This summer Toad the Wet Sprocket is out on the road celebrating the 25th anniversary of the fear album, which was the band’s third record and their first for a major label. When the album was released by Columbia Records in 1991, it took some time, but the group eventually found themselves with a surprise hit on their hands more than a year later when “All I Want” and “Walk On The Ocean” both charted inside the Top 20 of the Billboard Hot 100.
As you’ll read in the interview below, things might not have played out that way — after nine months of touring, the label suggested that it might be time to send the band back into the studio to work on the next record. The group, sensing that there was still potential within the current album, stuck to the idea of putting out another single and that proved to be the right move. By the time they wrapped up the touring cycle for fear in 1993, five singles had been released from the album and they had played 300 shows.
The band is playing the full fear album at select shows this summer and just before the tour kicked off, we spoke with Glen Phillips, to get his thoughts on the album after all of these years. He also shared details on Swallowed By The New, his excellent forthcoming solo album which will be officially released on October 7.
There are a number of pre-order options available for the new solo album. You can order physical copies via Glen’s website or purchase it digitally via Bandcamp. Both options offer a variety of bundle opportunities.
And there’s even better news — if you’re going to one of the Toad shows, you can snag an early bird copy of Glen’s new record from the merch table.
“People can pick it up there and that’s kind of the pre-release,” Phillips tells us. “I think those will be kind of more hardcore fans and they can talk about it amongst themselves and hopefully that chatter will kind of help it when it goes [into] broader release.”
This summer, Toad The Wet Sprocket is going to be on the road celebrating the 25th anniversary of the fear album, which is pretty incredible. What comes to mind when you look back at the experience of making that record?
Mostly that it was a really long time ago. [Laughs] It’s bizarre to think about it, because my oldest daughter….God, my middle daughter is older than I was when we recorded that record! You know, I was 19 or 20 when we were writing and recording that. It’s bizarre to think about how long ago that was and how much has changed in my life and my perspective. It’s a really bizarre thing to look at.
The thing that hits me the most is how those themes come back. There was, you know, this idea of hanging onto idealism and Toad as a young band was on the broody side of things. It wasn’t songs about understanding everything, it was a pretty vulnerable record. I look at those themes now and I kind of think of, you know, going through your 20s saying, “I’m going to hold on and I’m going to be the first person to hold onto all of my idealism.”
You go out and you live for a few years and at some point, you lose your idealism and go into kind of survival and family mode. Now, I’m finding myself kind of looking at reclaiming some of that idealism and kind of bringing my life in line with it. It’s a different process in your 40s to go, “Hey, wait a second….” I didn’t know a damn thing when I was 19, but I kind of maybe lived a little more integrity with who I was. In your 40s, it’s like, I think I want to give a damn what other people think a little less and like, do things the way I want to now. [Laughs] So you know, it’s interesting how that all kind of turns around.
The major label music industry fishbowl has to be a really interesting place to be at like 19 and 20 years old. As you guys made that initial run of records, you were kind of growing up in the music industry.
Yeah, it was a strange place to grow up and not a place that….we never it took it too seriously. I kind of thought when it was happening that it was going to be a hilarious little story to tell and then it just kept continuing. We kept making a living as musicians and that was unexpected. [Laughs] That’s the best way to describe it. I know some people who kind of maybe needed to be in that world and that was their biggest dream and I always knew that I didn’t have thick enough skin for that. I always kind of had the idea that that world was a little too exposed for me.
Being there anyway, it was a really odd experience. I always felt a little uncomfortable and I felt a little too vulnerable being that visible. So it was a very strange experience and it gives you a really poor idea of what reality actually is. Because you also sort of start thinking, I guess whatever I do, people will just like it and it will be a success. Once the major labels fell apart a little more and the business changed so dramatically, I mean, it’s odd to go from that to very quickly after the band breakup being, “Why can’t I get a record deal? Nobody wants to work with me! What happened?”
