Bruce "Utah" Phillips is a Grammy-nominated folk singer, storyteller, and poet. Many of his songs relate to the struggles of labor unions and workers, particularly rail workers. Phillips and Sorrels first met in Salt Lake. They would eventually travel and perform together all over the country. The two recorded an album together called The Long Memory (1996), a tribute to American workers. Rosalie often sings his songs in performance.
Q: What was it about Rosalie singing unaccompanied that was such a great experience? Is it the quality of her voice?
But Rosalie, first of all in her manner of singing, demands intimacy. In the manner of her performance, demands intimacy. Even though people may be uncomfortable with that, she demands it, and they give it up. She knows how to make them do that, and it carries over to the singing. Now that you've achieved this feeling of intimacy, a real connection between us, I can sing to you in such a way that you are really going to understand this song, and you are really going to be able to find out how it fits into your life as you are living it, and fits into your past as things have happened to you. It's phenomenal to watch.
Visit a Web site about Utah Phillips
And the thing is, it keeps getting better. Rosalie is singing better than she ever has in her life and her performances are simply awfully good theater. And Rosalie has learned how to do that. It's so uncommon among folk singers. Folk singers coming up through the folk revival really wanted to be traditional people and pretend that they weren't doing theater, but damn it, when you've got an audience and microphones and lights and a stage, you are doing theater so you might as well learn how to do it. Well, Rosalie went at it that way and simply learned how to do it and do it as well as it can be done.
"That's again, part of that furious energy, that deep, deep fire that burns way down within that doesn't seem to want to cool off at all."
And she's not doing characterizations, she's not doing personae. Rosalie walking on the stage is the same person who was standing in the wings, the same person who was walking down the street. That also is very rare.
Q: Discuss the importance of "theater" to her music.
I discovered soon, and watching Rosalie, that what you did between the songs is as important as the songs themselves. And that your set is constructed in such a way so that one thing leads to another. You wind up doing a two-act play instead of a concert with a first set and a second set, and in many ways trying to make sure that each word is exactly where you want it to be. You have to bring to it economy of language. You only have a certain amount of time on that stage, so you go over the language and make sure the words are where they need to be, that you are not rambling. There are halves and sometimes whole concerts that Rosalie has done that could stand by themselves as pieces of art.
Q: How did the two of you start performing together?
We gave a very well balanced performance because she can sing and I can't. She has a very, very solid way of playing the guitar, and I fumble around with it. She does the art portion. I do the down home trash part. It's a very well balanced presentation, very well rounded.
Q: Describe the energy between the two of you on stage.
"I discovered watching Rosalie, that what you did between the songs is as important as the songs themselves."
So if they laugh, releases the tension, hand it back to Rosalie and then she can build the tension again. It is theater. It's really paying attention and it is understanding the theater of what you do and owning it and being so secure in your own ego that you can sacrifice it, you can bend so that things work, so that you come out right.
So much of the theater of it is making it real for yourself and then getting on the stage and being enough of an actor or actress to convince the audience that you're making this up as you go along, and that you are having as much fun with it as you ever did. I guess the rule is, it doesn't matter whether a thousand people or three people are in that audience, this is going to be the best show you ever did in your life. Those are the rules.
Q: What was Rosalie's contribution in terms of collecting and preserving traditional songs?
Q: How do you feel having Rosalie sing your songs and keeping them going, keeping them alive?
I think Rosalie and I are both tuned into a pretty traditional process. We understand that the well of the people, the music is very, very deep, but that old songs way down, back in the tunnel of time, at the bottom of that well, get lost and that well will run dry unless songs are put in the top of that well and passed around so that it doesn't run dry.
I believe so strongly in writing outside of oneself and putting songs in that well, which means throwing them into the air so that they take [on] a life of their own and give you up and give up your name, because that's the way it lasts, you see. One of the things I'm doing up in Nevada City right now is working with young singer-song writers who are very self involved, and I have them over to my house, and I tell them stories that I have carried for years that I will never get turned into songs, and they have tremendous facility with language and image, and I say come back in a week with a song and they do, with these songs about these stories. What I have been doing at the same time is taking the ego out of song making. It's not mine, it's not mine. The songs of mine that Rosalie sings really aren't mine any more. They are out on the air and they are going to go where they will and if they do anybody some good, that's fine.
Q: Going on the road with five children, surviving breast cancer and an aneurysm-- talk about Rosalie's strength.
Q: Do you view Rosalie as a western singer?
Q: Is there anything else you'd like to say about Rosalie?