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Words by Cat Jones

Despite largely appealing to fans of metal and other ultra-heavy varieties of music, True Widow is a dark beast of an entirely different variety. Rather than rooting itself in guttural vocals and blast beats, True Widow’s sultry and somehow sinister riffs land somewhere between stoner rock, old-school country, and shoegaze — which was lovingly dubbed “stonegaze” early on in their career. Like the musical embodiment of a dark and beautiful stranger staring at you from the corner of a dimly lit biker bar, their records feel both dangerous and sensual — a very difficult combination of things to pull off properly in any band, regardless of genre.

True Widow’s guitarist and main vocalist, D.H. Phillips doesn’t often do interviews, despite being the main songwriter, saying he “doesn’t want to reveal a bunch of things.” However, being a family man who makes a living building handmade custom furniture, plays occasional solo shows, makes paintings for fun, and is about to take off on tour in support of True Widow’s latest effort, Avvolgere (out now on Relapse), it’s probably safe to say he also just simply doesn’t have much free time.

Either way, True Widow is a great lesson in the “less is more” train of thought: Nearly all of their song titles are long, complicated acronyms, and even the article paired with their recent album stream, which promised to “tell the stories behind the songs” didn’t reveal one single tale. The same can be said for the sound of Phillips’s guitar, too: He still uses the same Gibson L6S he found in his attic when he was 10 years old, and doesn’t use a single effects pedal because “I just want to close my eyes and play a song and not worry about having to do anything with my feet.”

Phillips joins us today by phone to discuss the roots of his artistic sensibilities — and the sensual nature of True Widow that has so many people hooked.

The Bay Bridged: The overarching thing I hear from a lot of people is that, with the sensual nature of the chord progression, and the very occasional lyrics like 'All I want is you alone, all tied down,' True Widow is 'sex music for metal heads.' Is that something you hear often? How does that make you feel?

D.H. Phillips: A definite fair share of people have confessed that it’s 'fuck music.' And we’re just like, 'Alright! Thank you!' Or a couple will be standing there being like, 'Yeah, we fuck to your music.' And we’re like, 'Cool, man...' looking around at them like, 'Well, here we all are...' I mean, I love that compliment, and I get it.

TBB: That’s a tough thing to pull of in music. A lot of times it turns out hokey or straight-up creepy.

DHP: Right. I love sexy music. There’s a lot of it out there, and maybe on a subconscious level I’m trying to participate myself. I’m never like, 'Alright, I’m gonna write a super-sexy song right now.' It’s just how they come out. I have a tendency where if I like something, I want to do it too. So it happens in painting and drawing and furniture or everyday life.

TBB: When you’re not playing guitar and singing in True Widow, you’re making handmade furniture in Dallas. What attracts you to such personal ways of creating art?

DHP: I basically still do all the same things I did when I was a little kid. Drawing, building with blocks, playing guitar. It’s as if I’ve never done anything else, really. And now I’m 40 years old and I’m still doing all the same shit. Both my parents are artists, and I just kind of grew up in a creative environment. My parents always encouraged us to do whatever and never said no to anything, hardly. So I’ve just been doing the same thing. It’s just part of what I’ve always done. I don’t know if that’s a good answer.

TBB: If you do something simply because it’s what you eat, sleep, and breathe, that’s the most genuine way to live.

DHP: I mean, really, I love doing it all, so it’s just what I’ve made my life. This is what I really like to do, so I just do it. I can’t imagine doing anything else.

TBB: When people look back at your life’s work one day, which type of art do you want them to remember you for?

DHP: I think what I’m trying to do every day is make the world a more beautiful place. So if one day it’s a painting that beautifies the world, then that’s what it is. I’d want to be remembered as someone who improved upon the aesthetics of the planet in my various ways of doing that, or attempting to do that. I mean, music is so weird and fickle. It always seems sort of temporary to me. So I don’t really count on being remembered for that. But paintings will be in galleries or people’s homes, and furniture will be around. But [music] only has a shelf life of so long. But I don’t know, it’d be really cool if people loved it ‘til the end of time; I just don’t see that happening.

TBB: You’ve said in the past that you think a computer is a 'necessary evil.' Is that sort of tied in with the fickle nature of the world? I mean, a physical record can sit in someone’s home for centuries, but the world we’re living in now is such that if someone just doesn’t know to search for you on Bandcamp anymore or something, it can be erased so much easier.

