April 11, 2012

Fuel/Friends Chapel Session #13 :: Glen Phillips (of Toad the Wet Sprocket)

There are certain musicians that you love with your whole fast-beating 15 year-old heart in 1995 that you grow apart from like a Sadie Hawkins Dance date (I’m looking at you, Toby Clary. You never call). The 2012-you puts the album on and winces at how minimally the music still aligns with what you love, for all the fervor and the cassette tape trading you may have devoted to it in your teenage years.

But then there are the artists that age with you, that burrow warm like a nest around your body and your heart as you grow. They are the ones that you can look back at after having lived through a few more years and heartbreaks and deeper joys than you ever predicted, and find that their songs can still bloom for you, can still come along with you through the currents.

For me, Glen Phillips and the music of Toad the Wet Sprocket does exactly that. We’ve both got some crinkles around our eyes when we smile, and we’re both about a thousand metaphorical miles from where we were in high school, but something in there still connects wonderfully. I was a colossal Toad the Wet Sprocket fan in high school. Dulcinea had just come out in 1994, Fear is (still) an unbeatable record, and my skies were wide open and cerulean blue. I was on a text-based email listserv devoted to Toad (yup), and we would tree cassette tapes of shows and unreleased songs, and talk about band details and show reviews. I have every single record they ever released, and all sorts of CD singles. I think I was in a fanclub — remember those?

Existing evidence.

Life being the funny thing that it is, on a cold night this past autumn, I ended up sitting in an echoey church at midnight with Glen Phillips, after a long dinner filled with rich conversation and some good wine, beaming ear to ear as he played so many songs for our session — some old, some brand new, and one jaw-dropping cover — and we just enjoyed the heck out of that particular brand of magic.

I interviewed Glen back in Nashville in 2009 during his tour with the spirited Works Progress Administration super-musician band, and we hit it off as friends immediately. Glen is one of the most lovely, wrenching songwriters that I know of who is still plugging away intelligently from those bands I loved in the ’90s. There is a specific timbre his voice hits that other longtime fans will understand when I say just slices through all those deadened layers that calcify around my insides. Just a straight shot through. As the years pass, I hear him harnessing a certain type of weariness –no, quietness, maybe– but also there is still that bubbling current of hope and a satisfaction with the lives we have woven together from all of this crazy life.

(OCTOBER 5, 2011)

Rise Up
Glen wrote this to first appear on the Works Progress Administration record, back in 2009, and when he sings about the fog in the canyon and the vapor in the keep, I can hear it silently permeating this unsettling, questioning song. To me, it feels like a nice bookend to the social-justice bent in the super old Toad song “Chile” – please only talk to me in the dark.

Return to Me
I’ve been strangely drawn to movies about the alienation of outer space and the parallel celestial worlds that might spin around us, from any number of eerie Twilight Zones, to Moon, to the amaaaaazing Another Earth. This darkly beautiful song wants to be in one of those cinescapes, with futuristic lyrics about seeing the sun rise twice within one day, and how “with a finger i will lift you gently from your seat and draw you near / embrace you as we spin, all grace and beauty.” I don’t even want to know how this song came to be — I just love its exotic otherworldliness. It’s from Glen’s 2008 thematic record Secrets Of The New Explorers.

The One That Got Away
Because this is a new one, it might not even have a finalized name yet, but for now Glen’s going for this wistful title of something missed — a silvery girl slipped through the netting. As I recall, this was played on a ukulele (the night got pleasantly fuzzy) and somehow manages to feel sad and effervescent, all at the same time.

Liars Everywhere
Wow, when I recognized the chords to this one…. This is a song from the second Toad album, Pale, self-released in 1989 for $6000, when the band was barely out of high school. On the album version Glen sounds like the shiny, slightly-sullen, longhaired teenager that he was, and I love it fiercely. When I listen to this recording from the chapel, he sounds so much warmer, and so much more real, which I suppose might be a nice metaphor for what’s happened to all of us in the last twenty years. After those opening guitar notes when I realized what song he was playing, boy did the tears start flowing silently as I sat there quietly humming harmonies. That was a permanent win life-moment of beauty for me.

Don’t Need Anything
As Glen introduces this older tune as “a feel-good song,” and it feels like a comfortable old robe that I can slip into as Spring mornings mean coffee on my back porch. “Got gardens growing, got quiet days…” It works as a perfect companion piece for “I Will Not Take These Things For Granted,” from Fear, and unwinds like a modern benediction of simplicity. There is so much to be grateful for.

Two-Headed Boy (Neutral Milk Hotel)
And finally: All I have to say is that this might be the most perfect cover ever recorded in a chapel session. It was the last song of the night, nearing 1am. Incisive, plaintive, capturing the spirit of the original but in a terrifically unique way — like this version was always meant to be. So, so good. The world that you need is wrapped in gold silver sleeves.


Glen has some tour dates going on right now this week (Portland Thursday, Seattle Friday, here in Denver Saturday — not bad) and more in May. Take yourself, to remember and discover.


