Elephant Castle’s first single, “Cool To Be Unhappy,” hit the internet airwaves on March 27, 2020. Their retro-inspired take on the break-up ballad quickly became a favorite of indie-rock aficionados everywhere. Following up on that fortuitous release, the band added “I’m A Loser;” “Life In Outer Space” and most recent, “My Muse,” to their list of music infused with warm distorted guitars, retro synths and soaring harmonies. Needless to say, the band has officially entered the conversation of best new acts of 2020 – and deservedly so. Now it’s time to meet the man behind the music.
His name is Phil Danyew.
Raised in Oceanside, CA, Danyew has been writing and recording music since age 12. He grew up listening to 50s and 60s oldies and is an avid lover of vintage synths, layered vocals and analog gear. You may remember him from his six years touring with band mates, Foster the People.
Phil recently left the band to focus on creating his own music. Elephant Castle is the culmination of that effort. Spawned from the music that shaped his youth; and inspired by the sounds that defined a generation, Phil Danyew is poised to bridge the gap between the then and now. And we were fortunate enough to have a few moments of Phil’s time.
FTLOB: I’m sure some of our readers would love to hear a bit about your time with Foster The People. Could you tell us a bit about that?
PHIL DANYEW: Playing with Foster The People was the greatest experience of my career up to this point. Without a doubt! I love those guys so much. They will always be like family. I feel extremely grateful to have shared the stage with those guys for six years and will definitely (and already do) miss playing with them.
FTLOB: Personally, I love what you’re doing with Elephant Castle and I’d love to talk about your approach to writing/recording.
PHIL DANYEW: Thanks so much! I’m very excited about the project and have big plans for it. It has been very life-giving to me to return to creating my music again. My approach with Elephant Castle has been to get out of the way. I’m chasing down a sound, but more than anything, I just want to let inspiration have its way and be the driving force. I’ve realized that the writing process can be very spiritual and should be treated with a certain amount of reverence. It is communication to something bigger. The Universe, God, the Vortex – whatever you want to call it. I think there is something transcendent that wants to speak through artists. The best thing artists can do is to show up consistently, get out of the way, and be tenaciously open.
FTLOB: Anything you do or rituals to prep for sessions or songwriting?
PHIL DANYEW: I do have a little ritual that I do. Two doors lead into my studio. When I open the exterior door and close it, I’m in a pitch-black hallway. I stand in front of the studio door and breathe deeply in and out and just repeat the word “release”. I want to mentally clear out my mind and heart of everything—most importantly—things that stress me out. I’ll do this for a couple of minutes or until my head is in a good spot and I have made enough blank space to be able to receive.
FTLOB: So far you’ve got four songs out there in the world. Who helped out as far as recording? Are you doing them as you go, or are they all done and you’re releasing as you master?
PHIL DANYEW: I actually had five songs done by December of last year. I was going to mix them myself but decided to bring in somebody who would take it to the next level. It felt like I was too close to them to mix them from a fresh place so I reached out to my buddy Zac Farro. I asked him to hook me up with the guy that mixed his most recent HalfNoise record. That turned out to be Carlos (de la Garza). He’s such a great dude! We met up at his studio to hang and see if we’d vibe…and if he was even into the music. Well, we did and he was, and so we went for it. When it came time to master I asked who we should get and (Carlos) suggested his long time friend Dave Cooley.
FTLOB: Are they home DIY or did you lay down tracks somewhere specific? And since you’re known for being a multi-instrumentalist, does anyone else play on them?
PHIL DANYEW: I played and recorded everything myself in my studio except the drums. I had Zac (Farro) play on “Cool to Be Unhappy.” Mark Pontius played on “I’m a Loser” and “Life In Outer Space.” My buddy Dan Bailey played drums on “My Muse.” The last of the bunch is called “Euphoria”. I programmed it all and sent the programmed drums to those dudes. They got the vibe and did their thing with it. They are all such incredible players and added so much.
FTLOB: Are you going to have a full LP or is this part of an EP?
PHIL DANYEW: The plan is to do two EPs most likely released as singles (it’s a singles world more than ever these days) and then maybe do a record after that.
FTLOB: And then there’s the COVID of course. How are you navigating that, personally/professionally etc.
PHIL DANYEW: I would say my day to day life has changed maybe 5% – haha! I’m pretty reclusive most of the time so I didn’t really feel the effects until about a week ago, when I realized I miss my friends. I miss grabbing drinks or meeting people for coffee. I especially miss going out to breakfast. Professionally, everyone in my circle has some sort of studio or home studio. So, I can just send files and people can record themselves. It’s pretty amazing! I don’t know if that means I was meant for quarantine, but I do know it means that I’m lucky that I’m still able to do what I do despite a lockdown. Since this is a new project, touring wasn’t on my radar anyways – so the pandemic came at a decent time in my little world.
FTLOB: I read about you wanting to pay homage to the sounds you grew up with. I was interested in hearing, in your own words, a bit about that.
PHIL DANYEW: I grew up listening to mostly 50s and 60s oldies. It was the first music that ever grabbed me by my collar. I specifically remember hearing The Beatles and The Beach Boys and having my mind blown. It felt like another world. I was a sponge, and would listen for hours every day. It was mesmerizing. I think, having been my first romance with music, the 60s era is in my center. Although I do enjoy a lot of different music, nothing makes me feel like that.
FTLOB: Was creating this type of reto-sound always the plan for you solo music?
PHIL DANYEW: Not exactly. My wife is a filmmaker. She and her writing partner had me write a handful of songs for their film “The Planters“. Maybe you’ll see it someday. They wanted retro-sounding music that could be from the 60s or 70s. They gave me specific references for what they were going for. Writing those songs reminded me how much I love the 60s sound. I felt so artistically true to myself. Ultimately it led to me founding Elephant Castle. I want Elephant Castle to be a window into the exploration of that sound, while bringing something new into the genre. People have been resonating with the tunes and that’s been really fun. I’m excited for people to hear the new stuff I’m working on now.