A Conversation with Earth, Wind & Fire’s Philip Bailey – HuffPost 10-24-14

Mike Ragogna: Philip, let’s talk about Holiday. It’s a mix of secular, sacred and spiritual, with “A Song To Mother Earth” pretty much representing the Earth, Wind & Fire credo. So what inspired the choices for songs?

Philip Bailey: We actually did a survey, which most artists do, because you only have the one chance to put your songs before people, so you want to make sure you get the songs that are most likely to be played. We just did a survey of the most popular holiday songs and then we thought about flipping a couple of Earth, Wind & Fire songs like “Happy Feeling” into “Happy Seasons” and “September” into “December.”

MR: Everyone has their own favorite Christmas song that they haven’t gotten too burnt out on, do you have any of those?

PB: I think that the Donny Hathaway Christmas song that he does so well, “Hang all the mistletoe…” I started wanting to do that but then I got intimidated because I was like, “Man, I’ve heard that song so much in my life, if you don’t kill that song…” That’s my favorite song, but we didn’t actually do that.

MR: What’s interesting is that the sixteenth-note emphasis in the horn arrangements plays nicely pumps up the spirit of Christmas.

PB: Yeah, because you’ve got that [hums] real staccato [humming intensifies] that’s a very happy movement. A lot of our arrangements have those sixteenth notes and thirty-second notes, so it
kind of fit right in.

MR: I’m surprised Earth, Wind & Fire never released a Christmas album until now.

PB: Right, exactly! It was about time. Sony came to us after we did the Now, Then & Forever CD with the idea of having a holiday record. I was quite surprised that they would be interested in doing it so soon after the last project but we jumped into the studio around April and we did it in between touring and got it done.

MR: I want to go back to how it’s a natural fit–Earth, Wind & Fire and a holiday like Christmas–since you guys do have a natural spiritual path. Look at some of those albums. It’s not that you’re beating people up with spirituality, but you do explore it.

PB: Yeah, you know, that’s just our aura. That’s just how we move and breathe and live. You can celebrate it, join it or whatever but that’s just who we are and how our music comes out.

MR: How do you guys create music these days?

PB: We still do it pretty similarly to the way we did it in the past. We get everybody in the studio and we might work on ideas before coming in with templates of what we want to do. If there’s a whole song or songs that we have that we really know we want to record, then we might rehearse or teach them to the band or whatever but then we get into the studio and record the songs.

MR: Is there anything that’s changed since you guys were kids recording and performing together?

PB: Well, the one thing is nowadays because of Pro Tools and the internet, when you’re starting on an idea, you can really continue on that path until the whole idea is developed and completed, as opposed to before when those were separate processes. There might be a writing session but you weren’t necessarily going to be able to use anything that you were doing in the writing section. Now, with technology, the very seed of the idea might be part of the final project.

MR: What do you think of Earth, Wind & Fire’s cultural contribution? Everyone loves the group and even Homer Simpson sang one of your hits!

PB: [laughs] I think when we first started, we couldn’t have ever envisioned this. We were just making music and the music that we loved, just trying to make the best music we could, as we are today. We’re just trying to continue along the path of making music to the best of our ability. Fortunately we were able to make music that people like and have liked for forty-three years.

MR: What do you think it is about Earth, Wind & Fire’s music that resonates?

PB: I think it’s very catchy, very uplifting and very celebratory music but it also represents many different genres of music. We’re a band that struck on a really fantastic formula. We were able to carry it through. People were able to grow up with it for forty-three years so now, it’s become part of the musical soundtrack of their lives.

MR: Groups often try to mimic your horn section. I think you’ve made a solid contribution to jazz and R&B in that area. And even some of the guitar sounds and grooves you guys came up with are also copped.

PB: Yeah, and who would’ve thunk it, as we say. We just love what we were doing, we still do, we’re very, very fortunate to have been able to make a living making music and doing something that we love to do. We’re still very sought-after internationally and we’re having more fun now than we did back in the past because we’ve realized how hard it is to do what we’re doing.

MR: What advice do you have for new aritsts?

PB: I don’t think very hard when people ask me that. I just come up with the first thing I think, which is don’t buy into the hype. Just keep it real…just keep it real. Buying into the hype can get you into a lot of trouble, believing your own press. One way or the other, keep it real. Know what’s good, what’s bad and what’s different.

MR: Is this something you would’ve told yourself way back when you started?

PB: Well, it’s something I did tell myself. I don’t necessarily have to tell myself that now because I’m solid with it. I keep it in perspective. You can’t get really caught up in the hype and lose your way.

MR: Do you guys have a couple of favorites to this day, songs you can’t wait to play live?

PB: Oh yeah, we always say they’re kind of like our kids. There are a lot of songs that I associate with how I felt recording them in the studio. Songs like, “And Love Goes On.” There’s so much music that it’s hard to just pinpoint, “This song is my favorite.”

MR: What is the future for Earth, Wind & Fire?

PB: We’re always on the road somewhere in this world. We’re continuing to tour. Next year, I’m thinking about maybe doing a holiday run of special cities, maybe no more than six…do something special with charities and toy giveaways and that sort of thing. It’s something we could possibly do annually.

MR: Beautiful. And I’m assuming there’ll be an “Easy Lover, Part Two” with Phil Collins.

PB: [laughs] You’ve got to talk to Phil about that.

Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne

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