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Grant-Lee Phillips revisits some '80s rock faves

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For fans as well as musicians, fashion goes hand in hand with rock ‘n’ roll, and Grant-Lee Phillips went through his share of looks during the 1980s.

“I probably tried them all on at one point,” recalls the singer/songwriter/guitarist. “I had a few shirts with French cuffs [like R.E.M.‘s Peter Buck], for sure. That was part of it — looking for your identity.”

Phillips found his musical identity around 1983 when he moved south from Stockton, Calif., to Los Angeles, gravitating to the domestic and international underground rock scene that stayed in the shadows for most of the decade.

“It wasn’t basking in the glory of popularity like Whitney Houston, Kajagoogoo and Duran Duran,” says Phillips. “It was more introspective — certainly heavier on mood and imagery and pretty lofty in its goals.”

Phillips, formerly the front man for the band Grant Lee Buffalo, pays tribute to some of those introspective, moody acts on his latest solo album, nineteeneighties (Zoe/Rounder). The stripped-down, all-covers disc features Phillips on various instruments (with supporting players on a few tracks) performing The Pixies‘ “Wave of Mutilation,” The Psychedelic Furs‘ “Love My Way” and The Church‘s “Under the Milky Way,” plus eight other songs.

Phillips knew most of them in his head; other tunes required him to sit down and figure out a few tricky chords.

“I probably created a few new chords in the process,” he says. “I can’t say for sure I’m playing it the right way, but I’m definitely playing it.”

The musician definitely has gone through a change regarding his professional mind-set.

“I feel like I’m finally at a point where I can put something out and I’m not going to hold it up to some sort of expectation,” says Phillips. “[My new album is] not the biggest statement in the world — it’s just a record of songs. That kind of cavalier, casual approach would have been harder to come by for me five years ago.”

— By Chris M. Junior

Grant-Lee Phillips on tour (schedule subject to change):

Aug. 1-2: Schubas Tavern — Chicago
Aug. 4: Beachland Ballroom — Cleveland
Aug. 6: Club Cafe – Pittsburgh
Aug. 8: Iota Club & Cafe — Arlington, Va.
Aug. 9: Tin Angel — Philadelphia
Aug. 10: Knitting Factory — New York
Aug. 11: Maxwell’s — Hoboken, N.J.
Aug. 12: TT the Bear’s — Boston
Aug. 13: Iron Horse — Northampton, Mass.