The part of me that had the imposter syndrome at the beginning, the part that felt like, “Ah, I’m going to get caught — they’ll figure out I’m just faking it and they’ll kick me out of this in an instant,” like, that part of me, went a little crazy for a while. It was like, “See, you weren’t supposed to be there, you didn’t deserve it — it was just a setup to remind you that this is not your place.” So, weird stuff.
This was the first proper album that you guys were recording for Columbia Records. What was that part of the process like, having a major label in the mix for that third record?
The weird thing about it was that they gave us full freedom. Our A&R guy was this guy named Ron Oberman and he was really happy to let us do what we felt we wanted to do. When we signed with Columbia, part of our thing with them, you know, because we thought, from where we grew up, we thought we were like a very indie band, right? And it was just when indie bands were starting to sign onto major labels. We already had two albums done and we were pretty full of ourselves, so we insisted on creative control. When we went in, we chose the producer, Gavin Mackillop had done Hunters & Collectors and Shriekback…
Yeah, The Church! So we chose him not for pop hittery, but because he was a really cool indie producer. We wanted to make a big record. My favorite records at the time were the later Talk Talk records like Laughing Stock and I was really into Peter Gabriel….you know, we wanted to make a big record in that way, something that was really textured and interesting and they just let us go in and make whatever record we wanted. As proof of how little pop pressure we had, “All I Want,” which was the big breakthrough single, which everybody in retrospect was like, “Oh yeah, I could see that a mile away,” you know, it almost didn’t make the record because we thought it was too pop.
“Good Intentions,” which ended up being a hit later, didn’t make the record because it was too pop. [Laughs] That was I think, the third single, like nine months into the record. So it wasn’t like we came out swinging and went for the charts, you know? We thought we were an indie band and we were making a record accordingly. It was kind of great. The only bummer for me was that I wasn’t 21 yet. We recorded it in Reno and so the rest of the band got to run off and go to the casinos and I just had to sit back and wait.
Was there any special significance to where you guys ended up recording there in Reno, Nevada, Granny’s Place?
The main reason was that they had an SSL [board], they had a Neve sidecar [console]. So they had the boards that Gavin liked working on. They had 48 track Studers and it was 48 track analog, so they had the right tape machines and the gear to link them up. They had all of the gear, they had a great day rate and we wanted to go somewhere where we could live and sleep, a residential studio where we could just totally immerse ourselves in the project. We were working 14 hour days every day and it was incredibly fun.
It seems like you guys were pretty well fixed for material from what I’ve heard. You mentioned “Good Intentions” getting left off the record, but I’ve heard that there was even more stuff than that that didn’t make the record.
Yeah, we were pretty prolific back then! I forget how many. We probably recorded 18 songs or something and whittled it down and tried to make the record work as a record. The idea was to have too much material and then you can chop it down to the album that works.
It’s kind of interesting, when you talk about “All I Want” getting almost left off the record for being too pop and you leave “Good Intentions” off for that same reason. If you’re quarterbacking it now, it’s almost kind of the reverse. It’s almost kind of surprising that “All I Want” didn’t get left off the record if that’s what you guys were concerned about.
Yeah, we felt it was a good moment. It’s what, the tenth track, or something? We didn’t stick it first. I don’t think we thought it would be a single. Once again, I don’t think we thought we were going to end up being a Top 40 band. That was just not in the game plan. [Laughs] But yeah, it all turned out well. It’s an interesting thing, you know, I have a lot of friends who never had the [hit] singles.
You know, what happens is you get the single and then you lose your indie cred that kind of comes with it. We had indie cred before that and when we had a single and when we were on the radio and Top 40, at that time, if you came from the indie world, all of the sudden you become a little bit of a whipping boy. It’s just not the case anymore. That’s what’s strange is that it’s such a different world now.
