I’ve got some catching up to do. I’ve seen the name The Saturday Giant in club listings, I’ve seen mentions on Facebook, but I really had no idea who or what The Saturday Giant was until very recently.
My introduction to Phil Cogley - not in person, but to Phil as a performer - was not at a The Saturday Giant show but, rather, when Phil took on the role of Freddie Mercury for Mr. Fahrenheit & The Loverboys performance at The Bluestone in early December. It was a job-dropping thing to witness - Phil dressed like Freddie and wearing a thin moustache. He had the look AND the voice.
A few months ago, Phil hopped in his car and headed east for a 30-day tour. Earlier this week, video highlights from that tour were posted on YouTube. The 17-minute tour documentary is a great look into what it’s like being a relatively unknown performer who does everything on their own. The tour footage was all filmed by Phil on his iPhone and then Corey Fry worked his editing magic to turn this into something worth watching.
I wanted to know more about Phil, The Saturday Giant, and his east coast tour so I emailed him some questions. Here is what he had to say.
For many local artists, a tour consists of 3 shows in a month, not even necessarily back-to-back-to-back gigs at different clubs. What inspired you to set off on a 30-day tour and how many times before it kicked off did you say to yourself, “Maybe it’s not the best idea to try this?”
PC: It just felt like it was time. I’d been playing monthly or bimonthly in Columbus for some time, and doing long weekend-type stuff with some regularity (Toledo, Detroit, Chicago on a Thursday-Friday-Saturday, for example), as well as going on a 10 day tour to and from SXSW in 2011. I’d been wanting to go on a longer tour for quite a while, I had friends who were very encouraging, and I worked things out with my job to be able to do it, so it seemed silly not to. The only time I regretted the idea was during the booking process, because that was arduous. But I can’t say I had too much anxiety about actually doing it. I’d played enough out of town before to have a decent idea of what to expect, I think.
Did you know from the start you were going to do 30 days and did you plot out a course and then try to find some place to play in each of the cities you were traveling through or did you find places to play first and then plot your course?
PC: Yeah, I planned the full route before I started booking it. I owe Max Sollisch (Dolfish) a ton of gratitude for helping with that. He and I sat down one night with some beers and our computers and spent several hours plotting routes with Google Maps. Of course you don’t get every date in every city that you want, so you have to improvise here and there, but generally the route was consistent with what I’d hoped for.
The Saturday Giant isn’t a household name so I’m not sure that rolling into a “foreign” city on a Friday night is necessarily going to mean a packed house, but trying to play 30 days in a row means you had quite a few Sunday, Monday and Tuesday night shows. Even when established bands with lengthy discographies hit town on these three nights, crowds tend to be a bit thin. Did you find any big differences between a Tuesday night show and a Saturday night show?
PC: At this level, it’s honestly all about the circumstances of the show, regardless of the night of the week. A couple of my better shows were on Mondays, believe it or not, because they happened to be house shows thrown by kids with a lot of friends. I also played some Friday and Saturday shows that sucked (the Baltimore show being a notable example). It can be pretty hard to predict what a show is going to be like before you get there, so you just have to stay positive and roll with the punches either way.
What cities - in terms of the types of people you met, the venues you played, the food you ate, etc. - would you say were the most similar to Columbus and what cities made you feel like a stranger in strange land?
PC: Anywhere in Ohio feels familiar for the most part. Michigan and New York state too. It wasn’t until I got to Burlington, Vermont that I started to feel like I was far from home. New York City is obviously very, very different from Columbus, but I’ve been there a number of times so I was prepared for that. New England and the East Coast definitely have a different vibe, but I think NYC is about as far as you can get from Columbus just in terms of practical things like transportation, nightlife, attitude, etc. The Boston/Cambridge area is very distinct as well, but I’m discovering I like it there quite a bit.
As a father of three who tries to take a yearly family vacation, I often go into the vacation with the intention of filming “memories” that my kids can look back on when they are older. What usually happens is I turn the camera on as we get into the car, the kids say, “We’re so excited, we’re going to …” and then for the next week the camera sits in a bag. How important was it for you to document this tour and did you have to remind yourself to film along the way or did it just come naturally?
PC: If I had been using a video camera, I probably wouldn’t have ended up with nearly as much footage. But since I was using my phone, and I always have that with me, it was easy to just whip it out and document things as they were happening. I don’t think I thought about it all that much. I could usually tell when something was happening that I would want to remember later, whether it was a specific moment or a specific way I was feeling. I also captured plenty of banality, I’m sure.
I enjoy watching tour documentaries, whether I know the band or not. I’ve never seen you perform but was instantly sucked into the documentary you put together - everything was put together so nicely. The 17 minutes flew by and I thought, as it finished, “Well, that was a nice preview. I’m ready to watch the whole hour and a half version now.” And as I started thinking of questions to ask, I realized that there is actually no footage in the documentary of you performing at any of the shows. Was that a conscious decision? Were you more interested in capturing the “life on the road” aspect to touring than the performance?
