Meet Our Artist of the Month: The Phonies!

Featured Image by Anna Ladd

Many fans of local Philly music and patrons of our D.I.Y. venue scene have grown to know the name of The Phonies quite well in recent years. Known for their unique style as well as their fun brand of strong, live performances, the band is quickly building a reputation as one of the best among rising acts in the Philadelphia music scene, as well as one that folks should definitely go out of their way to see play live. Following a string of memorable local performances to date that have included back-to-back headlining gigs at the UArts WRTZ Punch Bowl, the house show vets are beginning to appear before bigger audiences and on bigger stages. We sat down with founding member Sean Conlon to talk about their music, inspirations, and dreams for the future!

Rock On Philly: For people new to your band and your music, tell us a bit about your own personal musical background and band history. How did The Phonies come about?

Sean Conlon: Well, The Phonies began with myself, my brother Brandon Conlon, and David Greiff playing music together in high school. Brandon and I had been in several bands together from a young age and we knew David from the after-school jazz band that we were all a part of. From very early on, we enjoyed playing with horn players[, and] all really enjoyed the different timbres that the horn section brought to the group. We spent as much time jamming and improvising as we did rehearsing.

ROP: Let’s talk about your experience as students at The University of The Arts and your experience as musicians in the local Philly scene. What has both UArts and the Philadelphia music community meant to you and the band?

SC: UArts has helped us in a myriad of ways. Myself, Mike Rilli, Andrew Connors, Phil Hansen, and just about all [of] the other horn players that we have ever played with were brought together by Uarts. We have all learned the importance of honing the technical aspect of our instruments to a point where self-expression happens as naturally as possible while playing. We are all always striving to be better musicians, both individually and as a group. On a larger scale, the music community of Philadelphia has been incredibly fun to explore. We have learned so much from the other bands that we have played with in this city.

ROP: Who have you guys been working, performing and recording with here in Philly?

SC: Here are a few local favorites: We’re Ghosts Now, Cute Girl From English, Dominic Tursi, Plainview, Seoul Delhi, SEXOFFICE, Baby Blitz, Yellow 11 Big Band, In The Presence Of Wolves.

ROP: In true Philly fashion, you guys are not merely a gigging act, but instead possess and share a professional level of skill and training in your musicianship and instrumentation that sets you apart in a unique class of artists in the region. What is your writing and recording process like?

SC: HOW flattering, Rock On Philly. In the beginning, I would write a chord progression and lyrics, notate it and compose horn parts, then bring it to Brandon and David to work out the chords and form. Once we worked out any kinks I’d ask some of our friends, who played different wind instruments, to come and play the parts. Once we had some of the earlier songs like “Too Long,” “The Truths We Live With,” and “Blink Of An Eye” well-rehearsed, we attempted to record ourselves in my basement, [and] we were also starting to play out more at that point…

Nowadays, I’ll bring chord progressions to rehearsal and we play through them, and then I’ll write lyrics to what we come up with. At that point, I notate the music and write a horn arrangement for the song. Recording now is exploring the elements of the studio at UArts. We are currently attempting to record all of our material and hope to have a full collection of our songs in the near future.

ROP: Who are some of the biggest influences to your music and to whom are you currently listening?

SC: Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, The Who, Radiohead, Muse, Streetlight Manifesto, The Police, Queen, Snarky Puppy, Trombone Shorty, Zapp & Roger, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Fanfare Ciocarlia. [If] you asked us all individually, it’d be a very long list.

ROP: There are some very unique fusions that can be heard during a set by your band. At the WRTZ Punch Bowl in Spring of this year, I saw you guys turn in the best live performance by a band I had seen at a UArts show. How would you describe The Phonies’ sound and how important are live performances to you guys?

SC: The Phonies’ sound is really a combination of different genres that we’ve grown to enjoy playing over the years. Throughout the course of a set, you’ll hear elements of blues, progressive rock, funk, ska, reggae and jazz.

ROP: What new music have you guys been working on and when can we look forward to it?

SC: We are always working on new material and attempting to record. [We] hope to have a 4 or 5 track EP finished in time for Liberty Music Festival, which we’ll be playing on Sunday, August 30 at Bull Shooters Saloon.

Liberty Music Festival

ROP: What are your guys’ favorite food places in Philly?

SC: Wow! Difficult question… Probably Broad Street Diner or Gennaro’s Pizza.

ROP: What aspects of the business of music resonate with you as being the keys to taking progressive steps forward in your growth as a band?

SC: The business side of music is something that we are trying to learn about and explore as a group. We’ve spent a lot of time focusing on the music and being well-rehearsed and, now, we are at a point where we can shift our attention to the business side of things. We have recently started working with Crybaby Records and are looking forward to collaborating with them.

ROP: When you look ahead down the road, what are some of your personal goals as a musician and what is the long-term vision of The Phonies as a band?

SC: I think all of us in the band are always trying to improve on our instruments and improve the songs that we have. I personally hope to further utilize home recording equipment to help expedite the recording process. I hope that the Phonies continue to play with and meet other bands in Philadelphia area. I think recording will be a much larger part of our attention in the coming months and I’m looking forward to learning with everyone involved.

Check out just some of the Phonies’ music below! 

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