Jamming in Neverland: Phillip St. Ours has a solo album, finally

Photo by Aaron Farrington

Although he's been in two of the most successful folk bands to spring from Central Virginia onto the national scene, Phillip St. Ours will finally try his hand as a solo singer and songwriter with The Bear, his new album which debuts this week.

"I've always been in bands with these great, talented people," he says, "I've always had that luxury."

So he could show up at the gigs and play great music without necessarily having to worry about composing it first. As teenagers in Harrisonburg in the mid-90's, St. Ours and his brothers played in a band called the Route 11 Boys with two of the guys who would later go on to form Old Crow Medicine Show around the same time his brother Bobby was starting up the Hackensaw Boys.

St. Ours played in both, but then local photographer Aaron Farrington decided they should start a band together. "He said, 'You gotta write some songs. I'm coming over,'" recalls St. Ours. "'We're going to have practice tomorrow.'"

A tall order, but now, he suggests, inspiration followed that command performance of what was to become Pantherburn, an Americana rock band (which is also working on a debut album): "We've never played a cover song," he notes.

"The Bear" rocks harder than one might expect for someone with St. Ours' Americana history, but he explains that the Route 11 Boys had originally wanted to be rock stars until they soaked in some advice from a Yoda-like bagpipe player on a Harrisonburg street corner.

"He said, 'Kids, you've got it all wrong–- you need to create music that you can create on any street corner, and then it will be your life.'"

Folk music and nomadic roaming would indeed become St. Ours' guiding stars for years after that as he lived life out of tour buses with Old Crow Medicine Show and the Hackensaw Boys.

"They call it old-time for a reason," says St. Ours. "There's something very young about that style of living, but the style of expression wasn't necessarily ours."

Now that he's 34, his projects are more rock-oriented, quite a curious inversion if rock and roll now represents old age instead of youth. Perhaps plugging in a guitar amp kernalizes the idea of a man with enough money not only for a guitar amp but also for recurring utility bills. He giggles at the suggestion that the best metaphor for all this might be puberty.

"I guess," he says, "I'm a late bloomer."

Phillip St. Ours performs with Pantherburn at the Blue Moon Diner on July 10. 8pm, $10.