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Megafaun's Phil Cook steps solo

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LOCATION: Durham, N.C.
AGE: 31
MEMBERSHIPS: Megafaun, Phil Cook & His Feat
INFLUENCES: Bill Evans, Bruce Hornsby, Keith Jarrett, Jerry Douglas, Ry Cooder, Greg Leisz, Bill Frisell
KNOWN FOR: An improviser rooted in song, Cook respects folk forefathers while constantly exploring new channels.
SEE HIM: Free CD release show for Phil Cook & His Feat's Hungry Mother Blues at Motorco Friday, May 6, at 6 p.m. Christy Smith and Greg Humphreys open.

PHILOSOPHY: It's really liberating to just be able to take a little something from everywhere. Fuck that phrase 'jack of all trades, master of none.' What I'm trying to master is not any one of these instruments, but forgetting my head and listening to my heart. That's all I'm trying to do the whole time, no matter what I'm playing.

CHEAP INSTRUMENTS: I love the fact that my favorite bass player, James Buckley, plays a Mexican Fender Squier with two holes in it. It's so shitty, but he's a good bass player so he just wails on that, and there's a lesson in there. I don't need to go out and buy a Gibson SG. It's just not what I'm interested in. All my instruments cost less than $1,000 because I can't afford to replace them otherwise; my shit's gotten stolen before, so I know.

Phil Cook's fingerpicks - PHOTO BY JEREMY M. LANGE

BANJO STYLE: I really love to play with fingerpicks on. I can get into playing patterns, which I really enjoy. But with clawhammer style, I like the rhythm in that. I've found ways to play clawhammer where it's still like a picking thing, too. What I'm really doing when I play the banjo is I'm playing piano in my head. I just can't escape it, even though I try. Every banjo player that I've ever shown my clawhammer picks has never seen them before. I've only ever found them at Zepp's in Wendell. I have a weak nail, and it breaks all the time, so I started having to play with picks.

REPUBLIC RESONATOR: I went to the factory in Dallas last summer and played like 30 of them. This one really sang that day. I've always wanted to have one and I love how it sounds. I put a picture of my friend Keil on the headstock and named it Keil, but he doesn't even know. He's never seen it. I've dedicated songs to him and told the story, and he wasn't even there.

Phil Cook's combo amp - PHOTO BY JEREMY M. LANGE

VHT SPECIAL 6 COMBO AMP: I don't need my 400-watt Roland Jazz Chorus to play my banjo, so I got this amp at Bluesmaster Guitars in Durham after the owner, Mike Miller, showed it to me. He replaced the speaker with a Celestion Greenback and replaced the tubes. I played it for a while and said, "This is the best amp I heard in my entire life!" I vowed to go back and get one. I decided I needed that amp and went to CD Alley in Chapel Hill and sold all of my box sets. It's a super budget line and it's so basic, but it's all handwired.

"FRANKENSTEIN" ELECTRIC GUITAR: I went to Harry's Guitar Shop in Raleigh with this busted-ass Fender Squier. Terry, the repair guy, came out and said he had an old Peavey body with no neck in the back, so he took the neck off my Squier and put it on that for like 70 bucks. This was the first electric guitar that I started playing in Megafaun, but the action is so high that it's very naturally a slide guitar. It turns out that this thing has a killer tone, too.

Phil Cook's stompbox - PHOTO BY JEREMY M. LANGE

STOMPBOX: This represents my desire to want to be a handyman at some time in my life. Unfortunately, I'm just really not set up or raised that way at all. I decided I wanted to do something different with my tapping foot. Lee Waters had given me this little tambourine for free because he hated the sound of it, and I got this wine box for our wedding, so I ripped all the casing out of it and ripped the acoustic pickup out of my dobro. I tried to solder it, but I had to call a friend in for emergency relief.

ON PLAYING SOLO: Megafaun is more about my expression of friendship with Brad [Cook] and Joe [Westerlund] and how much fun we have playing together. Whatever I do with this solo stuff, it's liberating. It's whatever I like to hear at any given point in time. Some days, I feel really loud and electric so I'll go to a show and bring my electric guitar and turn my amp up and play a fast electric set. There's sometimes when I just want to play a slow, gutty banjo with a really slow beat. I don't want to hear any amps, just everything acoustic and immediate.

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