  • I love Toad, and Glen solo, and even what few Lapdog tracks I’ve been able to find. Glen has covered “King of Carrot Flowers” before, but I’ve never heard him do this one. Might be the best cover of “Two Headed Boy” out there (there are many — Dresden Dolls for a start). Thanks so much for this!

    Like you, something about Toad takes me right back to senior year of high school as well. We had a little non-profit FM radio station at school, and these compilation CDs from a place called Bonneville. “Walk on the Ocean” and “All I Want” were on those comps, and each time I went on the air, I tried to get one of them on during my time slot — mostly just because I wanted to hear them. Nobody tuned in anyway.

    Yeah, lots of other songs came out in the ’90s, but not many articulated the feelings I was having as I careened clumsily into adulthood and all its trappings. Not many put to words how I was feeling about faith, love, friendship, family, growing up, growing apart, loss, and making sense of it all. When I hear a Toad song, it’s like someone’s found a journal entry I wrote back then and reworded it so it’s not an embarrassment.

    Fear is an unassailably perfect album. I’d say Dulcinea is too. Those two albums are astonishing. I’m happy to have seen Toad in their prime, and twice more on their “reunion” tours, as well as seeing Glen solo 2-3 times. At all the shows, I looked around and saw people around my age, moved in the way people are moved when the dude with the microphone says what you’re thinking, or what you used to think, anyway, and it just devastates me to know that I’m still not alone.

    John — April 11, 2012 @ 7:33 am

  • You basically just wrote an entire story that tells exactly how I feel about Glen, both his music and him as a person. I’m glad this happened.

    Dianne — April 11, 2012 @ 8:34 am

  • i was on the same toad prairienet listserv (as “billy”) and got the same daily email compilations… wow. i feel old, now, but i’m glad to know there’s a reason your writing seems distantly familiar. love the blog, love the chapel sessions, love the christmas mixes, love all things toad/glen… thanks!

    bill — April 11, 2012 @ 8:35 am

  • also, i was on the same listserv. the internet creates the most interesting friend networks…

    Dianne — April 11, 2012 @ 8:42 am

  • Glen’s voice has always been at the front of the soundtrack to my life, thanks to picking up a copy of Fear when it first came out. It was in the “No Risk” music bin at National Record Mart. Best decision I ever made musically. I bought everything I could find, started going to shows and glen quickly became part of the foundation of the rest of my musical life. He’s a really great human being too. I’ll be seeing him in a few weeks in Cleveland solo.

    Ray Divens — April 11, 2012 @ 10:17 am

  • Yes, she captured everything about the music of Glen Phillips and Toad the Wet Sprocket and also some WPA… I too have some of those cassettes that we traded, and the video as well… remember that? Thank you for sharing, truly enjoyed.
    Susan, no longer in Idaho or Arizona but currently in Georgia.

    Susan — April 11, 2012 @ 10:26 am

  • and after 15 years the brand new Toad album that is being recordrd right now has be in fits like I’m 15 again waiting for “Coil”. I can’t wait to hear what they’re
    working on! the two new ones they play live are already classics in my heart

    Austin — April 11, 2012 @ 12:53 pm

  • Ah..The old toad listserv. Nearly got me fired…more than once. I ran it on production servers at silverplatter under the (weak) argument that I “needing to run a list in order to learn the software”. When it went over 5000 subscribers and many thousands of emails per day, people started to notice. Someplace, I still have a 5.25″ floppy with the all the old threads. Good times, good times.

    I very much enjoyed reading this and listening to the music. Thanks.

    Gregg — April 11, 2012 @ 1:24 pm

  • Gregg – part of me would love to see those old threads…

    Dianne — April 11, 2012 @ 5:08 pm

  • What a fantastic review. Glen also happens to be the singer and songwriter whose voice, chords, and words resonate with me year after year. Thank you so much for capturing these chapel recordings and sharing them with everyone.

    Grant — April 11, 2012 @ 6:02 pm

  • Wow… There aren’t meany people that I would get star-struck around. Glen happens to be one of them.
    Dulcinea was the soundtrack to my high school years.

    Barry — April 11, 2012 @ 6:18 pm

  • After seeing multiple Toad shows in college, I biked myself down to Taste of Lincoln (Ave.) to see Toad last summer. After a great show, the cops kicked us off the street before the guys could make it to the merch booth to meet and greet. Glen hung out on the street around the corner and took the time to talk to every single person who hung around to talk to him… including this guy who, upon realizing he was the last guy on the street not in the band, suddenly clinched up and stumbled over whatever it was I was trying to say. The good news, Glen stood there and took it with a smile, and I did manage to say thanks for all the great music.

    Thanks Heather, and hello to all of you that I used to be on the listserv with. I just hope Bree from toadonline gets to hear this set.

    Matt — April 13, 2012 @ 12:48 am

  • Most beautiful version of Liars Everywhere that I’ve heard.

    Thank you for bringing this to us!

    Bobby — April 13, 2012 @ 9:38 am

  • Thanks for the post and the songs, Heather!

    I too love Glen Phillips and everything he touches–Toad, solo, WPA (I also love the balance Todd brought to Toad, and like John, I like the Lapdog that I’ve heard as well). So I’m a bit jealous that you got to see Glen in such an intimate setting.