I always think of like Jose Gonzalez as this person who has this amazing credibility. If there was ever an NPR and press-friendly artist, you look at Jose Gonzalez and you go, “Okay, that guy is unimpeachable.” He got his notoriety, he got his biggest exposure through a Sony Bravia commercial at the beginning with the cover of “Heartbeats.” You’re sitting there going, “Okay, how does the world change enough that you can be broken in a commercial for high definition televisions and still have credibility?” It’s just a very, very different world than it was when we were there. We would never do an advertisement, like that would be the biggest sellout. Even being on the radio.
You think of like, Pearl Jam and Counting Crows, either not playing their big single at their concerts or disfiguring it horribly. [Laughs] You know, there was this whole thing of kind of hating your own success that was part of the ‘90s. It was just a big pain in the ass. And nobody has that anymore! [Laughs] It’s like, thank goodness everybody is over that, because it really gets in the way.
Do you feel like you guys ran up against that?
Absolutely! You know, because we had wanted to be an indie band. I was wanting credit for my Crass records, right? I would feel like, yeah, we’re doing mellow music, yeah, we’re not doing screamingly loud shit. There was also a thing at that time where bands would get a lot of criticism and we got a lot of criticism for not being heavier as if we hadn’t made a choice in the kind of music that we played? [Laughs] I mean, it’s just weird…do you not think we could turn on our distortion pedals more if we wanted to? You don’t think we know that there’s that option there? It was a weird time. But it took Elliott Smith, I think, to make it okay to be beautiful and be considered heavy. Or not necessarily heavy, but depthful.
Before Elliott Smith, you either had to be kind of heavy or…I don’t know, it was just this attitude that was kind of anti-beauty. We were a little more sensitive and it was kind of before nerd culture took off. We were more from the nerd set, I mean, we got our name from a Monty Python sketch. It was just an interesting time, because everybody was trying so hard to be edgy and at the same time they were getting signed on major labels and having singles and then running away from their own success. You know, Pearl Jam to me is just the best example of that, as a band that was really, really uncomfortable being super-successful.
You talk about bands and artists now maybe breaking and going viral from a television commercial or a YouTube thing, you guys were in an equally interesting position in a different way with the bands and stuff that were happening on alternative radio. It’s been really interesting when you put 25 years on to see how the improbable success happens today compared to how it happened for you guys. There’s always a different angle that shines the light on somebody and now maybe it’s a television commercial. Back in the day, the one that comes to mind, I think about Joe Satriani having “Summer Song” in the Sony commercial and that was a big game changer for him as an artist, but you didn’t see a lot of that back then.
No, I think it could happen and you had to be willing, because it was not smiled on. Press broke records and if press thought you’d sold out, you were screwed. The fact was, I feel like we have now in retrospect, we have some appreciation, but even now, when we put out a new record, it’s like there still hasn’t been the major music magazine that has had a “You know what? Toad was actually pretty good” article. It still hasn’t been written. It’s still kind of a very small subset of people who are willing to say we were a pretty good band. [Laughs] It’s like, we’re a guilty pleasure…whatever. But yeah, that era, it was just a very different world. The thing that we benefited from was at the time we came out, it was just before computers, it was just before you could burn a CD.
CDs were brand new, record companies had a shit ton of money, because people were buying a cassette, a CD and possibly also a vinyl album if they really liked a record. So album sales were alive and well, they had tons of cash on hand and when Donnie Ienner signed us to Columbia, he signed us and Poi Dog Pondering and their press conferences about those signings, they were showing that they could understand college music and they could do artist development. They were signing us with this commitment of multi-album long-term artist development. They released the first two records, Bread & Circus and Pale, our two indie records, they released them as is, untouched. They let us have complete creative control, they kept us on the road for nine months and before “All I Want” came out, that was going to be the end of the record. The discussion was, “Yeah, it’s been nine months, you toured, it did pretty well, let’s do another record.” And then we got a single and we went on tour for another nine months. You know, we did three hundred shows for that record.
