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In the spring of 2006, I was nearing the end of my first semester at Austin College. I had finally entered the world of a rebellious artist (who did manage to study now and again). My time there, according to my great aunt, was meant for these sorts of things. She told me that college was the time for meeting people I would never otherwise meet, and for becoming friends with strangers. To her, college was fertile ground with all walks of life under one roof, the origin of many lifelong friendships. One never knows where they might lead.

courtesy of Andrew YorkeDaniel Thomas Phipps performing on stage at Austin College
(from left to right) Evan Lapka, Taylor Browne, Kyle Tunnell, and Daniel Thomas Phipps peforming at Austin College in 2008

As the semester was ending that May, I caught one of Daniel’s shows. He was performing under the monicker Journey to the Center of the Sun. I had listened to his Mirrors EP and reviewed it for the school newspaper, but I did not approve. He was a talented musician, but I wrote that his lyrics were ‘juvenile’. (A few years later, I used two of his tracks from that EP in Videotape. I also own the album.) That opinion was spat onto paper so quickly it later disgusted me. Daniel took the review with a grain of salt, but I knew it got to him a little bit. Thankfully, it’s water under the bridge.

Nothing a beer and a man hug doesn’t solve.

At his concert, he used a loop machine in his opening song, slowly bringing in numerous layers of guitar which built a sound larger than the stage and elevated his voice. Watching him perform live, I saw the half-assed error in my review. His ‘juvenile’ lyrics explored a personal account of intimate reflection and tangible sorrow. The guy had a story to tell, and he elicited an involuntary response from his audience. He affected people.

That was Daniel Phipps in 2006. This epic sound, charged with substance and subtlety, came from one person alone on stage. And the man was barely 19 years old.

Daniel and I became good friends, and we spent a lot of time together in college. Quiet moments with and without inebriation would give way to discussions ranging from Wes Anderson to his hatred of cats. His opinions were distinct but open to change. I pressed him to give Radiohead a chance, and he insisted I do the same for artists like Bright Eyes and Tom Petty. Over time, we each realised the other was right. He was a creative influence for me, and I like to think that the experience was mutual.

Though I came to know him quite well, he was not an open book. Daniel was given to an unwavering experience of life and stored much of that inside, reserving personal moments for the times when his fingers would strum a guitar. I asked him once, about a year after I wrote the review, how and where he recorded his EP. He told me that after saving a small amount of money, he recorded it on his own with the help of a couple of friends in his hometown of New Braunfels. Daniel has always been resourceful, and he recruited everything he could find to create a sound that unquestionably transcended its low-budget and makeshift circumstances. It impressed me that he used his financial limitations to his advantage and pushed himself forward. At this point, I suppose you could say I had a kind of admiration for him.

In November of 2007, I was gearing up for production on Videotape. I had imagined what problems might come my way, and I had worked through the best (and necessarily loose) plan of action. But I had never attempted this. A few people—including patrons who backed out when they heard my approach—informed me that no movie could be successfully produced with a cast and crew of non-professionals. I felt this was a lie, partly because of the many features which had found success with similar methods, such as Kids, Bubble, Gummo, and The Girlfriend Experience. And partly because I knew there was no other way to tell this story with what I had around me. I just had to find the right group of people whose chemistry and confidence would alleviate some of the limitations of a microscopic budget.

I went to Daniel.

courtesy of Andrew YorkeDaniel on the set of ‘Videotape’
Daniel helps to set up a shot during production on Videotape

I could never fully understand Daniel (and that may be a good thing), but I suppose he viewed the project as a creative challenge. Plus, what the hell else was he going to do? He was, after all, in college. So I asked him about acting in the picture and he dove in and never left. The guy was a hard worker, from start to finish, and never complained of being bored or tired or fed up with the production. There’s a good chance that, without realising it, I took advantage of that at the time. Each day, he would just ask me what was left and when we would shoot the next scene. When it came time, he was there. When I wanted to shoot some impromptu coverage I might use, he was game. He went through with it, and I’m pretty sure he enjoyed it.

And just like on stage, he delivered an incredible performance.

Since college, Daniel has graduated and continued with his own dreams. His new band, The Kinfolk, is quickly building a following. His talents as a musician are evolving just as fast. I caught him at a show in Dallas roughly a month ago. He looks the same, but his sound has continued to grow. I sat in the audience and thought to myself, See, this guy is going somewhere. Amidst artists and bankers with big mouths and bigger egos, this guy never talks. He just does, and the whole rooms listens.

I am proud to call Daniel a colleague and a friend. Talent like his is seldom seen in new artists, and his combination of humility and prowess is even rarer. He’s young, hungy, and he kicks ass. He’ll sincerely thank you for coming to his shows. He will probably even give you a hug if he gets the chance. No joke. Then he will continue to push forward, as I have proudly watched him do.

Of course, Daniel will probably read this and shake his head. He will tell you he’s not any of these things.

He’s just here to play some tunes.

courtesy of Andrew YorkeDaniel being Daniel, hanging upside-down from monkey bars

Daniel Thomas Phipps is the frontman for the folk band The Kinfolk, currently performing in New Braunfels, San Antonio, and Austin, TX. He recently finished touring with members of the Folk Union, including Stephanie Briggs, Luke Leverett, and K Phillips. «»