by Brian M. Owens, Metronome Magazine, April 2006
After four years of fronting the Boston
band, Riverside Train,
singer-songwriter-guitarist Phil Ayoub has stepped out on his own. His
solo debut called Schoolbus Window Paper Heart is filled with poignant
songwriting as well as excellent musicianship by folks like guitarist
Tim Bradshaw (David Gray) and drummer Ed Toth (Doobie Brothers,
Vertical Horizon). I had a chance to talk with Phil about his
influences and his music. The following is a transcript of our
METRONOME: Tell me about your former band, Riverside Train? When did it
start and how long were you together?
It was formed in 2000. It was a band that I started up and did
most of the songwriting and co-writing.
METRONOME: Was it an original project?
Actually we did both. We started out doing covers but the whole
point of the band was to do originals. So we got out there and started
playing and then brought the originals in. Later we recorded an 8-song
CD, which, through a weird kind of way, got national recognition
through Peter Gammons, the baseball writer. He mentioned our record in
his column on www. ESPN.com a couple of times. We ended up getting a lot
of CD sales from that which was a strange way to get music publicity.
It was a home recording too.
It seemed like we were going somewhere musically but
personalities got in the way. It was the typical band story... personalities made it
too difficult for us to keep going even though the music seemed to be
headed in the right direction.
METRONOME: Who was in that band?
Myself, Jim Vitti on drums... we had two guitar players. One guy
was just known as T. The letter T, and the other guy was Craig Jackson.
The bass player was Ryan DiBacco.
METRONOME: Did you just sing in that band?
I sang and played guitar. Actually, the two guitar players were
there at different times for an equal amount of time.
METRONOME: How did you come up with the name Riverside Train?
I was on the T. Thatís the way I went to work. I lived in Chestnut
Hill and rode that train.
METRONOME: How long was Riverside Train together?
About three or four years.
METRONOME: Did you decide to go solo after the band broke up?
When we first broke up, I thought, I should start it up again
with new guys. Then I thought, let me see what I can do on my own. So I
started playing solo acousticshows.
METRONOME: Where were you playing?
I played at CBGBís in New York. The Virgin Megastore in Boston.
That was a cool show.
METRONOME: Tell me about the making of your new solo album Schoolbus
Window Paper Heart?
I basically had a backlog of 40 or 50 acoustic songs. I knew
there was a record in there somewhere. I wasnít really sure what kind
of record. It could have gone in a lot of different directions. It
could have even gone country. But I felt pretty strongly that I had
something to offer.
METRONOME: When did you start recording the album?
I started to demo the songs in late 2004 with an engineer named
Victor Kray. Heís an excellent local engineer/producer. But heís also a
very busy guy, so I started to look around for someone who may be a
little bit more available; who had more time to dedicate to just my
project. Basically looking online, I found an ad that said, producer in
town from England looking for local talent to produce. It sounded
interesting so I contacted the guy and he mentioned his credentials. He
said he plays guitar and keyboard with David Gray. I said, wow. He said
he had been in the band Dogís Eye View, which had some success back in
METRONOME: This guy turned out to be Tim Bradshaw?
Exactly. It was exciting but it was also, I donít want to say
intimidating, but I thought in my mind, thereís no way heís going to
want to work with me. I sent him some acoustic demos that I recorded
and he liked them and decided to sign on and produce the record. It was
really exciting but a little surreal for me because I thought Iím going
to be working with this guy on a real record.
METRONOME: Did he introduce you to the folks that recorded the project
at Studio 65 and at Waltz Audio?
Studio 65 is his. Itís a home style studio type of thing. Tim
knew drummer Ed Toth who was in Vertical Horizon and plays with the Doobie
Brothers now. He said, Ed would love to play on the record. Basically,
Ed wanted to do his drums at Waltz Audio up here in Boston.
METRONOME: Does Ed Toth know Tom Waltz?
I think heís done a lot of things there and I think he felt
comfortable recording his tracks at Waltz.
METRONOME: Tell me about Sam Bradshaw?
Thatís Timís son. He did some handclaps and strummed a little
guitar on one of the songs.
METRONOME: So this album was recorded by a tight knit collection of
No doubt. It was mostly Tim and I with Ed playing the drums.
There were a couple of other songwriters.
METRONOME: Who is Laura McFarland? I noticed she sang backups onthe
She is actually a bartender at a place I used to play at quite a
bit. One day someone mentioned she can sing... get her up to sing. So
she came up and we did ďHit Me With Your Best ShotĒ by Pat Benatar, and
she was great. She was fantastic.
