Bon Jovi needs no introduction, they are a legendary rock band full stop. Since the release of their self-titled debut album right through until recent release “This House is Not for Sale”, they have shifted millions of units in record/cd sales and toured relentlessly to all corners of the globe. However, back in 2013, there was a lineup change which was seismic in terms of the band. The focal points since the band’s inception had always been vocalist Jon Bon Jovi and his sidekick guitarist Richie Sambora. In 2013, however, Sambora departed, and this was officially confirmed in 2014. For the next few years, his place in the band was taken by the mysteriously monikered Phil X. This guy certainly had to possess the extraordinary ability and huge shoes to fill his predecessor’s role within Bon Jovi. While he was relegated officially to a side musician position he was finally promoted and fully recognized in 2016. This year Bon Jovi are set to return to the UK for a series of stadium shows and it was to promote those that I was afforded the opportunity of catching up with the relatively new addition to the legendary rock band to discuss the tour and indeed how things operated inside Bon Jovi since he had joined.
ANTIHERO: I suppose the fact that you’re doing Bon Jovi interviews is a realization that you’ve officially been recognized as a full-time band member?
Phil X: Well, it seems like, yeah. I mean, you know where I get recognized the most, at airports, all over the world.
ANTIHERO: Right. But, as I say, have you done many interviews before?
Phil X: Yeah. I did a bunch when they released “This House is Not For Sale”. Because they figured, hey, the guy’s on the album artwork.
ANTIHERO: Would be rude not to include you in the press then I guess?
Phil X: Why don’t we get him to do some interviews? So yeah. I’ve been doing it since. Ever since my face got on the t-shirt. That’s what I say.
ANTIHERO: Obviously, after these interviews I understand you’ve got tour rehearsals. I just wondered is that just you guys jamming songs or is that like a full production with stage lights, et cetera?
Phil X: No. This is us in a room hashing out some of the catalog. We’ll probably be running sets in a couple of weeks. This one is basically, hey, we haven’t done this one in a while, let’s try that, or hey, why don’t we extend this arrangement a little bit, so we have more fun on stage? That kind of stuff is happening today, and yesterday, actually, as well.
ANTIHERO: Are you able to sort of suggest songs that maybe the band hasn’t played for years or is the set pretty rigid?
Phil X: Jon totally takes the wheel on that. That’s his position. Yeah, he picks the songs. He makes the sets. And, you know, he’s doing a great job. You’ve got to think about his career, I mean, the career of the band, and how he’s still doing it. This band, we’ve been going out to Japan and Australia and playing stadiums, so he’s doing something right.
ANTIHERO: What about the setlist when you guys are on tour? Obviously, you’ve toured with the band before, is there any sort of flexibility while you’re on tour? Do you tweak it around a little bit?
Phil X: Well, Jon does that, as well. I mean, I remember even back in 2013, where when we were touring Europe and we playing stadiums then, and people would hold up song titles. Then, the next night, he’d call it out. Well, actually, sometimes he would turn around to me and say, hey, do you know Wild Is the Wind? And I’m like, no, I haven’t learned that yet. And he said, learn it for tomorrow. And then I’d learn it for the next show. The first time I would play it would be on stage in front of 60,000 people the next night. That was a little nerve-wracking. But, it added urgency to walking on stage every night, you know?
ANTIHERO: Do you have a favorite Bon Jovi song to play, both a new song and maybe an old one, songs that you really enjoy playing live every single night?
Phil X: Older ones, for me, because I grew up when I was a teenager, “Livin’ on a Prayer” was one of the songs in my youth. My arm hairs still stand when I play that. I’ve played it over 200 times so that one. It’s one of those things, and it’s like being a fan of the band and being in the band and on the stage, there’s something about the electricity in the audience when that drum beat starts and I’m on the talk box. There’s electricity in the audience no matter where we are, no matter how big the audience is, there’s something that happens at that moment where you’re like, oh man, this is it, right here. It’s an amazing feeling.
ANTIHERO: What about your career before Jovi? Would you describe yourself as a session guitarist?
Phil X: Well, yes. I mean, the session paid the bills. I’ve always been a songwriter and it’s always been in bands. It always seemed like that’s what I wanted to do.
ANTIHERO: What was the first introduction to music for you personally?
Phil X: There was a lot of Greek music playing in our household when I was growing up. My dad played bouzouki and knew 500 old political songs from the 40s and 50s so when we went to a gathering and he had his bouzouki, it was like Elvis was in the building. I remember not understanding the lyrics but differentiating between major and minor modes by watching peoples’ responses. He could make them laugh and cry and I found that amazing.
ANTIHERO: Favourite new Jovi track to play live and why?
