A&E » Arts

Dig out the didge

Performer brings collection of instruments, including the didgeridoo, to Whistler just in time for Aussie Day



Who: Shane Philip
When: Monday, Jan. 26, 9 p.m.
Where: Dusty's
Aussie Day is right around the corner, and Dusty's, our trusty Creekside locals' watering hole, has the perfect act lined up to help our friends from Down Under celebrate their heritage - they're bringing Shane Philip back to bring the house down with his multi-instrumental show.
Though he plays many instruments - during a live performance, he plays the Weissenborn-style lap slide guitar, Kona lap slide guitar, acoustic guitar, djembe, aslatua, electronic kick and other percussion instruments - Philip is quick to point out that he is the master of none, yet.
"I consider myself a singer/songwriter first and foremost, and every other instrument I play is a tool to get a song expressed the way I want to express it," he explained.
But one instrument in particular seems to have become Philip's claim to fame, perhaps because it's so rare here in North America: he plays a mean didgeridoo.
But he plays the traditional Aboriginal Australian instrument in a far different way.
"What drew me to this instrument was the fact that I heard someone playing it so well one day, and it sounded like he was playing the drums with his breath, and not only did it sound good, it felt like nothing I'd ever felt," he said.
Philip has successfully put his own twist on the sound, even fashioning his own instruments out of found pieces of wood that he scavenges for, splits in half and hollows out, glues back together, and sands down to a smooth finish. Different woods produce different sounds, as well. He explains that the instrument itself can be very rudimentary - a vacuum cleaner pipe or rolled up newspaper - and the powerful sound is actually created by the way the player vibrates their lips.
"It's definitely a percussion instrument, but when it's played with a guitar, its almost deceptive, you almost think there's a few different notes going on," he added.
Now, he has a collection about 15 didgeridoos in his home, though he's limited himself to taking just three on the road.
Philip actually pursued a number of other endeavours - including teaching social studies and phys-ed, and competitive cross country skiing - before realizing he could make a career out of something he really loved.
"It's an amazing way to connect with people, it's a great way to be creative, to express one's self through songwriting and music, and I just find it completely fulfilling... and the fact that I can actually make a living doing it is just a bonus."
This self-taught and self-motivated musician has been driven to continue with his musical pursuits by the reactions of his audience.
"If you ever come to my show and watch people dance when I start a djembe drum solo or something, the way the people move to it, it's so primal," he said. "...When I was teaching a classroom, I never got reactions like that when I was a teacher."
There are a few ways to tell if a show is going to be good, but dancing is usually a pretty fair sign.
"If people are up dancing on the first song, then I know we're doing alright," Philip said with a laugh.
The key to keeping the show upbeat and energetic is reading the audience, incorporating different instruments into the performance based on their reaction, though Philip intentionally creates mellower moments during his performances, as well.
"Last night, I started a show and I had my head down and I was just kind of going off on this guitar solo, and I was just getting into it - very self-absorbed, which is not ideal for a performer - but anyway, I looked up and all of a sudden there were a whole bunch of people right in front of me," he said. "That was really exciting."
At the upcoming Whistler gig, he's also releasing his latest full-length album, Live at Bakers Studio , an edgier CD that mimics an actual live show. In the studio, Philip set up all of his gear as if he were performing in front of an audience, and just let loose, promising himself that he would do no overdubs so it's as close to the real deal as possible.
"It gave it that rawness that I really wanted to capture," he said.