Singer, songwriter and guitarist Glen Phillips started the alternative rock band Toad the Wet Sprocket in 1986 when he was 16. In 10 years the band recorded five albums for Columbia/Sony Records. Phillips has since recorded and toured on his own and with several side projects, including The Mutual Admiration Society (with members of Nickel Creek) and The Works Progress Administration, which has included Elvis Costello & the Attractions drummer Pete Thomas and Tommy Petty & the Heartbreakers keyboardist Benmont Tench.
He's now working on a new Toad the Wet Sprocket CD and he will appear in a solo performance Feb. 2 at Grace First Presbyterian Church in Long Beach. For show information go to www.gracefirst.org, or call 562-420-3393.
Q: Is your band stuck with the name Toad the Wet Sprocket? You just kind of grabbed it as a joke and now you can't get rid of it. (The name comes from a Monty Python skit.)
A: We're hoping people just call us Toad.
Q: Were you Monty Python geeks when you were young?
A: We were kind of geeks before geeks ruled the world. Before there was a lot of money in it. It was harder to be a geek back then. You had to work at it because there was no online chat rooms or anything like that. You had to go to a comic book store. Patton Oswalt did an essay on geekery and the fact that it took more work back then, and he gave our band some credit.
Q: It was a pretty mellow band. Did that come from you all growing up in Santa Barbara?
A: There are some pretty nonmellow bands from Santa Barbara. Sugarcult is from here. Snot is from here. Primitive Radio Gods.
Q: That must've been from the bad part of town. Do you still live in Santa Barbara?
A: I've never left, except for about six months once. It didn't work out.
Q: You've had some songs in movies and TV. Is that a gold mine?
A: Not really.
Q: Back before the turn of the century, I was out in Iowa and Minnesota doing a story on the farm crisis and I was driving all over the place and all I had were three cassettes: something by That Petrol Emotion, something by Poi Dog Pondering and Toad's "Dulcinea."
Q: I know. I got pretty familiar with those three tapes.
A: It's an interesting thing to me the way technology dictates the way we consume music. Now you wouldn't just have three tapes, you'd have 20,000 songs on your iPod. Back before the turn of the century, you only had the records you owned, and you would listen to them over and over until you liked everything on the album. Now you can just jump around.
Q: That's right. And the songs you liked first were the first ones you'd get tired of. You'd like the poppy ones right away. The better ones were more layered or not immediately accessible. Now I can't be bothered to listen to stuff I don't like right away.
A: But as much as iPod has made us invest less time, technology has allowed us to hear so much more music that's out there. There are more and more bands coming out with an insanely wide influences. And so many of them have, like, eight musicians in the band. I don't know how they make enough money to do anything but eat ramen.
Q: Do you still tour a lot, or just go locally?
A: I tour everywhere and I tour all the time. It's how I support my family. I enjoy touring by myself - I'll be doing a solo in Long Beach. Part of me is scared about getting back into the world of Toad, being back on tour promoting stuff. That world always made me uncomfortable. The music and the audiences are all fine, but the rock world doesn't always reward the right stuff. It's a strange place to find yourself in the middle of and still hold on to your identity.
But what's been nice in the last few years is finding my way into the folk music world, where people expect stories in your songs and they listen. It's very comforting for me to play in those places, and it's very comforting to be playing in a church. They're designed to sound great and they're designed to focus attention.
Q: Are you happy at home when you're not touring, or do you get anxious?
A: My home life has always been solid. My friends in Santa Barbara all work for nonprofits, or they're they're craftspeople, like stonemasons and woodworkers. I feel like a bit of an alien at home sometimes, and I feel like a bit of an alien on the road, too. But at the same time, it's the greatest job in the world.