March 2- 8, 2006
musicGet Your Phil
The only place to hear Phil Roy these days is in his kitchen.
: Manuel Dominguez Jr
But here it is, a bitterly cold Saturday night, and the 47-year-old singer-songwriterwhose soulful tunes have been covered by everyone from Ray Charles to Los Lonely Boysis puttering around his kitchen, preparing a gourmet meal for 14 total strangers. When everyone's done eating, he'll pick up his guitar and do an hour's worth of songs for them.
He says he's having a blast combining "the two things I do well: play music and cook." In fact, Phil Roy seems so genuinely pleased, and so relaxed, that it's hard to believe he's coming off of what he calls "one of the worst years of my life."
"It was hell," Roy says simply. "I used to walk my dog a lot because that was about the only thing that made sense to me: my dog needed to go out, so I needed to walk him."
The dog in question, a Golden-Labrador mix named Travis, seems as calm as his master as the third of these dinner party concerts gets under way. In his understatedly snazzy Center City apartmentcomplete with photos of his 40th birthday party, where guests included longtime Los Angeles buddies Jim Carrey and Nicolas CageRoy has set up a massive table, decorated with twinkling candles and flowers. He's also wearing a chef's jacket embroidered with the word Maestro, which guests find out later in the evening was a Christmas gift from Renee Zellweger. Roy's decidedly in his element.
While he worked successfully for 20 years in L.A. as a staff writer for several music publishers, long-simmering career frustration, coupled with a budding romance with an East Coast woman (now his soon-to-be ex-wife), drew him back to Philadelphia five years ago. His song "Melt" (co-written with Cage) became a WXPN favorite and his second solo effort, 2003's Issues & Options, earned strong reviews. But in late 2004, his label, Or (an imprint of Epic), informed Roy it wouldn't be releasing his almost- completed new album because of a change in their musical direction, a move away from adult-oriented pop to alt-rock.
While Roy says he didn't have a problem with that decision"Business plans change and I understand that"the ensuing battle over what he says was the label's unwillingness to honor his contract turned ugly. "I did the lawyer thing and had to scream and scream some more," he recalls. "Eventually, I got what I wanted but it took me a year, when it should have taken me a week. And it made me not want to make records anymore."
But Phil Roy is an optimist, and a resilient one at that: Not only does he plan to finish the record, he hopes to have it released this summer. Its working title, Run, conveys the emotional upheaval of the past year, he says. "Professionally, personally, I didn't know whether to run to it or run away from it." But as he started feeling better about his music and his life again, the idea of hosting dinner concerts in his home on a monthly basis took hold.
"I know I can write and sing songs and get down with the pots and pans," Roy says, adding that if he hadn't gone to music school (Berklee), he probably would have gone to a culinary college. He's a self-taught chef, albeit one whose culinary skills delighted the fans who plunked down $100 each for the elaborate four-course meal. (On this particular night, the delicacies included salmon, a watercress/arugula/watermelon radish salad, turkey osso buco and chunky apple cake.)
"I take cooking very seriously," he says. "I even cure my own salmon." Three days of prep work culminate in a nearly five-hour evening, where couples and singles bond quickly over a few glasses of wine and light conversation. Roy, who works in his kitchen with three volunteer assistants (generally those are fans who get to enjoy the evening for free), explains each course in detail, offering culinary tips and shopping pointers along the way. And the laid-back concert that comes between the main course and dessert doesn't seem to stress Phil out at all; the whole evening comes off as rather effortless, in fact, leading more than one guest to ask when/if he plans to open a restaurant. At this point, Roy is toying with offering a scaled-down version of the event so that "wealth does not determine who gets to come to my house."
"I'm having fun with this," he says. "The people who attend enjoy the meal, but they're really here because they connect with my music. And that's what I'm here for. That's what it's all about."
The next "I'm Not Leaving the House" dinner-concert will be held on Sat., March 18. For information about that and future dates, contact Phil Roy via firstname.lastname@example.org.