COLUMN: River City Sound Philip Lawrence

Photo Courtesy of Phil Lawrence

Photo Courtesy of Phil Lawrence

Ariana Beedie

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Evansville native Philip Lawrence  began writing songs at 16 when he went to Memorial High School. Since then, Lawrence has hit fame at full speed. The 39-year-old songwriter makes up one-third of the production team, Smeezingtons, along with Bruno Mars and Ari Levine.

“I’ve been writing for a long time,” Lawrence said. “I’ve always been a fan of English.”

The Smeezingtons have produced chart-topping hits like “Nothin’ On You” by B.o.B and Bruno Mars, and the most recent single “Treasure” by Bruno Mars. The team was nominated for Grammy awards in 2011 and 2012. Lawrence also produced Bruno Mars’s last two albums “Doo-Wops and Hooligans” and “Unorthodox Jukebox.”

He also just released his debut album, “Letters I Never Sent,” about his own personal experiences, which he performed on Saturday at the Victory Theatre.

Much of the foundation in Lawrence’s career came after years of determination, persistence and meeting the right people.

“The ground work was built with the relationships I’ve made,” Lawrence said. “I met key people from record labels that showed me what it took to have a song on the radio.”

From then, he shaped his style for the radio.

“If you want to write for the radio, there are certain rules, ones I had to learn,” he said. “I had to shake up my writing style to what the masses might be interested in.”

The connections Lawrence made while living in Los Angeles led him to meet the future Smeezingtons, and that’s when the magic began  to happen. One of the steps was coming up with a name for their collective.

“When I started working with Bruno and Ari collectively, we would always go in the studio and say we need to write a smash, which evolved into smeez,” Lawrence said. “We thought it’d be wild if we got executives to call us Smeezingtons.”

It actually happened, he said.

In 2008, the first single that gained Smeezingtons credit was “Right Round” by Flo Rida. But after all credit was given to others on that song, Lawrence owned 2.5 percent of the song.

He maintained persistence in his career and is still producing chart-topping hits.

The moment when Lawrence felt like he had finally made it was when Smeezingtons performed a sold-out concert in Manila. At this time, the group was touring and performing in clubs that held 500 to 600 people, so a sold out show was a big deal, he said.

“We sold out an arena of 1,600 people,” Lawrence said. “When we got on stage, we all looked at each other and we’re like OK, this just got real.”

The concert in Manila was a turning point in the Smeezingtons career.

“This is the impact that our music is having on people,” he said. “That’s when I first started to see that this could be something special.”

The glue that holds Philip Lawrence together is his family.

The Lawrence family is a close one. In fact, they moved to California to be near each other, he said.

“I’ve always cherished those moments with my family so when the success came the first thing I wanted to do was have them closer to me,” he said. “We all live within a five minute distance from each other, and that’s important to me.”

The Lawrence family is also musically talented. His father was a DJ, a comedian and has theatre background, and his mother is a classically trained singer and was choir director at Grace and Peace Lutheran Church in Evansville.

“Mom always had us singing. It gave us the opportunity to be heard and sort of know what it’s like to have that pressure of being on stage,” Lawrence said. “They helped train us and helped us know what it takes to shine on stage.”

His siblings have a gospel group, which Philip signed to his own record label. Philip said he attributes a lot of his inspiration to his family, and also by Billy Joel and the sound from the 80s.

“Sometimes I go on Pandora and find 80s bands and let that play,” he said. “I love great singers that have interesting voices like Toto.”

In all of the thrills of fame, the Smeezingtons are scheduled as the halftime performance at the 2014 Super Bowl.

“I remember last year we watched Beyonce, and we were like one day in like 20 years, maybe,” he said. “But it was us, just the next year. It’s an amazing honor, and we’re humbled that they thought of us.”

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