Gord “I need to play” Phillips thought if he can get a job where he doesn’t have to cross the Sooke River Bridge every day, he’d be a really happy guy – so he got his wish: he now drives the school bus and teaches guitar lessons from his house on the side.
Ah, but there’s more to the man behind the guitar – and the bus – he’s passionate about telling stories to people of all ages, about the adventures through life and nature using nothing more but the untethered power of song.
And it just so happens that this unique way of storytelling has caught so much nationwide attention that he’s now in the third and final round of CBC’s Searchlight: the hunt for Canada’s best new artist music contest.
It’s called “Sooke Hiway” – a song which began 11 years ago at a time when Sooke was caught for four months in a whirlwind of rain, snow and ice that almost crippled the town entirely.
“It was chaos. All those houses by the tire shop were flooded up to the vehicles. I went up to go to work, I couldn’t – so I went back up the drive way, got my surf board, I went to go out that way, there were trees down everywhere,” he said.
As he was walking back up towards his house having nearly given up, he turned around and looked at the staggering theatre of everything that was happening around him.
“I just sat there and looked over at the ocean and at the road, and I thought, ‘wow, this is a pretty important road. When it’s closed, nothing’s going on,'” Phillips said. This road is incredible, because it’s the only one. You can’t take another one to get anywhere, so anything that’s happened in the last 200 years here, happened on that road.”
It was simply tuning into a different frequency – or as he calls it, “power lines” – the inexplicable black matter of our subconscious mind of which all art of every form is created.
The end result is a song about adventure that you can take with you wherever you go- more so, as Philips explains it, travelling to a place where you can go to be at peace – a place where you can just figure stuff out.
“Wise men come from the north and naive ones from the south,” he said. “Once you’ve taken this road up to Sombrio beach and you spent a weekend on your own by yourself in the middle of that beautiful place and you come back down into that world that you lived in, it’s never the same.”
For Phillips, a devout outdoorsman, Sooke Hiway is in a way a reflection of his own journey and experience through life, which took him from his ancestral home of Sarnia, Ontario, thousands of kilometres across Canada and to the coastal wonder of the West Coast.
“Music’s my religion and the outdoor is my church; that’s just how I live my life,” he said.
His love for music never really subsided, even when he started life fresh in Sooke. After a while of joining free bands and as many music gigs as we could, he says it wasn’t about the money, or the fame. It was about playing music and having fun.
“Every Thursday we have “Singing Thursday” on the bus – I have an in-house microphone and we just jam,” Philips said. “I always say, it’s a lot more fun working with kids than it is adults. You just gotta laugh at fart jokes all the time.”
It’s not just fart jokes though (even if they are still pretty funny) – Phillips just generally enjoys teaching youth about music and about solving their issues in life in a positive, constructive way – such as his current project, the Restitution song.
“There’s a program that we do with the kids and it’s called restitution; it helps kids learn to listen to each other and to work out their troubles on their own in a respectful manner,” he said, adding that the program really inspired him do write a song about it.
“Every elementary school now is learning that song for Music Monday on May 4, so I have 1000 kids learning the Restitution song right now,” Phillips said, adding that it’s a work in progress.
To listen and vote for Gord Phillips’ Sooke Hiway song, visit http://m.music.cbc.ca/cbcsearchlight/?id=121851 for more info.