True Widow has garnered international acclaim for their glacially paced drum section, haunting, reverb-soaked vocals and shoegazey brand of stoner rock. But behind the smoke and mirrors is guitarist Dan Phillips, a pivotal force in the three-piece's wall of sound, who actually only moonlights as a musician.
"The band is something we just do for fun," says Phillips with a little laugh, referring to himself along with bassist Nicole Estill and drummer Slim TX. That's because Phillips' true passion is the fine art of furniture making.
Dan has a friendly demeanor, is clean-shaven and wears a button-up that covers most of his tattoos. As he sits in front of his workbench filled with century-old woodworking tools, the casual observer might be hard pressed to guess that "D.H. Phillips" is also the guitarist in a sludge band. But woodworking is something Phillips was fascinated with even as a kid who loved problem-solving and building things.
"There was this artist H.C. Westerman that made dovetail boxes and I really wanted to know how to do that," Phillips explains about his earlier influences. Another influence was his father Harvey, both an architect and a carpenter, who taught him how to be handy at a young age. "We would go to houses to do cabinet work, but I always preferred being at the shop."
In 2005, Phillips enrolled at The North Bennet Street School in Boston to study in the Cabinet and Furniture Making program. "I chose that school because they taught traditional woodworking and how to make 18th-century furniture," he explains. When he got back to Dallas in 2007, with that experience and formal education under his belt, Phillips started working on his own commissioned pieces.
Like with any independent contractor, business was slow at first, but Dan always had faith and never stressed about it. "My personal history has shown me that things just have a way of happening," he reveals. Since then he's had steady work handcrafting his unique designs, and depending on the scale of the project each piece could take a month or two after drafting to complete.
In terms of quality, the furniture Phillips builds feels like it could belong in a collection from some high-end European catalog, but it all has a very classic, timeless look as well. He admits to borrowing stylistic elements from Danish mid-century, Federal Period and Art Deco furniture. "The way I make furniture is like a big puzzle that has to go together in a certain sequence," he points out. "And there are no screws holding anything together. It's all joints." With his traditional discipline, Phillips builds furniture that is not only aesthetically pleasing but also built to last.
Behind Phillips' solid-wood workbench in their own unique bins are an assortment of mostly antique tools like Stanley planes, chisels and dovetail saws. In his trade, the respect for a sturdy, late-1800s tool that could easily be tuned up is just as important as its history. One particular bundle of molding planes Phillips acquired from someone's grandfather who worked fitting-out captain's quarters on ships in Maine during the early 1900s.
"I like working with old tools and knowing that someone before me used them. I feel like it's just my turn with these tools," Phillips admits. "I hope people keep using all of this stuff to keep making things after me." Some of the tools Dan needs, however, are still being produced on a small scale, so he does have newer planes and saws in his inventory as well.
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"I want to be able to make nice things for people on any realistic budget," Phillips insists. He says that someone may be in love with his designs but too afraid to inquire about the price tag. His past commissioned designs can be seen online, but don't expect to be able to find his work in a furniture gallery. Each piece is handcrafted to suit the specific needs of each client.
Besides his woodwork, Phillips also balances family life, band practice and painting in his busy schedule. For those interested in his art, which can also be seen gracing the cover of True Widow's sophomore album, his next show will be sometime in March at The Webb Gallery in Waxahachie alongside Austin artist Rich Cali. Otherwise, visit Dan's website at www.dhphillips.com or his Instagram at instagram.com/dhphillips to peruse his portfolio of furniture and art while you wait for the new True Widow album to drop.
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