“When I write for an artist there are two goals: One is getting to know each other so I can care about the artist and care about the song. Two is serving the artist,” Nashville-based songwriter Phillip LaRue explains of his approach to co-writing. “I hold the canvas and they hold the paint brush, I make suggestions.” Phillip’s intuitive understanding of the artist’s way stems from the fact that he grew up in the business, starting at a very young age as an artist in a duo called LaRue with his big sister. Although he remains an artist his debut solo album Let the Road Pave Itself came out in 2009 he’s grown into a producer and a respected and successful songwriter. Some recent achievements have been Jars Of Clay’s “Eyes Wide Open,” Jennifer Knapp’s “Dive In,” Ronnie Dunn “Once,” and 10 Avenue North’s “By Your Side” which won a Dove Award for Song Of The Year.
Early on Phillip was drawn to the sophisticatedly accessible melodies of bands like Crowded House, Counting Crows, R.E.M., and the Wallflowers. The modern Top 40 with intelligent lyrics approach of these artists appealed to him and he studied their song structures, contemplated their lyrics, and related to the fact these bands’ rich melodic heritage dated back to the Beatles, his homebase. After a heavy bout with mono Phillip learned to play guitar and write songs thumbing through a Beatles’ songbook with an acoustic guitar.
This singer/songwriter/guitar player foundation has made Phillip a versatile partner in the studio. “I can bring everything to a session, music, lyrics and melody. But [during a session] you learn what an artist is really good at and let them take the lead,” Phillip explains. â€œOr sometimes, it’s an artist’s first record and they’re finding out what they’re good at, so it’s good to have all three covered.” Phillip often preps for a session by studying the artists he’s going to be working with prior records. He’ll look for stylistic constants in their sound and songwriting approach, noting the artist’s signature musical motifs; he’ll also get a sense of the artist’s career by doing online research. And sometimes getting ready for a session just means just listening to music that puts Phillip back in the headspace of why he fell in love with music in the first place. “I take like 30 minutes and get in touch with what I’m feeling so I have something to offer and by the time they get there I’m inspired,” he says.
As someone pursuing an artist’s career and separately a songwriter’s career, negotiating the dynamic of the two mindsets can be complicated. “I take off the artist hat [when I go into a songwriting session]; what has served me best is to treat them like separate rivers. I’m not worried about my stamp,” Phillips says, finishing by summing up a successful songwriting session with two points, “Is it a great song? And is it what the artist wanted to say?”