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Chicago based singer-songwriter-guitarist Phil Circle has been surviving as an independent musician for 30 years. After a generous amount of friends and fans bothering him to write down the stories he tended to tell before, during and after shows, he broke down. In 2014 he compiled a collection of non-linear anecdotes and advice in a home-printed and bound book and titled it The Outback Musician’s Survival Guide. He thought he was done. He sold some at shows and people responded; they wanted to know more, they wanted the dark stuff too, they thought something was missing, it was too non-linear.

After a hard fought recovery of his health at the end of 2015, Phil sat down and began a complete rewrite. His rough collection became what a writer friend from the Tribune called a confessional. His story unfolded into a real book this time. The Outback Musician’s Survival Guide became available August 3rd, 2017 on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other online book sellers. The first review came from Oxford, UK and stated:

Towards the end of the book, Phil says, “I don’t have some profound message.” In fact, by sharing his humanity and his failings as well as his high points, he has created a profound message. It is often in mere survival that we create greatness, although we ourselves don’t know it at the time. The touch of human grief amidst all of the adrenaline pumping adventure makes this book something of a celebration of what it means to be human.

As Phil Circle continues promotion of the book and struggles with what his writer friend said… “get ready to write your next book”… he remains an active private music teacher from his home studio in Rogers Park, and is getting busy booking new local venues after a solid run of about 50 shows in 13 months, at many of his old standbys. With plans to get back in the studio and record a vinyl single, he’s clearly not slowing down anytime soon.

A Guide to the Outback Musician's Survival Guide

A Review of Phil Circle's Musical Journey

I have always said that a successful piece of writing is one which achieves its aim and justifies the subject matter. Phil Circle’s book The Outback Musician’s Survival Guide is a successful book. The blurb on the back declares that Phil is here to tell us “what it’s really like for 99% of America’s music industry people.” In doing so, he takes us on an adventure through a lot of his own experiences: humorous or painful or a mixture of the two. On the way, he reveals quite a lot of very useful advice for artists of all kinds as well as music-specific insights, guidance and practical instructions. This book will rid you of any illusions you have been fed by the media, that to be in the music industry is to be a stylish millionaire who is constantly followed by cameras and wins glamorous awards every second day. For this reason, it should be standard reading for those, all those who would like to start a career in music or for those who have already tried to make it but are feeling jaded and uninspired. Phil’s delight in music and his deep commitment to the art of making it pour out from every page. It is impossible not to be swept away on his current of passion.

Far from being a book that renders music exclusive and mysterious, "Outback" focuses on the universal nature of creativity. "We are all creators," says Phil and creativity is absolutely necessary to all of us as human beings. Being a writer, my work is often less spontaneous than that of an actor or musician, but reading The Outback Musician’s Survival Guide has helped me to grasp a little more of the spontaneity of a musician and I have begun to bring an element of that to my writing.

Phil’s tone throughout the book is conversational. I really enjoyed the combination of wisdom and anecdotes. It feels as though you are sat across the table from him in a pub, just chatting. And because the ups and downs and changes in atmosphere echo the peaks and troughs of real life, it is a book that the reader travels with. It is the perfect companion to a journey, whether that be an actual, physical journey or a more creative, spiritual one. It is a book to be read in transition — between railway stations, perhaps, or in the small hours when sleep won’t come and the world seems huge and full of possibilities.

Towards the end of the book, Phil says, “I don’t have some profound message.” In fact, by sharing his humanity and his failings as well as his high points, he has created a profound message. It is often in mere survival that we create greatness, although we ourselves don’t know it at the time. The touch of human grief amidst all of the adrenaline pumping adventure makes this book something of a celebration of what it means to be human.

For those of us who are both artists and outsiders, this book is an encouragement. It inspires us to take greater risks, to live adventurously with our art and to enjoy it without shying away from the painful moments. Those painful moments are often the times of greatest creativity and honesty. Honesty, says Phil, is the single most important ingredient in any work of art and I agree with him. 

I would also recommend this book as an excellent entertainment for those who don’t normally read, or for those who read a lot but need a refreshing break from heavy academic or literary texts.

http://volumeone.org/articles/2014/06/10/7413_circle_of_survival

 

Veteran singer-songwriter and relatively new resident of the Chippewa Valley Phil Circle has seen a lot of changes in the way people perform and appreciate music over the years.

