Some bands are like fine wine- they get better with age. Such is the case with veteran hard rockers Philadelphia, particularly in light of its recently released comeback (April 2016) album Warlord. While many identify with Philadelphia for the traditional metal of its first two albums, Tell The Truth (1984) and Search And Destroy (1985), Warlord finds the group hitting the ground running and expertly managing to be every bit capable today as it was during its mid-eighties prime. Angelic Warlord had the recent opportunity to interview Philadelphia guitarist Phil Scholling and vocalist/bassist Brian Clark, who go into detail about the group’s beginnings, what led it to reform following a thirty year hiatus and details as it pertains to Warlord.
I would like to start by talking about Philadelphia's origin. How and when did the group form? What led to Philadelphia signing with Patmos Records?
Phil Scholling: Philadelphia was already in place when I came along back in 1981. The two original guitar players had moved on and so they were auditioning for replacements. A friend of mine found out and suggested we try out. I’d never heard of the band, but at the time I was 16 and ready for anything. Brian Clark called me afterwards and told me they’d like to see how it would work out with me on guitar and that’s when it all started. Ronn Flowers came onboard about a year later. Although Philadelphia was always known for having two guitar players, we’ve returned to our roots for the Warlord record.
Brian Clark: After Survivor broke up, my life more or less started from scratch, and I didn't really pursue anything musically for a little while. After some reflection and prayer, I felt that I should use the gifts my Father had given me to express my feelings for Him, my own personal walk etc. There was a Christian coffee house that I regularly attended at the time, and this is where the nucleus that eventually became Philly got formed.
Re Patmos, we were doing a show in Mississippi, opening for Mylon Lefevre & Broken Heart, and Patmos Records owner James Griffin was in the audience. He talked to us afterwards, and we signed on to Patmos.
Also, what are your thoughts on the groups first two albums, Tell The Truth & Search & Destroy. How did the writing and recording process for both go? Which of the two is your favorite and why?
Phil Scholling: Tell The Truth was the first time that I ever set foot in a recording studio. You have this idea that you’ll walk in and some sort of magical thing will happen and you walk out with this amazing record. That didn’t turn out to be the case with Tell The Truth. We submitted several songs for that record and the ones that ended up on the final product were the ones that made the cut. They reflected the history of Philadelphia up to that point. Initially the band was not near as much in the hard rock / metal vein as we ended up later so you have an interesting spread of songs, some more complete than others. Songs like “Tell The Truth” and “Razor’s Edge” were really the direction we were heading but we had just not been on that road long enough to have enough songs of a similar style. It showed a glimpse of things to come but it just wasn’t complete at the time.
Search And Destroy, my favorite of the two, came out so much better because of the hard lessons we learned on Tell The Truth. We were much more vocal in how things would be done and what they should sound like. I think that is the biggest reason there is such a disparity in the way those two records sound. Brian had come up with a great concept for communicating ideas we wanted to get across. Also, he and I settled into a good working relationship on songwriting and so I think Search And Destroy benefitted greatly from that as well.
Brian Clark: Tell The Truth. James was a gifted engineer but as far as we could tell, had no experience with recording hard rock/metal acts. When we heard the final results, we didn't feel it was an accurate reflection of the live sound that we achieved. With Search & Destroy, we were determined to get a fuller, richer sound that was truer to the actual band, and we took a more active role in the studio to try & achieve that. Writing for both was a joy, and easy to boot, since we were all living together in a communal home. So easy and quick to bounce ideas off each other and work things out. Obviously
S & D is my favorite. Much more evolved musically… and sounds much better.
Please go into more detail about what led Philadelphia to reform and record Warlord?
Phil Scholling: That story is out there, and as Brian said, it really came down to being the right time. We’d briefly gotten together when the M8 re-issues of the first two records happened in order to track a couple of new songs they’d requested and, since we were together, to play a sort of reunion show in our hometown. At that time, we were still very much going in four separate directions in many ways and although we were able to accomplish what we needed to do, it was not anything that was going to last beyond that one meet up.
I think the groundwork for this reunion really began about a year before the incident involving Brian. I was back in Shreveport one weekend and happened into a place where Ronn (Flowers) was playing with some guys. It had been about 10 years since we’d talked and I tried to slip in quietly just to hear him play for a bit. One thing sort of lead to another, Brian Martini was in town that same weekend and he found out I was there listening to Ronn play. Before the night was done the three of us ended up onstage playing a bunch of songs and then stayed up all night afterward catching up. It broke the ice on a lot of things and set events in motion, I think, for what was to come.
Brian Clark: The story about my operation has been told, and is quite accurate. All I can add to that is, it was the right time in our lives, which is very important. The time was right, we had the opportunity, and our Father and His Son made it possible.
Why did the group choose to record mostly new material, with the exception of the "Warlord" title track?
