Physick is a two-person multi-genre indie pop-rock band from Sugar Hill, Georgia, formed in 2008. The main composer in the band is Phil Hodges (vocals, guitar, piano, bass) and the main lyricist is Michael Minkoff (vocals, drums, bass, guitar). The band is distinguished by its complex and thickly layered musical arrangements, genre-defying combinations of sonic textures and instruments, carefully wrought conceptual frameworks, and penetrating and direct Christian lyrics.
Though Hodges and Minkoff actually met as children at Chalcedon Presbyterian Church (then in Dunwoody, Georgia), they didn’t become friends until high school, and didn’t start playing music together until years after that.
Their musical journeys took significantly different paths. Minkoff is a self-taught musician who started learning and appreciating music late in his teenage years. He picked up a guitar first, migrated to the bass, then finally landed at the drums because his friends Micah Stout and Sean Sullivan (then in a band called Vehicle) needed a drummer. Michael’s songwriting style is benefitted by his longterm love of poetry, which he took up in earnest before his eleventh birthday. But his musical compositions and style are undirected, tentative, experimental, and unschooled.
Phil Hodges, on the other hand, began playing guitar much earlier, and found he understood music almost innately. After years of meticulous training, Hodges secured a scholarship in Classical Guitar Performance from Columbus State University in Columbus, GA. When life intervened with the birth of his first child, Hodges quit school to find a job. But he had already developed a professional capacity in composition, arrangement, and vocal performance. He had also mastered the piano and, of course, the guitar.
The story of how Physick came to be is therefore rather odd, since a more unlikely musical pairing could hardly be found. In the liner notes from their first album, they explain how they first started playing music together:
Michael: When Phil Hodges was twelve, he came with his family to Chalcedon Presbyterian Church, the same church I had attended since conception. Both Phil and I attended the church’s school as distant acquaintances, becoming closer friends in our senior year. After we graduated in 2000, Phil went to Columbus State University on a scholarship for Classical Guitar Performance, and I went to Georgia Tech to study Chemical Engineering. We lost touch. After Phil dropped out and I failed out, we both, in our separate ways, pursued a musical education. Phil learned theory and perfected his instrumental technique on the piano and guitar while I taught myself rock instruments by jamming in various bands, the whole while learning through experimentation how to record music. It wasn’t until 2008 that we got back in contact at a birthday party—a dance party in Atlanta. Though we both love music, neither of us like dancing. After obliging our wives (both big fans of dancing) for an appropriate number of tunes (with admirable enthusiasm), we both found our way outside, independently seeking the same object—a breath of fresh air and some quiet. God had other plans. I already knew of Phil’s musical prowess and had been hoping to recruit his talents for the Nehemiah Foundation, an organization I had just started with my father. But I had nothing really to offer Phil, and I reasoned that Phil, with considerably greater training and skill, would have already started some musical endeavor of his own. On this muggy August night, though, I got up my courage and sat down on the under-sized city bench Phil was already occupying. I asked, “So, are you recording your music, or playing in a band or something?” Phil replied simply, “No.” Before I could think myself out of it, I asked, “Do you wanna play with me?” “Sure.” And that’s how it started.
Phil: When Michael approached me about joining his Foundation, I was ecstatic. I had been stuck at an office job since 2004 and had no other prospects of becoming a recording artist, a life-long aspiration of mine which was fading in probability with every passing year. Not long after our discussion, Michael and his brother-in-law (the addressee of Battling Cancer) started talking about building a studio. I figured it was just another one of those things that people talk about and never do, but I soon learned that when Michael plans to do something, he does it. So Micah and Michael finished the studio and my first work there was as a session musician on Micah’s first album, Without Reservations, released posthumously. After a short time of working with Michael, it became clear that we had almost exactly non-overlapping skill sets. Michael’s focus was on rhythm, recording, and lyricism and he played the drums, bass, and a little guitar. I was drawn to melody, musical composition, and arrangement. I played the classical and acoustic guitar, piano, melodic bass, and knew almost nothing about drums or recording music. As for lyrics, I had been keeping a little black book with me at all times, and I would scribble lyrical ideas in it whenever they came to me. Many times these lyrics were just placeholders for melodies, and I was never very satisfied with them. Once I fully adjusted to Michael’s direct style of lyricism, I felt a huge sense of relief. I didn’t have to struggle over lyrics anymore—I could dedicate myself to the music.
Band Name and Early Recordings
After trying a few other band names (including Remembrancer and Young Immortals), Hodges and Minkoff decided on Physick. Physick is the archaic spelling of physic—the art and science of healing, from which the word “physician” is derived. Hodges and Minkoff believe that music has a profound capacity, in its technique as well as its message, to bring wholeness and healing to broken people.
When Physick first formed, Hodges and Minkoff spent most of their time together writing lyrics for some of Hodges’ old compositions and recording these various and disconnected songs.
One of their first completed recordings, This is Where I Belong, was never released, but it has many of the earmarks that still distinguish Physick’s peculiar sound: heady and complex musical arrangements, an odd juxtaposition of sonic textures and styles, and almost painfully direct lyrics.
