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.

January 12, 2010

“A new sonic playground” :: Works Progress Administration interview (Glen Phillips)

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One snowy Sunday night in October, I sat at my kitchen table after tucking my little one into bed and realized that Glen Phillips of Toad The Wet Sprocket was playing at that very moment right up the road with his new band Works Progress Administration, and I had completely missed it. After listening to their bluegrass-laced toe-tapping goodness, I started looking up other tourdates and noticed they were playing in December in Nashville, where a dear friend lives. And thus, this edition of musical adventure was born.

Works Progress Administration is an expandable collective, centered around the songwriting skills of Glen Phillips, Sean Watkins of Nickel Creek, and Luke Bulla of Lyle Lovett’s Large Band. In various incarnations live and on the album, they are fleshed out with folks from other bands like Soul Coughing, Elvis Costello’s Imposters, and Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers. They were playing at the storied Exit/In in Nashville, and I arranged to interview Glen and his new bandmates. To say this was a big deal for me would be an understatement.

I have loved Toad for more than half my life, and with my entire heart. They were one of the first bands I really claimed as my own during young adulthood, and whose perfect songwriting (“Windmills,” anyone?) has taught me so much and fortified more parts of me than I can count. I am a Toad-saturated girl, through and through. I once wrote, “listening this afternoon to toad the wet sprocket does many things for and to my psyche. the first sensation is definitely a heady and pleasant one, loaded with a thousand really good memories and the fierce scent of youth and optimism.” I still feel those things when I hear Glen’s distinctive, earnest voice on any of his current solo projects and collaborations. I was curious to talk to Glen and learn more about how his songwriting has shifted over the years, where his musical interests are taking him, and what he hopes to accomplish next.

I got all that and more when Glen and I sat down with his bandmates Sean Watkins and Luke Bulla after soundcheck one December afternoon. It was one of the most fascinating discussions about music I’ve had in a long time.


F/F: I am a longtime fan of Toad the Wet Sprocket and also your solo work, Glen, and one thing I’ve always admired is the songcraft behind your music. As a collective I know you all contributed to this album, and I’m wondering if the songwriting process changes. Since we’re in Nashville, Dolly Parton once said, “Writing songs is my private time with God.” Are you each still working personally and privately on writing your songs, or is it more of a collective effort now?

Glen: Most of the songs came in complete from each of the songwriters – we knew we were doing the album and we just saved up things that we thought would work for the group. There was one co-write that Luke and I did (“Cry For You”) but that was the only actual co-write on the record. And that was a very natural collaboration, like, “I’ve got this idea, let’s play with it.”

There’s a certain way of writing when the songs are for a group like there, where I’d say the difference is mostly you can write with others’ orchestration in mind. Like the song, “Already Gone” would not be a lot of fun to sing by yourself because the whole chaos of the chorus is this three-part, Twist and Shout-style buildup. So you have the freedom to write for harmony, for a particular kind of space or texture for the band.

Sean: I love writing for projects. I didn’t write anything specifically for this album, the songs I contributed were already in place. But I love getting that opportunity to work within the constraints or capabilities of a group – a new sonic playground to aim for. It’s really fun to do that. And I’m always trying to write as much as I can since new reasons will always come up when you need songs. You can never have too many of them sitting around.

Glen: I should just say too that we got together and did this album very quickly, so the next album is really going to be based around this particular five-piece, and we are going to be writing specifically for this project. It will less anarchistic; we’ll have a much better idea of what the palette is.

F/F: There was a quote I read about the making of this album about trying in your songwriting and collaboration to leave space within the songs, rather than everyone rushing to fill up every moment of the song with their unique skill or musical strength.

Sean: Every record is different, and this record came together with a big pile of songs we already had there. So what I think gives this record its personality is the individual players, and yeah, how we did leave space for each other, and tried to see how little you can play and still make it happen. That’s not to say that people don’t step out and do “fancy” stuff every now and then, but this particular group of musicians was a delight to collaborate with.

F/F: And I think that makes it pleasing to hear as well. Sometimes with these so-called “supergroups” you get super-egos as well, where everyone’s trying to do all their noodling and their fancy drum fills and each talent they are known for that will make them stand out, and it can be overwhelming as a listener.