 

One thing he noticed that remains constant, however, is the vast amount of musical talent passed over by audiences for the cookie cutter pop songs of modern radio.

On his forthcoming album "The Unsung," set for release with a performance Friday at The Plus, Circle puts the spotlight on mostly unknown artists that inspire him with new takes on some of their songs.

In addition to tracks by Mark Taylor, Michael McDermott and Lem Roby, Circle also got permission to redo the lesser-known Neil Young track "Harvest Moon" ukelele style.

"I wanted to remind people of the people that are unsung," Circle said in a recent interview. "There are songwriters you've never heard, whose music is as good or better than what you hear on mainstream radio. Why don't you listen?"

One of the tracks from the album, "No Closer To Home," was written by a former student who studied voice and guitar under Circle in Chicago before Circle moved to Eau Claire about a year ago.

Mark Taylor, who has since gone on to pursue a career as a professional musician, said he was honored that his teacher was impressed enough with the song to include it on "The Unsung."

Taylor said the song was mostly inspired by a John Wayne movie, but was later reworked to better fit the rest of the songs on his album.

Given that it's a bit of an anomaly in his collection, Taylor said it's interesting Circle connected to the song like he did.

"I myself am still analyzing what that (song) means to me, but obviously Phil found some meaning in it and that ultimately is what you want as a songwriter, for somebody to find some connection and meaning in it," Taylor said. "That's how it goes. You write songs. Throw it out there and people find their own meaning.

"It's really cool and humbling to have somebody cover your song. Obviously popular songs get covered. But it was kind of surreal and cool and I like the way his (version) sounds."

In many ways, music education and success stories of former students like Taylor inspire Circle almost as much as actually creating music himself.

His passion for education seems a natural byproduct of his upbringing in a northern suburb of Chicago. Raised in a neighborhood made famous by the films of John Hughes - the church from "Home Alone" was just a few blocks away and "Breakfast Club" was shot at Circle's high school - music was always in the home, as Circle's mother worked in the music department at Northwestern University.

"We were all required to learn an instrument, but I was the only one dumb enough to make it a career, try to," Circle said with a laugh.

As Circle cut his teeth playing gigs around Chicago, it seemed like an influx of bands and venues was continuously lowering the pay for working musicians and teaching music became almost a necessity.

"I just kind of made my way the best I could," he said. "I worked day jobs for a while, and then it wasn't long before I was teaching and then that became the main thing."

Circle met his wife Megan - a former UW-Eau Claire student - while doing theater in the Chicago area, and the couple eventually moved back to the Chippewa Valley.

Since then, Circle has released an album and is teaching at the Eau Claire Music School.

Each year the school offers a scholarship program for local students who show promise. And while releasing a record independently can be costly enough, Circle has pledged 30 percent of the proceeds from "The Unsung" to the scholarship program.

A little less than a year after the release of his album Living in the Chippewa Valley, local songwriter and teacher at the Eau Claire Music School Phil Circle has been working on another musical project that not only showcases his message and abilities, but also benefits our community. His newest album, The Unsung, is all about “celebrating music no one has heard,” and features a variety of covers done in his own true Chicago-style blues, including “Harvest Moon” by Neil Young. 
“Other than Neil Young, which is an obscure Neil Young (song), everybody else that I picked are people that I know personally who are astoundingly good songwriters,” Circle says.

In producing the album, Circle worked with another local that he met at open mics around town, Evan Middleton, who has worked with other Eau Claire artists such as Jeff White and Acoustihoo and who has lent his name to a music scholarship at Pine Hollow Audio south of Eau Claire.

Circle says, “I like an engineer that is a producer of objectivity. I like people to hear me. I don’t need to hear me.”

In addition to producing an album with a different perspective than usual, Phil has also joined this project with a fundraiser via Indiegogo (a crowd-funding website where people can raise money for the arts) he began to give back to the community: “Well, because I’m going to take time off and I have no means to give back to causes I care for, I put together this Indiegogo fundraiser where a percentage of money raised on there, which also goes to producing this album and such, goes to the Chippewa Valley Free Clinic – which is very personal to me. … They’ve been very good to me, (and) taken care of my health in quite a few ways.” Funds raised will also go toward music scholarships at  the Eau Claire Music School.

The overall goal is to raise $3,500 by Feb. 15. You can donate to this amazing fundraiser and the community by visiting Indiegogo.com/TheUnsung, by following the link on Circle’s Facebook page, or attending the release show.

