Phillip Phillips has a lot riding on his new album, Behind the Light. Two years removed from his American Idol win and gargantuan hit Home, he’s settling into the path that will define his career over the long haul. Tonight, he’ll also start a co-headlining tour with O.A.R.
Behind the Light, released four weeks ago, has sold 63,000 copies, compared to more than 169,000 first-week sales of 2012’s The World From the Side of the Moon. The 23-year-old singer-songwriter’s latest single, Raging Fire, is a top-10 hit on USA TODAY’s AAA and Hot AC airplay charts.
While that’s a solid showing for Raging Fire, it’s nothing like Home, which has sold more than 5 million copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan. But Home was also a once-in-a-career smash, thanks to NBC’s use of it during the 2012 London Olympics. So how does Phillips gauge how his career is going?
“I’m waiting to see how the live show’s going to be, how the fans react to things,” he says. “You know, Twitter and the Internet are great, people say a lot of great things, but we’ll see how it all plays out live.”
As an album, Behind the Light sounds more confident, more consistent than The World From the Side of the Moon. Phillips credits the difference to having more time to write songs, then sit and live with them. He also says he continued to write songs as he and his band recorded the album.
“I wanted to have a band feel for the album,” he says. “We would jam on a song for a couple hours, then we’d go on to the next one and jam on it. On each song, we would play out more and more.”
The first album, he says, relied more on session musicians. “When you do that, there are a lot of personalities. Then, when you play it live, it doesn’t have the same kind of personality as the album.”
Using the same core musicians on the road that recorded the album keeps a continuity Phillips felt was lacking with the first album and tour. “When we play out live, we’ll know the songs so well we’ll be able to flip something different during the middle of a song or make up a jam. That’s what’s fun to me.”
On second albums, artists usually expand on the things they think worked for them the first time out. They also often look for material that will flesh out the missing parts of their live shows. Phillips says both those things came into play while making Behind the Light.
“I love strings and horns, so I kept that,” he says. “I made it a little bit bigger but also a little more raw, to where we can do it live.
“I also want to put some songs on there that had a little bit more of a rock edge, like Trigger, Thicket and Lead On.
The tour with O.A.R. begins tonight in St. Louis and continues through July. Phillips and the band met through producer Gregg Wattenberg, who works with both acts. O.A.R. singer and guitarist Mark Roberge was tracking vocals for O.A.R.’s new album, The Rockville LP, at the same time Phillips was recording Behind the Light. “He’d just be singing a song or something for his album while we were on lunch break or something like that,” Phillips says. “He really loved my first album. He got to hear the second album, too — I think he liked it.
“He and his wife came to the Super Bowl last year when we played. They were both very sweet people. I’m excited to get to know them a little more through this summer and play for their fans, as well as mine.”