The Songwriter Behind the Performer

Glen Phillips, the principal writer for Toad the Wet Sprocket and his solo projects, takes the stage in Fort Collins at The Armory on April 25, 2018, at 7 p.m. With over 30 years experience as a musician, Glen expresses the growth and struggles that produced the latest album, Swallowed by the New:

“I think I am a writer first and a musician and other things second, probably. This album is less of a stick it to you break up album and more about transitions as a whole. This album is about changing and accepting those massive changes. I think it is a similar set of skills whether it’s having your kids grow up, or having death, which comes to everybody in different forms at different times, illness, aging, any of those major life changes. It is looking at the toolkit I have to deal with that. Where is it functioning and where is it not functioning. Some of the songs are maybe relationship specific, but there is a lot of emphasis on just acceptance. How do I deal with change? How do I not fight that force and that movement?”

Glen Phillips of Toad the Wet Sprocket
Press photo provided by Glen Phillips

Glen originally released the album on his own, but Compass Records just re-released it. Phillips is touring to promote the songs and share his stories with audiences across the United States.

There is one particularly gripping, vulnerable song on Swallowed by the New, Go. Glen talks about his process of writing the song and what it meant to him,

“Go is a co-write with Chris out of Portland. He had the basic melody which was the verse and just the line, “you know where to go.” I had been listening to a podcast about lighthouses having this particular model of love. Where most things say, “I love you, please come closer, let me hold you.” Lighthouses say, “I love you, go over there. I want the best for you. Don’t come here. It is rocky.”  When that song was written, I had seen both sides of love. There are so many songs about “how could you do this to me?” I feel like life works more in the strange thing that we get to play all the characters.It constructs itself in this way that we get to be the one who leaves, and we get to be the one who is left. If we are paying attention, we get to learn what it is like from each perspective. I have been both the person to go away and the person telling someone else to go away. With a song like Go, a lot of what I am trying to achieve is to write it from the point of view that it is not about necessarily grievance or narrative but a phenomenon as a whole. Trying to look at the emotional truth of it and the pain of it without casting dispersion. There is a particular pain to breaking up with someone. It is agonizing. I thought being broken up with was hard but breaking up with someone else is terrible. They are both tough, and there is an acute sense of grief in either position if there was love in the relationship.”

 

Now that Glen has signed a new deal with Compass his take on the music industry has shifted.

He has a new appreciation for his artistry and his audience,

 

“It has been interesting to hook up with Compass Records. I haven’t had a record company in a while. Compass is a record company based on selling a few records to adults, and that is a new business model. The major music world always ends young and always ends broad, and it is not about making a living. It is about trying to have a smash hit and make a killing. Working with people who know that their bread and butter is not paying attention to that world is a really nice thing. It is sending back the message to me as an artist that I am actually doing the right thing already. I had an experience recently with a friend coming to see my show. She looked around the room in Santa Barbara and said, “you have a lot of elders here” I looked around, and there were a lot of people 50, 60, and 70. I was thinking all my life I wanted to be one of the cool kids. I wanted to be more of a punk. I wanted the cool kids to like me, and they didn’t, and now, it is a group of people coming to see me, that know some things. They are not trying to be cool anymore, and I am saying something about life that resonates with people who have lived. It was the first time I realized it, and I thought “now, that’s cool!” It was this recognition that people who had wisdom cared about what I have to say. And that made me really excited. Feeling like I actually have been writing the songs I wanted to write, and I was reaching the people I wanted to reach.”

 

Glen has taken on a new project in his community and is dancing for the first time since he was a child.  His heart has had a revitalization of joy,

 

“I have been doing a lot of community song leading which is kind of instant choirs. It gets people together. The songs are short. You can teach them fairly quick. Mostly things we sing I have not written. They are spiritual and uplifting and beautiful. Within five minutes you can have a group of 30 people signing a song with three parts. For people who don’t sing a lot, it is challenging, and it is so amazing to hear the sound that people can make. It is kind of like church without the sermon or a dogma. There is no religion involved, but it has that feeling of creating something beautiful together, aiming towards something bigger. That kind of experience has been a driving force in my life. I am feeling more and more drawn to that. In my shows what I offer is a vulnerability and a safe place to feel the feels and look at the stuff, people spend a lot of time avoiding which means it is a smaller crowd. It is people who want to face those emotions head on and find the joy that comes out of vulnerability. Our culture certainly emphasizes skipping to the fun parts but you kind of miss the depth when that happens.”

 

This community singing where the sermon is the music has struck a chord in his heart and maybe influenced his future album,

 

“The difference that is starting to happen to me is from doing the community singing work. I am curious what my next record will be. I have been filling out a lot of concepts for group songs and lyrics. I started dancing again after being shamed out of it as a child. I also have been singing joyful songs. They take me to the place I want to be. I recently discovered I like singing songs about the way I want to feel and they end up making me feel that way. So the next album might be a little more joyful.”

 

Glen travels and sings and writes. Sometimes he is solo; sometimes he is a leader, sometimes he is a frontman for a rock n roll band. Glen’s songwriting is introspective and vulnerable with an ease an openness that gives the feeling that loss is a part of life and it is ok to talk about it, and process it, but not to hold on to it. His music reminds the audience to find the joy in every day, in each moment, in the pain, and even in the outcome.

 

Check out his latest release, Swallowed by the New. See him on tour or catch his community choir. He is a man who loves music in so many different ways.

Leave a Reply