PC: I’m really glad to hear that! I wasn’t sure how interesting it would be to people who don’t know me personally. Plus I know we’re all very busy on the Internet watching cat videos and “Gangnum Style.” My friend Corey Fry (principal songwriter and frontman of the now-defunct Monolithic Cloud Parade) edited the footage together and shot the interview portion of the doc (we actually did that at Kobo before my set the day I got back). He deserves all the credit for it being so watchable. I gave him the raw footage with very minimal direction, and he did an amazing job. I knew he would; he’s a really talented dude.
There’s no footage of me performing because there just wasn’t a lot of opportunity for me to capture it. I guess I could have given my phone to people at the shows and asked them to film sections of songs for me, but I didn’t. I think I figured that anyone who watched the documentary would know my music already and so showing performances would be unnecessary. Maybe I was wrong about that.
If you made a mixtape of songs that served as the soundtrack to your tour, what songs would be on it?
PC: That’s tough. I listened to the album Skeptic Goodbye by the band You Won’t dozens of times. I managed to weasel my way into an advance copy of the new Dolfish record so I was listening to that a bunch too. I listened to a lot of the WTF with Marc Maron podcast. Otherwise I don’t really remember, which is weird to say since I spent so much time in the car, but I guess I zoned out a lot.
It looks like you didn’t plan very many (if any?) traditional venues. Was it intimidating showing up at some of these houses or odd venues and performing out of your element?
PC: I actually did play a lot of bars and clubs, but for whatever reason they just didn’t make it in to the documentary. I may have been less likely to take footage at those shows since they felt more conventional. I’ve played lots of house/DIY-type shows in the past so it never felt weird doing it on this tour. If anything, those types of circumstances are generally much more welcoming than the typical venue situation.
The footage from Baltimore was pretty real and honest - setting up in a corner of a venue that’s not probably suited for live music. We’ve all been in a restaurant or bar where there is somebody performing with nobody paying attention. Did anybody approach you after you were done to compliment your set?
PC: Not really, because I wasn’t turned up loud enough for anyone to get much of a sense for what I was doing, I don’t think. One of the bartenders told me he could tell I was good and doing some cool stuff, but he was obviously distracted during the set. The best moment of that night was when about a dozen big black dudes came in as part of a bachelor party. A couple of them stood right up by the stage and were loving it. I was laying down a really noisy soundscape, really muscular sounding, and one of the guys was like, “yo, you need to play a guitar solo over that shit!” So I did. He loved it. He was nudging his buddies and pointing, and then threw a couple bucks in my tip jar. Then someone from the staff came over and told me I was way too loud for the space and that I needed to turn down. It was a hilarious sequence.
With the price of gas being what it is and the amount of miles you traveled, I have to imagine that, financially, you didn’t come out ahead on this tour. But, were there any nights where you left a show with an unexpected amount of cash in your pocket?
PC: Perhaps surprisingly, I did come out ahead. I was smart about expenses: I slept on a lot of couches and floors, I got most of my food from grocery stores, I would plan ahead and see whether gas was cheaper in the city I was leaving or the one to which I was heading, etc. It also helped that I was touring the east, where everything is pretty close to together. I think my longest drive was 5 hours, and most were no more than 3. I didn’t get rich by any means, but I didn’t lose money either, and that was great. Probably the most lucrative day of the tour (besides my tour kickoff and homecoming shows) was in Jamestown, New York. I played an early show at a coffee shop for free to about 8 people, but every one of them bought something from me, so that was a good chunk of change. Then I played at a bar later that night. It was kind of a townie bar, and it was a Friday night so it was packed. It was the kind of place where it didn’t matter who was on stage, people were going to come get drunk and pay the cover, regardless, so I made decent money that night.
In your Facebook post, you said Corey Fry managed to make sense of the footage you shot. Did you provide him with the outline of the story you wanted to tell or did you leave the whole thing up to him to piece together?
PC: It was all him. I gave him something like 90 clips and told him to do whatever he wanted. It’s remarkable that he was able to construct something so coherent.
Now that you’ve got two big things under your belt (a month worth of touring and a tour documentary), do you have further plans to give this another try? Would you be interested in going back along the same route and hope that you made an impression the first time through to have people tell their friends to come check you out again or would you like to maybe head west or south and gain all new experiences?
PC: Oh, I’m going to tour more for sure. I’m in the midst of planning a tour of the Midwest and West right now starting at the end of February, and I definitely plan to revisit a lot of my stops from last fall, hopefully this summer. It was an exhausting way to spend a month, but it was totally worth it.