What began as a group of high school kids playing and writing music has grown into a lifelong career for Toad The Wet Sprocket’s Glen Phillips. The group took off in the nineties and is still one of the most beloved bands from that era for many fans who continue listening to their music today. Phillips has not only continued touring with Toad the Wet Sprocket through the years but he has also established a successful career for himself as a solo artist.
Glen Phillips first started his solo career with his album Abulum, which was released independently in 2000 and then again in 2001 under Brick Red Records. He has gone on to write several more albums, all containing a variety of songs with an rock/indie rock/folk vibe. In 2005, Phillips released his Lost Highway* album to be followed by a “stop gap” release called Unlucky 7. One of Phillips’ songs from Unlucky 7 (“The Hole”) would go on to be featured in AMC’s hit series Breaking Bad. Phillips then released his much loved Winter Pays For Summer album to be followed not long after by Mr.Lemons. There have been several other released mixed in along the way with his most recent being Options – B Sides and Demos, which includes a number of alternate versions of songs as well as previously unreleased tracks.
I recently had the opportunity to speak with Glen Phillips to find out more about his career as a singer/songwriter. It is always interesting to gain insight from an artist who has not only worked as a part of a band but has gone on to do solo writing and performing as well – and Phillips did not disappoint.
Glen Phillips Interview
TAMMY: I was reading that you were sixteen years old when Toad the Wet Sprocket first got together and then around eighteen when you signed your first contract and started making albums, touring,etc. What was it like for you to gain that level of exposure at such a young age?
GLEN PHILLIPS: I think I was 15 when Todd and I started making music together. The band was all in high school Hester and choir. I was a freshman and they were seniors. I don’t think any of us expected to get signed, and we certainly didn’t think we’d end up making a career of it. At the time I assumed we’d last a couple years on the label and then get dropped and go back to school. It was a very surprising turn of events. I think the fact that it was unexpected helped us to not take it too seriously.
TAMMY: Your spiritual life seems to go hand in hand with your music. In what ways do you believe allowing those parts of your life to freely flow together has benefited you as an artist
GLEN PHILLIPS: I write about what’s most interesting to me. The spiritual side is a big part of that. It pleases me to know that people from a number of religious and spiritual backgrounds, or none at all, can find common ground in some of my music. I try to write about the human experience, and it’s hard to leave that experience out of the equation. Even if it’s all just in the amygdala, it’s at the core of what we are.
TAMMY: Who were some of your earliest influences as an artist and who have been some of your greatest mentors throughout your career?
GLEN PHILLIPS: As a kid I loved musical theater – West Side Story, Oklahoma. I was deep into disco after that, until I got shamed out of dancing for the next thirty years. I’ve just recovered that pleasure, thankfully. In junior high, it was Rush and Ozzy, while my brother fed me a supportive diet of Beatles music. So…it’s all over the map. I really love Douglas Adams and Kurt Vonnegut. They both know how to address huge concepts in a playful and absurd fashion. Randy Newman hits on some of that same territory in song. Oliver Sacks helped me to not take my own perspective so seriously. There’s a lot of teachers.
TAMMY: What inspires you when you sit down to start working on a new song?
GLEN PHILLIPS: It all depends. Sometimes it’s a thought I can’t get out of my head. Some times it’s playing with a guitar or sounds in the studio. Some times I’m in a room and my job is to create. Some times it’s a deadline I have to meet. There’s a great book called the War of Art that talks about how it’s not our job to wait for the muse. It’s our job to show up first and give the muse proper respect, then she’ll decide whether to show up or not. I’m trying to approach things more according to that principle, but I allow my schedule to get the best of me most days.
TAMMY: All of your songs I’m sure each have their own special meanings to you. Which ones specifically stand out as being some of the most meaningful to you personally?
GLEN PHILLIPS: That changes all the time. I like it when songs come back and surprise me. If a song is both true enough and ambiguous enough it can land in a context totally removed from the one that inspired it but be even more connected.
TAMMY: Your collaborations with Nickel Creek are all really beautiful. Do you have any plans for more collaborations in the future?
GLEN PHILLIPS: Lots of ideas. Nothing actively in the hopper at the moment, though.
TAMMY: I love your song “The Hole”, which of course was featured in Breaking Bad. What was the inspiration behind that song for you with both the style and the lyrics?
GLEN PHILLIPS: I’d been thinking about Western consumer culture and how its impact is felt far away. The story just came out. Maybe it’s a little heavy handed at the end, but I liked the idea of this seemingly bottomless pit and someone on the other end reminding us that every hole leads somewhere, that no action is without consequence. It was a fun track to record. Pete Thomas did an amazing drum bed, and I love the Kate Bush style fret less bass.
TAMMY: What is the best advice that you could give to musicians who are just starting out?
GLEN PHILLIPS: Stay playful.
TAMMY: All of your songs have their own unique messages but if you had to pick a core message that you would like for your music to leave with the world what would it be?
GLEN PHILLIPS: Still working on that. I hope my music helps people to feel less alone, to remember that they are worthy of and capable of love. I think most of what I’ve written can be distilled down to that.
TAMMY: What are you currently working on that you are excited to share with your fans? And also, where will you be touring in 2016?
GLEN PHILLIPS: I have a new solo record coming out in the fall, called “Swallowed by the New”. I’ll be starting a US tour in October and continuing on into 2017. Toad will play some summer dates with Rusted Root in July and September. So…lots coming up.
To find out more about Glen Phillips, his current projects, tour dates, merchandise, and more please visit his website at www.glenphillips.com .
* CORRECTION: Lost Highway was the name of the record label that released Glen Phillip’s Winter Pays For Summer album.