After this successful recording, Hodges and Minkoff began thinking about a full-length record. They recognized that, with only the two of them, it would be difficult to perform their heavily layered compositions live. So they took a page out of the Beatles handbook, and decided to use multi-track recording to be the band digitally that they could never be on stage.
Songs for Friends
In 2011, Physick’s first full-length record, Songs for Friends, was released. Consisting entirely of songs written to various friends in different circumstances, the album was recorded by Michael Minkoff at the Nehemiah Foundation’s project studio over the course of about two years. Eclectic and engrossing, the album’s strength is in musical ingenuity and earnest lyrics.
According to Minkoff, the idea for the album began rather inauspiciously:
Michael: The real breakthrough for the album came with Pained by Withdrawal. One night, Phil was playing the guitar part for Pained on my back porch, and I started to envision a seedy bar populated by shady characters. Recently, one of our close friends struggled through a serious heroin addiction, and we started to think this music was a perfect framework to speak about the “wasted wonderland” of drug abuse in which our friend had almost been lost completely. I had already written Song for a Friend Battling Cancer for Micah Stout (who heard a version of it before he died). So we thought, “Why not make a whole album of songs for friends? We could call it [drum-roll] Songs for Friends.” From that point it was a matter of writing lyrics, organizing songs, and recording.
Almost all of the tracks on Songs for Friends flow seamlessly together without breaks, and though the musical styles on the record are somewhat disparate, the album achieves cohesion through a unity of concept and bearing.
The writing process for Songs for Friends developed spontaneously and continues to be Physick’s standard method for composing songs. Hodges writes almost all of the music for Physick (aside from a few scattered songs here and there), but Minkoff writes all the lyrics. Because of this, a method had to be developed to marry Hodges’ melodic desires with Minkoff’s lyrical goals:
Phil: Since I had already written melodies for these songs, writing lyrics was challenging. Michael didn’t want the lyrics to feel like they were being imposed on the song, and I had spent years fine-tuning many of these melodies, so I wanted them to remain mostly unchanged. The first step in the process was getting the mood of the song right. I would play it on guitar or piano, and we would discuss what kind of images or feelings we got from the music. Sometimes this was more obvious than others. For instance, the original title I gave the instrumental that, six or so years later, became Waiting in Prison was Lagging Behind. Once we had a general idea of the direction the song was already going, Michael would sit next to me on the piano bench with a pen and a pad of paper, and he would scan the melodies for number of syllables and stresses while I sang them in vowel form. When Michael had the melody charted, he would begin filling it in with words and lines, having me repeat small sections of the song over and over until things started clicking. It was laborious at times for both of us, but it was also really exciting to see these songs develop.
Death is Their Shepherd
After Songs for Friends was released, Physick began working immediately on new material. Minkoff wrote a pair of new songs and began forming a concept for a new album, which he was sure would be about death.
The first song written for Death is Their Shepherd, Memento Mori, narrates a feeling that Minkoff had on his porch one night when he experienced a visceral (non-intellectual) assurance of the certainty and reality of his own mortality. Minkoff wrote and recorded Memento Mori (which means “Remember you will die.”) the next day, and the track has remained largely unchanged since then. Its singular mood has directed the production for the rest of the album, which has stretched over the last three years as the record has grown in depth and scale.
After Minkoff recorded Memento Mori, he composed an instrumental companion piece for the song—Death is Their Shepherd. Eery and unsettling and consisting entirely of electronic beats and samples, Death is Their Shepherd weaponizes the feelings of Memento Mori—so that the certainty of death becomes a personality, and not just a feeling.
Minkoff wrote and recorded both songs in the course of about a week, showed them to Hodges, and said, “I want our next album to be about death.” Hodges immediately began writing new compositions, developing and honing his style. Whereas Songs for Friends represented the coalescence of many years of old compositions, Death is Their Shepherd gave Hodges the opportunity to write all new material with all he had learned over the years. What has resulted is nothing short of extraordinary.
Death is Their Shepherd currently runs over eighty minutes long. It is a fully narrative concept album following the journey of Zakary Adamson as he is led by personified Death through his own memories and human history—exploring the significance and weight of death. A few of the songs have already been adapted for a musical, and Minkoff will be writing an illustrated narrative to accompany the record’s release.
The recording process for the album has been painstaking and time-consuming. It is clear that Physick has also sharpened their sound since Songs for Friends. Whereas Songs for Friends only occasionally reaches moments of wholly balanced collaboration, Death is Their Shepherd proves that Hodges and Minkoff have become quite accustomed to each other’s extremely bipolar styles—and to Physick’s peculiar method of composition.
Death is Their Shepherd was released on October 31, 2015.
Plans for Live Performances
Physick released Songs for Friends in 2011 to relatively no fanfare. It is likely that Death is Their Shepherd, no matter how ground-breaking it may be, will suffer the same fate. The band’s inability to play live, coupled with a disconnection from mainstream distribution, has meant that Physick’s exposure is rather limited.
Because of this, in the summer of 2014, Philip Hodges and Michael Minkoff began practicing some stripped-down versions of their songs for a live show, with Demetris Madden (from Brock’s Folly) filling in on the drums.
Songs for Friends (2011)
Shoal Creek Valley EP (unreleased; various artists)
Death is Their Shepherd (2015)