Why should you listen to this album? According to Circle, “Listen to the songs, listen to the variety of styles that happen on one album, don’t feel like it all has to be homogenized. Go listen to their versions; you might like theirs better, who cares. … Go look for the good music.”

Phil Circle seems to have found his place among us in the Chippewa Valley. After an unexpected move from Chicago in 2010 with EC native and wife Megan Corse, Phil was more than pleased to find our rich music scene. Over the last couple years here, he’s been hanging out with locals, drinking cheap beer, soaking up the Eau Claire landscape and lifestyle, all while absorbing inspiration for his 10th and latest album, Living in the Chippewa Valley. Circle’s musical tastes encompass a broad range, but this album may be his most “consistently stylistic” yet, featuring a ballad and some underlying folk rock, but mostly making his roots in true Chicago blues prominent. Songs burst with saxophones and intoxicating guitar solos alongside his smooth, genuine vocals. The five-track album includes three songs that were largely improvised, recorded live, and put together “like the Grateful Dead” with a variety of local musicians. What really stands out is Circle’s insatiable passion and love for both the music he creates and the place he’s living right now, two things that collide on the title track. The track Just the Blues, Ma’am is another close to his heart, about recently losing a longtime friend – and the person who inspired his love of blues. As Duke Ellington would say, “If it sounds good, it is good.” And this does, so check it out. Also available at The Local Store.

A windy city transplant is making his mark on our soundscape here in Eau Claire after an 8,000-mile tour that encompassed 31 cities in 21 states. Phil Circle, a blues/country/rock musician, spent 20 years cultivating his singing, guitar playing, and songwriting skills in Chicago, playing constant gigs as well as completing 130 recordings. He also performed at fundraisers for Obama’s presidential race and Hillary Clinton’s senate run in which the Chicago-affiliated politicians were in attendance.

“I had a reputation for advocacy (for independent musicianship) in Chicago,” said Circle, admitting that his “unplanned” move to the north woods occurred when arrangements in Austin, Tex. fell through. Yet he’s been surprisingly stimulated by what he calls a vibrant music scene here in Eau Claire, the former home of his now-partner Megan Corse. “You walk three blocks downtown and hit six music venues. For the area and per capita, it’s bigger than Chicago. It was an unexpected scale,” he said.

Within two days of residency just outside Eau Claire, Circle had already booked a gig at the Acoustic Café and snagged a teaching position at the Eau Claire Music School. “I’ve met a lot of welcoming musicians,” he said, citing Jeff White (open mic host at Bottle & Barrel) as a particularly helpful kindred spirit. Besides guitar and voice lessons, Circle will delve into the instruction of songwriting and “making it as an indie musician.”

His latest CD, Minutes to Circle, covers Santana-esque “electric blues” territory, veers into softer urban beats reminiscent of early John Mayer, then finishes with a sound that is distinctly Irish, including a fiddling cover of the wistful Will You Go Lassie Go. Throughout the 11 tracks, his husky vibrato is a constant, lending an unexpected bit of world-weariness to songs about new love. Allow some straight-from-Chicago sultry blues to move you, too.

“This is my base of operations. I’ll tour regularly, but I’m settling here – this is where I’m going to be. I’ll build on my teaching here, and I’m getting some radio attention from WHYS. We got a house in the woods – what more could a guy want?”

Joshua Bauer

Staff Writer
Posted: 07.28.2010

Five minutes into a conversation with Chicago born musician Phil Circle and you’ll know there are some who still put their soul into music, who do it for the love of the show and the joy of the crowd.  Bringing a classically trained hand and blues/jazz/jam band roots to Backstage Lounge on Wednesday June 28th, Phil puts yet another mark on a tour summer tour calendar that’s gone from his new home in Texas to Nashville, New Orleans, and stops all over the Sunshine State.

Doing it all from his little blue Honda, this is a man who’s lived several musical careers in his 40 some odd years, travelling now to try and infuse some independent spirit into a music scene that has degenerated into radio replay of the same top pop.  Working for enough money to travel town to town, encouraging and mentoring younger musicians along the way (often over beer and cigarettes in the smoky aftershow hours), he serves to remind that your love should never be relegated to a hobby.