Glen: Yeah, there are a lot of reasons that we’ve decided that we don’t really like the term supergroup. Number one is they tend to be funded and actually be superstars of some kind, and they have a bus…things like that. We’re people with a past, but that’s about it.

F/F: Sure, and also I think supergroup implies certain things, like the term “side project.” It implies that this is not as important as your primary work, like it’s a diversion.

Glen: …and that the personalities are more important than the music. It implies a success of marketing, rather than a spirit of creativity.

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F/F: So this album was three days of rehearsal and five days of recording, and I had read a 2003 interview you did, Glen, where you talked about the overuse of ProTools and production in recording, and you said “The world does not need another Auto-Tuned, Beat-Detectived, loop-based record.” Is that how you prefer to record these days, with more of a live, organic feel?

Glen: It all depends. I also have a project called Remote Tree Children that’s Auto-Tuned and Beat-Detectived and it’s a lot of fun. The thing that I don’t like are records that try to sound like a band in a room, and then manicure it to the point where it takes all the life out of it, and there’s too many takes and too many overdubs. You wind up with something that’s supposed to sound like people playing together, but it isn’t.

I think there’s a place for using live performance and there’s a place for using the studio. I mean, Bjork is a perfect example of somebody who balances acoustic instruments and dynamic performances from electronic instruments, and really understands the balance of the synthetic and the real. Peter Gabriel also does the same thing, and LCD Soundsystem has the scratchiest guitars and the weirdest loops. So there’s a lot of room for that, but to make a record that’s really song-based, the slickness tends to detract. There’s a real beauty in going in a room and just playing a song and walking in and listening to it back, and that’s the record.

Luke: That’s what was really great about making this record, just to sit around and play these songs as a band – sitting in Sean’s living room in LA, and just working the songs out for three days. We just went in and played, and maybe later we added a few vocals and fixed a thing or two, but for the most part it’s really a live record, and the group and what we’re about and how we play together really came through.

F/F: I’m reminded of the All-Wave Recording movement championed by Kim Deal of the Breeders and producer Steve Albini (“everything should be an analog sound recording of someone playing or singing, rather than using a computer to generate or digitally manipulate sounds separated from the dimension of time in which they were performed. In short, to record All-Wave, one must use no computers, no digital recording, no auto-tuning, or any other mainstays of contemporary production.”)

Glen: I think people can tell that, though, when a record has that authenticity. In the same way that – and this is the only way in which I will ever equate these two bands – In the same way that Hootie and the Blowfish was a populist answer to everybody being really hardcore and intense and screaming all the time, when it wasn’t cool to be sensitive at all, there’s some part of people that just hungers for something as simple as “Hold My Hand.” They wanna hear something they can just relate to, they don’t want to have to be edgy all the time. I think that 30 million records was a response to this glut of overly-intense, self-important music – even though lots of it was great.

I think the White Stripes in a similar way, people were so hungry for music where the drums were obviously not being made in time, nothing was tuned, nothing was messed with, you could tell that that was rough and real, and you could tell that it was rough and real, and I think people were starving for it. Part of the reaction is the merit of the band itself, but I also think part of the reaction is that they were making a big statement against the way records had started sounding, the slippery slope everyone had gone down into artificiality.

Once again, there are people that run the line better than others, but it’s what happens with any instrument of war; you invent dynamite and then you start the Nobel Peace Prize after inventing dynamite because you think that this is going to end war and instead it just escalates it. Every time a tool like this gets invented to help make music better, the tool takes over for a while and there are different periods of recovery, and I think we’re just starting to recover from Auto-Tune.

F/F: And of course the live music experience is an opportunity for you to really connect with fans, without any of the trappings or tricks.

Glen: Yes, there are bands that are incredibly technological and also absolutely awesome live. They understand making a show and what to leave raw, like MGMT is a great example – they’re very technical, but also know when to leave things raw. I think there’s a lot that’s been done on very manicured records, and now people are striving to find a happy medium.

There was a period, I think, when bands were getting signed very young with great demos, and people got burned a lot live. But I think people went to a lot of shows where they’d heard a record that sounded great and they got there and the band couldn’t play live. That’s one nice thing about the contracting of the music industry, and I think bands that can’t play aren’t getting signed as much anymore. Everybody knows you have to bring it live, or it’s not going to work.

