Interview with Phil X by: Zenae Zukowski
Phil Theofilos Xenidis (born March 10, 1966), better known as Phil X, is a Greek-Canadian musician and songwriter.
In 2011, Phil X substituted for Bon Jovi’s lead guitarist Richie Sambora, who missed 13 dates after entering rehab and later filled in for Sambora on the US and Europe leg of the 2013 tour after Sambora left the band suddenly due to personal reasons.
In mid-2013 he filled in for Sambora during a number of dates of the Because We Can tour, including their only Italian date in Milan, the entire British leg of the tour including the Isle of Wight Festival and Hyde Park BST dates, the South African leg, the South American leg and the Australian leg of the tour.
You’d think that would mean Phil was pretty much a full time member of the band and in 2016, Jon agreed and Phil became an official member along with bass guitarist Hugh McDonald. Phil’s first full release with the band is on latest album “This House Is Not for Sale”.
Our New York based journalist Zenae caught up with Phil on his home turf to talk work,music and touring.
Zenae: I love the Trader Joes story on how you officially became a full time member for Bon Jovi. How’s the journey been so far for you?
Phil X: It’s been, you know, like any journey. Filled with valleys, and vast peak rises, and low peak rises. It’s still surreal for me, because I was a fan of Bon Jovi. “Living On A Prayer” was the rock of my youth. So, I broke in wanting to play that live, and unethically did it 200 times. That gives you an idea of what it’s like. In a nutshell; it just keeps going, and it’s great that it keeps going.
I mean in 2011, when I just filled in for Richie, I did 13 shows, in which he came back. So in 2013, when he didn’t come back, it just seemed like, “Oh, okay, this is an extensive trip.” But, I’m still here. It’s a ride.
Zenae: What have been some of the challenges that you’ve faced while performing live with Bon Jovi?
Phil X: Performing live isn’t really a challenge. For me it’s … I’ve been performing my entire life. Now it’s just when I walk on the Bon Jovi stage, to play the Bon Jovi catalog. Actually, the one challenge is memory. Because, there is so many songs! And then Jon will be backstage in the middle of the tour, and be like, “Remember that one?”
And, I’m like, “Um, uh …wait … what?” And then you gotta, get your phone, and get iTunes up, and listen to the song before you walk on stage. But, you have the little reminder of the arrangement. So, that’s the one challenge. Vocally speaking, and guitar wise … I believe, I approach the entire procedure as … big.
Holy hell, I have to respect the music, I have to respect the band, I have to respect the fans.It’s one of those things where, I walked in, and they’re like, “Hey, doing a great job!”, and I think I approached it with the right state of mind, and that was in my favor. With the fans, and the band actually.
Zenae: Are there any funny rumors you can share that are happening or happened on the road?
Phil X: We’ll let’s see … NO! (Laughs). There’s lots of funny moments, but probably don’t want them out.
Zenae: (laughs) … I understand.
Phil X: There’s been moments in the band, like, we have a great relationship, there’s amazing chemistry with everybody in this tour, and after a certain amount of time you can establish who the coolest guys in the band is, who the funniest guy in the band is, and …but everybody has a great sense of humor, so we’re laughing a lot. I’m just gonna say that anything else that I share, would get me in trouble.
Zenae: Well, it’s good to know that you’re having a lot of fun.
Phil X: Well, it is. It’s a lot of fun, it is a lot of work … you know? And I learned a lot from Jon. Even in the beginning when I just filled in. Jon gets on stage like he’s going in the ring for two and a half hours, and I just watched Jon, and I thought, “Wow, this guy works hard!”
It kind of allows me to do all the things that are extra, like not have a live band. So, when I go on stage, and I am in the driver’s seat, it’s about chilling the audience, and chilling … making people comfortable in the band before, and making people … making the band that has to follow you, they have to follow you. It kind of gave me that mentality. But in this with Bon Jovi, it’s an exciting thing as well.
It’s nice to be able to paint on two different canvases.
Zenae: How are your other projects coming along?
Phil X: My band “The Drills”, we’re working on a fourth record. It’s just taking forever because there’s a lot of drama about it. We started recording in 2014, and it was going to be 12 drummers, nine that I recorded on other artist records with. Two that I was in bands with,and then one that came on board because he really loved the project.
Just to name drop a little bit, I have guys like Taylor Hawkins, Tommy Lee, Kenny Aronoff, Luzier from “KoRn”, Glen Sobel from Alice Cooper’s band, and the list goes on. Abe Laboriel Jr. From Paul McCartney’s band, and it was a great experience recording with all these drummers because I love drums. I am a big fan of drums. Actually, it’s funny that I really suck at drums. But I’m a huge fan.
So, working with all these guys was an incredible experience, and not only do you experience the way they play, but their personalities, on and off the drums. So, I’m really excited to share that work with the world. I gotta add that we were in with Bon Jovi playing at the Chernobyl Center in March I believe it was, and we had a day off on the Sunday, like the next day, and then Tico would come in and play on the track, and he was like, “Yeah of course”. So I got Tico Torres on this record as well now.
Zenae: That is insane and each one has their own personality, technique, and style, and to just put that all together in one record … it’s interesting to see how the turn out will be.
Phil X: Yeah, I just get to another level too. Because, as I start writing more songs to get more players on the record, I had that in mind when I wrote as well. So, yeah it’s quite a journey when you sit down and listen to it, and how it plays on. It started with 12 drummers now it’s 15, so it’s fifteen songs, and now I am like, “Aw man now it’s going tobe volume”.The dust kind of thing, so it’ll probably be a volume of 130 in a year, 2019.
Zenae: When you look back on your career, when did you first realize you wanted to play guitar, which direction did you want to go towards in the beginning? Such as Joe Satriani, Scorpions, Slayer, Eagles…
Phil X: That’s a good question, but, I am way older than that, so it was … when I was eight I was already a fan of Elvis, and even now … I would get up at a Greek wedding in front of four hundred people … because my dad pushed me to … and I would sing “Blue Suede Shoes” and “Teddy Bear”, and I was eight. So, as I grew into realizing there was more than Elvis, that there were bands, and there was Black Sabbath, and then there was Cheap Trick, and then there was Van Halen I liked at 14. That stuff clearly created the palate for me, to create rock.
Obviously there was Scorpions as well … I loved the band thing, and when I saw Van Halen, it really nailed it. Not only the kind of music I wanted to play, but the kind of performer I wanted to be. Because, there you had the best guitar … the guy I thought was the best guitar player in the world, and the best front man in the world. When I was a teenager that’s what epitomized those connections in a band.
I was like, “Yeah, you got this guy who can play that rock, but he’s running around like a maniac.” So, it ingrained in me that I wanted to be entertaining as well as good, a great musician.
Zenae: What plans do you have for next year?
Phil X: Well, it looks like if we put “The Drills” record out, say the beginning of the year, February maybe. I’m gonna put a big maybe on that, then we put the record out, then promote it. Do a little bit of touring with that. Then there is Bon Jovi’s new Europe, Russia, Israel shows in June and July. Then I will probably take the month off in August just me being a dad. Then put the second installment of the body of work, that is taking forever, out September, and there’ll be more promotion for that as well. So that’s what I’m left with the year looking like right now.
Zenae: For fun, if you could sum up your career as a movie genre, which one would it be?
Phil X: Comedy for sure.
Zenae: Comedy Alright.
Phil X: Absolutely.
Zenae: Awesome, and is there anything else that you want to say, or add to your fans?
Phil X: Thank you for being a long on this journey, and it wouldn’t be the same without you.
Bon Jovi Tour the UK for the first time in 6 years in 2019. Details and tickets below: