Solo tours oftentimes are just that for Glen Phillips, who found fame in the 1990s with Toad the Wet Sprocket.
Usually, he says, “It’s me and the car. I deal with the merchandise, I do the driving, I check into the hotel. I’ve been a one-man operation for a long time.”
Phillips has been on the road since May 4, two days after his latest solo album, Mr Lemons (Umami Music), arrived in stores. The independent release is part of a decision, Phillips says, “to shift from the insanity of the record business to the manageability of a family business.”
“Mostly, it’s my wife and I,” the singer/songwriter/guitarist says. “We’re not a big organization. . . . She’s doing the artwork; I’m making the records. There are other people [involved] — I do have a manager; I do have somebody helping me with the Web site. But it’s basically Laurel and I keeping track of everything.
“I think I used to protect her from the industry; I just wanted my house to be a sanctuary, but the industry was stressing me out so much and I was bringing a lot of it home. We realized [something about] people who are getting their straight salary and their benefits from working at the record company: There are many good people, but they’re all kind of faking. Nobody really knows what they’re doing. It’s hard to sell music. So we realized we could probably fake it as well as anybody else.”
Phillips’ goal for Mr Lemons, which was recorded in Nashville, Tenn., was to capture the feel of his concert performances in the studio. Songs were either tracked with lead vocals and backing musicians playing together or built up from a solo Phillips vocal/guitar performance.
Overdubs were done with small groups of musicians playing together, and Phillips says that approach made things easier than individual overdubbing.
“Usually when you’re doing overdubs, you end up getting into a situation where you record things and then make room for the next part,” he explains. “You add a guitar and it’s a great part, then you want to have a keyboard in it, and you realize that the players aren’t automatically arranging stuff. They’re playing too much [on their own] because [it’s] the only instrument you’re filling in right now.
“If you get two people looking at each other playing together, they’re instinctively responding to each other and filling up the holes that the other one creates. Instead of having to force stuff to work after the fact, it just works right out of the box.”
One of the songs on Mr Lemons is a bluesy rendition of the Huey Lewis and the News hit “I Want a New Drug.”
“In general, some people are surprised [by that song],” says Phillips. “I have one good friend who’s been a strong supporter of me who had the album but was scared to listen to it for two weeks because he saw that song title on it. He ended up really liking it. A couple of people have listened to it and said, ‘It sounds similar to that Huey Lewis song. Are you ripping him off?’
“I really like where it goes. It’s a really sad lyric — we’re searching all the time for that perfect solution for all of our problems, which of course can’t possibly exist.”
Among the originals on the 11-song disc is “Didn’t Think You Cared,” which clocks in at a tidy 2:29.
“It was always a little ditty; it goes back a few years,” says Phillips. “Some statements are just short. I’ve always erred more on the side of short songs. Even with Toad, I was really afraid of a lot of space. I always think things need to be filled up. I’ve always envied people who can just let a simple chord hang and let the negative space define a song. I’m really bad at that, so I tend to be very centered on the lyric and not relax back into things.”
In addition to solo shows, Phillips’ tour itinerary for 2006 also finds him back together with Toad the Wet Sprocket, which disbanded in 1998. But don’t call it a reunion.
“I would describe them as some tour dates, nothing more or less,” says Phillips with a laugh. “It’s not about the past, and it’s not about the future. Everybody seemed really passionate about playing right now. If I felt any resentment toward Toad, it’s mostly because whenever Toad gets mentioned, everybody wants me to go back there and live there. And I have no interest at all in that.
“I do have an interest in playing a few shows and getting together with my old friends, and that seems fun and that seems inspiring. But immediately, people start asking, ‘When are you doing a studio album? Are you going to do this? Are you going to do that?’ That just bugs me to death.”
As for his relationship with guitarist Todd Nichols and the rest of the band, Phillips says, “Communication is a little better than it was in a past. If Todd had called me a year ago, I don’t think I would have wanted to [do a Toad tour]. Toad has a lot of issues — we just haven’t made documentaries about them and put them out for everybody to see. But we’re as messed up as any band has ever been. We’ve just kind of kept it our business.
“But if this is the last thing we ever do, the idea is that it be a high note. Maybe we’ll love it enough to do it again, and maybe we won’t. But if any of us feel trapped by the future with it, then it’s not going to work, so I guess that’s why I won’t call it a reunion.”
In September, sans Toad, Phillips is scheduled to begin an extended European tour, but it will be unlike his recent solo U.S. dates. Joining him will be his wife and children.
“We’re going to home-school the kids,” he says. “It won’t be a regular tour schedule. When we’re in Europe, it’s going to be about the family, so I’ll be playing one, maybe two shows of week. And the [other] real aim of it is going to be to go and see friends, to explore and learn about the rest of the world and try to build up some kind of [fan base].”
— By Chris M. Junior
Glen Phillips on tour (schedule subject to change):
With Toad the Wet Sprocket:
July 18: Tower City Amphitheater — Cleveland
July 19: Lifestyle Communities Pavilion — Columbus, Ohio
July 20: Moonlite Gardens – Cincinnati
July 22: Harrah’s Stir Cove — Council Bluffs, Iowa
July 23: Uptown Theatre — Kansas City, Mo.
Aug. 9: The Winery at Eagle Knoll — Eagle, Idaho
Aug. 10: Big Easy — Spokane, Wash.
Aug. 13: River Meadows County Park — Arlington, Wash.
Aug. 14: Moore Theatre — Seattle
Aug. 16-17: Historic Mountain Winery — Saratoga, Calif.
Aug. 18: Hawkins Amphitheater — Reno, Nev.
Aug. 19: Galaxy Theatre — Santa Ana, Calif.
Aug. 22: Key Club at Morongo — Cabazon, Calif.
Aug. 23: Humphrey’s by the Bay — San Diego
* Aug. 31: South Seas Village — Honolulu
* Sept. 1: Casanova’s — Makawao, HI