to bring to your listeners slash audience?

MP: More on a macro scale, I think art itself is an important aspect of humankind. I think we’ve come very far just focusing on the physical or the objective and the measurable, right, but I think another piece of being human is the stuff that’s more abstract, the stuff that only really exists as ideas you know? So I think it’s important for somebody to be pushing the frontier of what that is to us, and what’s inside of us and bring it to the forefront. On more of a micro scale, I just want to be able to do for somebody what art has done for me, and what music has done for me which is just like, get you through those hard emotional times. There’s nothing like going through something and listening to a song that totally resonates with you, you know, for any reason, and it could be any song. And so If I can make something that someone can listen to and go, ‘that’s exactly how I feel, even if I don’t really know what this song was actually written about.’ 

MM: I know what you mean and I think everyone definitely has those songs, so I think that’s a very relatable thing for most people.  Thank you so much for your time, Malcolm. I look forward to hearing your songs.



After the interview, Malcolm allows us to film him performing a few of his original songs, which are enjoyable and then he plays some to all!


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