F/F: I feel like technology has helped spread live fan recordings as a way of creating a buzz about a band. Going back to my own history, I was on a Toad the Wet Sprocket list when I was in high school and we would swap compilation tapes from live moments of tours, best-of collections of fan recordings, in a way that I never saw done before the internet came into play for the superfans. Now sites like Live Music Archive or Wolfgang’s Vault help people know if the band has the chops and emotional energy to be worth your time live.

Sean: I’m just grateful that we have that one thing as musicians that can’t be taken away from us, that ability to go out on the road and connect with people live. I think that’s always secure.

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F/F: Each of you come from your own distinguished backgrounds and unique fan bases. Are you finding that the people coming out to your shows are coming from a familiarity with one of your previous efforts, or are you converting brand new fans?

Luke: Well, it seems a little different each time. Audiences have been very supportive, there’s been a little radio play, but mostly it’s extremely grassroots, very word-of-mouth. It’s been a learning curve for us to learn how to present it is and where it came from and what we’re trying to do.

F/F: It seems like a dynamic period for you guys as musicians.

Sean: Yeah, you try to make the most of what fans you have from previous incarnations, but you also really want to bring in new people, that’s the best way. And the only way to do that is often to play shows, and then go back and play again, and it’s nice to see as you go along to see new faces and more people coming in. And you hope that people that might have known about one of your bands will come and bring a friend. It’s exciting. In bluegrass and folk circles that I come from, people are pretty diligent about following their favorite musicians in whatever they do.

Glen: It’s been interesting, I lost a lot of people by not being very “rock” after Toad, but even now seeing people write things like, “Oh, well, I didn’t know about bluegrass….but I went to the show and it was awesome.” I mean, it’s interesting to see where people’s prejudices lie. I’ve kind of compared it to – if all you’d heard of rock music was Creed, you might not listen to rock music.

Most people have heard very little bluegrass, they don’t know the depth or the history or understand the context in which to appreciate it. Even to the degree where a band like Nickel Creek, which is very much not a bluegrass band but from a bluegrass background, fans will lump everything together. So it’s been very interesting to hopefully give people an opportunity to confront their prejudices and get turned onto something new and realize they might like it.

F/F: Is it a big leap from pop to rock to bluegrass? How have you crossed it, not coming from the same background as, say, Sean?

Glen: I don’t think that there’s anything to cross. I think songs are songs, and you can take a song like “Bohemian Rhapsody” and do the Weird Al polka version of it (ed: or this, which Glen showed me on his iPhone later that night). Genre has a certain reach, but I think it’s a limited one. We made this album because we wanted to play songs together that we love, as well as we can with the personnel we have.

We have one or two things in the live set that lean towards bluegrass, but there are also things that would be completely wrong for a bluegrass show, like we have an electric guitar, and a drummer, and an electric bass instead of an upright bass, so we’re screwing everything up there. And on the record there’s pedal steel and piano, which have no place in bluegrass at all. So, I occasionally have heard criticisms of the band, “Oh, it’ll be interesting to hear what happens when you guys find your sound,” but we sound like we do because we like that variety. I hate the idea that we would someday show up and you would be able to predict what the tone of the next song would sound like because the last three songs all sounded exactly the same. That would just bore all of us to tears.

Sean: It doesn’t matter what genre it is, it just matters if the songs are good.

Glen: And I think people are becoming more accepting of that. I mean, it is the iPod generation, so many people are proud to have broad tastes, but I think people still have a hard time swallowing musicians from the iPod generation who don’t have a defined sound. I feel this pressure like, “Well, you’ve got to find out what your sound is and then stick to that, so people will know what to expect from you.” Bands like Iron & Wine, I think he’s great but I also can’t take huge doses because there’s not huge variety on his albums. It’s a great place to go, but people seem to have less expectation that you will adhere to a pre-existing genre, but more expectation that you will create your personal sound and never deviate from it.

F/F: Glen, in that same interview from 2003, you talked about your frustration with a blockage in getting music released after recording it. With this record, you guys are doing it all yourselves with no label backing, and you’re using tools on the internet like BandCamp to disseminate your music. Do you think this album could have happened in the same way ten years ago?