The fact that the record company was so patient and so willing to stand behind us for so long, like, that doesn’t exist anymore, the idea of having nine months and having a company willing to do another single at that point is crazy. So, I mean, there was a blip of history and we also ended up being [successful] at a time when they had just done some of the major FCC deregulation. There wasn’t even alternative radio at the beginning of that record — alternative radio did not exist. I just remember the charts were changing their names all of the time. Is it post-modern? You know, there was the college music chart and then it was the post-modern chart…they were trying to figure out what to call it and it wasn’t even called alternative yet. We were getting played on the post-modern [stations], we were getting played on rock radio, we were getting played on Top 40, because all of the sudden, the big radio conglomerates, like, it was changing.
Formats were open, people were selling radio stations, they were experimenting with formats and we were this weird music that wasn’t as pop as pop, we weren’t kind of as heavy as some of the other rock or alternative music. In the same way we didn’t particularly fit any genre, we were great for an area where genres were less defined. All of those things, if they hadn’t all happened at the same time, nobody ever would have heard us. [Laughs] So we really got lucky.
You know what’s interesting, looking at the initial five records you guys put out, a lot of times when a band goes their separate ways at the end of that last record in the cycle, you can see, like, hearing that last record, it was kind of a dud, I can kind of see why they fell apart. But that didn’t really happen with you guys. Your band was kind of the rare breed in that time period that when you look at the five records that you guys put out, they were all solid records.
Thank you. Well, and I think the next record would have been that record, which is why we didn’t make it. [Laughs] We kind of couldn’t get on the same team when we tried to follow up Coil and that’s why we pulled the plug.
You are going to be playing the full fear album at some of the shows this summer. There’s a good number of songs from that album that have continued to make their way into the live set from this record. But are there songs that you guys haven’t played either ever or in a long, long time from this record?
There’s some. We never played “Pray Your Gods” live. The production on it and the feel of it was hard to do in a live setting. I’m sure there’s a few others. We didn’t play “In My Ear” very much and at some point we stopped playing “Hold Her Down,” which came more from me, just because it’s a hard song to play. Just emotionally, it’s really difficult to be inside that material. It’s draining and not everybody got it. You know, both from the point of view, I mean, it’s a song….on the one hand, I think it’s really appropriate that we’re bringing it out again this year, because with Stanford and even Gamergate, this kind of new rape culture and the reopened discussion about sexual assault and what it means, it’s very alive right now, so I think it’s a very appropriate time for that conversation to be back.
But that song was written in such a way that it kind of places you in the middle of this kind of confusion and rage and it’s supposed to be really unpleasant. The song came out of the realization that every single woman I knew had been sexually assaulted. It was this year of just finding out, one by one by one, like, holy crap. And finding out how much was unreported and how much these women had to just take on on their own, of that burden. So looking again at that song and seeing where it’s so misunderstood, because it’s so much in the middle, you know, occasionally a woman would misunderstand it and accuse us of supporting rape culture and that really hurt. And then occasionally there would be some fat dude in the audience yelling, “Play ‘Hold Her Down’” and that just made me sick to my stomach.
Yeah, so that song’s really hard to play, but we’re doing that again and once again, I think the ability to reference back to the fact that we’ve not come that far…we’ve not come as far as we should have, but I also do hope that as much as the internet has enabled a certain amount of rape culture and a certain amount of misogyny, it also kind of helps bring it to light and I think sometimes these things need to come to light before they die their deserved deaths. I mean, in the same way, I don’t know, in the same way I feel like having a black president emboldened racists who were able to say, “Hey, we’re now in a post-racial society, so my racist ideas aren’t racist anymore.”
