Music Medley

An insight into local musician Jim Phillips

Photo by Submitted
Jim Phillips is both a UW-Eau Claire chemistry professor and the head of the Jim Phillips Project.

From teaching himself how to play guitar in high school, all the way to performing and recording an album, chemistry professor and department chair Jim Phillips shared the history behind the release of his album and his own spiritual growth as an individual.

Phillips says his involvement with music really picked up during a gap-year between high school and college.

“I wasn’t really in a band – proper – until right after high school,” Phillips said.

Following his year spent with a band of friends, Phillips went on to Middlebury College in Vermont to pursue, and later graduated cum laude with highest honors, in chemistry.

Alongside chemistry, Phillips found himself minoring in music composition as well.

“My music history professor said, ‘Why don’t you do the composition sequence?’” Phillips said. 

He recalled answering, “Because I don’t have any training.”

Phillips went on to explain his conversation with that professor, which consisted of figuring out a plan to make the degree work, and what that courseload looked like.“By the time I was done, I had almost as many courses in music as I did in chemistry,” Phillips said.

During his time at Middlebury, Phillips took classes giving him experience in studio work, including a course specifically in electronic composition.

While taking classes in composition, Phillips recalled naming some of the pieces after subject headings from his physical chemistry textbook, such as “spin-orbit coupling.”

After his time at Middlebury, where he continued to perform with various bands, Phillips went on to hold a music career in Eau Claire.

After beginning his role as a professor and becoming a father to two one-year-olds, music took a backseat in Phillips’ life, he said, until he had a sabbatical. It was then that he began making appearances at open-mic nights, which led him to run into local musician Jeff White in the mid-2000s.

“Next thing you know, I was playing bass in a band with Jeff White, and my Eau Claire music career took off,” Phillips said.

Later on, after working on creating a record with his own group of musicians, it was the members that created the name: Jim Phillips Project, which led to the name of the CD.

“Well, projects have phases,” Phillips said, “let’s call this (CD) Phase One.”

Beyond making the CD as a creative piece, Phillips said it was more important to him that he had a vehicle to book gigs and play the music.

“For me, being out there in front of people, and playing the music, and seeing how people react to it, and connecting with the people,” Phillips said, “is really where it is for me… the audience is really integrated into the whole experience.”

Elaborating on being witness to the integration of the audience, Phillips shared how he feels when he sees his music resonate with someone.

“When I see one of my songs, and when I see somebody out there in the audience really internalizing it and having it mean something to them,” Phillips said, “That is a truly earth-shattering experience.”

Zach Fike, a fourth-year A.C.S. chemistry student and two-time student of Phillips, shared what he thought of Phillips’s music.

“We play it in the lab,” Fike said, “it’s nice to work in chemistry and listen to another chemist’s music. We really like it.”

Fike went on to explain that he sees the enthusiasm Phillips has in his lectures, and while he hasn’t seen him perform live, he believes that it would be a fun performance.

If you would like to contribute to “shattering” Phillips’s earth, Jim Phillips Project will be warming up for Uncommon Denominator at 7 p.m. on Oct 12 at Stones Throw bar in Eau Claire. You can also find the album Phase One through Spotify, Apple Music, Google Play Music or you can purchase the CD of the album at The Local Store in Eau Claire. 

Seward can be reached at [email protected]