At one point, Tim said it would be really great to have female
vocals on a couple of songs, do you know anybody? She came to mind, I
asked her, and it was pretty fun. She did a great job.
METRONOME: What inspires you to write your songs?
ďWhite FeatherĒ is a song clearly about and written very shortly
after the attacks on 9/11. Although I believe that the events of that
day have colored much of the music written since then, there really
hasnít been, to my knowledge, very many songs written directly about
it. Of course Springsteen wrote about it on The Rising, Neil Young had
a songabout it, and Fleetwood Mac had a couple of great songs that
seemed to be clearly about it on their Say You Will record. Much of
these that I just mentioned were about people directly involved in the
events, or their family members, etc. ďWhite FeatherĒ takes the
perspective of those of us who were strongly affected, but might not
have been as close to the incidents themselves. I wasnít sure it should
go on the record at first. I liked the song and felt it was strong
enough, but wasnít sure that people would want to go back to that day
in their mind. Ultimately I knew it had to go on. I like it as an
opener to the record.
ďScenes From An American Highway Rest StopĒ started off as
something that I envisioned as a Tom Petty type song. It had an
acoustic feel and, along with the lyrics, had a feeling of
ďcelebratingĒ America. Traveling through it, and its diversity.
Tim started experimenting with it in the studio and it all
changed. The lyrics and chord progression remained the same, but the
song started feeling like a David Lynch movie. It started to feel like
the song was more about the bizarre, stranger things you see when you
travel across the country. Things that donít seem to make any sense.
People think that I wrote this song because Iíve spent so much time on
the road touring. This is half-true. Iíve spent a lot of time on the
road and a lot of time sitting in rest stops, but havenít really ever
Thereís a hidden track on the record called ď4th District Court
of Bristol County.Ē Itís track 14 and you can go directly to it because,
although I like hidden tracks, I hate having to wait 6 minutes after
the last song to hear them. We knew from day one it was going to be a
hidden track,because it was so different from the other stuff. The
lyrics were written in one day, in one sitting, while I was waiting to
be called for jury duty.
METRONOME: Who are some of your musical influences? I hear Tom Petty in
I agree with you. I see that for sure because I think he wrote
some pretty simple songs and I think my songs are pretty simple. I
think thereís a beauty in simplicity. I donít know if it necessarily
comes through, but when ever I hear certain Bob Dylan songs, it makes
me want to go home and write. My favorites are Springsteen, U2 and
Oasis but I donít know how much they actually come through on the
record. People that know me say that they hear it but I donít know how
true that is.
METRONOME: How does the songwriting process work for you?
Itís a two part thing. I will play acoustic guitar and try to
come up with a chordprogression and melody. At the same time Iíll have a
huge notebook of lyric ideas. Usually I try to bring them together to
see what fits.
METRONOME: Does it ever happen that something you never expected to
work ends up working for you?
Oh definitely. Usually what I have written on paper is not a full
song. Theyíre just ideas.
METRONOME: Who did the photography for the CD?
METRONOME: Who drew the little yellow schoolbus inside the liner
That was Kylie Blake.
METRONOME: Sheís obviously a child. How did you run into her?
Itís kind of funny... I had asked a couple of my nieces to do it
and they both said, yeah, yeah, but never did it (laughs). So it was
actually a woman I met through a friend. She said, I have a daughter
and she would love to do it. I said great, I need it in twoweeks and
she sent it to me. I never knew her before that. I was going to draw it
myself and pretend I was 7.
METRONOME: Were you going for some kind of theme with the photos and
artwork for the CD?
We had some kind of general idea. The restaurant photo is near a
rest stop and that corresponds to one of the songs. We wanted some sort
of searching, traveling theme and I think the cover picture of me in a
department store gives you some kind of sense of searching. The
souvenirs photo represents something you take as you travel, so I think
those two themes definitely fit the music on the record.
METRONOME: Where can people find your CD online and in retail stores?
Just online at the moment as well as at my shows. Online itís at
my website www.philayoub.com, at www.CDBaby.com and www.towerrecords.com.
METRONOME: How are CD sales going for you?
I think theyíre going pretty well. I have some live shows coming
up and I really think thatís going to generate a bump in sales. Iíve
been working on putting a band together and I finally have one and
weíve played a couple of shows.
METRONOME: Who is in the band with you?
Dylan Kay on guitar, Evan Harriman on keys, John Servo on bass
and Steve Turcott on drums.
METRONOME: What are some of the live shows you have coming up?
Upcoming shows include The Times in Boston on March 3rd, a solo
acoustic show at The Viper Room in West Hollywood, California on March
22nd, and Caf Tazza in Providence, Rhode Island, as well as an official
Boston CD release event.