An interview with Glen Phillips from 2003. Although Glen continues working on various projects, Toad The Wet Sprocket have since reunited and are currently working on a new album.
By Melody Alderman
PS: Recently, I’ve heard you mention that the taping of shows and the Internet have affected ‘living in the moment’ when you play live…
GLEN: Yeah, and also even if I say something and I ask, ‘God, could you guys just not re-print it?’ They do anyway and they even print that I said it. I mean, yeah it’s strange. People say stupid things if they’re in front of an audience night after night. I’ve spent a lot of time being polite. I mean certain subjects, especially ‘Toad’ for instance. I spent all of my time being incredibly, incredibly, constructively polite in the public with it and I have some stronger feelings than that on occasion. It was nice to let it out for once, (laughs). You know, more situational than towards the individuals as individuals. There’s a way that people act in a given situation. Anyway… Yeah, it’s just odd. Nights don’t exist just for themselves. It's weird to see guys in the audience who are so into their recording rig that they can’t watch the show, or people who are busy scribbling down all of their notes for the set list and stuff. I understand they’re into it but it seems sometimes a little too absorbing.
PS: Do you ever regret allowing your shows to be taped? Does it take away from the freedom of the experience?
GLEN: No, it doesn’t take away from anything and it stops bootleggers. I think the tape trading side of things is great. That’s cool, because it doesn’t take anything away from anybody and it benefits the people who’d be into it and they don’t have to put money in the hands of jerks.
PS: Well, you definitely seem to have a good following of people who trade tapes.
GLEN: Yeah, the only time it gets bad is, once again, when people don’t think about the people around them. It’s one thing to have a really big rig. It’s another thing to set it up so that people behind you can’t see because of your mic tree. That kind of stuff is just not very neighborly. But the recordings I don’t mind. It’s just mic trees in front of people who wish they could actually see the stage.
PS: Do people do that? Do they bring in that much equipment? (Very ironic that that very evening during Glen’s show, I was standing behind a guy with a mic tree.)
GLEN: Sometimes, yeah.
PS: So going back to ‘Toad’…I have to ask the inevitable question. I saw you a few months ago and you seemed much warmer to the idea of a future there. Nowadays, you seem a bit disenchanted. Does a future exist?
GLEN: No, we’ve tried and I don’t blame individuals. I blame the way each of us act within that micro-culture that’s Toad. I’ve tried to go back into it. I went into it only because I was in a really positive state of mind. If I didn’t think there was a possibility of it working I never would have even opened the door. I feel like I gave everything I had at seeing if it was a possibility again but there’s just too much stuff. Once again, it’s no one’s fault. My habit recently is playing in situations where if anyone on stage looks at anybody else the response is a smile and giddiness but in Toad, we could never really break past to if you looked at somebody else on stage the reaction was, ‘what did I do wrong?’… with all of us. You know, on the one hand it’s sad to take a factor of ten-audience cut for playing, for the most part, a lot of the same songs. Same singer, same lyricist, same songwriter…but it’s also not worth the unhappiness that the band unfortunately brings.
PS: Well I heard that you didn’t even have aspirations of playing in a band. Music wasn’t your childhood dream or anything. Didn’t you want to teach theater?
GLEN: Well in childhood I loved acting. it was my first big thing. I had a high school theater teacher named David Holmes who knew he didn’t have the kind of cutthroat attitude and even the acting chops to be an actor. So, he wanted to teach because then he could work in the theater and I just felt the exact same thing. I was not going to be a guy who was going to be able to do it in the professional world and then somehow I got really lucky and ended up doing music, (laughs). So it’s not what I expected. I’m very grateful for it but I was pretty much planning to be a high school teacher.
PS: Then how did you figure out that you were good at music? When did you start playing or when did you write your first song?
GLEN: I don’t know. I wrote my first song in junior high but it was just a high school band. It was fun to do. We never sent out tapes to record companies. Somebody was dubbing tapes and sending them to record companies for us. Then we got a call from Chris Blake, who became our manager. We didn’t even know who he was but he said he wanted to manage us and said someday we’d be ready for a record deal. Then Chris started getting calls from record companies and he asked how they’d gotten it. He said this guy named Turzo at ASCAP had it and he heard it and loved it. He had one copy and he dubbed them off and sent them out and that’s how we got signed. So, we were kind of spared that school of hard knocks and the ambition that’s almost always required. I think if left to our own devices… if left to our own rate of ambition, we just would have put out a couple of local albums and then broken up. It’s been interesting adjusting from that long, in a certain way free ride, to actually having to have the ambition so I can keep this going, (laughs).
PS: What makes you stay in it then?
GLEN: It’s what I do well. I’ve become a really good songwriter. It’s important to the people who like it. I mean, it will always be important to me whether it’s professional or not, but I use to kind of discount, because we were in that shoe gazing, post punk era of bands where we weren’t suppose to care about anybody else. If it were only important to me, I would just do it locally. The fact is it’s important to a lot of other people so it makes me feel like I’m doing something worthwhile. So, I’ll keep doing this.
