The Story On Josh Walther And The Foundation of Phase5

How many years had it been since I’d last seen Josh? Perhaps two? We’d worked together often at weddings, but that seemed like ages ago. Nonetheless, I considered him a friend. He was fun. Genuine. We were meeting at a coffee shop in downtown Tampa. Seeing him walk in wearing a white t-shirt, torn jeans, and grey boots was a bit shocking. I’m not sure why it surprised me, but I don’t believe I had ever seen him in anything other than a Euro-cut suit and skinny tie.

He ordered his latte, and I ordered mine, ironically the same as his. His was served with an artsy leaf pattern in the froth, mine with a heart.

Conversation was easy. We talked about his family, his past, our mutual friends, and his behaviorally challenged dogs. "I know they’re bad. People look at me in the elevator thinking, ‘Why does he have those terrible dogs?’ and I’m like, ‘What would you like me to do about them? There is nothing I can do. I’ve tried everything, and they are not going to get better. I can’t just get rid of them.’"

Josh grew up in Pensacola on the beach. He got his start in the entertainment industry in high school when he auditioned for a singing group that was supposed to be “the country version of the Backstreet Boys.” That band took the name McAlyster.

They worked together for two years before recording an album. Desiring to record their demo in Nashville they needed to raise money. To do this they raffled off a fishing pole and tackle at a gig. While recording they were accidentally heard by Pat Finch, head of Famous Music Publishing. He liked what he heard and signed them to a development deal bringing in Mark Spiro and Billy Decker to produce. Buzz began around Nashville about these kids from Pensacola and they were approached by every major label on music row, then picked up with MCA, the biggest of them all, signed by industry great Tony Brown. Looking back, they probably weren’t the best fit. MCA was focused on big fish like George Straight and Reba. McAlyster was a little fish in a very big pond. Not to mention, Nashville wasn’t quite ready for their pop sound.

Josh told me, "You come to realize that when everything is going great, everyone is your friend, but when it’s not going great, the people who normally welcomed you, and gave you gifts, and hugged you, suddenly closed the doors to their offices so they wouldn’t have to talk to you. You realize that these people are not your friends, they are doing a job.” This phenomenon is one of many things that turned him away from the “big label" path.

Having such tremendous success so early and the opportunity to work for a major label at a young age, Josh was able to see both sides of the industry. With his knowledge of the industry and experience working with MCA, he chose to work on his own to preserve his creative freedom and remain as true to himself as possible.

Now years later, Josh is the head of Phase5 Band. When I asked him why Phase5 is leading the wedding and event entertainment industry, he smiled and explained, "We work extremely hard, we are polished, professional and have great chemistry. We are a fun group of people, onstage and off."

Phase5 shows up well rehearsed. They know their music. They know their parts. They add new songs to their repertoire every week.

"It’s expensive to hire a band… it’s a cost, but you’re looking forward to that aspect of your wedding. You want it to be as great as you are hoping for," Josh explains about the couples that hire him. "We write all our own charts and music parts. We rehearse. We play at least three times a week. We keep costs low so we can play more."

The band members have known each other for years, going back to 2007. It’s easy to understand why they have a unique synergy.

Josh listens to the radio all the time – every genre of music – the top 100 in the U.S., and several other countries. He loves all types of music. Josh listens to older music as well, and re-styles songs that are unexpected.

We chatted about his typical day. He wakes up at 8, walks his very bad dogs, gets his coffee, and sits down to answer emails that have accumulated overnight. He refuses to let his inbox pile up. People like that about him. Through out the day he responds to emails as soon as he can. Thirty plus inquires a day keep him busy answering questions about Phase5. After answering the barrage of morning email he plans and prepares for the week’s upcoming events. Schedules are made, sheet music is charted, and rehearsals are planned. All said Josh works 80 hours a week.

Every year he sets a goal for himself. "Last year we updated all of our sound equipment to the most advanced gear on the market. We now use in-ear monitors, which allow each of us to hear specifically what is needed and preserve our voices. We use Array speakers, which are designed to disperse sound equally through the entire room. This allows us to always be heard clearly without ever being too loud. We also upgraded to a digital mixer, which allows for more control over the sound as well as recording capabilities. We basically have a recording studio right there onstage with us. We can record each performance and listen back to see what was great and what we can improve on."

The goal for this year is to improve on production and show quality. "When we start playing, I want it to be a party… the whole time. We added new lighting to better enhance the show. We are also taking a lot of songs that have been played to death and condensing them into mash-ups."

I asked Josh where he sees himself in five years, and he shared that he wants to be doing the same thing, and doing it better. "I don’t want to be one of those bands that haven’t updated their song list since 1999. I want to always be current, but I don’t want to forget long ago as well. I think you have to constantly hang on to yesterday, but have a really good grasp on tomorrow and beyond."

- Gina Leigh Volmuth
The Praxsys Group