    This version of “Rise Up” is excellent. Easily one of my favorites of his. Here’s a video of Glen playing it for what appears to be a TV interview of some kind, but I have absolutely no details on it. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IJCBNC8l4-w

    What other songs did he play that aren’t included here? Seems that “Chapel Perilous” would have been an apt choice.

    Phil — April 13, 2012 @ 12:54 pm

  • Is there a version of The One That Got Away that can be shared easily, such as a YouTube link?

    Nathan — April 15, 2012 @ 6:37 pm

  • Thanks for my favorite chapel session yet, Heather! We want more Glen and Toad!

    And yes, hello to all you fellow former listserv folks. Gregg–if you ever get that floppy out and find a computer to read it, be sure to share it with us! That listserv was what got me through the first semester of college in 1995. Thanks everyone!

    Jeremy — April 18, 2012 @ 8:26 am

  • Wow, that article brought tears to my eyes, mainly due to it’s reasonance with me and the connection I too have always had with Glens voice and song writing. I’ve often described his voice when speaking of his music, one that cuts through the deepest part of your soul and touches it forever. Simple, pure, and just freakin’ beautiful! Now, if one could only get him to play on the East Coast?!! ;) Thank you Glen, for all you’ve given me personally over the years with your talent.

    Sandra — April 28, 2012 @ 9:14 am

  • [...] chat room mentioned that Fuel/Friends had recently posted an entry in their Chapel Sessions series featuring Glen, which I was completely unaware [...]

    Glen Phillips In The Chapel | Addicted To Vinyl — April 30, 2012 @ 7:02 am

  • WOW! Great stuff as always Heather. You continue to make great connections to all of us who visit your site. I have had some great years with Glen and Toad on repeat on CD, car and mp3. This is another great find and I thank you for getting Glen to participate.

    Glen – if you read this we are glad you did the Chapel session for us!

    el bandito — May 2, 2012 @ 12:18 pm

  • Your writing distinctly and perfectly captures everything I love about music. It also captured all the reasons I love and always felt drawn to Toad. Hearing Glen’s voice brings me back to being 15 years old listening to Fear on my cassette player in my bedroom. I was in a bar recently where the bartender was playing Pale, which got us talking about Toad, and then I saw this post today. Glen’s voice has been serendipitously popping up lately, making this post all the more poignant. Really great stuff, thanks.

    Running to Music — May 2, 2012 @ 7:18 pm

  • In one of my first, and most memorable, concert experiences, I drove overnight to Montreal where I was headed to meet a vibrant young woman, a friend of a friend, to see Toad play at the venerable Club Soda. This was just after Fear. That night, in that small club, with that beautiful, exciting young woman, I was enchanted. I was delirious with joy when Glen finally played Come Back Down, and I danced in a sweaty bliss with this intriguing golden person who loved the same music I did.

    Afterwards, I walked her home, arm in arm, discussing the show and learning about each other.
    “What do you think about more than anything?” she asked. “Sex, I suppose” said the pathetic post-teen that I was.
    With distant eyes, she said she always thought about what she would do with her life.

    We passed the Ritz Carlton. There she pointed to a bench across the street and explained that Leonard Cohen had used to sit there, watching the comings and goings and writing about the people he saw. I was so wet behind the ears that barely knew who LC was. We made it back to her place, and she made up the couch for me and said I could join her in her room if I was lonely. Apparently, I was so wet behind the ears I didn’t understand what that meant.

    We spent the next day touring Montreal, she fearless on roller blades in the steep streets of the Old Port, while I rode her bike. She introduced me to all-dressed Quebec hotdogs, and we went to Sam the Record Man to redeem our Toad tickets for a Toad EP, the Acoustic Dance Party. We talked and walked and laughed and lived every moment in a form of expectant joy. I left the next day, to make the long drive home, and we departed each other with a kiss.

    Two years later, I became the sole custodian of these memories, as she died in a motorcycle accident while en route to visit our mutual friend.

    It has been many years, and the memory still haunts and yet warms me, so I share it with you… A perfect night of Toad the Wet Sprocket, innocent, vibrant youth, and something like love.

    MD — May 11, 2012 @ 7:31 pm

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Bio Pic Name: Heather Browne
Location: Colorado, originally by way of California
Giving context to the torrent since 2005.

"I love the relationship that anyone has with music: because there's something in us that is beyond the reach of words, something that eludes and defies our best attempts to spit it out. It's the best part of us, probably, the richest and strangest part..."
—Nick Hornby, Songbook
"Music has always been a matter of energy to me, a question of Fuel. Sentimental people call it Inspiration, but what they really mean is Fuel."
—Hunter S. Thompson

Mp3s are for sampling purposes, kinda like when they give you the cheese cube at Costco, knowing that you'll often go home with having bought the whole 7 lb. spiced Brie log. They are left up for a limited time. If you LIKE the music, go and support these artists, buy their schwag, go to their concerts, purchase their CDs/records and tell all your friends. Rock on.

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