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Swallowed by the New album Q&A with Glen Phillips of Toad the Wet Sprocket.

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I was in college when I heard Something’s Always Wrong and Fall Down. They were massive hits and I rushed to the record store to buy Dulcinea. It was the height of The X-Files, Beavis and Butthead, Grunge and Neo Folk. I started following the band through music magazines and other publications, absorbing their tour updates as well as recording activities. There’s something special about their sound. And the center of it all was and still is, the charismatic Glen Phillips.

There is this irresistible optimism in this aura even if he was singing the saddest songs. Just watch Walk on the Ocean and All I want(for their album Fear) and you will see what I mean. The band was on a hiatus, the World Wide Web reached me and I started looking for his solo releases. That’s when I ‘discovered’ him again via MySpace. At that time, MySpace was huge and I cared about the musical aspect of the site as much as my networking activities. He released Mr Lemons to positive reviews. I remember Everything But You became my theme song before going to work at a call center. I thought the video was edgy, not the typical Toad the Wet Sprocket stuff, as this was purely Glen Phillips.

Swallowed by the New bolted out of the studio last month and I am honored to finally correspond with my musical idol. I was literally jumping up and down when I got his answers.

 

 Hi Glen, can you say that *Swallowed by the New *is perhaps your most honest album to date?

These songs certainly handling their subject matter in a pretty unveiled way. It’s head on about dealing with change and loss. All songs are little works of fiction, though. You start with something true and honest, but you end up serving the song itself more than the inspiration for the song, so they aren’t usually direct factual narratives, even though the emotional content is authentic. Songs have to have their own integrity and balance.

 Your fans are cheering that you are back with new music. What was it like to record the new album?

This record was made with more intent than much of what I’ve done as a solo artist. I felt like I knew what I wanted it to feel like, I knew what I needed to say. Paul Bryan was a great collaborator. He came at the recording from an angle that felt in total alignment with what I was after. Simple parts, minimal overdubs and ornamentation. He brought in some really great players but we kept the circle small enough that it had a real band feeling from top to bottom even though the songs are fairly disparate in style. I was in a pretty fragile space at the time – it was about 6-7 months after my marriage had ended. Paul gave me a lot of support without coddling me.


Can you tell us a bit about the string arrangement in Leaving Oldtown?

Paul did the arrangements on the record, and Eric Gorfian and the Section Quartet played the strings. Leaving Oldtown is written almost like a number from a musical. It’s pretty visual, not really a pop song. He was able to emphasize that more classic attitude with the strings.

Speaking of Leaving Oldtown, it is also your first single right? What’s the story behind the music video?

It’s the third single, but the other two were probably easy to miss. Don’t have much of a promo budget these days. The video was shot on trains in Japan. I took my middle daughter Zola there with me for a little tour in the spring. I put my iPhone in slo-mo mode and we would take turns holding it against the window as we would pull in and out of stations. It came out looking pretty great for a phone recording. The lion’s share of the work was sorting through the footage and editing. I enjoy that kind of trancelike work. Editing video is like writing and mixing a song at the same time. I would like to do a lot more of that.

How do you manage to preserve your amazing voice through the years?

Some years are better than others. I’ve moved the keys of a lot of songs down. I try and rest and stay hydrated, and warm up before I play. I didn’t use to warm up, just out of embarrassment, but I’ve had to get over that – it makes a huge difference. Cutting out alcohol really helps, too. Also just being more aware of how I sing and where I’m holding tension. Toad shows impact my voice way more than solo shows. It’s not just how hard I sing, it’s how I hold my body and how much emotional tension I bring in. My oldest daughter is taking a course in the Alexander Technique right now and I’m hoping to dive into that this year. It’s all about how we hold tension and it’s effect on the voice and body.

You are not afraid to address life’s weighty issues in you songs. Do you feel you are privileged to be able get away writing the songs you want and maintain a strong fanbase?

I’m really lucky that there’s people who are interested in my songs. I don’t think I’d to a very good job at chasing success. I’m not that kind of a writer. It needs to feel worthwhile, like I’m providing something that’s more than simple entertainment. I realize that the attention I got when I was young makes it so that a few more people listen to me, that I’m a poor enough salesman that I wouldn’t compete very well in the current market. I’m also aware that some people barely listen to my new music because they judge me by my past or just want me to cater to their nostalgia. I’m ok with all of that – I write music that I think is useful to people, and enough people seem to still find it useful that I can continue to do it professionally. I do think I might need to start learning some new tricks, though. I’d like to tour less some day, or tour at a level where I could bring more of home with me. We’ll see how all that pans out in due time.

 What can we expect following release of the new album?

I’ll be touring as a duo in 2016, trio in 2017. I’ve got a few ideas for projects in the works. I’m just getting my life together after a couple years of massive change. I’ve been divorced, lost my old home, had to work to love my new life and move on with gratitude. I moved out to Nashville a couple weeks ago, and go back to Santa Barbara for a week each month. I’m trying to not make any grand statements about what will come next, and just remain open and keep moving forward. It’s the beginning of a new life, so who knows where it’ll lead?

Your message to fans?

My dentist says you should all floss more than you probably do. And use soft bristles for your toothbrush!

And here I go, starting to listen to all his songs again.

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