Sean: Well certainly the technology wasn’t there ten years ago, but there were other ways back then, like more people bought actual records

Luke: Now people just stream the record online without purchasing it.

Sean: Record sales ten years ago were huge compared to now.

Glen: It’s interesting because more people listen to more music now, but fewer people are paying for it, and at the same time, it’s easier to make records and put them out. There’s a statistic that I heard recently – back when Toad was putting out records there were maybe 20,000 records a year, and now there were 100,000 records put out this year, and supposedly only 1500 of them sold more than ten thousand copies. So you have a shrinking market with a total glut of product.

It’s interesting, I mean ten years ago it would have been different. We probably would have been able to do this record with a label, and get some more attention, and there were things about the world then that seemed more intact. You could actually put one foot in front of the other and predict what would have an effect and what wouldn’t. Radio used to sell records. It’s a strange world right now. I think in a lot of ways it is the Wild West – there’s great opportunities, but the success stories feel like unrepeatable anomalies.


After the interview I got to share a meal with Glen and continue our conversation (top 5 night, for sure) and their show impressed me and all of the enthusiastic Nashville crowd. There is a true joy to watching these musicians play together, and I was glad to get a chance to witness it, after hearing them talk about what they want this band to be.

All my heroes have grown up to be awesome.

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LOOK: Pictures from the show
DOWNLOAD: A free career-spanning 8 song sampler of Glen’s music

December 2, 2009

The new collective featuring Glen Phillips (of Toad The Wet Sprocket)

Next Thursday morning I’m boarding a plane bound for Nashville. That sounds like the first lyric of a good song.

I’ll be visiting one of my favorite people in the world, and together we are going to cram in a good deal of musical fun into four days. On Friday night we’re heading to the Exit/In (this show happened there, among others, which makes it some sort of hallowed ground) to see the newly-birthed supergroup Works Progress Administration.

This civic-mindedly named band is an “expandable collective” formed this summer, consisting of Glen Phillips (of my terrifically-beloved Toad The Wet Sprocket), Sean and Sara Watkins from Nickel Creek, Benmont Tench from The Heartbreakers, Pete Thomas and Davey Faragher (Elvis Costello and the Imposters), Luke Bulla (Lyle Lovett’s fiddler), and the pedal steel talents of Greg Leisz. In addition to tapping some of the coolest icons and typefaces of the last century, their independently-released album sweetly blends bluegrass and pop and I cannot wait to hear it live.

wpaYou can listen to their entire debut album above, and purchase it here (they’re doing it all by themselves, with no label). The vocal duties shift between four band members, and my favorites are still the ones where Glen sings (lead track “Always Have My Love” is an instant classic, and “Rise Up” is an introspective piano-based gem that feels like twilight). But the richness of other tracks are growing on me too — like Sara Watkins’ take on the Ray Davies/Pretenders “I Go To Sleep.” It’s clear that these folks love playing together.

My innards still get happy every time I hear Glen sing, not even kidding. I’ll be interviewing him on Friday afternoon in Nashville, and I will try not to knock him over with all the pent-up enthusiasm of fifteen+ years of fandom. Cross fingers.

Dec 3 – High Noon Saloon, Madison, Wisconsin
Dec 4 – Ladies Literary Club, Grand Rapids, Michigan
Dec 5 – The Ark, Ann Arbor, Michigan
Dec 6 – Old Town School Of Folk Music, Chicago, Illinois
Dec 7 – The Basement, Columbus, Ohio
Dec 9 – Southgate House, Newport, Kentucky
Dec 10 – Birdy’s, Indianapolis, Indiana
Dec 11 – Exit/In, Nashville, Tennessee
Dec 12 – Phoenix Hill Tavern, Louisville, Kentucky
Dec 13 – The Kent Stage, Kent, Ohio
Jan 6 – Sellersville Theater 1894, Sellersville, Pennsylvania
Jan 7 – Infinity Hall, Norfolk, Connecticut
Jan 8 – Arden Gild Hall, Arden, Delaware
Jan 9 – City Winery, New York, New York
Jan 10 – Stone Mountain Arts Center, Brownfield, Maine
Feb 21 – Cayamo Cruise, Miami, Florida
Mar 27 – Lobero Theatre, Santa Barbara, California
May 1 & 2 – Merle Watson Memorial Festival, Wilkesboro, North Carolina

