Transient Whales

Album: Starting Now (2021)
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Songfacts®:

  • When Toad The Wet Sprocket released their eighth album, Starting Now, in 2021, lead singer Glen Phillips had been divorced for seven years but he was still contemplating the aftermath. In his last (he hopes) divorce-related tune, "Transient Whales," he ponders what he once had.

    "It's about missing the cradle of family and having a stable home, or thinking I had a stable home," he told Songfacts in 2022. "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!"
  • Transient whales are mammal-eating orcas that travel in small groups to hunt their prey. In the song, Phillips, who's set adrift after his divorce, dreams of making the ocean his home and swimming with the wandering creatures. The initial idea came from a songwriting prompt delivered by the band's pal Matt Sever, an Austin-based musician who goes by the name Matt the Electrician. Sever leads a songwriting challenge where he sends weekly prompts out to fellow scribes, including Phillips, who attempt to write a song per week based on the prompt.

    "When this one came in, I had no idea what direction it was going to go, but I love the result," he told American Songwriter. "It's the great thing about writing from a prompt. You never know where it's going to head, but it leads you somewhere you needed to go."
  • Chris Orwig, a visual artist based in the band's hometown of Santa Barbara, California, came up with the video concept. The clip, which was shot by Nina and Sean McCue, shows the band performing in a spacious greenhouse-like structure, intercut with scenes of Phillips singing in front of a sprawling tree.

    "Toad has always been a band that has leaned into reality with a mixture of honesty and hope, and the song 'Transient Whales' does the same," Orwig told American Songwriter. "For me, it's a song about loss and longing and honoring what we've gone through in life without overlooking or belittling what matters most. Yet, it doesn't leave us with discontent but provides hope, and a weathered and barnacle-covered hope that is anchored in reality but also stitched together by the magical mixture of music, water, and dreams."

    But don't expect to find any of the guys swimming with whales or sailing the sea in the clip, which shies away from any obvious references to the song's ocean theme. It was important to Orwig to capture the meaning in a "subtle, sincere, and uncontrived way." He continued: "After all it isn't the literal meaning of the words and the notes that make this song so great. It's the hidden way that it helps and dare I say, empowers us to stop wallowing and to start singing, swimming, and living life in a full and deep way."
  • Toad first came to prominence in the '90s after releasing a pair of million-selling albums, Fear (1991) and Dulcinea (1994). Just one more album, Coil (1997), followed before the band called it quits, citing creative differences and the desire to pursue solo careers (Phillips released his solo debut, Abulum, in 2000). The split lasted more than a decade, interrupted with occasional reunions, until they officially got back together to release New Constellation in 2013. Starting Now was their next full-length album.

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