They all kind of came out from under their rocks and showed their true colors. It’s the same way with homophobia, it’s been this thing as we become more egalitarian, as we become freer, as we become more tolerant and more inclusive, those who are filled with hate reveal themselves and they reveal themselves in really blatant ways. It’s a painful process, but I think it’s also a really useful one. So that’s the thing to keep in mind is the fact that it’s more visible now doesn’t necessarily mean there’s more of it. It means that it’s a public discussion now and I think it used to be there and it used to not be talked about and it used to be something that was shameful and hidden and now even though those idiots are emboldened, it means we can see them in the light of day and I think that’s important.
What else is on tap for the band? Is there any new music on the Toad horizon?
Nope. Not right now.
“Architect of the Ruin” was a nice surprise, a cool little bit of new music to get last year from you guys leading into the summer’s touring. That was nice to see that one come around on the heel of the last record.
Thank you, yeah. And that song in particular, once again, we’d recorded more songs than we needed for New Constellation, so four of the songs on that EP were outtakes from the record. Two of them, “So Long Sunny” and “Architect of the Ruin” were new. “Architect” really dovetails into the solo record as well, as far as the material I was working with, personally and how to write about all of that.
I wondered about that, because it does seem like it ties in thematically to where you’ve gone with this new solo record.
It was what was in the air. [Laughs]
“Leaving Old Town” is the first thing I heard from the record in February of that same year when you played it live and it was a pretty heart wrenching sampling that gave a good example of where things might be headed with this record. Was that the first song that you wrote for this album? Where did things kind of start out?
It’s one of the first ones I wrote. I had been trying not to write a breakup record, because I didn’t want to do too much crying in my beer. I figured I was going through enough of that. I wanted to do something positive and buoyant and the fact is that songs are how I process my life. I was in a songwriting group, there’s a guy named Matt The Electrician, who is in Texas. He’s a really great indie songwriter and he leads a group that does this game that Bob Schneider invented. If you’re on tour, you can do it on a daily basis, but Matt’s group does it on a weekly basis.
Basically, he sends out a song title and 20 or so songwriters all write a song based on that title and that theme, kind of using it as a jumping off point. I had been wanting to kind of get back in shape and have somebody to answer to and I thought, you know, I’ve done stuff like that before, so I thought it would be a really good exercise to join that group and have a song to write every week. But the titles that he kept sending were kind of exactly the songs that I was trying not to write. I hadn’t written a song in a while and I think that the first title was “Reconstructing The Diary.” To some degree, that song, I’m happy that I wrote it, because I feel like it got me out of a writer’s block. You know, it’s a little bit cutesy and it’s a little bit on the self-pity train, but it took out the stopper that enabled me to start writing and even realize that I didn’t have to take it so seriously. It didn’t all have to be about trauma.
The first songs written for the album, as it turns out, were “Reconstructing The Diary,” “Criminal Career” and ‘Leaving Old Town” and those were all from Matt The Electrician’s songwriting group. The titles just kept over and over, they kept being really good breakup song titles. [Laughs]
“Reconstructing The Diary” is a short song. It’s kind of the coda of the record. Did you kind of envision it that way? Was it kind of a conscious decision to make it a shorter song that stops where it does?
It’s just how it came out. I wrote it and it probably took less than an hour to write. At that point, I hadn’t moved out of the house yet. I had a studio in the garage and I was sleeping out there. I got up in the morning, looked at the email, picked up the ukulele and had the song finished in about an hour. I remember talking to my now former spouse, she walked in the garage and I said, “Hey, listen! I wrote a song!” I played that for her and she had this really sad look on her face and I realized, “Oh, yeah. Sorry.” [Laughs] But I was so happy, because I hadn’t been writing.
I’d had total writer’s block and that song was the one that kind of got me off the edge. In a way, I feel like there’s a progression to the writing. Those three songs are maybe the most wistful about the relationship and they’re probably the most self-pitying on the record. And the thing about the record, it’s less about divorce and more about the process of facing transition and embracing transition. I think we have a culture that….we don’t have a really great tool set for that. We like to blame and we like to hold onto our resentments.
I think part of that American frontier idea is that if something doesn’t work, you leave it behind and you find something better. That didn’t work because it wasn’t good enough for ya. Rather than asking what we could learn or maybe if we had something to do why things didn’t work? [Laughs] You know, these kind of more basic questions. Or even whether it worked perfectly and ended when it needed to, right? To enable you to do your next work.
There was a bit of unraveling from feeling victimized by the change that was happening to me to starting to feel grateful for it. It’s strange for me to look at this record now, because I did it a year ago and I did it at a time when I was having to really fight for hope, because I was still extremely resistant to the change in my life. I was still kind of being consumed by shitty thoughts. You know, going through a divorce after 25 years, I thought all of the terrible thoughts that everybody thinks in that situation. And there’s a question of whether you choose to believe in those thoughts or not and I’ve met a lot of people who doubled down on hate or blame or bitterness and really did not want to be that. Because I felt like if I took that road, I knew it would not end any place good.
So it’s interesting looking back and I’m sitting in a place now where I can honestly say that I’m happier now than I’ve been in a decade. I’m more excited about my choices, I’m more excited about my day to day reality. I feel like I was given a great gift and it’s not a gift I would have chosen or asked for. I would not have been brave enough to say that my marriage wasn’t working. I used to be really angry that she was the one to be brave enough to say that it wasn’t working. I spent a lot of time resenting her for that.
I remember this [past] January calling my ex and saying like, “Thank you so much, I would have never have been brave enough.” I would never have stepped out enough to say we need to do something different and as much as I held it against her for so long, all I can do is thank her now, because she freed both of us. We’re both so much happier. We can be friends, we can be supportive of each other and we can move on. It took so much guts to do that. Louis C.K. has the whole thing about it, right? It’s like, why do people say I’m sorry? Like, you say you’re divorced and they say, “I’m sorry.” It’s like, you never get divorced because it’s working really well. [Laughs]
In any event, so I’ve been….it’s just looking at this record, I can see it as these series of tools and I feel good about where I was trying to aim, even though I couldn’t see it yet. There are some songs that are more directly about relationships and there’s a lot more songs that are about facing the unknown and about facing the difficult questions and about not losing yourself to blame or self-hatred or anger or any of those traps.
You talked about how it helps you to write songs. That’s kind of one of your mechanisms that is helpful. I kind of wondered about the aftermath of doing that, the way these songs then become a part of your catalog. What you’ve put down in a sense, it’s always going to kind of be hanging there in the air going forward. When you were writing songs for what became this record, did you find yourself writing any songs and recording any things that were too personal that you just put away on the shelf? Do you do stuff like that?
Too personal? No. Unfortunately, I don’t think my job allows me to think in terms of too personal. I think I just have to suck that one up. But there were things that were just not true enough or were true but were a small enough part of me or a shitty enough part of me that I didn’t see the need to share them with the rest of the world. There’s some really angry blaming songs I wrote.
That’s why I almost didn’t put “Reconstructing The Diary” on the record. Even a couple of days ago, honestly, I was thinking about taking it off and having a new last song. Because the point of view in that song is something I no longer feel at all. I mean, it’s a cute little idea, but it’s a little bit of a barb and it’s small. But I also feel like it is a cute song, it’s reasonably well-written and that part of it is a little document of a moment.
Maybe it wasn’t the best choice for the end of the record except that it’s a ditty. I mean, if you want a personal song, “Grief and Praise” is a pretty personal song. But I feel like that song is written from a higher perspective. It’s written in a way that I’m proud of. It’s written in a way that that’s something I feel like is worthy of sharing with people. I think it’s going to be useful to a lot of people. That’s another thing about this record, it’s the first…..actually, that’s not true, because I think New Constellation, I started to really think more about intent. But even to a greater degree on this record.