I am also taking suggestions for things we can entertain ourselves with in Nashville. You might not know this about me but I can belt an absolutely absurd number of country songs with great passion and without skipping a word. I think there might be some fun music-related things to do in Nashville…

February 11, 2008

Monday Music Roundup

The Grammys were on last night, and even though I watched them, I felt just as disconnected from the alleged art contained within them as ever. I went to the Grammys in 2003 in NYC and at the time was struck by what a spectacle, what a circus it was. It was barely about the music, more about the fashion, the pyrotechnics, the manufactured emotion of the mini-crowd they select to run down to the front, wild in their staged arm-waving enthusiasm — trying to inject an emotion into the show that doesn’t exist in the natural state.

The queen of the evening Amy Winehouse looked addled, twiggy, and uncertain with what to do with her limbs while she skittered through her material (scaring the bejesus out of half the folks watching her, asking their spouse over the beats, “Who is this Amy Winehouse gal? And why did she win all those awards?”). Lackluster performances reigned; even Feist was not represented as gloriously as she should have been (where was the rainbow colored dancing? that would have been better than that painful Beatles medley with the walking umbrella and the flying culotte lady that I thought was Heather Mills). I was surprised to find Kanye West’s performance the most potent of the night; his inspired collab with Daft Punk lead into a wrenching, broken tribute to his mama that added Kanye onto the short list of people that have made me cry this month (how did that happen?!).

Anyways, score one for the corporate death of music that makes me feel anything inside. Yep, pretty cheerful around here today.

Here are five tunes for you to spin this week:

Up Against The Glass
The Botticellis

The musical byproduct of communal living in the Outer Richmond district of San Francisco, indie pop-surf band The Botticellis impressed me when I saw them at NoisePop last year opening for Cake. They’ve got a tight, sunny, ’60s sound saturated with multihued orchestral melodies. I’d posted an earlier version of this addictive little song last year; it’s now revisioned for their debut album on the Oakland, CA label Antenna Farm. Check out the vintage, analog sound of the album Old Home Movies when it comes out May 13. They’re playing some Bay Area shows in the coming months and also will be at SXSW.

Grounds For Divorce

Among the bands with weird noun names (Spoon, Aqueduct, Sponge, what have you) Manchester band Elbow is the only one who would be taken on a desert island with John Cale. Not a bad endorsement. This radio rip of the first single from Elbow’s upcoming 4th album The Seldom Seen Kid (due on the UK’s Fiction Records, home of Stephen Fretwell and Ian Brown’s latests) is a haunting, gospelly blues track with a guttural punch and stomp. It sounds downright epic to these ears. [thx]


The soundtrack to last year’s excellent Little Miss Sunshine brought some well-deserved acclaim to Denver quartet DeVotchKa. Since spinning those quirky, inventive, whistle and theremin-laden tunes for the film, DeVotchKa has signed to -Anti Records, and their album A Mad And Faithful Telling is due March 18th. This first single doesn’t sound like much else I’ve heard lately, spinning dizzily by the end as we discuss someone who won’t mean what they say or say what they mean. I feel confused, but I like the effect. You can stream more new stuff on their website.

Song of Love/Narayana
Kula Shaker

Hazy and trippy as ever, London’s Kula Shaker always get lumped into the Britpop header, but really, why? Reformed in 2005 after six years apart, their recognizable Indian chanting and psychedelic overtones remain intact on this “new” song from the album Strangefolk. Released last year in the UK, this one slipped past me originally, but is finally gearing up for a US release on Cooking Vinyl next week. The band is still steadfast in their belief that love can save the world, and this cut bends eras and genres. It builds slowly but is solidly good; have a listen.

Return To Me
Glen Phillips

As a pretty hearty fan of Toad The Wet Sprocket throughout the Nineties, I’m always trying to keep up with the quality, heart-warming output of the various band members since their 1998 official disbanding. Of the projects, frontman Glen Phillips has consistently grabbed my ears with his literate and earnest solo output. On tour now, Glen played last night at the Fox Theatre in Boulder (and I was sad to miss it but had just been there Saturday night for the scathingly funny rock of Mr. Matt Nathanson). One of my kind readers notified me that there’s a new EP Secrets Of The New Explorers up for download on his website, the follow-up to Mr. Lemons, his strong 2006 full-length. This winsome track is a free download and there are more like it for mere dollars.

