Preparing to dial the number, I wasn’t quite sure what I would get. Bijou Phillips has a name that carries a lot of weight. Her father was not only her proud papa, but also Papa John (of The Mamas and The Papas) to everyone in the world. I sat contemplating until a voice whispered, “Hello?”
Bijou left the line for a moment to turn down her radio and upon her return we began our discussion about her past, present, and future.
I saw you perform on Jay Leno not too long ago.
It was kind of horrible.
Was that your band you performed with?
That is my band. Except the back-up singer was flat. She’s been fired.
Oh. So, are you doing shows?
Yeah. We’re going to do some shows at the Viper Room and then I’m going to do Lilith Fair for a while and test the waters. It should be exciting.
How long have you been writing songs?
Since I was a little kid, but I’ve been doing it seriously with like a goal and a mission for like two years now.
Do you write about what is on your mind?
I usually have an idea of a story before I write. I usually think what I’m going to write about. I’ll pick either something that is going on in my life or something fictional and I’ll write about it, but sometimes I just go and just write and I don’t know what it is going to be about. On a couple of my songs you don’t really get what the song is about until the end of the song.
“Hawaii” definitely gave me the feeling that you were into telling stories.
Yeah, “Hawaii” is a story, but the biggest story on the record is probably “The Mermaid and The Earthman”.
I like that, but I really enjoyed “Little Dipper”.
Yeah, “Little Dipper” is cool. I really like that song.
The beginning is very nice. It reminds me of being a kid.
Well, “Little Dipper” is about my whole life basically, from the point of view of dealing with my mother and what that was like. The first verse is like being a little kid, the second verse is a teenager, but really young, and the third verse is now.
The song paints a really good picture.
So how did you get signed?
I just kind of got fed up with modeling and living New York and being fucking bored out of my mind, so I came out to Los Angeles and got a record deal. But I went to the label and played them a couple of songs I had written and they were really interested in it so they put me in the studio for a week and I came back with really great demos and they signed me immediately.
Where you afraid that because you were modeling before that they might not take you seriously?
Not really, because I wasn’t really modeling before. I did a couple of modeling gigs, but there was always an interview along with them. So it was never like a modeling thing. I only really did it for like four months.
It just wasn’t very exciting?
It was bullshit. It was boring. I don’t have one good thing to say about modeling.
Your father taught you how to play guitar when you were a teenager?
Yeah, he did teach me. I wanted to learn, it had always been around but I never really cared, but didn’t [care] because it was there. You never really want anything you can easily have. So I just decided, ‘I’ll see what happens.’ So I did it. He taught me like three chords a day and I’d work on them all day.
You had music around you your whole life. Who were some of your influences?
I used to listen to a lot of Rickie Lee Jones, Janis Joplin, Led Zepplin, everything. I liked all the music that my dad liked, a wide variety like Patsy Cline, Billie Holliday, Ella Fitzgerald, and tons of good music. I never really cared for modern music, like those hair bands. I’m not really into the bands my friends were into when they grew up. I was never into MTV. I was really into Motown. Like my dad used to get tons of these Motown collectors cds, it’s like a package of like ten cds, and I’d steal it and listen to Motown all of the time. I got really into Michael Jackson and a lot of music.
Were you singing along to them and then realized you could sing?
Well, I always knew I could sing. But I went to this camp called Stage Girl Manor, it was a performing arts camp, and we’d do like Broadway shows. And I knew I could sort of sing because my dad could sing, my sister could sing, and my mom could sing, so I figured I could sing too. It was never like a discovery that I could sing, it was more like learning how to sing right and actually hitting the notes and knowing what I was doing when I was doing it, instead of just singing.
So are there other things you want to get into? I know you are doing movies now.
Yeah, I’ve done a couple of movies. I did this movie called Black & White. I did it with Robert Downey Jr., Gaby Hoffman, Ben Stiller, and Elijah Wood. That is coming in the fall and I’m shooting a new Cameron Crowe movie.
Is it more fun doing different things and keeping busy?
Yeah, because like right now I don’t have much to do with the record except interviews and meetings with my record label.
The album was supposed to be released in February and then it got moved to late March. What happened?
It was weird. It was supposed to come out in September, but we didn’t like the record cover. So we couldn’t put it out in September because we didn’t have it ready. So we had to wait, and you can’t put out a new record at Christmas time because it’s not going to do anything. You have all those Christmas releases, like Hole and Smashing Pumpkins dropping their records, so we had to wait all winter.
Are you going to do any shows to promote the new single?
After the few Lilith shows I think we are going to go on tour in Australia and then I’m going to come and do a tour in the States.
How much do you like doing shows?
I love it. I haven’t done a lot of them, but I grew up on tour with my dad so it’s like eighty percent of the reason why I’m in this business.
Do you ever suffer from stage fright?
Of course there is stage fright, but it’s what I want. So there is a lot of stage fright, but also a lot of satisfaction.
I also heard that you did a photo shoot with Michael Stipe (R.E.M.’s front man).
That was a lot of fun. We’ve been friends for a while.
Lastly, I was wondering what you think would make a perfect world?
A world where the weather is really warm and dry, but there are little misters all over the place, and you’d have little bits of water falling all over you. And there is fruit growing everywhere, like in a rainforest. A beautiful beach and everything you could possibly want. And you are just happy and free. Where you can swim in the ocean every day, and get burnt out by the sun and you just pass out sleeping in a really comfortable bed all night with a nice cold breeze blowing on you. And you also have a lot of cute little puppies cuddling with you and they never shit or piss in your house.
I have a puppy right now, well, he doesn’t look like a puppy, but I know what that is about.
I do too and he is making me nuts.
What kind of puppy?
A little Pekinese.
I have a Boxer. Luckily, he learned really quickly.
How did he learn?
Bijou and I continued for a while discussing my house training techniques and secrets. So as not to bore you, I’ll bring the interview to a close.
+ charlie craine