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Philip B. Price chases the pandemic blues by making a pop record (‘Well, pop for me’)

On solo album ‘Oceans Hiding in Oceans,’ the Winterpills frontman recorded the tunes at his home and played all the instruments

While recording "Oceans Hiding in Oceans," Philip B. Price found himself exploring new sounds as he sought to evoke tunes by other artists, including Dolly Parton, the Magnetic Fields, and Regina Spektor.
While recording "Oceans Hiding in Oceans," Philip B. Price found himself exploring new sounds as he sought to evoke tunes by other artists, including Dolly Parton, the Magnetic Fields, and Regina Spektor.Signature Sounds

When Philip B. Price decided a few years ago to revive his solo career, the singer and songwriter figured he would ramp it up gradually. His plan was to alternate his own projects with albums by Winterpills, the Northampton folk-pop group he has fronted since 2003. Then the pandemic hit.

A few months after the fall 2019 release of “Bone Almanac,” his first solo album in 15 years, Price found himself at home with his wife — Winterpills bandmate Flora Reed — and their toddler son, his touring plans scrapped. By summer, with no end in sight, Price had what he calls “a bit of a breakdown.” With the help of an anti-depressant, he channeled his fear and anxiety into writing the 11 songs on “Oceans Hiding in Oceans,” his second solo release in two years. He recorded the tunes himself in his guest room/recording studio, and played all the instruments.

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“I kind of don’t remember doing the album,” says Price, who performs an album-release livestream Friday hosted by his record label, Signature Sounds. “I go back and I listen to it and I go, ‘Is that me playing that part?’ It was like it was done by another person.”

Though context makes “Oceans Hiding in Oceans” a pandemic album, it’s not solely an album about the pandemic. Some of the songs give voice to his dread: Price describes the downhearted track “Loneliness” as “a little love song to my own loneliness.” Yet not every song is so dire. With opener “This Is the Last Thing,” “I wanted to take a love song that started at the beginning of someone’s life right to the end, and use as few lyrics as possible, and the simplest melody possible,” he says.

Price also found himself exploring sounds and structures as he sought to evoke tunes by other artists, including Dolly Parton, the Magnetic Fields, and Regina Spektor. “I went through each song and ripped everybody off, just sonically, as kind of a starting point,” he says, laughing. “It’s a pop record. Well, pop for me.”

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The result is his most musically expansive album in a long time. On earlier efforts, Price often tried to avoid relying too much on technology, or least the appearance of having relied on technology. With “Oceans Hiding in Oceans,” he took the opposite approach.

“I just decided to really embrace all the trickery and use all the software at my fingertips that I had sort of avoided using in the past because I felt it didn’t pass some purity test,” he says.

Price augments his usual melancholy vocals and acoustic guitars here with bolder arrangements. There’s more piano than on previous albums, especially on “This Is the Last Thing” and “Scarred for Life,” while the sound of burbling electronics and plucked strings anchor “Me and the Stars.”

“I told Philip I thought it was playful,” says Fountains of Wayne cofounder Chris Collingwood, who got to know Price after moving to Northampton in 1998. Along with playing together in a just-for-fun local band, Price has toured as part of Collingwood’s post-Fountains of Wayne group Look Park, and they have sung on each other’s albums.

“There’s a kitchen-sink approach to production that really draws you in. The album’s full of wobbly pianos and strings and weird percussion and backwards guitars and synths,” Collingwood says. “It’s my favorite thing he’s ever done, for sure.”

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There’s a long list to choose from. Price released his first solo album, “Vitamin,” in 1988. A dozen more would follow before Winterpills got started in 2003. He also made two albums in the late ’80s with the upstate New York punk group Memorial Garage, and a bunch of recordings between 1993 and 2002 with the Maggies, a Northampton power-pop band. Price made much of that music available online a few years ago through the website Bandcamp, and he’s been steadily posting collections of demos and live recordings, too.

Having now recorded two solo LPs in fairly quick succession, Price sees no reason to slow down, even as Winterpills prepares to make a new album this year. Yet the challenges of coordinating the band members’ schedules to record or tour are considerable even when there’s not a pandemic, Price says.

“We’ve always been threading this fine line between being working musicians where we’re really on the road a lot, or musicians who are kind of stay at home and tour selectively and do what we can,” he says.

For Price at the moment, that means releasing as much music as he can, whether he’s posting songs on Bandcamp or going through the more deliberate process with Signature Sounds, or some combination. “I’m at a point where I want to put out two albums a year,” he says. “I just want to be putting out as many albums as I can.”

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Philip B. Price performs a livestream concert Feb. 19 at 8 p.m. at www.signaturesounds.com/homesessions. Suggested donation: $20.

Follow Eric R. Danton on Twitter @erdanton.