Music : It's delightful, it's daRosa
"He sings with soul," says WMVY's Laurel Redington of Phil daRosa. "No matter what he's singing, it becomes soul music. The reason he's so special is because he connects with people not only from the stage, but off as well."
Mention praise like that to Mr. daRosa and he will not necessarily demur, but he is certainly humbled by it. It's because he knows that he could very well be working at a job he loathes instead of doing what he is doing for a living: playing music - here, there and everywhere - and loving it.
You might know him from his current weekly gigs at Sharky's in Oak Bluffs, or you might remember Mr. daRosa, also known as Philly D, taking a front and center spot at the now defunct Martha's Vineyard Festival two summers ago, to benefit the M.V. Hospital. "One of the most gratifying moments of my music career is sharing the stage with Entrain at that festival," he says. "It certainly was the biggest stage and the biggest crowd I'd ever played to." You also might know him because he was born and raised on the Island, and he graduated from the regional high school in 1996.
Another highlight was only a few weeks back when he played a show in Boston and a couple told him they drove 45 minutes from New Hampshire just to see him. "That just blew my mind, the fact that someone drove all that way just to see us," Mr. daRosa says.
"Us" refers to his latest partners - bassist Pinto Abrams and drummer Matty Rosenthal, a pair of Island guys who love to make music. "I've been playing out live with those guys since the summer," says Mr. daRosa. "They're amazing musicians and great friends of mine, so I'm definitely feeling blessed to have them around to collaborate with."
Considering that Mr. daRosa has spent considerable time making a name for himself in the pulsing Northampton music scene, as well as doing gigs in Boston and New York City, one has to wonder if he will soon wear the title "Formerly of Martha's Vineyard."
"I've thought of relocating to either of those cities - Boston or New York, Brooklyn specifically," says Mr. daRosa. "Maybe in the fall. Who knows? There's just so much going on. I'm hoping to spend the summer on the Vineyard doing music full-time again, and then plan on touring next fall around New England and perhaps base myself off the rock somewhere more practical."
In addition to playing whenever he can, Philly D is working on a couple of different projects these days. His studio time has been mostly re-directed toward combining acoustic music with electronica, and songwriting with musical composition.
"I want to bring together elements of all the music I'm listening to these days," he says. "I've got a ton of straight-up acoustic ideas, and probably the same amount of electronic-based snippets that I'm excited to dedicate my time to, and some songs are already done that just need tweaking."
Hoping to release his second solo record sometime this year, Mr. daRosa also gives guitar lessons and is trying to do more engineering and producing for Vineyard musicians. "The music scene on the Vineyard, that underground, kind of rootsy scene, is producing some pretty amazing music right now," he says. "I'd love to get more involved by collaborating more with some of the people here. There's tons of young musicians here on the rock that are doing some great things artistically, and there needs to be more outlets for them all to share what they're doing."
From the perspective of a young, passionate musician like Phil daRosa, the music scene isn't quite as intimidating as it once was.
"Major labels are becoming obsolete, and recording in big studios is not only impractical financially, it's also easy enough to have your own means of recording and getting your music out there with the web being such an integral part of promotions with social networking and such," Mr. daRosa says. "It used to be that no matter how much energy you put in, if you're not an amazing artist or band that plays out all the time to gain a following, no one would hear you or allow your music to really spread.
"Now, you can create an album on Garage Band in a week and spread it to thousands online. I'm not saying that's a good or bad thing necessarily. But if you're an Indie band that's got it going on, you can reach your audience pretty easily with the click of a button."
In speaking with Mr. daRosa, you get the sense that he's one of those guys who's just naturally calm, cool, and collected on and off the stage. After years of playing, does he ever get tensed up before a show? "Absolutely. I get stirred up here and there for certain shows, but for the most part that sense of nervousness has worn off over the years. Oddly enough, I'm less nerve-wracked when I play to a larger crowd than when I play to a small one or even my own family. I know that seems kind of backwards."
Phil daRosa performs weekly at Sharky's in Oak Bluffs on Friday at 10 pm. For more information, visit tightrecords.com/phillyd/.
Ray Whitaker is a frequent contributor to The Times.