Instead of just writing whatever was on my mind and figuring that was my job and collecting stuff that vaguely fit together and coming up with a unifying theme after the fact, this was the first record where I thought about my intent as I was writing it and I thought about what the record needed to say. And what kind of a document I wanted to make and what purpose I thought it could have for other people and so, to make something that would be useful for people going through transition, whether it’s breakups, a death in the family, whatever major changes that happen with people, losing your job, losing your security, having medical in this country — anything medical is a disaster, because we have no reasonable medical care system.
You know, it’s fairly universal topics and I wanted to approach them from an angle that had been helpful to me that included some of the teachers that helped me through my time. There’s references to Martin Prechtel and Octavia Butler. There’s a little bit of science in “Baptistina.” Martin Prechtel came up with the grief and praise concept, there’s a book of his called The Smell of Rain on Dust: Grief and Praise that I think is a really important book on grieving. Stephen Jenkinson, who does palliative care, he wrote a book called Die Wise and does palliative care in Ottawa, Canada. He’s a phenomenal thinker. And you know, David Whyte, even at the end of it.
There are these writers that people kept turning me onto that opened my mind up in ways that really got me through that time. You know, I’m prone to melancholy, I guess you could say. [Laughs] I was really scared that I would go through this process and not recover. Because I’ve had a long history with depression and I’m kind of amazed that I’m here. I’m not taking anti-depressants. So either I’m on an extended manic high, or I’ve actually done some work. Hopefully I’ve done some work [Laughs]
I’m glad that you mentioned “Grief and Praise,” because when you talk about this record being a set of tools and transition-related, I think that’s a song that stuck out to me as one that had some pretty important messages within that song.
We were already recording the record and I’d made a list of the things that I wanted to say. The things that in some ways were hardest for me to say were unsaid. The concept of grief and praise, I mean, Martin Prechtel [points out] essentially that grief and praise are the mirror of each other. That they are both about the expression of love out loud for the things you’ll lose. Grief is the things that you have lost and praise is the things that you will lose and how important it is to say that out loud.
I had not directly addressed my kids and the change that they felt in watching their family…I mean, I had two kids go away to college, which is wonderful, but it’s also heart-breaking as a parent. It’s like, you’ve done everything right. There’s these incredible people who are so capable and brilliant and then you say goodbye and they’re no longer these faces that you see everyday, right? It’s so hard to do. And then the marriage and then my youngest daughter, you know, it’s like there had been so much change and I had not thanked my children and addressed them. I had not thanked my ex-wife.
You know, even at that time when I was still so much in pain, she’d given me 25 years of her life and she’s an incredible person. I had to address that. I couldn’t just be addressing my pain and my separation. I knew I needed to say these things and I knew I needed to talk about that entire process. That song too, I actually didn’t even know David Whyte had a poem, it’s called “The Well of Grief” and I had the well of sorrow and I just had this image in my mind that the well of sorrow is connected to the same aquifer that the joy comes out of, right? That anything that is deeply connected and vulnerable, it’s all connected. Like, you can not have deep connection without deep grief. They’re not separable.
David Whyte actually has some quote, you know, we routinely convince ourselves that it’s possible to love without heartache. [Laughs] And it’s not. Anyway, for me, that song was just the most important part. I wrote that three days into the recording of the record. It was everything that I hadn’t and yet, they were the hardest things to say, honestly. I wrote it and we recorded it the next morning.
Wow, so you really put that one down pretty soon after you had written it without a lot of deliberation and did it kind of stick the way you put it down?
I think so. Yeah.
You mentioned “Baptistina” and just from a title standpoint, it’s a very Glen thing to use a title that ties back to asteroids and dinosaurs.[Laughs] Yeah and once again, on the more whimsical side of catastrophic change, right? Because you never know what’s going to happen, right? You have this giant horrific mass extinction and the other fact of it is that without that giant horrific mass extinction, mammals don’t get to take over the planet and there would be no us. So you never know what’s going to come!