Phil X: I have to say “This House is Not for Sale” for a number of reasons. First, it’s the first song of the set and a great warm-up for me vocally. It’s also the first time you see the audience and they see the band so there is a TON of energy/excitement flying around the venue. Lastly, I get to shine and show off a bit of “Phil X guitar pyro” in the coda of the song.
ANTIHERO: Did you learn to accept the term “session guitarist” or was that something that you grew to hate? Is it better to be a hired gun or part of a full-time band? What about creating music outside the confines of Bon Jovi? Do you still have that degree of flexibility to actively pursue a solo career in tandem with Bon Jovi?
Phil X: Well… the term “session guitarist” means you’re getting paid, so there’s nothing wrong with that. Being a “hired gun” (I love the term, by the way) tends to be what it represents, which is doing a job. You can have a blast doing it but it’s still not your passion. I’m grateful to have both canvases to paint on in my life with playing arenas and stadiums with Bon Jovi and more intimate forums with Phil X & The Drills.
ANTIHERO: When you first joined Bon Jovi was it frustrating having to accurately replicate exactly another guitarists work?
Phil X: It wasn’t frustrating at all. I found the recipe early on which was respect the music, respect the band, respect the fans and of course Richie. You can accurately PLAY the licks and riffs of another guitar player but the trick is capturing the intended emotion of that player. There are moments in the show where you can stretch out a little bit but if you think you can stray from a perfect rendition of the Livin’ On A Prayer solo night after night, you’re way off. Solos such as that are simply expected.
ANTIHERO: The band has recently announced UK/Europe dates. What memories do you have of previous trips to the UK?
Phil X: I remember Hyde Park in London in 2013 as a very crazy time. I LOVE London so that was part of it. The audience was fantastic, the band was on fire and YouTube documented my first really bad show glitch. I had switched guitars for the next song, quickly glanced at the set and my eye went to the wrong song so while the band went into “Born To Be My Baby”, I went into “Lost Highway”. Although I was quick to remedy my error, there were a few bars of “WTF????” I shook it off and the rest of the show was AWESOME.
I truly enjoyed the small promo theater show we did to promote “THINFS”. Jon really made that whole “playing the new record in its entirety” thing work by describing his personal inner-struggles making that record. The fans totally appreciated his vulnerability and we had a wonderful show.
ANTIHERO: You have worked with many legendary musicians, but who, in particular, has taught you the most?
Phil X: As a musician with so many peaks in a career, it’s not unusual to find yourself sharing the stage with your own heroes. In January of 2019, I found myself looking across the stage seeing Billy Duffy (The Cult), Billy Gibbons, Robert DeLeo (STP), Steve Lukather and Steve Stevens for one song and then Michael Anthony, Sammy Hagar, Dean DeLeo (STP) and Stevie Salas for another.
Just this last September, I jammed with Uli Jon Roth, someone I idolized when I was 16, in Germany and a few days later with Billy Gibbons in the Bahamas. What a week. The thing with playing with all these guys is, it’s as cool off stage as on. You’re hanging out by the snacks table geeking over guitars, amps, that new pedal they can’t live without…etc. It’s the HANG that is truly incredible.
ANTIHERO: Offstage hobbies/interests,obviously you have kids which are quite a demand on your time. How do you cope with that balance- – of being a father and not a guitarist in 1 of the worlds biggest bands?
Phil X: Everything changed when I became a dad. Constantly practicing, inventing licks, songwriting… all that became second to being a dad. Between my 5-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter, life at home is all about superheroes and princesses.
ANTIHERO: Are your goals and ambitions all fulfilled? What would be your view on improving as a player.You also do a lot of giving back and supporting music in schools etc with different projects?
Phil X: I’m very excited about the new DRILLS record. We’ve been working on it since 2014. It has taken so long because there’s a different drummer on each song and since you have to nail down a schedule when these guys aren’t touring, it can get quite tricky.
We have (I’m just going to name them all to not leave anyone out) Taylor Hawkins, Tommy Lee, Abe Labriel Jr., Kenny Aronoff, Matt Chamberlain, Libery Devitto, Ray Luzier, Glen Sobel, Tico Torres, Gary Novak, Brent Fitz, Brian Tichy, Jeremy Spencer, Randy Cooke and Ryan MacMillan. I CAN’T WAIT FOR THIS TO COME OUT IN 2019!!!
Regarding improving as a player, I believe some aspects of my playing get to a higher level but at the hindrance of other aspects. Obviously, your ‘feel’ constantly changes so you dig into different areas of your vocabulary when you’re digging in for licks. As the application changes, so does your expression. I will always feel like I could be better. A LOT better and I love the challenge.
Tickets for Bon Jovi’s ’This House Is Not For Sale’ tour are available now, visit www.bonjovi.com/tour