Since he emerged onto the music scene in the early 1990s, singer/songwriter Grant-Lee Phillips has been crafting dynamic melodies accompanied by astute lyrics. His latest album, Little Moon, sees him at the peak of his songwriting skills. Last week, I caught up with Phillips over the phone. Amiable and modest, Phillips talked about his songwriting muse, getting comfortable with his voice, and why he is so pleased with this album.
Your new record, Little Moon, is really good. I’ve been listening to it nonstop. It is, yeah. I’m not shy about sharing my enthusiasm about this album. It came out so well, and a lot of it I attribute to the great musicians I brought in and to a great engineer. Everybody involved with it lent so much to it. I’ve made a few albums in such an autonomous way; it often has been exhausting. It’s almost difficult to enjoy the process when you take on so much. But in this case, I had a good balance. I feel like the beat of this album is more muse-driven than any of the other albums.
And what was the muse for this album? Well, I attributed a lot of the inspiration to becoming a dad. In 2008, I became a parent.
Little Moon is lyrically upbeat. I found “Strangest Thing” really uplifting. Thank you. I think a lot of songwriters would agree that it’s often easier to find inspiration in misery. You almost find yourself conjuring a little bit of misery : then you realize after so many albums and so many years, that there must be more to life. So it’s nice to come by an uplifting song.
Is there a worry, too, that happy lyrics can be cheesy? I think it’s easy to write a cheesy song. I think it just has to do with being genuine or not. There’s nothing more painful than something that’s superficially upbeat but you can kind of tell behind it that there’s a cynicism, or even a bitterness.
Do you have a favorite song from this album? “Buried Treasure” is one of my most favorite songs in a long time. The song sort of wrote itself. It’s touching upon some things that are somewhat difficult to articulate-the hopes and dreams that dwell within each of us, which we may choose to run from or ignore. So it’s kind of an intimate song, but I feel like it’s probably one of the biggest successes on this album, and probably among everything that I’ve written.
The group of musicians playing on the album is so strong. I know! I mean, I basically kind of sang and played, and it went down live during just a couple of days, and then we allowed for a day of overdubbing some horns, and I played a few licks of extra acoustic guitar parts, but it was pretty minimal. And the voice is just right up there in front, and that’s more of a new thing for me. I spent several years trying to put the vocals behind everything else, and they’re confidently up front, so that’s probably a nice evolution.
Do you have plans to go back into the studio? I don’t see rushing off to make a new album yet. I’m feeling so pleased with this album. : I’ve done that before, where almost by the time the record comes out, I’ve written a half-dozen songs and I’m thinking about starting a new one. In this case, I feel like I’m going to share these songs with as many people as I can moderately get to.
Grant-Lee Phillips will appear at SOhO (1221 State St.) on Wednesday, December 9. For tickets and information, visit sohosb.com or call 962-7776.