North County Phenom Connects with Surfing Community
By Robb Bailey
Kyle Phelan is an old soul. He walks, speaks, and plays the guitar with the confidence of a 35 year-old. His voice is deep and his laugh is hearty. When he tells a story, he tells it with a very slight East Coast accent, which actually works with what he’s got going on. It’s hard to explain.
The music Kyle creates is something out of a John Mayer book, but his talent has certainly broken free of any stereotypes that may be attached to big names. Although Kyle’s musical idol heavily influences his sound, he works with an established rap and R&B musician from New York to write, produce, and perform his songs since he was sixteen. The end result produces sounds ranging from Outkast, Citizen Cope, and Dave Matthews to Stevie Wonder, John Legend, and Brian McKnight.
The 21 year-old has really grown in his songwriting over the past five years. Three CD’s and a 2007 San Diego Music Award nomination later, people are starting to take notice.
How did you get your start playing music? What instruments?
I started playing the drums when I was about seven years old. I always loved playing at the church our family attended. I didn’t really play for the services, but my dad was a pastor so I was able to go in the main room and beat on them as long and as hard as I wanted to when no one was there. When I was 11 my dad moved us out to San Diego and I started playing guitar, and the drum thing kinda just didn’t happen anymore. I mean, I love the drums, but guitar is my instrument now.
You recently quit your day job to pursue music. What does your work day consist of now?
I work a couple days a week for a friend of mine doing some assistant work, and on the other days I book gigs, play gigs, and teach guitar lessons. Oh, and fight with my manage. That’s a job in it self. (laughs)
What big names influence your music? What small names?
Big names? Well, this guy named John Mayer is pretty good. Haha, yeah he’s my biggest influence. Then it’s everyone from Marvin Gaye to Frank Sinatra. I love a lot of singer-songwriters that aren’t necessarily mainstream. Marc Broussard, David Ryan Harris, J Turtle, Erin McCarley, Sean Mitchell, Trevor Davis, Ernie Halter. It would take me too long to name all the stuff I listen to. I can tell you that India Arie is in my car’s CD player right now though.
You co-write a lot of your music with your good friend and local musician Sean Mitchell. How does his influence affect your music?
Sean is what makes Kylephelan.com possible! I can’t write the same without him. He brings out all of the urban influences I love and lets it flow through my music in a beautiful way. I love him so much and value him more than I can explain. If anything makes it on this interview make sure it’s that!
You’re 21 and you’ve already recorded three albums. Take us through that process.
It’s been a very pleasant learning experience. I recorded my first CD when I was 17 years old, my second when I was 18, and this last one this past summer. It doesn’t really seem like I’ve been making music for that long but now that I think about it, it’s something I can be proud of and appreciate.
What are your favorite venues to play in San Diego? Elsewhere?
I love playing Hot Java CafÃ© in Poway. It might be this nostalgic thing because it was the first place I ever played. It’s just a little coffee house, but it feels like home to me. I’ve had some of my best musical moments at Hot Java. I like LeStat’s too. It’s been kind of like a home to me in a sense. It was the step-up from Hot Java, according to the music scene here in SD. I just played Cane’s in Mission Beach and loved it. I’ve played the Belly Up and the House of Blues downtown, and those two are, by far, in a league of their own. Just amazing sound, amazing vibe… frickin loved it!
Favorite song to perform right now?
With the band, it’s “Puppet” for sure. That’s why I’m going into the studio early October to record it. Acoustically, probably don’t Go. It’s just fun to perform and I like the falsetto work I do in it. It’s a sing-along for sure.
Performing acoustic has been your strength so far in your career. How is it playing with your band these past few months?
Oh man, I love playing acoustic, but the high I get from playing with the group of guys I have in my band is amazing (laughs). You’d have to tear the guitar from my frickin hands to get me away. Go ahead, you can try.
Which is your favorite, performing unplugged or with the band?
That’s such a hard question to answer because I respect both sides of the music so much. But this is what I can give you: At a bar, with the band; At a coffee house, definitely acoustic.
Talk about how Hot Rod Harris and other local San Diegan Musicians have shaped your career.
Hot Rod is my dear friend and always will be. He’s encouraged this push for me to pursue my music before I even knew I had the ability to. He made this past CD possible. If he wasn’t on board, I wouldn’t have the product I have now in this last CD. J Turtle has also been such a great friend and teacher to me. I never took lessons from the guy, but for me every time I see him play I’m taking notes.
You have quite the following with the South Coast staff, particularly the females. Any thoughts on that?
Hahhahah, I love all the South Coast girls! They’re great to me and I love the constant support they give. Special thanks to Ash, Kimmy, and Heather for sureâ€¦. They bump my CD like it’s their job. I love it!
The Ryde Clothing is supporting your music, how does the surfing/art/fashion thing tie in to your sound?
Well, first off, I always wear their shirts. My closet is full and that’s all I wear now. I still haven’t seen a shirt that I didn’t want from them. But the cool thing about The Ryde is that whatever you’re into, they got you covered. They have this Southern Cali thing going on, and it just so happens that my music relates really well to that. My lifestyle is all about making good music, making people feel good, and having a good time. The surfing community has embraced that, which I’m grateful for. I love all the guys that make it happen up there. They’re just good people and I”ll support that cause for as long as I can.