Dealing with a lawsuit probably isn’t the best way to get the creative juices flowing. As a songwriter, the last thing you want to pop into your head is the $6 million that your former management company is taking you to court over.
Yet that’s where Phillip Phillips has been the past couple of years, slugging it out both in courtrooms and the court of public opinion over a contract that the former “American Idol” winner signed with 19 Entertainment – the producer of the long-running singing reality competition – and later found to be too “oppressive,” according to legal documents. The young singer-songwriter alleged that the company booked him to play free private shows for companies that sponsored “Idol,” but also claimed the right to 40 percent of any moneys coming to him in endorsement deals.
It was a contract so infamous that multiple music acts that The News & Observer has interviewed over the past few years have referenced Phillips’ predicament as a reason why they weren’t really interested in making the move from independent artist to signing with a major record label. 19 Entertainment counter sued, and the two sides went back and forth before finally reaching an undisclosed settlement, a move spurred on by the reboot of “Idol” that launches on ABC next month.
Phillips, the winner of Season 11 of the original Fox program, is set to perform at the Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro Feb. 20 to promote his new album, “Collateral,” which was released Jan. 19.
He no longer sounds like a neophyte when asked about “Idol” coming back to television. “I would just remind people who are getting into the business, or trying out for the show, to be sure of what they want. Be smart with your decisions. Surround yourself with a good team that you trust.”
The word ‘good’ doesn’t begin to describe the team that the singer-songwriter surrounded himself with once he finally was allowed legally to release new music. “Collateral” features one of the most talented array of record producers to be featured on an album thus far in 2018.
Phillips relied mainly on one producer (Gregg Wattenberg) on his first two albums – “The World From the Side of the Moon” and “Behind the Light.” But here, he works with such names as the Grammy Award-winning Dave Cobb (Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson), Nathan Chapman (Lady Antebellum, Taylor Swift), and Ryan Hadlock (Ra Ra Riot).
It was a move the singer welcomed, despite being proud of his previous work – which includes multi-platinum hit “Home” and “Gone, Gone, Gone.” It was one he thought was needed to work within the current economics of the music business.
“With this album, I just wanted to try something different, because music is changing so much,” Phillips said. “I was in New York a few weeks ago...and I was looking at all of the posters being stuck up outside for other musicians’ music, and its apparent that people care much more about streaming numbers than album sales now. I wanted to try something different this time out (to compete with those changes).”
The lawsuits the singer was embroiled in kept him from being able to legally release new music for purchase, but Phillips has remained on the road regularly during that time. The North Carolina show will mark the smallest venue he has played in the Triangle in quite some time, as recent summer tours have seen him fill amphitheaters, whether co-headlining with fellow singer-songwriter Matt Nathanson or opening for rockers the Goo Goo Dolls. The intimate atmosphere may be the perfect size to showcase the songs that Phillips created during his turbulent recent past.
“These songs are some of the most honest and organic that I’ve ever written, and people have really been liking both them and the album, and really seem to have had a connection to it.”
For Phillips, getting back on the road with the new album, it’s all about a fresh start after overcoming a bout of writer’s block.
“At first I think I was a little depressed, and I just couldn’t get out what I wanted to say, and everything I wrote down either wasn’t good enough or good at all,” he said. “Finally I got with some friends that I’ve known and write with, and they really inspired me, and before I knew it a lot of music just started pouring out.
“It was this really cool moment in my life, where I wasn’t feeling good enough at what I do, and then all these really good songs that I could be proud of suddenly appeared.”
Who: Phillip Phillips with opener Striking Matches
When: 8 p.m., Tuesday, Feb. 20
Where: Cat’s Cradle, 300 East Main St., Carrboro
Cost: $27.50, or $30 at the door. VIP packages are $94.32 to $142.86 and include a meet and greet and pre-show party.
Info: CatsCradle.com or 919-967-9053