Glen Phillips

by Greg Prato

The stories behind "Good Intentions" and other Toad tracks, and a look at his songwriting journey through his 2022 solo album There Is So Much Here.

The last time Toad The Wet Sprocket's singer/guitarist Glen Phillips spoke with Songfacts was back in 2014, and a lot has occurred in his professional and personal life since. In 2016 he released the solo album Swallowed By The New, which finds him recovering from divorce. In 2021, he issued the Toad album Starting Now, where he navigated through the pandemic.

November 4, 2022 sees the release of his first solo effort in six years, There Is So Much Here. "This new collection of songs documents a shift of perspective from dealing with loss to an appreciation of life," his presser explains.

Phillips, a highly respected songwriter1, spoke with us shortly before the album's arrival to talk about some of the tracks and find out how his writing has evolved over the years. We also asked him about some of our favorite Toad tracks and his guest spot with King's X.
Greg Prato (Songfacts): There Is So Much Here is your first solo album in six years. Why did it take so long between solo albums?

Glen Phillips: There was a lot going on - I guess that's the easiest way to say it. And there was a Toad album in between there, so it's been closer to every two years than every six years. So, I think of it that way - switch between projects and two years for an album cycle seems pretty reasonable for me. I'd started doing another solo record and then realized it was time for a Toad record, so I switched a lot of the songs over and started from scratch on other things, and we did the Starting Now album that came out last year. I felt more creatively pulled in this direction this time.

Songfacts: What makes There Is So Much Here different from your previous solo efforts?

Phillips: A few things. All the songs come from a songwriting game that I play with Matt the Electrician from Austin2. Bob Schneider3 invented the game. But every week, Matt sends out a prompt to between 15 and 20 of us in the group, and everybody writes a song with that idea in it. So those words, all the titles were taken from that game on this record. So whether it's in the chorus or whether it shows up in the verse, they were all kind of inspired by that. That's difference #1.

And difference #2 is that I realized retroactively that I think the last album had been very much about grief and divorce and change, and this album I noticed is more about falling in love again and looking outside. It's like, "Oh, I turned a corner... I didn't even know I had turned a corner, but I turned a corner."

And the third difference from other albums I've made is that I haven't made a record where I allowed myself to have this much fun in a long time. Meaning in terms of arrangement and playing and production, I've mostly made records where I was intent on the fact that I was going to be touring solo acoustic - there wouldn't be a band. The economics wouldn't allow it and so I would make a record that would fold down easily into a solo acoustic tour.

I threw that out the window this time and had a ton of fun in the studio, and it was nice enough to limit my options that way and to do something that was kind of weirder and bigger.

Songfacts: Are you ever self-conscious when you let life experience influence the direction of an album or lyrical inspiration?

Phillips: I'm always self-conscious. It's all about my personal life and where I'm at. I don't make "entertainment product." I'm not that kind of a musician. If I were trying to make entertainment product I would be doing a horrifically terrible job of it. So, the way I write is about my own psychological process - it's my own kind of spiritual tool for self-reflection and growth, allowing songs to be my better future self, sending a message to my current self and trying to examine a higher perspective than I'm capable of getting to on my own.

So yes, I'm always self-conscious, and no, not particularly more on this album than any other. I've always been a bit of an overly open book. I'm an open book with a lot of circles, highlighters, and Post-Its.



Songfacts: What were some of the more personal songs on There Is So Much Here?

Phillips: They're all kind of personal. I'm trying to think about what isn't personal! They all come out of life, whether something is fictionalized and "third partied," or whether it's written with direct eyes, sometimes with a character added to that, or a scenario that didn't happen.

But they're all about exploring some kind of ambivalent emotional truth. "The Sound Of Drinking" is definitely about the lockdown period, and about being home for a long time for the first time in probably 28 years, trying to get used to just quiet and noticing little things.

Songfacts: What differentiates songs you write for a solo album compared to a Toad The Wet Sprocket album?

Phillips: Energetically, I try to keep Toad songs a little more upbeat and positive. They tend to be a little less strange. Songs like "Call The Moondust" on this record, or on a Toad record songs like "Little Buddha" or "Reincarnation Song," or on our last album something like "Fever," those outliers, I love existing in that territory, and those are very much on the edge of what Toad does. So things tend to be more driving and they also tend to rely a lot more on melody.

I get to lean on the other musicians in the band and they have great voices and write great parts, so there's a lot of "leaving open." And then there's the collaborative thing where about half of the material Toad does is a co-write with Todd [Nichols, Toad guitarist], and increasingly Dean's involved in writing [Dean Dinning, Toad bass player]. So, half of those records tend to be co-written. Those were the primary differences. Lyrically, I tend to write what I write, and don't edit much in the band.

Songfacts: What was the lyrical inspiration behind the Toad song "Good Intentions"?

Phillips: General misunderstandings. Operating on the edge of "moral okayness" as a young person. Flirting or something.

I never messed around on the road... I'm kind of proud of that. [Laughs] But I probably flirted. I think it was about that, like pushing those edges and everybody trying to figure out where they stand in a relationship that way.

Songfacts: "Windmills"?

Phillips: Randy, the drummer in Toad, had been reading Don Quixote, and I will confess to never having read it. So, for the album Dulcinea it was very much in the air, so I got a CliffsNotes version of Cervantes' classic from our drummer, and was lifting a lot of the imagery and metaphor from there.

