Interview with Glen Phillips of Toad The Wet Sprocket: New Album & New Life
When I checked Glen Phillips’ Wikipedia page (just to make sure I had my facts straight), I realized I am only about 6 months older than him. So, while I was working at the mall, he was starting Toad The Wet Sprocket.
I discovered them in college (didn’t we all?) and I can’t even count the number of times I have seen Toad or Glen live. (It’s a lot.)
I was thrilled when given the opportunity to get on the phone with Glen ahead of his show with Marc Cohn at the Arvada Center here in Denver this month. Anyone who has seen TTWS live knows that Glen comes off as shy. Perhaps he is, but his song lyrics have always had so much to say. I was pleasantly surprised how effusive he was while we chatted (and secretly wished we could stay on the line for the rest of the day.)
Thanks for the time, Glen – and can’t wait to see you live (again) here in Denver!
Interview With Glen Phillips
Tell me about the latest solo album, Swallowed by The New.
What can I say? It’s really an expression of my post-divorce transition, after massive changes in my life. The songs touch on relationships, facing change, grief, redefining my life.
And it’s coming to vinyl soon?
Yeah! I just got mine yesterday and it will ship in late June. People were asking for it, which has been another change – and we thought it would be a fun thing to do.
You have seen the music industry change dramatically – how do you like streaming services and social media as they relate to music?
Both have helped me in certain ways – it’s such different world. Not sure if I would be able to tour today without social media. But at the same time, social can really keep you from being present in life. Two of my three daughters have completely erased their online accounts for that reason. It’s a job necessity for me, so my relationship with it is a bit different, but I do have to be careful. It’s like if you have an eating disorder, you still have to eat, right? I go to social media when I am lonely, and it makes me feel lonelier. The election just killed it. Like on Facebook, it feels like something bad happened there this past last year. Instagram seems happier though, maybe because it is only visuals.
But back to your question, social media and streaming are wonderful promotional tools and it’s great to download music from anywhere, but the economics can be hard. People will say, “Hey, bought your album on iTunes…” And I’m like, “Really? Are you sure you bought it? Or are you streaming it on Apple Music?” So, one of the problems is people now don’t understand the difference between buying and streaming, and the true costs of putting out an album. We need to figure out what the art form is that will bring the appreciation level back, like perhaps vinyl. There is a higher level of attention you give vinyl. You have to be careful with the album, you can’t stomp around the room. It locks you into the experience.
The landscape has certainly changed since you started.
Yeah, the medium that is popular rewards different things…. The MTV video era rewarded attractiveness, so people in the 70s might not have been as big had they come along in the 80s. Now there is a confidence with self promotion that is helping artists. But on the flip side, when bands are shy, how do they get discovered?
Speaking of Facebook, I asked friends there to give me questions for you. Ironically, one asked how you feel about crowdfunded albums.
It’s a great tool, especially if you have no label. Toad used Kickstarter – at the time it was the 4th largest music campaign ever and enabled us to record New Constellation. The only problem can be that bands over-promise and don’t realize all the hours you need to spend, the meets and greets, the lessons… and man, the shipping costs just killed us. You are not just making an album, you are doing the whole production. Amanda Palmer said that too – she raised a million dollars but she needed it.
I was a graphic design major in college, and I remember Toad’s album Pale being brought up in class as a good example of using a computer for design in 1990.
Really? That’s wild. The lady who did that was an in-house art director at the record company – back when they had them. She was so smart about pulling things together, and knew the computer was just a tool for art. She had books upon books of all these artists, and we poured over them with her.
So, do you prefer Toad The Wet Sprocket or solo shows better?
Different aspects for each. There is more exposure with Toad, and it’s fun to play in rock band. But it’s less an expression of me personally. The group has its own personality. We have to ask, what is the mutual thing we are all want to do? Music is a business but it also has an emotional dynamic. I am pretty complicated and my relationship with myself is not always kind. Toad is a subset of me. I haven’t had any commercial success since Toad, but then I feel less compelled to play towards nostalgia. People are more likely to show up and be excited by what I am doing now.
I hear you are a runner. How does that interfere with touring or vice versa?
That is one of my favorite things about touring with Toad – especially in the summer. I get all morning to run and bike and then just show up for sound check. For solo tours, it’s a nightmare to try and find the time. I basically need to do exercise as an antidepressant, so running is a great thing for me. However, sometimes I will push it too far before a show and forget lyrics. I just hit that wall and enter jellybean territory.
What are your favorite memories of touring? Do you have a favorite performance?
Since I play “x” number of nights a week, it’s hard to separate one specific show. Some nights I’m feeling it and the crowd can tell. Some nights they sense the struggle, and that is good too. I can never figure out why any one show was great – we all have a different experience and it could be anything. A great beer, a fun person to go to the show with, anything.
I will say my favorite tour was with Nickle Creek, around 2000 – they were so full of life and excited about everything. They’d go out every day and find a new coffee shop or decide to play an hour after the show in the parking lot just for fun. They woke me out of my jaded state, trying to keep up with them. Bluegrass players – they are monsters! I learned so much about music and loving what you are doing from them. After getting back with Toad, I definitely applied what I learned on that tour.
You are playing with Marc Cohn this time – who else would you like to tour with?
I would love to tour with Gregory Alan Isakov.
Yeah. I just really admire him.
The Denver show seems to be the last date on this tour – what’s next?
I’m headed to Portland for a while, write some songs with friends. Hang out. It’s gonna be great… I plan to hit the Oregon Country Fair and get my hippie on.
That sounds like a great plan!