Personal Fires Burn Brightly for Glen Phillips
by Brett Leigh Dicks
Between recording as a solo artist and reigniting the enigmatic Toad the Wet Sprocket, life’s recently been a balancing act for Glen Phillips. But while his musical career requires a little juggling, it’s not the only thing Phillips is balancing, for it’s his family that affords him the greatest riches. So when the singer/songwriter brings both musical chariots back to Santa Barbara next week — with a solo show at SOhO on Tuesday, July 25 and as part of Toad at the Marjorie Luke on Thursday, July 27 — one senses the greatest reward for Glen Phillips will come from simply being home.
What does being back on the road with Toad the Wet Sprocket mean to you personally? Last time around, we left things on such a low note. Toad was such a big part of my life. I started playing music with Todd when I was 14 and stopped when I was around 27. Now we are not feeling as though we have to do anything past this group of shows, and that lack of pressure has meant that we’re enjoying each other’s company more than we have in years. So if this is the last thing we do, it’s worth it just to be able to go out on a high note.
How different are the dynamics between fronting a rock band to playing solo? I have always felt somewhat at odds with being in a rock band. In rock music, it’s really easy to work it if you want to use the accepted gestures that get everyone excited. When I put on an acoustic solo show, I can move things emotionally in a more subtle way. It’s not about getting someone’s adrenal gland working — not that Toad is the most adrenal band in the world.
Talk me through the inspiration and dynamics behind your new album, Mr. Lemons. I wanted to do a record that aimed itself more squarely at the solo acoustic shows I have been doing; a record that had a gentle sound to it. It’s not trying to rock at all. Last time I did a big, brash, overproduced pop album which was a lot of fun and I really enjoy how that album sounds, but it’s kind of silly to do a record like that and then go off with an acoustic guitar and tour for it. It is a little green album that doesn’t mean any harm. Rather than tapping into the weight and support of a major label, this time around you are releasing the album yourself . . . … the weight and attitude of a major label!
What does approaching a release this way offer you? The main thing that I gain from it is not losing another year talking with people, having meetings, and working out contracts. I want to make music for a living. And I used to make music for a living. But, at some point, I started having to sell myself for a living and I got really sick of that. I needed to make another record just to prove I could put it out without being dependent upon anybody.
Does it afford you more creative freedom as well? I won’t claim that doing it this way gives me any more creative control than I would have anywhere else. I am not dealing with multi-million dollar contracts that are going to throw me in with Timberlake. I’m trusted to make the music I want to make no matter where I am, so, more than anything else, this is about momentum. I just wanted to make a record and get it out there.
So the rewards you’re looking for are personal rather than professional? At this point all I really want to do is afford enough time to be home with my family. I miss my wife and kids constantly. I miss my home constantly. And I don’t like the fact that I have to be gone all the time. The way to get away from that is to put out a record very calmly, without the dynamics of trying to break into the next level. I am much more interested in having a life at this point than reclaiming my stake in the pop world.
As a songwriter, do you feel your songs are more questions or answers? They’re all questions. I have a lot of songs that are very declarative. The thing I can’t get down in my personal life is to remember how grateful I should be. I live in Santa Barbara. I have three kids and they’re healthy. I have a wonderful wife. I get to make music for a living. And I spend most of my time really, really depressed. I see the black lining around things. I have a lot of songs that are about gratitude and hope, but for me they’re harmonic devices. They’re all about constantly reminding me of where I need to aim.
I once read you are continually searching for the perfect song. How annoying is it when writers dig up old quotes and throw them back at you? That quote isn’t as bad as some!
But in regards to that comment, how will you recognize the perfect song? The perfect song is of course unachievable. You can get one that’s perfect for a moment, but when that moment’s lost it’s not perfect anymore. I’m pretty critical when it comes to my work. I would love to write something that lasts a little longer and that I could stay proud of a little longer. We’ll see, maybe I’ll get there.
4-1-1 Glen Phillips plays a solo show at SOhO on Tuesday, July 25. Call 962‑7776 or visit sohosb.com. He then reunites with Toad the Wet Sprocket for a benefit show for the Rape Crisis Center at the Marjorie Luke Theatre on Thursday, July 27. Call 283-8700 or visit luketheatre.org.