Glen Phillips finds post-Toad satisfaction |

Glen Phillips finds post-Toad satisfaction

Stewart OksenhornThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado
Singer-songwriter Glen Phillips performs a solo show Thursday at Steves Guitars in Carbondale. (Courtesy Laurel Phillips)

CARBONDALE Toad the Wet Sprocket was an unexpected success for its leader, Glen Phillips. Phillips was just 14 when he put the band together at a Santa Barbara high school, and slapped on a name taken from a Monty Python sketch. It was just about having fun, making music with those guys, said Phillips of his bandmates, all of whom were a few years ahead of him in school. The bands first album, Bread & Circus, was self-financed, and it wasnt until their third album, 1991s All I Want, that the folk-pop quartet achieved a commercial breakthrough.Phillips personal downfall was equally unanticipated. Toad, as he refers to the band, released its final album, Coil, in 1997, leaving Phillips to pursue a solo career. The transition was a rocky one, as Phillips struggled to make his name, make a living, and enjoy himself as he did in the early days of the band.After Toad, I think I got a little desperate, said the 37-year-old singer-songwriter from Santa Barbara, where he still lives. It was such a strange state of mind. I didnt make the quick jump into a successful solo career.Much of the past decade has found Phillips on his own completely on his own touring as a solo act, with bandmates or even roadies to keep him company. The solitude was not welcome for a musician who relishes collaboration, and his mood grew dark. The low point might have been when he attended an anti-death penalty benefit concert featuring the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Tom Waits and Eddie Vedder. Ani DiFranco, one of the lesser-known acts on the bill, got on stage and gushed about how she loved her job, being surrounded by such company.I was thinking, I dont love my job. And I had the same job as her, quipped Phillips. Reflecting on his recent attitude toward music, he continued, Ive been taking myself way too seriously, putting stakes really high, trying to give people what they expect of me. I went crazy with that.Phillips brought about a change by doing projects that altered his normal approach. Secrets of the New Explorers, for instance, is an EP recorded mostly in Phillips garage over a few days with his friend John Askew. The theme of the six songs space travel is one that had not been much on his mind and was about as far away as he could get from the topics that normally occupy him. Phillips mixed the songs himself, the first time he had done so. The process seems to have worked on multiple levels: Phillips had a blast making the EP, and songs such as Space Elevator find him loose and funky.Another project in the works is almost the opposite of Secrets of the New Explorers. Tentatively titled The Scrolls (All the good band names have been taken, explains Phillips), it is a high-octane octet, featuring fiddler Sara Watkins and guitarist Sean Watkins of Nickel Creek, keyboardist Benmont Tench of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, drummer Pete Thomas of Elvis Costello & the Attractions, bassist Davey Faragher of John Hiatt & the Imposters, fiddler Luke Bulla and pedal steel player Greg Leisz, who has recorded with Wilco, Lucinda Williams and Joni Mitchell. It seems like the sort of band that would require massive planning on the part of at least one person, but Phillips says the members came together organically, out of the regular Thursday night gig at the Los Angeles club Largo, headed by the Watkins.Most of the planning has been in the logistics of getting eight busy musicians together. But over five days, they recorded 16 songs, and Phillips hopes to have an album out in the fall, with an accompanying, small-scale tour.The only elaborate plan behind this album is to have fun and be inspired. Theres no record company, no management oversight, said Phillips, who had teamed with Nickel Creek in the Mutual Admiration Society, which released one so-so, self-titled album, in 2004. Phillips says the music falls between Fleetwood Mac and the Band but with more chords. Its a very classic sound piano, guitar, pedal steel and a couple of fiddles.For Phillips, what the Scrolls has in common with the Secrets of the New Explorers is that both make him happy. He believes he is finally emerging from the turbulence in the music industry, adjusting to a world in which a record deal with a big label is more a hindrance than a brass ring.There was this period of panic for a few years when the record industry got shaken up, he said. They sprayed for talent. If you were a pop star, you were OK. If you had talent, you got dropped like a rock.Phillips says the post-Toad period was depressing: I couldnt afford a band. Or a road manager. It was just working.When he performs tonight, at Steves Guitars in Carbondale, Phillips will play mostly on his own. But he is traveling with an opening act, Jonathan Kingham, a friend whom he calls my insurance policy for mental health. More important, Phillips is seeing music, and his career, with fresh eyes.Having a job can take you down roads you dont want to go on, he said. This past year, its been such a pleasure to love my job

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