Okay and this is getting long today but — can we file this final PS under things that make me say “hmmmm”?

I was at the auto parts store yesterday (brake light out, as two nice construction workers let me know at a stoplight the other day) and I saw this keychain breathalyzer dealie for 39 bucks by the register. I found it highly amusing that it claims to have “Hundreds of Uses.”

Um, actually? I am pretty sure it has just one.

That’s all. Rock on.

August 27, 2007

Monday Music Roundup

“Mom, I find it interesting that you refer to the Weekly World News as . . . ‘The Paper.’ The paper contains facts.”

(Scottish accent) “This paper contains facts. And this paper has the eighth highest circulation in the whole wide world. Right? Plenty of facts. ‘Pregnant man gives birth.’ That’s a fact.”

The Weekly World News published its swansong final issue today, and of course when I read about it this morning, I fondly thought of one of my favorite Nineties movies — the San Francisco-filmed, Mike Myers acted, boppy-indie-rock soundtracked, So I Married An Axe Murderer. If you’ve seen it, you likely remember that quote above between Charlie McKenzie and his momma.

With the WWN gone, where will I turn now for my checkout line perusal needs? I guess it’s all news of Lohan and Britney for me from here on out. I kind of prefer stories of alien babies and massive political/religious conspiracies. Bah.

Here’s your recommended weekly musical allowance:

Toad The Wet Sprocket
Since we’re talking about So I Married An Axe Murderer, here’s my vote for the best dang song off that soundtrack. Maybe you are singing, “There sheeeeee goes…” in your head right now (The underrated La’s), or maybe “One two princes kneel before you – that’s what I said now” (the not-underrated Spin Doctors). But this Toad The Wet Sprocket tune from the soundtrack remains a superb Toad b-side, possibly the best track off this album and also off the In Light Syrup rarities compilation. “Brother” always makes me feel really happy inside, from that ebullient opening melody through the heartfelt lyrics of brotherly love. A great one – put it on your next mixtape.

Pass The Buck

The new Stereophonics album Pull The Pin is an absolute supernova. I’ve been listening to the forthcoming album from these Welsh rockers all weekend and I woke up with this particular track in my head. Whenever that happens — a song rising unbidden to my mental jukebox player first thing in the morning — that means it’s gotten inside me and I need to write something about it. This is a cocky, flippant, unyielding tune that just makes you feel like the coolest person in the room, with backing vocals on the verses that invoke a surprising bit of catchy bubblegum goodness. Maybe I’m the only one who hears this, but the chorus of this track reminds me a bit of Aerosmith’s “Dude (Looks Like A Lady).” They’re not the same, but they enjoy standing next to each other.

Parker Mosli
I was catching up with Fuel-favorite Bay Area musician Jake Troth, and was really pleased by the danceable melodies and late-night beats of his new side project, Parker Mosli. This project is a collaboration between Jake (who’s also been busy writing a melody featured on the new album of pals Rogue Wave) and fellow relocated Charlotte, NC native Joshua Panda. Recommended for fans of !!! and Mark Ronson, but with some indulgent hand-clappy goodness – love it. They’ve got some more tunes on their MySpace and an EP available.

100 Days 100 Nights
Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings
Remember my rant on Dreamgirls a few weeks ago? This song is exactly what I would have loved to see in that film, except this tune is a modern day confection that just sounds like it was made in the ’50s. Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings (what a fun band name) hit the Brooklyn music scene in 2002 with their own brand of swinging retro funk and soul, sounding like no one else right now. They’re also the backing band on Amy Winehouse‘s Back to Black album and (stalled) tour. Retro is so hot right now. Their latest full length album, 100 Days, 100 Nights, will be out October 2nd on Daptone Records, and is worth buying just for the subtle fun of that cover alone.