DHP: Yeah. Tangible goods are more here to stay than some website. Physical objects will be around. I don’t hardly use a computer at all. Last time I got on one, I didn’t know how to do it anymore. [Laughs.] Because it’s always changing. So I use my phone, which is a pocket computer, but all I really do is email, and I have an Instagram for my woodworking. But that’s it — no Facebook, nothing.

TBB: You’re probably a lot better off without all that.

DHP: Yeah. I don’t know. Everyone else has got it. I just feel like I never know what the hell is going on. Like, 'Did you hear about this or that?' I’m like, 'Nope.'

TBB: Do you think that keeps you more focused on being able to create?

DHP: For sure. People are always getting on Facebook. There’s so much for people to look at instead of living their lives that that’s what they do. I don’t have that experience. I have enough shit to do every day that I can’t imagine having all of that junk to do as well. You probably do less of your real life if you’re caught up doing all that.

I still remember when there was no such thing as the Internet. I’ve never been into video games — you know, I spent my childhood playing in the creek. I’ve never been much of a glued-to-the-screen kind of person.

TBB: When was the first time you can remember being completely overtaken by the power of music?

DHP: When I was a kid, I liked music — my parents were always playing records and stuff, but I don’t think it was ever anything I totally latched onto. Although my dad would play the piano or guitar in the house, and it would be really relaxing. So I’m sure, on a subconscious level, it was creeping in then. But I think when I was maybe 9 or 10, my friend’s older brother was a punk rocker and he gave me all of these tapes. I could hear him listening to Circle Jerks and Black Flag and stuff, and I was just like, 'What is that?'

So he gave me a bunch of tapes and that’s when I really started digging into it and going to shows and stuff. My parents would drop me off. I saw GBH, I saw Circle Jerks — probably when I was too young to be dropped off at a concert like that — but like I said, they let us kind of do whatever. But we were good kids. I was gonna go into that show and sit in my chair and watch the show and come outside when I was supposed to, and they’d pick me up. So that’s how we got to keep those freedoms.

TBB: When was the last time you felt that way?

DHP: I think the last really profound time a band really hit me over the head was maybe 10 years ago. Me and my friend Christine went to see The Raveonettes, who I really like, but the opening band was Autolux. We were trying to miss all of the openers, because we just wanted to see The Raveonettes, but we got there too early, damnit, and Autolux was walking on the stage. We were both just like, 'Holy shit, what the fuck is this music?' They were SO badass. I think we watched four Raveonettes songs, and we were just like, 'Fuck this. Autolux just totally ripped this place apart.' I think that was the last big one. But there’s so much good stuff out there.

TBB: You know, now that you mention it, True Widow sounds a lot like Autolux.

Yeah, that band definitely opened up some spaces in the brain for what True Widow would be. I didn’t start True Widow for another three or four years or something. But they’re definitely an early influence. Them, and I really liked Morphine. I tune my guitars down low, and use different tunings, and part of that came out of boredom, and also Jon Spencer Blues explosion and Gossip and Morphine all had super tuned-down stuff and I loved the way it sounded. And Autolux, of course, was this super cool, weird music. So those bands are sort of where True Widow came from...Go back and listen to Morphine and you’ll be like, “True Widow is a Morphine tribute band.”

TBB: With the prevalence of social media, and the fact that one can see a band’s photos, bio, lyrics, and entire philosophy before hitting play, so many bands get put on blast for violent themes and whatnot. Do you find that sometimes people have a tough time separating satire from the literal when it comes to song content?

DHP: Well, me singing a song about murder could be really literal, in the sense that I’m telling a murder story, but it’s not about killing someone. It might be about killing an emotion or some bad feeling you’re tired of having. So in that sense I am a total fucking murderer. I definitely want to get rid of that feeling. So I can tell that story in a way that, like, I’m going to stab someone, but the thing I’m stabbing is a bad emotion or something I’m trying to get rid of. It’s an allegory for a totally different thing.

But yeah, 'This song is a call to murder everyone at a high school,' or whatever. I’ve never met anybody like that. Thank God.

True Widow, Lowlands, Praying
Brick + Mortar Music Hall
October 15, 2016
9pm, $17 (18+)

Cat Jones is a music journalist in Portland, Oregon. She loves progressive rock, dad jokes, and mediocre scotch.

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