Interview with Country Music’s Phil Vassar

(Flashback to 2004, when this article was written)

Country music’s piano man, Phil Vassar, is pumped. His third album comes out this summer, and he can’t wait for you to hear it. Vassar will bring his vibrant piano playing, animated stage antics and rockin’ band, with a set list chock full of hits and new songs alike, to the F.M. Kirby Center in Wilkes-Barre tomorrow evening.

Vassar may not a household name (yet) and his voice may be relatively new to country radio, but his words are far from a stranger to the airwaves. Vassar virtually lit the fire for Jo Dee Messina’s success by penning her first two #1 hits, “Bye, Bye” and “I’m Alright”. Vassar has song-writing credits on many other artists’ albums, and perhaps it was the fact that his writing perked the ears of country music superstars like Tim McGraw (“My Next Thirty Years”) and Alan Jackson (“Right on the Money”) that the then piano playing club owner landed his own record deal. Since his career took off in 2000, he has had a #1 hit with “Just Another Day in Paradise” and a string of other top ten hits including “Carlene,” “Six Pack Summer,” That’s When I Love You” and “American Child.” He scored a slew of songwriting awards, as well as the Academy of Country Music’s New Male Vocalist award.

Vassar recently had a few days off to spend at his Nashville home before heading to Wilkes-Barre, Pa. He was able to take a quick break from his dad duties to speak about his upcoming show and his new music. Family time is precious for Vassar, who spends most of the year on tour. That said, what keeps one of Nashville’s busiest musicians going?

“I love it! That’s what keeps me hanging. We have a new record done, and we are just ready to get out and get kicking hard!” he exclaimed with overflowing enthusiasm.

Vassar said the first single from his new album will hit airwaves in April, but concertgoers will get to hear a sneak preview.

“We’re doing three or four new songs in each show, and they are going over very well. My Lordy, I’m excited! I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time. These are some of the best songs I have been a part of,” he said, obviously eagerly awaiting the album’s release.

Vassar takes his songwriting seriously, and is influenced by some serious songwriters: Billy Joel, Elton John and James Taylor, all of whom take a story telling, sometimes even autobiographical approach of writing. He too, likes to draw from his personal experiences, or those around him.

“(The music) comes from real life, your life or someone else’s. You write what you know. Of course, you change the names to protect the innocent,” he joked.

One way to do so is to write side by side with someone who shares those very experiences, like a wife. Vassar writes frequently with wife Julie, several of their songs being included on his new album.

“Aw, she’s sweet. We write together a lot. She’s my favorite co-writer,” he said. “I enjoy writing with fun people that I know on a personal level.”

And, does living with your songwriting partner spark song ideas from everyday events? “Absolutely it does! But, Julie has more ideas than me,” he admitted.

Vassar, who once performed a private show for radio station Froggy 101 listeners and the next summer, stole the show while opening for pal Kenny Chesney, says he is psyched to be back in Pennsylvania.

“It’s going to be wild. It’s always wild and always high-energy. We’ve got a really good bunch of guys, and that truly comes through on stage,” he said.

There is a certain vibe about a Phil Vassar song. Even if someone else is doing the singing, you can tell he wrote it: bright, vibrant music, uplifting, optimistic lyrics and catchy, contagious choruses. So, with all of the success Vassar has had with his songs being recorded by other artists, you’d think a compilation CD of Phil’s rendition of them would be a great idea.

“We’ve actually talked a lot about that. That’d be a really cool deal. It would be like a greatest hits album, with my own version of the songs recorded by others. I’d like to have a couple more hits of my own first.”

Just wait until April, Phil.

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