Sam Phillips, songwriter for "Gilmore Girls" - photo by Eric Gorfain

Songwriter Profile: Sam Phillips ("Gilmore Girls")

With her succession of well-regarded releases dating back to the early ‘90s, Sam Phillips (Gilmore Girls) has inscribed a significant niche in the singer-songwriter genre. Human Contact is Never Easy unveils an intriguing sampler of eight songs: four new tracks, two recorded live at Largo in West Hollywood, CA and a pair of selections from 2013’s Push Any Button. The EP is a prelude to an anticipated full-length in mid-2017.

With the reboot of television’s Gilmore Girls in four 90-minute episodes for Netflix, Sam Phillips returns to the much-loved series in which her songs and voice were essential throughout the show’s seven-year run. Phillips also worked with the show’s creative team of Amy Sherman-Palladino and Dan Palladino on a subsequent series, Bunheads, while writing and recording multiple solo projects.

Describing Human Contact is Never Easy, Phillips says she conceived the project on the advice of a friend. “I thought what a great, fun idea. It’s very low key, it’s not expensive, just interesting. And it was fun seeing how the old and new songs worked together.”

Phillips, who produced the project, says life with her ex-husband, T Bone Burnett, schooled her on production. “I not only worked with him, but I watched him produce other people. I don’t have the gift that T Bone has, but I can find my way around. I did a little project recently with him, scoring for television. He’s one of the best ever, and still a dear friend,” she confirms.

Now married to Eric Gorfain, leader of the string quartet, the Section, it is natural that his arrangements reveal an orchestral ambiance supporting Phillips’ vocals on select tracks. “I’ve always loved strings,” she enthuses. “The Beatles got me addicted. Working with Van Dyke Parks and now my husband Eric, it’s such a luxury to have a group of people to draw inspiration from.”

One of the new songs on the album, “Candles and Stars,” reveals a poignant emotional quotient wrapped in a gorgeous melody. Phillips says lyrics are the most time intensive part of her writing process. “I recently wrote a song with Roseanne Cash and it was such a delight because she sent lyrics, and I put music to them. That’s why working on Gilmore Girls is so much easier for me, because it is all of these little melodies and songs. My own work takes longer. I’m happy to slug it out. I wish I weren’t so slow.”
Long walks, Phillips says, helps her focus on lyrics. “I do take my phone so I can write down a phrase or a title or an idea. I learned to type on a typewriter, not a computer, and it wasn’t so fun. And I have terrible handwriting that’s very hard for me to decipher. For many years I have written in a journal and that helps a lot.”

Gilmore Girls was a significant signpost in her musical evolution. “My musical experience in the world opened up when I did Gilmore Girls and more TV music,” affirms the artist. “It’s fun to be a part of the team putting music to picture. The credits say ‘Music by Sam Phillips,’ but all of the songs in the series and in the revival come from Amy and Dan. They choose not just pop songs that might draw in a young audience, but something meaningful.”

Included on the new EP is a live recording of “Reflecting Light,” a Phillips signature song that recurs in both incarnations of Gilmore Girls. “When I wrote it many years ago, it was not at all a love song, it was a self-exploration song. Amy used it in the series as a romantic song. This time it was also used romantically, but it still had that soul searching thing about it.”

Phillips says its meaning has deepened over time. “I love that. My highest aspiration is to inspire people and to make wide-open songs and compositions where people can find a little bit of what they need, or whatever they want to find. I don’t like to be dictating what the song may or may not mean to them.”
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Contact Howard Wuelfing of Howlin' Wuelf Media