During the 90s alternative music boom period, Toad the Wet Sprocket was making introspective music that dealt with life’s larger issues at a time when angst and edge made for a more popular facade.
Singer, songwriter and guitarist Glen Phillips has taken that a step further in his solo career, particularly on his most recent studio effort Swallowed By The New, which finds him taking stock of his life following a 2014 divorce.
“I think we met back in the day kind of in passing. I know we played in Cleveland, because I remember being outside some radio station thing at a Hooters – which was the only time I’d ever been in a Hooters. Outside of that, I met him last year playing a show along with Emily Saliers from Indigo Girls,” said Phillips of meeting Barron. “We did a kind of writers in the round thing on the greens of a country club in Colorado. And I got to just hang out with him, spend a day talking and play a show with them. And he is hilarious. He’s a great storyteller and a really wonderful performer.”
I spoke with Glen Phillips about Toad the Wet Sprocket’s 1994 EP Acoustic Dance Party (the cover of which captures an infamous band moment in Schaumburg, Illinois for posterity), his latest solo record Swallowed By The New, nearly thirty-five years of Toad the Wet Sprocket and much more. A transcript of our phone conversation, edited for length, follows below…
Well, Chicago seems like it’s been a particularly good city for you guys after all these years. I’m thinking back to seeing the band outdoors during the HORDE tour, at all of the radio station shows – any fond memories stick out for you here?
Glen Phillips: Man, we played so many shows in Chicago. It’s hard to even go through.
Most of my memories on tour are actually less about shows… I just love running up the lake. That’s the main thing I remember in Chicago is good runs. And cool friends. I like the town a lot.
Park West the last few years. And the solo stuff – Old Town School of Folk Music. There’s so many really good venues. And it’s always been a great audience. So looking forward to making it back.
And I believe we’re going to be hitting it again in the early summer which will be great.
Swallowed By The New is such an introspective batch of songs. What was it like putting that chapter of your life into song? Was it at all cathartic?
GP: It was the biggest change I’ve ever experienced. I wrote a lot of those songs in a quick period.
But I was finding that kind of the literature I was looking at, and what I was taking out of the divorce experience, I found myself much more drawn to literature on kind of death and change and Buddhism – more like Pema Chödrön and David Whyte than actual books on divorce itself.
The stuff that really helped me kind of get through and change and figure out what I was going through was much more actually like grief literature. “Grief” meaning, “how do we deal with change and how do we deal with things that rock our version of reality?” And I kept finding that poets and Buddhists had a lot to say about that.
And, once again, how instead of, “Feel better! Gloss over it! Move forward and pretend it never happened.” The idea of “Wow, there’s a lot to learn actually…” That’s kind of some of the richest time we ever experience – when we are having to reconcile what we want with what is and kind of figure out the wisdom in learning how to grow into that.
Since reuniting, Toad the Wet Sprocket has been together longer now than the band was during its initial run. What’s it like to look back at the band in that type of way?
GP: Well, it’s changed. There were times coming back and forth where there was a lot of discord within the band. And we all had to do a lot of growing and changing and accepting – forgiving each other and ourselves.
And just in the last few years we had our first ever lineup change. Our old drummer Randy Guss is no longer touring or recording with us. And that was a really big change – to move on from that and both honor the time we had with him and also feel like kind of excited about having a new feel in the band. So it’s been an interesting process.
It’s very familial. It’s kind of the business and kind of not. As time has gone on, to kind of allow each other to change and not judge each other by what we did twenty years ago has been quite a process. Like I said familial.
I have to ask you about the cover of the 1994 Toad the Wet Sprocket EP Acoustic Dance Party, where the band is standing underneath a sign which reads, “The in store performance of Toad the Wet Sprocket has been canceled by order of the city of Schaumburg.” What do you remember about that?
GP: Oh yeah! They were very strict I guess about permitting. So they were supposed to have delivered some kind of permit for a performance – even though it was an unpaid performance at a [Best Buy]. So they didn’t do that and they had like five cops show up.
It was about as rock and roll as Toad as ever gets. I mean, that’s the other thing about it – we realized that we were the least rock and roll band on the road. So we just thought it was hilarious.
The liner notes for that EP say your rehearsal spot was broken into the day before and a lot of your gear was stolen…
GP: I had forgotten about the timing of that deal.
The funny thing about that… We ended up actually finding the guy pretty easily. We were like, “Has anyone seen anything funny around the rehearsal space?” And the response was, “Well… there was a guy missing a leg taking a bunch of gear…”
We narrowed it down pretty quick. But then our detective went on vacation and didn’t get the paperwork in to stop all the gear from getting sold where it had been pawned – so all the gear got sold… Even though we nailed the guy almost instantly.
We got bits of it back. [But] people had to agree to give it back. [Toad the Wet Sprocket guitarist] Todd [Nichols] had a gorgeous old [Gretsch] Country Gentleman [guitar] that a guy didn’t want to give back.
Whether it’s solo or with the band, have you been working on new music?
GP: Yes and yes. Toad has started recording again and we’re hoping to have an album out by the fall. And I’m always working on bits here and there. I kind of need to figure out my own release schedule. I was saving up a bunch of songs and then decided to use them on a Toad record instead of a solo record.
But I’m always writing and making music.
When I go back to Toad’s music now, what strikes me is that it doesn’t sound dated. Those songs hold up in a way that some of the edgier stuff from the 90s doesn’t. There’s an authenticity there that, in retrospect, may have been lacking elsewhere in alternative music at that time. What’s it like now being able to take a break and revisit the band each summer after stepping away from it for a bit?
GP: I feel proud that for the most part – it’s definitely not 100% – but I feel like our songs are still relevant.
They were always introspective. They were always about maybe the larger questions. But I’ve always been interested in the internal matters of the heart and spirit. And so the great thing about those questions is you never answer them. They just lead to other questions.
So I feel like a lot of the songs are pretty relevant. And I can come back to them and reexamine them in a new way and see where they’ve taken me.
We’ve played gigs with bands who are writing songs about being young and cool and staying that way forever and going out to the club and meeting a girl… and they don’t look as good at 50.
So it feels good to have made music that wasn’t “cool” but that really got under people’s skin and meant a lot to them. I’m proud of that.
Thursday, January 16, 2020
Doors open at 6PM
Show starts at 8PM
Also performing: Chris Barron (of Spin Doctors)
Tickets start at $28
Click HERE to purchase tickets