By day, 58-year-old Phillip Tirman is a Westlake Village-based radiologist. But when he goes home at night, the good doctor straps on a guitar and writes rock songs.
Tirman started playing music in the 1970s, but he set it aside to focus on his medical career. Now, 40 years later, he’s on the cusp of fulfilling a dream he put off as a teen when he put down his guitar and picked up a stethoscope.
On Sept. 2 his band, Black Squirrel, will release its debut album.
“I gave up ( playing) because I realized I wasn’t going to be a rock star when I was 19, and I decided to become a doctor so I could pay for my rock star career later in my life. It’s kind of a joke, but that’s honestly what it was,” Tirman said.
He describes Black Squirrel’s music as “retro-fresh” because it’s an update on the artists he grew up listening to—the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Michael McDonald and Nile Rodgers.
In 2016, when Tirman decided he wanted to play music again, he advertised online for a drummer with the goal of playing covers at local wineries. Leslie Butts, a drummer, responded to the ad and brought a keyboard player, Dicken Berglund, along with him.
The group started performing cover songs shortly after. Tirman asked Berglund to play keyboards on a song he had written, and the two ended up writing songs together nearly every night for over a year.
“I met Dicken in 2016. We became friends and started writing songs and both realized that we wanted to do a bucket list thing, and that was to record an album. Not some half-assed, internet-based project. I mean go to a studio and record it with a producer and do the whole thing, and that’s what we did.”
Berglund, a Swedish immigrant who lives in Woodland Hills, is a recording engineer for TV and movies. The two recorded demos in his home studio, and Tirman recruited his nephew Kaleb Tirman, who lives in Texas, to write and record vocals.
“Phillip has had this dream since he was a kid to do an album,” Berglund said. “I had previously produced albums for Polygram Records in Sweden in the ’80s. I said it would be a lot of fun.
“Kaleb has such a great voice. He sounds like a mix between John Legend and Michael Bublé. He came (to California) for a weekend, and we started playing around with some song ideas, and that’s how it started. Phillip and I spent a year and a half or so in my home studio developing the songs together with Kaleb, remotely, since it’s so easy to collaborate online now.”
After over a year of writing demos, the group had plenty of material to choose from when recording their 11-song debut album.
They entered the studio in April 2017 for two straight weeks of recording. Phillip Tirman took out a loan against his retirement to rent the studio and to pay Ryan Greene, who produced the album. He is an award-winning producer.
Greene and Kaleb Tirman went to recording school together. so when he started working with his uncle, the younger Tirman got in touch with his former classmate to recruit his help.
Phillip Tirman said all the vocals were recorded in the initial two-weeks of recording, and since then the instrumental tracks have been added a little bit at a time.
“I typically work six days a week, so we just did it on Sundays,” Tirman said, adding that they finished recording the second weekend in August.
The album will be released with a party at Tirman’s home in the Malibu Hills, where he and his bandmates will perform four songs from the recording. Berglund said they’ve already discussed working on a second album.
Tirman credits his wife with pushing him to finally cross the album off his bucket list.
“The song that’s going to start the album is called ‘Chasing Your Dreams.’ I was sitting at Goleta Beach Cafe with my wife, and I saw this old guy with gray hair surfing,” Tirman said. “I turned to my wife and said, ‘That guy is chasing his dreams.’ And she said, ‘You should do the same thing. You ought to record an album. You’ve been talking about it since I’ve known you.’ That’s what started it.”
And it continues with the group’s self-titled album release next month. It will be available on iTunes and other online outlets.