For more years than most can hack it, Phil has been playing for any who’ll listen, sometimes giving it a little more Grateful Dead, sometimes a little more Willie Nelson, but always playing with great enthusiasm and talent. Whether it’s an Irish themed ditty (complete with fiddle accompaniment) or a more bluesy/countrified, steel guitar sound, the years of practice have birthed a sound to please most any musical palette and the dust from years on the road has given his voice a world-wise/weary sound that works across the musical spectrum.  With such an eclectic style, his performances appeal to entire crowds of dissimilar listeners, ensuring that he’ll be enjoyed for many more years on this long, winding road.

Check out philcirclemusic.com to hear more, to donate to this nomadic musician, and to encourage him to continue bringing his acoustic guitar driven, cross-genre sound to stages across the country.  The man says it’s all he knows how to do and, man, does he do it well.

ReviewDuJour

MINUTES TO CIRCLE (CD): Chicago musician Phil Circle's 8th disc. 11 mostly solid guitar-powered songs brimming w/ élan.

Phil Circle is a musician I first saw perform about eight years ago in what used to be the legendary CBGB’s in New York City. And I’ve been a fan ever since!

The Chicago native plays all the local clubs in and around the windy city and has a great onstage presence.

His most recent CD Minutes to Circle is an eleven-song set of original tunes. His voice and his guitar talent make this a great CD to listen to over and over again.

All the tunes are worth repeat listens, but I especially like “Surreal Life,” “Lipstick & Whiskey,” “Down to the Sea,” “There’s a River” (great guitar solo), and “Psychosis.” The last two tracks “Everything I Touch” and “Will You Go Lassie Go” have a touch of the Irish.

Minutes To Circle is singer/songwriter Phil Circle’s eighth CD, and it’s a nice surprise to hear both how much he still has to say and the diverse yet delightful manner with which he relays his musical message. There are a couple of duds among the 11 tunes — most pointedly the pedestrian “Surreal Life” — but much of the guitar-driven melodies are imaginative, especially the languid, country-flavored “Lipstick & Whiskey” and the bluesy “There’s A River.”

Founder of the critically acclaimed rock-jazz-blues progressive crossover band Guilty and an extremely busy solo performer, Phil Circle's prolific songwriting and powerful performance is a staple of Chicago music. Circle also recently joined with world famous blues fiddler Ruby Harris for a live album recorded at a Chicago venue, that has drawn attention a new musical medium.

After Guilty albums--two studio, two live--a new solo effort, and the "Live at The Gateway" CD with Ruby Harris, Phil Circle is now beginning production with other local artists in an effort to empower them in their own promotion through Guilt By Association Records.

In 2009, Phil Circle released a new CD entitled Minutes To Circle

Phil Circle (Episode 88) is an amazing singer/songwriter and an excellent guitarist. His songs range from heart rendering songs of loss to bawdy outrageous stories from the "Edge". He will make you laugh and cry and then laugh again.

Did I just put in Poi Dog Pondering by mistake? While Chicago has been host to musical visitors from another world (Hawaii), it is interesting to find a band that includes all the same eclectic styles that make crossover music so popular with people who really know and love music. And, boy am I feeling Guilty!

Phil Circle is a guitarist/singer/songwriter who leads a host of very talented musicians without the benefit and detriment of agents, managers, promoters or record companies and the executives that chain themselves to the people who really have talent (am I grousing?). Guilty contains the best of all worlds and defies the labels jazz, rock and blues because they are all in there. If the United States has anything to contribute to the stage of world music, music like this is it.

Circle is joined by concentric circles of talent moving from the interior. At the core of the band are percussionist lnderjeet Sidhu and vocalist Laurel Holman, along with Josh Piet or bass, Susan Lansford on fiddle and electric violin, Ted Aliotta (yes campers, that Aliotta) on har-

monica, Bill Bucholtz or keyboards, and Dave Grilly on all the horns. In the next wave out are other musicians who appear on Extenuating Circumstances and/or sit in at shows. They include James Cornolo on bass, Doug Wolf on saxophone, flute, or anything he can get his hands on, Klaus Mayer or saxophone, Matt Steinmetz on harmonica and, well, the list goes on and on.

The music is lush, beautiful, danceable, it swings, it grooves, it's just what the doctor ordered. The CD has 13 songs all from the master class and, since I spent so much space listing the musicians, you'll just have to trust me that I can't name favorites when they are all this great.