Q&A with Joel RL Phelps

Over the summer a powerful new recording from Joel RL Phelps surreptitiously appeared on the Internet. The song, “Thank You and Goodnight,” harkened to the more noisy, aggressive sound of Phelps’ old band Silkworm, and it wasn’t new; Phelps had been playing it with his band, the Downer Trio, before falling off the map a few years back. Yet for Phelps’ fans, it signaled a possible future for the Montana native’s emotional and ragged songcraft. An in-studio performance at KEXP followed soon after and a new full-length is in the works. We emailed Phelps in his Vancouver, B.C., home to see where he’s been and where he’s going.

You haven’t released an album since the 2004 Downer Trio full-length Customs. Where have you been?
Oh you know, just kicking around. I may have had a few too many, and my alcoholism combined with increasing mental illness resulted in a state of affairs you might expect.

What made you decide to return to the stage?
Easy. Get sober. Realize I have it all backwards. Stop doing things I hate and hate me back. Begin doing things I love and love me back. Stay sober. Presto.

Why did you post “Thank You and Goodnight”?
I posted it as a public remembrance of my late brother-in-law, Paul Goncalves. We hadn’t recorded it yet so I just whipped up something at home that I enjoyed, hopeful that someone else might too. It should appear on the upcoming LP.

You’ve been living in Vancouver for a decade now. How is the Canadian life?
Allow me to offer my personal, heartfelt shout-out to the Seattle Canadian Consulate General who, thanks to a decision in 2009 which was both breathtaking in its pointless belligerence and stunning in its uncomprehending narrow-mindedness, now seeks to have me removed from Canada, where I have made my home since July 20, 2002. Just, you know, saying hi.

Photo by Jerimiah Klasthorst.