Making ‘Oceans’ from lemons: Philip Price records new solo album to stay focused during the pandemic

  • Finding light in a dark time: Philip Price, frontman for folk/pop favorites Winterpills, has a new solo album out and will play an online show Feb. 19. Image courtesy Philip Price

  • The pandemic has made a lot of things unclear — even this album cover — which Philip Price addresses on his new record, “Oceans Hiding in Oceans.” Image courtesy Philip Price

  • Philip Price plays all the instruments on his new solo album, “Oceans Hiding in Oceans,” which he recorded at home as a way of dealing with the pandemic. Image courtesy Philip Price

Staff Writer
Published: 2/17/2021 8:54:34 AM

You’re a musician in the middle of a pandemic, cut off from playing any gigs except an occasional online show from your living room. You can’t go anywhere because most things are shut down. You also have a toddler at home who needs regular attention and wants to listen to Raffi and Baby Shark over and over again.

What do you do to keep it together?

For Philip Price, recording a new album became his ticket to sanity and recharging his musical batteries. And this being the middle of a pandemic, Price, the lead singer and songwriter of the Valley folk/pop band Winterpills, decided to do the whole thing himself, at home — and to make the solo album a testament of sorts to the weird time we’re living through.

“Oceans Hiding in Oceans,” on Signature Sounds, features 11 new songs by Price on which he played all the instruments and mixed the tracks. The album was mastered and given some final mixing by Justin Pizzoferrato in Sonelab in Easthampton.

Some of the songs, such as “All Lies” and “Paleflower,” have a pretty clear Winterpills lineage. But other cuts offer more experimental and varied textures, with spacey vocals somewhat buried in the mix of guitars, keyboards, drums and a variety of sampled sounds and effects that Price teased out of his computer.

“I gave myself permission to use all my digital tools,” Price said with a laugh during a recent phone call to his home in Hadley. “I just decided as I began working on the album that I wanted to make some pretty elaborate compositions and try out some different things.”

He’ll play a virtual show Friday, Feb. 19 at 8 p.m., as part of Signature’s “Parlor Room Home Sessions” online music series, to debut the new cuts, though he said the songs would likely take a different form and the show itself would include a mix of recorded and livestreamed music. “We’re still working out the details,” he said.

It’s Price’s second solo record in just the last two years. In 2019, he released “Bone Almanac,” an acclaimed disc built almost exclusively around acoustic guitar and voice that PopMatters called “a masterclass in songwriting and performance.”

A project to focus on

But “Oceans Hiding in Oceans,” recorded last summer, came from a very different place, in particular Price’s need to have a project to focus on.

After the pandemic hit, “I was feeling a lot of anxiety, feeling depressed,” he said. “I wasn’t sleeping. We were all wondering how long this was going to last.” Price and his wife, Flora Reed — she is a longtime member of Winterpills and provides the key harmony vocals to the band’s songs — also had to tend to their 2-year-old son, Wesley, who in turn wanted to listen to a steady diet of children’s music.

Price says he generally has a backlog of songs he’s working on for future projects, but in this case he hadn’t been preparing to record anything, and only a couple of the tunes that ended up on “Oceans Hiding in Oceans” were really much fleshed out. But once he decided he needed to make a new album, he said, “The songs started to come, and I would use every spare moment to work on them … I couldn’t wait to get to it.”

There’s long been a strain of melancholy in Price’s music, and it’s there on the new album as he assesses what months of COVID-19 have cost us. Consider “Scarred for Life,” which begins with loud, echoey keyboard notes and then adds bursts of electric guitar and electronic dissonance, with a repeated chorus in which Price asks if he’s “Scarred for life / Am I now scarred for life.”

The song also begins with images of seeming environmental chaos — “I’ve seen the mountains under the ocean surrounded by a fog and a storm approaching” — though Price says that scene actually stems from a recurring nightmare he had as a kid. Still, the overall dynamic of “Scarred for Life,” from its lyrics to its stark melody, suggests the pandemic will indeed leave its mark on us all.

“Loneliness” and “First Hail” also conjure somber images, such as “with the hailstones come the crossbones” from the latter song. But Price says his emotions ranged all over the map when he worked on the album, and there are moments of humor and happiness too, like on “Little Bell,” a song written for his son and an ode to a toddler’s energy and curiosity.

The tune, based around strummed acoustic guitar, keyboards and heavy percussion, begins “Little Bell you ring all day / and at night you’re tucked away / and you dream of ringing still / and you know you always will,” and it offers a somewhat hypnotic chorus in “rave on Little Bell, Little Bell, Little Bell, rave on.”

“That’s what we call him,” Price said of his son. “And he does do a lot of ringing.”

Price also says he tried to subvert his depression on the melodic “All Lies” by writing a song that would be a refutation of what was actually happening around him. For instance, the opening lyric, “This is not a cloudy day,” came after he was taking a walk around his neighborhood last April.

“It was one of those leaden days, totally gray overhead, and I just thought, ‘This is not a cloudy day,’ and began building on that idea,” he said.

He points to a number of influences on the new songs, from Dolly Parton to Elton John to Fiona Apple to John Lennon to Anais Mitchell (as well as some of the children’s songwriters his son likes). The murky vocals and unusual orchestration on some songs also came “probably from me doing a bit of Slowdive,” he said, a reference to the British dreampop band.

Price also notes one bright spot for him and other artists during the pandemic — the help he’s received from Paetron, a membership platform that supports artists via a subscription service, through which supporters get perks such as private online performances, music downloads and first updates on new music.

“I was hesitant at first about it, thinking ‘Do I really want to take a handout?’” he said. “But they’ve really helped me … I’m grateful.”

More information about Price’s music is available at philipbprice.com. His Feb. 19 show can be accessed at signaturesounds.com/homesessions.

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.




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