Collective Soul
My sister is moaning in agony right now that I am writing about Collective Soul. We kind of had an unspoken pact growing up in the “Shine” era that if either of us ever liked Collective Soul, then the other person should immediately kill us. Sorry, but that song got pretty dang annoying in the summer of 1994. I’ve been out of the loop on the rest of their output, so I could be very, very wrong — because I will freely admit that I find this song absolutely irresistible. I am looking forward to hearing the rest of their new album Afterwords, out tomorrow on El Records and, somehow, through Target.

January 6, 2007

We go side by side / Laugh until it’s right :: Toad The Wet Sprocket at the Warfield, 12/17/2002

I am so glad I dusted this delightful little set off. It’s been a while since I listened to it, but this was a fantastic show I attended in 2002; I remember being supremely excited about the high school dream-pairing lineup of Toad/Counting Crows (and went to two shows of the five-show run). Both bands were top notch.

After formally disbanding in 1998 (after over a decade of making music together), Toad The Wet Sprocket reunited for a string of shows, opening for Counting Crows in San Francisco during one of the Crows’ December runs at the Warfield. Despite being the opening act and only having 45 minutes to play, this is an excellent setlist full of songs that perfectly align with what I would have hand-picked if they had asked my opinion. It’s a night of rosy memories — I saw the show with two of my longtime best friends, and I recall having dinner before the concert at a fantastic tiny little Italian restaurant that I’ve never been able to recall or find ever again. Blame it on the red wine.

Toad The Wet Sprocket
December 17, 2002
The Warfield, SF

01. Something’s Always Wrong
02. Woodburning
03. Crowing
04. Windmills
05. See You Again
06. Falling
07. Brother (oh, I love this song)
08. Fall Down
09. Amnesia
10. Crazy Life
11. Walk On The Ocean


October 9, 2006

Happy birthday John Lennon

John Lennon would have been 66 today (had he not been shot by obsessed fan Mark David Chapman in 1980). He was only 40 when he died, and I’ve sometimes wondered what other wonderful music he had still within him.

I figure the occasion of his entrance into this world (with a bang – he was born during a German aid raid over Liverpool the night of October 9-10, 1940) is a fine reason to post some covers off the Working Class Hero: A Tribute To John Lennon album (1995, Hollywood Records). It’s an eclectic little snapshot of the musical environment of the mid-90s, with some spiffy covers & interesting interpretations.

Also speaking of covers, Coverville has a John Lennon covers podcast for free download as well.

Instant Karma! – Toad The Wet Sprocket

Nobody Told Me – The Flaming Lips

I Don’t Wanna Be A Soldier – Mad Season
(featuring Layne Staley of Alice in Chains, Mike McCready of Pearl Jam, and Barrett Martin of Screaming Trees)

Power To The People – The Minus 5
(Scott McCaughey with members of R.E.M., The Posies, and Wilco & The Decemberists – in various incarnations)

Also, you may be interested in reading my post on the 25th anniversary of his death last year, which has an active download link to a demo version of my favorite Lennon solo song — one of the most gorgeous recordings you will ever hear: earnest and yearning and raw and perfect.

July 12, 2006

Toad the Wet Sprocket: Summer tour dates & selected songs

Toad the Wet Sprocket is out on the road again! Yes, you heard me right. If you remember them from the ’90s (or even if the name is brand-new to you) you should try and catch them on tour. I cannot begin to articulate into words the extent and the depth of my love for Toad The Wet Sprocket throughout my teen years, and let’s be honest – right up to today. They have definitely made a few of my desert island discs (but don’t ask me to pick which ones. Can I make a Toad mix to take along?).

I know the name of the band is silly (from Monty Python), but don’t let it stop you if you’ve never discovered this Santa Barbara foursome that has been making music together since their wee high-school days.

I gave them a spin the other day and they still sound as fresh and listenable and full-of-goodness as they ever did. Some of the really early stuff sounds kind of, well — late ’80s, but they were still in high school when they recorded that for the most part. It’s better than anything I made in high school, personally. All their mid-’90s stuff is very warm and rich-sounding pop, heavy on harmonies, with well-written lyrics often aching with vulnerability (as we all did in those years).

Oh, Matt Nathanson is opening a few of the West Coast shows.