PS: Even without Toad you still draw a good crowd.
GLEN: Yeah, people show up and it feels authentic at this point. I mean there’s a number of the audience who are there because of Toad. There’s an increasing number there who were never particularly into Toad. As much as I’m very proud of what Toad accomplished, I’m glad to see that there’s this whole other audience. I don’t listen to the radio. I don’t tend to listen to mainstream music. Toad had in some ways a fairly mainstream following. That’s where we were exposed. The music I like is maybe a little more esoteric. The music I want to do, the albums I want to hear are things that are more in line with that. I’ve been happy to see that that side of it’s growing with the audience, that people are getting to hear the music and react to it. But it’s strange to have had a radio career and then try to be taken seriously as a songwriter. There’s a little bit of a closed shop in the songwriting respect world, especially if you’ve had pop notoriety. I don’t know. It’s interesting. Peter Case did it. I’ll be able to, (laughs).
PS: A lot of people know you from "All I Want" and the more identifiable Toad songs.
GLEN: Yeah, and once again I’m proud of what we did and I’m also really grateful because if I were just starting out on my own doing this… I mean, maybe things would be easier for me in a certain way because I wouldn’t be pre-judged, but I also wouldn’t have the audience showing up. So, I’m really grateful they’re there and they’re staying there. Even if at first they show up for nostalgia the hope is that they will stay around because it’s something real now.
PS: I heard you’ve even written a musical.
GLEN: I wrote a musical with my friend John. Not all of the songs are finished. The script is all done. The story’s done and about half of the songs are ready.
PS: Do you think you’ll do anything with it?
GLEN: I don’t know. We wrote it for film. We didn’t write it for stage because he’s a filmmaker. So, who knows? (laughs)
PS: What about the Mutual Admiration Society project?
GLEN: As soon as the lawyers are done throwing it back and forth it’ll come out. Maybe this summer, who knows? I hope so. You know, once again it’s strange to have an album that was done in three days, we did it in my garage, take three years to release. It's been sitting in the closet all this time.
PS: Is it because of the success Nickel Creek has recently had?
GLEN: No, I mean there was a period at which their management wanted it held back because they didn’t want it to conflict with Nickel Creek’s second record and I get that. But it’s also very much a side project. I mean we were in such a hurry. They’re such amazing musicians. I couldn’t learn their songs, so I ended up singing everything. It ended up being more of a Glen album just because of time constraints. We talked about doing another one and actually setting up the songs further in advance so that I can learn them if I didn’t write them, (laughs).
PS: Well they’re very classically schooled, very trained.
GLEN: Yeah, they’re astounding. They've raised the bar for what I expect when I play for people. They’re amazing listeners. They’re omnivorous. They like any music that’s good. They don’t care where it came from. They’re just joyful, open hearted. Touring with them was one of the best musical experience of my life. It’s okay if it never gets better than that because it was just joyful. There’s nothing like playing every night with people who are bouncing around because they’re so happy and playing better than you’ve ever heard anybody play. You know, you get up in the morning and instead of people laying back in their hotel room or smoking their bong or whatever little isolation chambers can get developed on the road, they wanted to go for a walk. Find a cup of coffee, find a bookstore, find a park. They’re all completely alive and curious. I think I’ve been afraid coming from Toad of putting myself in these situations. When I have I’ve been overjoyed at what I’ve found and how open people are. I’ve been having a really good time. I intend on doing more of it.
PS: I just have one more question because I know you still have to do sound check. How has it been for you touring with three daughters at home? Is it difficult to make that separation?
GLEN: Well my oldest daughter is seven. I’ve always gone on the road. I had two kids at the time that Toad broke up and it’s one of the great things about touring acoustic. I can do a week and fly home and all it costs me to be home is the ticket. I can take a week off and then fly back out and do another week. I’m not paying for a truck, a P.A., a tour manager, crewmembers on retainer, a bus. I mean it’s so expensive with a band to go home. Solo acoustic is really family friendly, (laughs). They don’t come out here but I get to be home and not stay out for stupid amounts of time. So, it works well but when I’m home I’m really home. They know it’s what I do so it’s good. Yeah, so folk is much more family friendly than rock at this point, (laughs).
You've seen my pettyness and greed
But I'd forgive you anything
For you to love me
You saw me curled up and crying
You saw me hopeless and blind
You loved me even though you knew
I'd still love you too"
Song * I Still Love You
Album * Mr. Lemons
If I said it first
Words rang hollow
And the emptiness became a thirst
Now I could drink those words
They would make me strong
I'd be back up on my feet
before too long"
Song * Back On My Feet
Album * Abulum
Don't want to die before we're free
Dive down inside this sea
And maybe at the bottom
I'll find some key
Oh God, will you hear me cry
Don't want to see
another innocent die
Dive down to the deepest depths
Keep my faith and hold my breath"
Song * Gather
Album * Winter Pays for Summer