From a recording standpoint, were there things that you wanted to capture in a certain way to fit the mood of the songs? The sound of the way your vocals were recorded on “Go” was one that stuck out right away. You can hear a lot of the room sound surrounding the vocal. Similarly, the way your voice is captured on “The Easy Ones” was another one.
Yeah, well. [Laughs] We recorded it at Paul Bryan’s house and he put some padding in a little closet that was kind of between a bathroom and a laundry room. As we were recording the vocals, I did say, “I think we’re going to get a lot of hall sound on these.” He would say, “It’s fine, it’s fine.” So that’s the hall you’re hearing. It is a little hall between the bathroom and the laundry room. Whether that was on purpose or not, I don’t think it was generally on purpose, but it was actually just the place I was in.
It fits the song for “Go,” it fits it really well.
Thank you. Yeah, I mean, the recording of the album, the main thing for me was that I wanted it to be…and Paul as well, the idea was that it should be always supportive of the vocal and the lyric. That was actually the only important part on the record, or at least the most important part, is the vocal and the lyric and getting the emotional truth of the matter all the way through. Everything was in service to that. Almost nothing is doubled and the parts are really kind of simple and straightforward.
Everything is supposed to push back the emotional truth of the song. These string parts that Paul arranged, they’re so beautifully put together. I love his work and it just seems like everything is in service of the melody and the emotion. What we tried to avoid was anything that said, “Look at me, I’m fancy! I’m exciting!” So Jay’s drumming, Chris and Jebin, who were the guitarist and keyboard player, it felt like we did a good job of keeping things simple and keeping everything focused in an appropriate way. I love the harmony vocals on the record. Ruby Amanfu did most of the backups and my daughter Freya, who is 14, actually sang on “The Easy Ones.”
My friend Amber Rubarth is on “There’s Always More. Yeah, it was great getting Freya in the studio for that. She’s amazing.
I can’t remember which song I heard it on, I want to say that it might have been “Amnesty,” but keyboard-wise, was there a Chamberlin? Did I hear that right?
Yeah, there’s definitely….is it a Chamberlin? I think it’s a Mellotron.
Either way, Michael Penn uses that kind of sound all over the records he’s made in the past and it’s just a sound that you don’t hear much on records, so it was cool to hear.
He’s got, actually, it’s Pat…
Patrick Warren is the guy that helped, I think it’s like the M400, so it’s a newer Mellotron that includes all of the Chamberlin tapes as well. Paul has the most mega Mellotron you’ve ever seen. [Laughs] It’s basically the complete tapes from both the Mellotron and the Chamberlin. We used a lot of that. It’s also the oboes, there’s a lot of woodwind stuff on the song “Unwritten” that’s all Mellotron as well.
The keyboard player, Jebin Bruni and Chris Bruce, the guitar player, both play in Meshell Ndegeocello’s band and Paul sometimes plays bass, which he describes as kind of a harrowing job, because he plays bass if she just wants to sing on a few songs and you’re never going to play bass as well as Meshell Ndegeocello, so it’s always like, “Hi, I’m the guy who is not playing bass as well as the boss!” [Laughs]
But you’ve still got to be pretty damn good to get that gig. And then we had Jay Bellerose on the drums and Jay’s amazing. He’s so orchestral. He looks at drums in a way that I don’t think I’ve seen anyone else approach them. He has just such a great sideways approach. There’s the parts that anybody else would play and he just immediately rejects them and finds something that is completely appropriate and always unaffected.
It sounds like the record is going to be coming out this fall. How are folks going to get their hands on it? Do you have a hard release date yet?
It’s going to be October 7. I actually just got boxes of it in the mail to sell on the Toad tour and I’m going out solo as well. The best way to get it is to come to a show with Toad. We’re not going to do it broadly or in public so people can pick it up there and that’s kind of the pre-release. I think those will be kind of more hardcore fans and they can talk about it amongst themselves and hopefully that chatter will kind of help it when it goes [into] broader release.