That song I always felt was a little bit amorphous. It deals more with an emotional and imagery set as opposed to a strict narrative, meaning something happened or didn't happen. It's that balance between dreaming and showing up, and living in an invented world and trying to figure out what reality is.

Songfacts: "Fall Down"?

Phillips: Actually, I think it was written before the Fear album came out. That was an early one, and loosely based on a woman - a girl at the time - in high school, who was rebelling against and living out people's worst expectations of her. I think when you're misunderstood there's an urge sometimes to self-destruct as a form of rebellion. So, watching that happen and thinking about it.

Songfacts: "Something's Always Wrong"?

Phillips: "Something's Always Wrong" is an amalgam of a whole bunch of relational observations. Todd had that music and the only line he had was, "Something has gone wrong." And I kind of lifted that and switched it.

As a person who struggles a lot with depression and negative ideation, for me that's the state I'm always swimming upstream against: that feeling that something's wrong. It's usually based on a true story, but it's almost never the whole story.

Songfacts: What's a Toad The Wet Sprocket song we haven't talked about that's very important to you?

Phillips: I tend to identify with the newer songs just because I didn't write them 30 years ago. I'm a writer, I'm not an entertainer. My favorite Toad The Wet Sprocket song right now is probably "Fever," from our last album, Starting Now. It's about the landslides in Santa Barbara that took out 24 lives and kind of remapped all the old trails I had grown up walking. I was thinking about the kind of devastation of this tiny incident on the world, but how huge it was locally for us. Our lack of preparedness for it and our relationship to nature and change.

I really love "Transient Whales" off the last album too, which I think is my last post-divorce song... or, I hope it's my last post-divorce song. It's about missing the cradle of family and having a stable home, or thinking I had a stable home. And my kids growing up and missing that sense of purpose of having small kids, and being able to address their needs directly. There's that family-shaped hole when your kids grow up. What do you fill that with? If anything, I find myself at 51 being that guy that is ready for grandkids in a pretty strong way. More babies!

But of the old songs, it's not always my favorite written song, but "I Will Not Take These Things For Granted" I appreciate just because of the impact it's had with people. What it means to people. That song shows up at weddings and on the walls of cabins at cancer camps. It's been a song that makes that simple statement of, "I will not take these things for granted." I haven't written a lot of universal anthems like that one, even though the particulars are all about personal memories and of being on tour and trying to connect over the phone.

I used to be a lot more selfish about my songs, and now I feel like I'm much more tuned in to the function that they serve for other people. So, I'm really happy with the place that that song holds for people. That's the purpose of music, to touch people and have some meaning in their lives.



Songfacts: Not a lot of people know you sang backing vocals on the King's X album Ear Candy.

Phillips: To the best of my knowledge, that was the only ever King's X guest vocal, which I'm terribly proud of. I don't have a lot of firsts or onlys in my life. Dug [Pinnick] was a big Toad fan and we hit it off and became friends. They were in Los Angeles recording and I got to listen to him track a few vocals. He's just an amazing musician, a really wonderful guy, and asked if I wanted to sing on something. I thought they were great - Dogman was one of my favorite albums ever. Dogman just kicked ass. I was a huge fan from that, so it felt really lucky to get invited in.

They're an amazing band. What lives and what history and what a complexity of the world in which they came up.4 I think Dug is so brave and good. The world in which they came up and the judgment that they faced from their original fanbase, and to hold on to their pride and who they are, and keep making the music they make, and document through all of it with such honesty and bravery... they're awesome, man.

November 1, 2022

Get tour dates and find out where to hear the album at glenphillips.com.

Further reading:

Adam Duritz of Counting Crows
Jesse Valenzuela of Gin Blossoms
Brian Vander Ark of The Verve Pipe
Kevin Griffin of Better Than Ezra
King's X: The Oral History - An Excerpt

Photos: Chris Orwig

Footnotes:

  • 1] Glen has a writer credit on a great Shawn Mullins song called "Beautiful Wreck." They started writing the song in 2002 but didn't finish it. A few years later, Mullins came across Glen's handwritten lyric and figured out how to structure the song. He released it on his 2006 album 9th Ward Pickin Parlor. (back)
  • 2] Matt the Electrician is the stage name of Matt Sever, a folk singer-songwriter who worked as an electrician to pay the bills while he was starting his music career. Several tunes from Phillips' 2016 solo album, Swallowed By The New, were inspired by Sever's songwriting prompts, including "Reconstructing the Diary," "My Criminal Career," "Leaving Old Town," and "Held Up." (back)
  • 3] Bob Schneider is an Austin, Texas-based musician who was the lead singer and primary songwriter for the rock band Ugly Americans before he embarked on a solo career in the early 2000s. He came up with the Song Game to combat procrastination, and many songwriters have joined the weekly songwriting challenge over the years - including Jason Mraz, who wrote "Coyotes" based on a game phrase. (back)
  • 4] King's X had a Christian music background they later rejected, and Dug Pinnick came out as gay a number of years ago in a Christian magazine. "It wasn't something I thought about," he said in my book King's X: The Oral History. "If I had thought about it, I may have done it a little differently. It was a Christian magazine, and I just wanted to get it over with, because I was tired of the scrutiny that the Christian music scene was putting on us." (back)

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