He’s best known as the lead singer of the alternative-rock band Toad the Wet Sprocket.
Next week, Glen Phillips hits Union Stage in D.C. on Wednesday, Jan. 18, playing Sprocket’s biggest hits and stuff from his new solo album “There Is So Much Here” (2022).
“It’s a little bit of everything,” Phillips told WTOP. “I enjoy playing the Toad stuff, stuff from the new Toad record, stuff from solo albums, some stuff from side projects, so it’s a little smorgasbord. … One of the things that I like about a solo show is that it tends to be a little less structured than a Toad show, though I will be joined by my friend Jonathan Kingham.”
Born in Santa Barbara, California in 1970, Phillips formed Toad the Wet Sprocket in 1986 with high school pals Todd Nichols (guitar), Dean Dinning (bass) and Randy Guss (drums).
“We were all theater nerds, we were all in choir, we did ‘Oklahoma,’ ‘Our Town,'” Phillips said. “They were seniors, I was a freshman. Todd lived a couple blocks from me. He had a big station wagon, so I could throw my bike in the back and get a ride home from school.”
The band got its unique name from the Monty Python sketch “Rock Notes,” which was fake music news show that listed phony band names, including Toad the Wet Sprocket.
“Eric Idle sent a notice saying, ‘I heard you on the radio and almost drove my car off the side of the road. I promise not to sue if you if you send me a gold record,'” Phillips said.
After their debut album “Bread & Circus” (1988) and sophomore effort “Pale” (1990), the band broke through on alternative radio with their third album “Fear” (1991). The album featured the opening track “Walk on the Ocean,” which hit No. 18 on the Billboard Hot 100.
“I have no idea what the chorus means,” Phillips said. “There’s rumors that it’s about Young Life, a Christian summer camp youth group, but I went to Camp Judaea so it probably wasn’t that. … I’ve had other people be like, ‘That song’s about coming out of the closet, right?’ Neither are my experience … People have such a variety of interpretation.”
The same album also featured “All I Want,” reaching No. 15 on the Billboard Hot 100, which sounds like one of the band’s happier songs but was actually hell to make.
“I broke down and cried in studio,” Phillips said. “I couldn’t get it in tune. … We were overdubbing a 12 string and I couldn’t get it. Then I recorded harmonies and they sounded sour. … Finally, the producer was like, ‘Let me solo the bass.’ Turns out, the bass was out of tune! … As happy a song as it was, it was a mind-wreckingly difficult song to record.”
Ironically, a song that didn’t make the “Fear” album cut went on to become their most recognizable hit as “Good Intentions” was released on a compilation album of rare tracks called “In Light Syrup” (1995) before gaining fame on the “Friends” soundtrack (1995).
“We did ‘Good Intentions’ and we were like, ‘Eh, it’s too pop, it’s not what we are, we’re edgy,'” Phillips said. “The bands that we loved were The Replacements or Hüsker Dü or R.E.M. before R.E.M. was on the radio. There was this period of ‘college music,’ as it was called before people started calling it ‘alternative.’ … We didn’t want to be a pop band.”
Mainstream success gave way to their fourth album “Dulcinea” (1994) with hits like “Something’s Always Wrong” and “Fall Down,” while their fifth album “Coil” (1997) delivered the hit “Come Down,” but the band broke up over creative differences in 1998.
“Looking back at it, I wish that some people in our camp had sat us down and said, ‘Get a mediator, get into counseling as a group and go do some other stuff and come back in a couple years, you only get one chance at this,’ but at the time, we were a little bit entitled,” Phillips said. “We were just highly dysfunctional and needed to get away from each other.”
So, Phillips turned solo albums: “Abulum” (2000), “Winter Pays for Summer” (2005), “Unlucky 7” (2006), which included the song “The Hole” on AMC’s “Breaking Bad.” He followed with “Mr. Lemons” (2006), “Secrets of the New Explorers” (2008), “Tornillo” (2010), “Coyote Sessions” (2012) and “Options: B-Sides & Demos” (2014).
He also contributed to side projects, including Works Progress Administration, Mutual Admiration Society, Flapping Flapping, Plover and Remote Tree Children before Toad the Wet Sprocket reunited for “New Constellation” (2013) and “Starting Now” (2021).
If you missed any of his solo stuff, he suggests checking out his two recent albums: “Swallowed by the New” (2016), which grappled with his divorce, and “There Is So Much Here” (2022), which proved that he was in a more positive place moving forward.
“‘Swallowed by the New’ is thematically my favorite, written post-divorce, an album about grief and what happens when things you love change, it was a time my nest was empty, my kids were moving out,” Phillips said. “During lockdown I got my edges pushed by being in one place, moved in with my fiancee and learned how to appreciate subtle changes.”