Making a connection

Phil Ayoub follows his Heart
March 7, 2007 1:23:58 PM
THE BASICS: Ayoub finds inspiration in simple things.

He has a fan club and an MBA, which might not make all that much sense. But if you listen to Phil Ayoub, you can hear the two opposing qualities in his music: It’s keen and endearing, witty as well as likable. Ayoub, a product of Cumberland now living in Seekonk, quit his job in a big investment bank in Boston to concentrate on a career in music. While you might not call that a “smart” move, Phil is definitely following his heart, and his heart is taking him to all the right places. His most recent album, Schoolbus Window Paper Heart, is produced by Tim Bradshaw, a former member of Dog’s Eye View who has worked with David Gray, Liz Phair, and Josh Ritter, and now boasts a spot in John Mayer’s touring band. When Ayoub teamed up with Bradshaw, he had just finished work on Gray’s Life In Slow Motion.
“I thought for sure I was out of my league and that he wouldn’t want to work with someone like myself who wasn’t quite as advanced,” says Ayoub, “but I sent him my demos and he liked them a lot.” They met at a Hope Street coffee place and talked some shop. They agreed on an MO, and shook on it. They recorded most of Phil’s disc in Providence; the drums were done in Boston. Ed Toth, who was with the band Vertical Horizon at the time and now tours with the Doobies, played those drums.
So far Schoolbus Window Paper Heart has been embraced affectionately by radio and press. Ayoub writes empathically, with sensitivity and intelligence. “I find inspiration in things that I go through,” he explains, “often really simple things, but things I think are powerful. So I write about things I hope other people find some kind of connection with. And so far they seem to have.”
Ayoub also employs a sort of discipline to his work that many in music find elusive. Perhaps this comes from his fairly orthodox business background, which, ironically, often vibes with the more unpredictable nature of art and inspiration. “Above all, I think what influences me most is timing,” he says. “What I mean by that is that if there’s a certain evening that I have blocked out and intend to write music, if I hear an interesting song that grabs my attention earlier in the day, that song style will be in my head later that evening and probably seep through into my writing. So in some ways the timing of that kind of stuff is what influences my work the most.”
Thanks in part to this technique, Phil has won a few songwriter awards, so he must be doing something right. And remember, he has a fan club and an MBA. Perhaps we should just leave it at that.

Phil Ayoub | March 10 | Snookers Pool Lounge, 145 Clifford St, Providence | 401.351.7665

Oh, the drama!
The turmoil that is the CHINESE STARS continued recently with a couple of big announcements. As we speak, they’re on the road with Daughters. But the real story is that the band finally has music coming out. The release date for the CD, titled Listen To Your Left Brain, is March 20 on 31g Records and the LP follows sometime in April on Skin Graft. Another nugget from the Stars camp holds that Rick Pelletier is no longer with the band; no reason was given for the split. And while this may sound like rather tragic news — Pelletier has been a major presence in local music for a long time — there’s a bright side. He’s being replaced by none other than V. Von Ricci of Mahi Mahi. Ricci had been touring with the band anyway, so the transition promises to be smooth. We’re not sure what this news means for Mahi Mahi, as Ricci is just one of two in that act, but word has it he’s intent on becoming a full-time Star.

Growl power
SE Mass rockin’ funk combo BEARKAT GROOVES was chosen out of more than 180 area bands to take part in Ground Control, a special compilation CD for a drunk driving prevention group to be distributed by the Boston indie Illumina Records. The band — bassist Curtis Lambert, drummer Angela DiFazio, singer Greta Marszalkowski, and guitarist Erik Smith — formed from the ashes of Helena’s Blue; founders Lambert and DiFazio recruited the current lineup and they’ve been going full speed ahead ever since. Their sound mashes up ’70s funk and ’90s alt-rock, led by Lambert’s thumping bass and Marszalkowski’s hearty pipes. Lambert hopes to re-record the music they’ve already laid down and widen their exposure to include Boston and New York — not an easy task when band members have real lives to lead, in addition to their rock star dream world.

Wandering eye
The latest incarnation of the Strand, which also houses Lupo’s at 79 Washington Street in downtown Providence, will debut Thursday, March 8. ROXY PROVIDENCE boasts a self-described “very upscale environment.” DJ Break will provide the soundtrack on Thursdays, while DJ Kabeza hosts Latin Saturdays. Call 401.831.ROXY or go to  for more input. 

There’s a great show on Friday, March 9, at AS220 with BARN BURNING, MINKY STARSHINE & THE NEW CARDINALS, BROWN BIRD, and DIAMOND J & THE ROUGH, a new indie/folk project from Jay Russell, former bassist for Hot Rod Circuit. Call 401.831.9327. JOHN MAC celebrates the release of his new CD, Satan in Heaven, on Friday at Tazza. Mac explains that the concept involves conversations between God and Satan, but the listener has to decide which character is which, depending on the song. Call 401.421.3300. CHRIS & MEREDITH THOMPSON return to Stone Soup Coffeehouse on Saturday, March 10, in a double bill with DON WHITE. Tickets are $12. Call 401.457.7147.
Last, a shoutout to the Rhode Island Songwriters Association for a fantastically successful and wildly entertaining show last weekend. Their “Forever Young” program sold out the Courthouse Center for the Arts, and the talent — Becky Chace, Dan Lilley, John Fuzek, Mark Cutler, and Pete Vendettuoli — came through with brilliant interpretations of Neil’s music.

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