Solo Toad

Toad the Wet Sprocket’s Glen Phillips at Canal

by Rusty Pate

Photo: Glen Phillips will perform on Feb. 5 at Canal Public House

Glen Phillips has been at this life a long, long time.

He was just 16 in 1986 when a little band called Toad the Wet Sprocket formed. Five years later, their breakout album, fear, charted two Billboard Top 100 tracks (“All I Want” peaked at 15, while “Walk on the Ocean” reached 18). Their follow-up, Dulcinea, charted another two and both albums became platinum sellers.

As the 1990s drew to a close, Toad went on a hiatus, yet Phillips stayed busy. He released his first studio album in 2000. Since then, there have been five more solo efforts and a string of collaborative efforts, including Works Projects Administration (W.P.A.) featuring Nickel Creek members Sean and Sara Watkins.

It could be argued that the 1990s were the final days of the record industry’s old sign-and-cultivate model. Phillips now lives in the post-Napster streaming age, and he said today’s climate might have caused him to channel his life in other directions, were it not for Toad’s early success.

“When it happened, I was kind of a kid and it all just seemed to show up,” Phillips said. “The industry has changed wildly in the last many years. When Toad first started up, we worked hard, but we kind of lucked into a major label deal at the time when the major label system was really intact, would stick behind a band and slowly build you. Keeping a career going since then, outside the major-label world is a much bigger job.”

That’s not to say he sees himself throwing in the album/touring towel anytime soon. Although he said he loves teaching songwriting and he could envision a scenario where that aspect of his life played a bigger role, his output makes it hard to believe he would ever stay away from the studio or stage for any amount of time.

Artists do not remain as active and prolific as Phillips has over the last 25 years without a strong work ethic and a commitment to constant improvement. Even then, the songs sometimes pour out, as if from a faucet, and other times they slowly drip into existence.

“I’ve been writing pretty active recently,” Phillips said. “It just depends year to year. Sometimes it’s really easy, sometimes I need to do a lot more collaboration to get inspired and sometimes it really helps to have active projects where I get to sit down and have this active palate of scenarios to write for and I really love being able to write for a specific project and kind of know where a song is going to end up – that gives me a much better idea of a starting place.”

Toad had been playing dates for a few years before releasing New Constellation in 2013, their first new effort in more than 15 years. Phillips said after working on other projects during the years between, the band first started thinking about what it meant to write a Toad song.

Perhaps it stems from artistic growth. He said the ego of youth can cause an artist to think everything they do is brilliant. With maturation and experience, the focus switches to figuring out what can be said within the constructs of a song and album. Thoughts begin to gravitate toward how the band and album will sound this time around. Questions such as should a piece include multiple voices, counter melodies or should it just be reduced to a single guitar and voice allows the musicians to really hone in on the overall emotional resonance. Rather than limiting creativity, Phillips said this type of thinking opens up new possibilities.

“Having those restrictions is more inspiring than having a complete blank slate for me,” Phillips said. “It really helps to know what your limitations are going to be. There’s certain stuff I started for Toad where I was like ‘I don’t have to do a solo acoustic,’ so I started with beats and really went from the rhythm up and brought in an electric guitar. There’s other stuff that’s sitting around the house with an acoustic guitar. Certain songs can find their way anywhere. ”

For his solo shows, most songs will fall into the latter category. He knows certain Toad songs will be expected, but his catalog includes another 15 years of material – material he doesn’t get a chance to play at Toad shows.

“Jonathan [Kingham] will sit in on a few songs with me, sing some harmonies and play some guitar too. For the most part, it’s me and my guitar. I like to write down about 40 song titles and play 20 or so of them and let the evening kind of dictate itself – rather than getting caught up in a set list. Basically, I can take things in whatever direction it feels like they need to go. I like that freedom – that kind of chaos and danger of doing something. For me, there’s a bit of that ‘heart of the unknown’ that I enjoy. It’s certainly a broader evening of music.”

Glen Phillips will perform on Thursday, Feb. 5 at Canal Public House, 308 E. First St. with special guest Jonathan Kingham. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. Show begins at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $20 presale or $25 at the door. For tickets or more information, please visit glenphillips.com or canalpublichouse.com.

Reach DCP freelance writer Rusty Pate at RustyPate@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Rusty Pate
Reach DCP freelance writer Rusty Pate at RustyPate@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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