Cruising The California Coast With Glen Phillips

Catching up with the Toad the Wet Sprocket frontman on his latest solo journey

Glen Phillips (Image: Chris Orwig)

Glen Phillips calls as he’s making the long drive up the California coast, heading from his Santa Barbara home to perform a solo show near San Francisco.

Though he’s best known as the frontman for the beloved alternative rock band Toad the Wet Sprocket, this show will focus more his latest album from his solo career, There Is So Much Here (released in November via Compass Records). 

As the title of There Is So Much Here implies, Phillips says these songs are “about showing up for what actually exists, as opposed to overlaying that with a bunch of drama and false narrative about how the universe is strung together. Everything, whether it’s a psychological or spiritual practice, tends to bring me back to increasingly trying to notice what’s actually in front of me, and appreciate it, and show up for it. There’s plenty of wonder, if you look at anything with enough curiosity and interest and depth. Simply getting to wake up and be conscious and pay attention to what’s around me is an incredible gift.”

Phillips notes that There Is So Much Here is “more joyous and celebratory” than his last solo album, 2016’s Swallowed by the New, which had a much more somber tone because he created it as he was coping with a recent divorce. But now, newly engaged, Phillips’ contentment is evident.

“This album, not that it’s all roses and kittens, but I wrote a lot of love songs,” he says. “I think I’m happier. I think I turned a corner. So it was great to see the personal ‘moving forward’ that had happened in the course of writing all these songs.”

Glen Phillips There Is So Much Here, Compass Records 2022

Phillips hopes he can pass those good vibes along to his listeners with this album, especially if they are working to get through their own hard times: “I hope that it’s useful to people in their day-to-day life. That it helps them to feel something that they might not have felt otherwise, or to feel less alone, or just to feel some joy.”

In truth, Phillips’ introspective lyrics – whether for his solo work or with Toad the Wet Sprocket – have always been deeper than the usual rock lyrics, and he says this is deliberate. “Songwriting is a way to challenge my point of view, challenge my preconceptions, to send advice from a future, maybe slightly wiser version of myself to my current self. To hopefully step into something larger than who I am at any given moment, and see if I can glean some truth,” he says, adding that he’s always seeking “to evoke something that feels emotionally true.”

Phillips was young when he first realized he had this talent for writing evocative songs, and he formed Toad the Wet Sprocket when he was still in high school. He was a teenager when they released their debut album, Bread & Circus (1989), and he was still in his early twenties when the band had their first hit, “All I Want,” from their third album (1992’s Fear). More hits followed: “Walk on the Ocean,” “Fall Down,” “Something’s Always Wrong,” and “Good Intentions.”

Now in his early fifties, Phillips seems to have mixed feelings as he looks back on those early achievements. “It’s strange to have the work that I did as a 20-year-old to have had the most longevity. It’s not my best work. But that’s okay; it’s not my worst, either. I’m glad people enjoy it, but it’s this artifact from a person I used to be. 

“I have had years where I carried resentment about those songs,” he continues. “Now I’ve realized that those songs are the only reason all those people are in the room [at concerts], and that I am an incredibly lucky person. So I view those songs with a lot of gratitude. They’re not always my favorites, but I really appreciate the function that they have had in my life, and the function they have had for the audience.”

 

VIDEO: Glen Phillips Saturday Livestream

Toad the Wet Sprocket have released seven studio albums so far (most recently, Starting Now, in 2021), and they frequently tour. Starting in 2000, his solo career has been even more prolific: There Is So Much Here is the tenth album under his own name. He thinks that he has retained a loyal audience because he “kept writing songs that were mirroring people’s life experiences, and a handful of people were willing to grow and change with me.”

He intends to continue pursuing both sides of his career. “I like the variety – I like the difference in creative company,” he says. “Solo records, for me, is about a different kind of collaboration.” That, in turn, helps him stay creative whenever he returns to Toad. “I’m terribly excited about the next full album project the band does, because I think we have better communication and more open collaboration than we did even on the last record. There’s been a lot of forward movement within Toad.” 

Whether it’s with the band or for his solo career, Phillips is appreciative that he can keep on making music for a living. He attributes his lengthy career to many factors: “I think there’s just a stubborn refusal to have gained other skills that might have given me a regular life!” he says with a laugh, then grows serious again and adds, “I think it’s luck. I think it’s that I keep dusting myself off and smiling and trying another round. And, hopefully, that I’ve written some good songs.”

 

 

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Katherine Yeske Taylor

Katherine Yeske Taylor began her rock critic career in Atlanta in the late '80s, when she interviewed Georgia musical royalty such as the Indigo Girls, R.E.M. and the Black Crowes while she was still a teenager. Since then, she has done hundreds of interviews with a wide range of artists. She has written for dozens of magazines, including The Big Takeover, Aquarian Weekly, Stomp & Stammer, Creative Loafing, Jam Magazine, Color Red, Boston Rock, and many others. She contributed to two books (several entries for The Trouser Press Guide to the '90s, and a chapter for Rolling Stone's Alt-Rock-A-Rama). Additionally, she has written liner notes and artist bios for several major acts. She currently lives in New York City.  

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