When Toad The Wet Sprocket released their 1994 masterpiece, Dulcinea, the band’s front man and songwriter Glen Phillips was considered to be one of those voices that would carry rock and roll into the new millennium and beyond. It didn’t quite work out that way. While the band continued to perform regularly for their avid fan base, they seemed to halt production on new material, and Phillips would dabble with solo projects that met events like his divorce head-on, with remarkably candid lyrics and thoughts that were completely open and raw. That recently changed with the release of his fifth solo album, There Is So Much Here, on Compass Records.
Here Phillips celebrates a good amount of life’s simple moments and delivers that message through songs that reside among his best-written work. The first two singles, “Big Changes” and “Stone Throat” will make fans sit up and take notice of a sound they connected with as early as Toad’s first album, 1989’s Bread & Circus. The music is firm, with hooky pop elements and steady full band support. There’s nothing showy about this music. It’s really all about the songs. They reflect what, in its entirety, is a truly triumphant return by one of rock’s most genuine and gifted composers.
Copper caught up with Phillips as he was about to head out on his fall tour, to talk about the new record, the state of music-making today, and what might be in store for Toad The Wet Sprocket into 2023 and beyond.
Ray Chelstowski: You are known for performing barefoot. How did that begin?
Glen Phillips: Well, I grew up in Santa Barbara spending a lot of time in sandals or being barefoot and most of our touring happens in the summer when it’s hot out (laughs). It’s mostly that and at one point it was just unique enough that if I went on stage with shoes there’d probably be someone in the front row asking me to take my shoes off. I don’t know how many schticks start like that.
RC: You founded Toad in high school where you really established a signature sound. Did you know then that you had discovered something that would last this long?
GP: At that time, I probably thought that we were going to put out a record after [finishing] school, like every other band. If there’s a vision to be found back there it’s the result of a lot of navel gazing. I’ve always been very curious about the intricacies of relationships. I think it’s more of that viewpoint against a broader range of interests. When we made our first record I was 16 years old and I wasn’t talking about whether I was going to get detention. That kind of music doesn’t age well. Our music kind of started with ponderous over-thinking and then stayed there.
RC: How do you know when a song you’re writing is better for your solo career or for Toad?
GP: It’s been an interesting up and down. There are some of my solo records I really like. But with others it’s like I’m running away from something instead of embracing something. Occasionally I find myself running toward something someone has told me to run to. The last two records felt more like my own voice and what I wanted to sound like at that moment. But I haven’t had a real sound as a solo artist and I feel like I’ve written songs for [my solo work] that are as good as anything I’ve ever written. It still doesn’t measure up to what I’ve been able to do with Toad. Toad has a definable sound and there’s such great collaboration among everyone, and we really know how to make a compelling record together. With [There Is So Much Here] I feel like I allowed myself to have fun in the studio like I haven’t in a very long time. Usually, I think about touring with [the songs] and shy away from using a band. This time I decided to have all of the fun and not worry about the logistics and it was great. When I do a solo record I learn a lot and it gives me a good amount of things to take back to the band.
RC: Where did you record the new album?
GP: My friend John Morgenthau has a studio in Vancouver, Washington. He invited me to come up. Post-divorce, my gear needed a place to live and so it’s been hiding out in his studio. John got me motivated to get all of my songs together. I actually took all of the songs from a songwriting game that I play with [singer/songwriter] Matt the Electrician. It’s a “Bob Schneider-style” game. (Bob Schneider is a musician and songwriter.] Matt’s out of Austin, Texas and there’s about 22 people in the game right now. Each week he sends out a prompt. This week I wrote four verses for [a song called] “Bitten by the Bug.” I love writing this way and it really helps me stay in shape.
RC: When you hit the road to support There Is So Much Here will it be just you and a guitar?
GP: Yes. I like to write songs that don’t require any particular production. If you can write around it it’s a lot of fun. In my world I like a song that I can always sing by a campfire and about 90 percent of what I write works like that.
RC: You’ve said that this could have been released as two EPs. Do you still favor the album format?
GP: It feels strange putting out records because the record itself was a product of technology. It’s not like people made 45-minute groups of songs before the invention of the LP. That somehow became the measure of a complete work. It was because of the technology and an entire industry was built around it. That might not be the model anymore and yet I do find myself reluctant to step into some of the modern solutions. I heard this interview where Jackson Browne was said to say something like, “in the ’70s you just got in the bus and played the show. That was the job. Now I have to update my what?” I don’t want to have to care about how to not utterly disappear. So, you need a team. It’s too much to be done by one person.
RC: What’s next with Toad the Wet Sprocket?
GP: In general, with Toad, we’ve only made only two records in the last 20 years. Now the band is in a place where we are tighter, we’re all excited about how we sound live and are getting along really well. So we’re feeling an inspiration we haven’t felt in some time.
Header image of Glen Phillips courtesy of Chris Orwig.