Phil Scholling: That was Brian Clark’s idea and we all were onboard with that. In all honesty, I wish I could say that there is some great material left on the table from back in 1986 but “Warlord” was really the strongest material we had at the time. We had not completed writing songs yet for the Warlord record back in 1986 so even if the band had continued on back then, we still had a lot of work to do to come up with the material. Instead of trying to revamp the songs we did have from back then, Brian really wanted to start fresh so that is how the new songs came to be.
There was another song, “One Way Out” that made it onto the M8 release of Search And Destroy from a recording made at Cornerstone 86 that may get revisited in the future.
Did Philadelphia demo any additional material during the original "Warlord" sessions back in the eighties?
Phil Scholling: Back then we didn’t really have access to recording like we do today so we would work the songs out and then just play them into a 2 track recorder with a couple of external mics. As you can imagine, the quality was somewhat lacking but it gave us something to reference as we worked on the ideas.
How did the writing and recording process for Warlord go?
Phil Scholling: We live in 3 different cities now so getting together to write and record was a bit of a challenge. This all got started in March of 2014. We had met up that weekend at Brian Martini’s place for a weekend jam, just for the fun of it. Over that weekend we started talking about the idea of finally completing Warlord. It just seemed like it was time. That was also when the decision to write new material was made. I started working on ideas and sent out some demos to the other guys. We met up in June of 2014 to work on the first 3 new songs which ended up being “Brothers In Arms”, “Defender” & “I’m Not Listening”. We met again in October of 2014, worked on “Prophecy”, “Sane Asylum” & “Way Of The Skull”. In Feb 2015 we worked on “Wasteland” & “Son Of The Morning”. The last session was in May of 2015 where we did “Lady Fortune” and made some revisions to “Way Of The Skull” and “Wasteland”.
For each of the new songs, I would come up with the musical parts with a rough song arrangement. I would send those out as demo’s to Brian Martini and Brian Clark a few weeks before we would meet up. Over the weekend we would play through them and try to get a workable arrangement so Brian Clark could start on the lyrics.
The recording was done at Brian Martini’s studio. We met up in Nov 2015 and spent a week recording the drums/bass/rhythm guitars. We had originally planned to complete recording in December but that got pushed out because of the engineer’s schedule so we completed tracking in Feb of 2016 with vocals/guitar solos/etc. All the bass and rhythm guitars were recorded direct and then re-amped during mix down. The guitar solos are a combination of mic’d and direct signal that was later re-amped depending on the blend we wanted for each song. All the vocals are Brian Clark. All of the guitars were done by me with the exception of a guest appearance on “Prophecy” by my daughter Lauren. She plays some of the harmony guitar parts in the song.
What are your feelings about Warlord? Are you happy about the way the album turned out?
Phil Scholling: I’m very pleased with how it turned out. It was 30 years later than what we’d originally intended but better late than never. For me the challenge was trying to go back and sort of get into that musical mindset again. I really haven’t played or listened much to that style of music during the years the band had been apart. The biggest challenge to me was could I write in that style again and play it authentically. One of the things we talked about quite a bit in the early stages was how to approach the music. With writing all new songs except for one, what should they sound like? We decided to stay true to what we did back then as that is what people would expect to hear. To me there is nothing more disappointing that to like a band for their sound and then they decide to go in an entirely different direction. I think Warlord is a good bridge from where we came to where we’re headed. I think there are some elements on this record that would not have been explored back in 1986/87 when we originally planned the record. The trick is to get from the past to the future while retaining your identity.
Brian Clark: Very happy! Even though it was difficult being in 3 different cities, I can honestly say that the best times in my musical career have been spent with Phil Scholling and Brian Martini, writing and making music together the way only we can. I'm extremely happy with Warlord and the way the album turned out, especially in light of a very limited budget & the fact that we financed it ourselves. Big kudos to our engineer/producer Ritchie Wicander, who brought out the best in us!
What does the future hold for Philadelphia? Are there plans to record an album in follow up to Warlord?
Phil Scholling: As Brian stated, we’ve discussed continuing on but in smaller chunks. Being out of the picture for 30 years, I think we needed a full-length record to re-establish some things. Going forward will most likely be different. I do like the idea of being able to put out a few songs at a time and without having the restrictions of a label to deliver them a product, we’re in complete control of how much we will release. I think that as long as we have something worth writing about, we’ll continue to create music and make it available to those that are interested.
Brian Clark: Right now, primarily for time and distance restraints, we're thinking in terms of 3 or 4 song EPs rather than full length albums. But yes, the three of us are very interested and engaged in continuing to write and perform together as Philadelphia!
Is a CD release forthcoming?
Phil Scholling: Yes, there will a CD release coming out soon. We’ll be making an announcement about that in the next few weeks on the band’s website and Facebook pages, which are: www.phillymusic.us & www.facebook.com/PhiladelphiaMetal
Interview by Andrew Rockwell