(Photo by Mark Elliot)
Having total creative control and the ability to tour whenever one wants to is perhaps the shortlist of things every musician dreams about. While Columbus-based artist Philip Cogley, who performs under the moniker The Saturday Giant, admits he has these freedoms, and figuring out how to get there has been a learning experience and an exploration of uncharted territory.
Using a looping pedal that allows him to rebuild each song from scratch every night on the spot, his layered compositions recall the very best of Beck, TV on the Radio and so many other outside-the-box indie powerhouse rockers. And he does it by himself, which is a headscratching feat of musicianship for even the most studied of musicians. And after a few years, multiple national tours and hundreds of performances, Cogley’s artful rock music has matured in epic proportions.
Ghettoblaster recently caught up with Cogley to discuss the enterprise, pursuing it full-time and why he loves Dayton.
When did you first realize you had an aptitude for music?
Well, I think music has always been in my DNA. But, I think the first time I felt really accomplished as a musician was in high school when the rock band I was in went half days to Fort Hayes, a vocational school in Columbus that had a music program. Because of the instruction we received there, and the amount of time we were spending playing together, we became much better musicians individually, and a much better functioning unit, in a short period of time. And we started to do things musically that made the hair on the back of my neck stand up—which made me think we were onto something.
As a one person enterprise you use technology to conjure a full sound most bands would be enviable of. When did you decide that doing this yourself was the most natural path?
The decision to perform solo was a pragmatic decision, not an artistic one. I knew that I wanted to tour, and I was struggling to find the right personnel to make that happen. I finally got frustrated and said to myself, “this is ridiculous—this is what you want to do, you need to figure out how you can do it without having to rely on anyone else.” And it took a while, but through trial and error and lots of lots of time, I figured out a way to do it that was still musically fulfilling.
How many days a year are you on the road now?
The last couple years it’s been about 200.
Was it difficult to make the decision to pursue this full time?
Honestly, I’m not sure I made that decision. I booked a few tours for myself, and got lucky to cross paths with a small-time booking agent in Nebraska, as part of the tour booking process. He encouraged me to tour on a scale beyond what I had originally envisioned. I mean I planned on doing lots of touring, but I don’t know that I would have the wherewithal to book that many shows for myself, and I’m not sure the tours would have been sustainable financially. So I got really lucky. Although in some respects it feels a lot like the last three years have just kind of happened to me, rather than me making many conscious choices. Going forward, I want to try to be a little more conscious.
What are some opportunities that you’ve gotten that you may have missed if you weren’t doing this full-time?
I think the intensity of my tour schedule tends to make venues take me more seriously. They see an insane calendar of dates and are like “well I guess this dude must know what he’s doing.” And some other cool things have come along, like collaborations with other musicians or visual artists that I never would have met otherwise.
For example, I got to work with some really talented filmmakers on a video for Digitech (https://youtu.be/pQ8Wcfy2aTI), and that 100 percent came about only because I knew one of the guys with the production company through touring.
I also once played a show in Amanda Palmer’s attic, though she wasn’t home at the time. The biggest thing is probably just getting to see the country—most people who live in the U.S. just have no idea how massive and majestic it really is. I certainly didn’t. So, above all, I’m grateful for that.
Tell us about your forthcoming release?
I have a record coming out early next year that I’m really stoked about. It’s a quantum leap for me. In the same way that putting together my live rig has been a process, learning how to make a record is something I’ve had to learn to do as well. I have several EPs under my belt at this point, so going into the recording sessions I had a much clearer idea of the vibe I was looking for, and how to translate the stuff I was hearing in my head into actual sound. I was also fortunate to work with Jon Fintel (at Relay Recording in Columbus) on this album—Jon really knows gear, and has a phenomenal ear for performances, so having him as a sounding board was awesome. I’m really proud of this thing, and really excited to release it early next year.
What is it about Dayton that keeps you coming back?
I like Dayton because it manages to be unpretentious but also musically accomplished. I’ve played with some really excellent, well-rehearsed bands there, but the shows always have a comfortable, everyone-knows-each-other kind of vibe. And people aren’t afraid to have a good time. It’s a nice change of pace from some of the bigger cities, where bands act jealous of each other and audiences tend to be more aloof. Plus, you guys have Brandon Hawk, and he’s the best.
Have you always been a gearhead?
Nope. When I started out performing solo I really had pretty crappy gear. Assembling my current rig isn’t something I would have been capable at that time. But I knew the sounds I was chasing, and over time, it’s just been focusing on the different components until I had them—or at least until I got pretty close.
Do you have collaborators in the studio or do you do it all yourself?
I’ve experimented with a few different approaches. With a few exceptions, prior to the new album, I’ve performed everything myself (and usually recorded and often mixed stuff myself, as well). This time it really felt like I was writing a full band record, and I wanted it to have that sound. Fortunately I’ve been in the music scene in Columbus long enough that digging up some great players was surprisingly easy. I still tracked most of the instruments, but I had help with live drums (Nate Keister), violin (Sam Kim), cello (Dan Gerken), trombone (Jacob Huffstetler) and trumpet (Caroline Dever). All those folks turned in killer performances, and the arrangements sound massive.
What are two or three of the craziest experiences you’ve had on the road?
Man I feel lame, but the road is way more mundane than I think people often realize. There’s still a routine and still constant demands on your time, like any job. And sometimes it’s sort of hard to recall what’s happened on a given tour because everything moves so fast, and when it’s over it all tends to blur together.
Maybe the funniest thing to happen to me recently, though, was when I crashed on this guy’s couch in Idaho this spring. At the show he was telling me how him and his girlfriend were flying to Utah the next day in his own private plane, and he was telling me that he loved Ohio because the natural gas market was deregulated. I was like, “is this guy some super wealthy venture capitalist or what?” Then we go back to his place (it turns out he’s not super wealthy; he lives in a modest ranch home) and he makes me watch a 20 minute video introducing me to the organization he works for–and it’s a total pyramid scheme. Like, so transparently a pyramid scheme that they actually diagram the structure of the business in the video with an inverted pyramid. And Donald Trump appears in the video to give a ringing endorsement! So I sit through this 20 minute video that is clearly selling this fraudulent get-rich-quick scheme, and when it’s over, he turns to me and says, “so, what part of the video did you find most interesting?” And meanwhile it’s one in the morning, I’ve just played a three hour show, and I the only thing I want in life is to go to sleep. It was a total nightmare.
What do you miss most about Columbus when you are travelling?
Definitely my family and my friends. Any my cat.
(For more information, visit thesaturdaygiant.com.)
(Photo by Mark Elliot)