July 13: Westbury, New York (North Fork Theater; w/Big Head Todd)
July 14: Hyannis, Mass. (Cape Cod Melody Tent; w/Big Head Todd)
July 15: Cohasset, Mass. (South Shore Music Circus; w/Big Head Todd)
July 16: Atlantic City, New Jersey (Borgata Music Box; w/Big Head Todd)
July 18: Cleveland, Ohio (Tower City Amphitheater; w/Big Head Todd)
July 19: Columbus, Ohio (Promowest Pavilion; w/Big Head Todd)
July 20: Cincinatti, Ohio (Moonlight Gardens; w/Glen Phillips solo)
July 21: St. Louis, Missouri (Live on the Landing; w/Big Head Todd)
July 22: Council Bluff, Iowa (Star Cove; w/Glen Phillips solo)
July 23: Kansas City, Missouri (Uptown Theater; with LUCE & Sister Hazel)
July 27: Santa Barbara, CA (Marjorie Luke Theater – Rape Crisis Center Benefit)
Aug. 9: Eagle, Idaho (Eagle Knoll Winery; w/Matt Nathanson)
Aug. 10: Spokane, Wash. (The Big Easy; w/Matt Nathanson)
Aug. 11: Veneta, Ore. (Secret House Vineyard; w/Big Head Todd)
Aug. 13: Arlington, Wash. (River Meadows Park; w/Big Head Todd)
Aug. 14: Seattle, Wash. (The Moore Theatre; w/Matt Nathanson)
Aug. 16: Saratoga, Calif. (Mountain Winery; w/Big Head Todd)
Aug. 17: Saratoga, Calif. (Mountain Winery; w/Big Head Todd)
Aug. 18: Reno, Nev. (Hawkins Amphitheater at Bartley Ranch)
Aug. 19: Santa Ana, Calif. (Galaxy Theatre; w/Matt Nathanson)
Aug. 21: Los Angeles, Calif. (Mayan Theatre; w/Matt Nathanson)
Aug. 22: Cabazon, Calif. (Key Club at Morongo; w/Matt Nathanson)
Aug. 23: San Diego, Calif. (Humphrey’s; w/Big Head Todd)

If you want to heed me and give them a shot (and oh, how you should), I’ve tried to narrow down a few of my favorite selections here from each of their albums. There is SO MUCH MORE than the radio hits “Walk On The Ocean” and “Fall Down”:

Know Me (especially the intro)
Covered in Roses (a look at fame; building cadences, drum-marching beat)

PALE (1990)
Liars Everywhere (melancholy little two minutes of perfection)
Jam (TTWS takes a shot at the same lyrical ground that Pearl Jam covered with “Daughter” – that is, if you can understand through the early-’90s-mumble)

FEAR (1991)
Nightingale Song (tambourines & sublime harmonies, with fantastic lyrics like “We might be different but our hearts won’t lie“)
I Will Not Take These Things For Granted (“How can I hold the part of me that only you can carry?” A very simple and pure love song)

Crowing (This is a wonderful song, but now it makes me chuckle in a self-effacing way for the dozens of time I listened to it my sophomore year of high school over a certain high-drama relationship)
Windmills (A song that somehow perfectly captures its subject matter. I can see a hillside of windmills in my head whenever I hear this. “We go side by side, laugh until it’s right“)

IN LIGHT SYRUP (rarities/b-sides, 1995)
Brother (this is a phenomenal song, it is impossible to not smile when I hear this. One of the few few songs written about a brother that’s not lame or melodramatic)
Good Intentions (I think this one somehow ended up on the “Friends” soundtrack, sheer pop goodness)

COIL (1997)
Whatever I Fear (I had forgotten how much I liked this final release by Toad, this song is a great example)
Throw It All Away (a song to celebrate the simple joys in life; “Tear up the calendar you bought, throw the pieces to the sky . . . Confetti fallin’ down like rain, like a parade to usher in your life.”)

Take a listen and let’s chat about Toad.

Related links:
Toad the Wet Sprocket show from Sony Studios in 1995
from the Live Music Archive, in mp3 format.

Solo Glen Phillips show from Jammin’ Java in D.C., 8/30/05
from the Live Music Archive, in mp3 format.

New live Toad album is out from circa 1992

Glen blogs too!

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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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