Saturday, May 12, 2012

Musician Glen Phillips pushing forward after injury almost sidelines career

A freak accident almost put an end to musician Glen Phillips' career.

Phillips had to relearn how to play the guitar after severing nerves in his left arm in October 2008 when a glass coffee table he was sitting on gave way.

But Phillips,, wouldn't let the injury sideline him, and on May 17 will perform songs from his lengthy career at Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago, with Jonathan Kingham.

The show starts at 7:30 p.m. and tickets are $25, available at

Next month, Phillips will return to the area with his fellow Toad the Wet Sprocket when the band performs a free show at 8:30 p.m. June 23 at the Arboretum of South Barrington's Block Party & Music Festival. More information is at

Toad the Wet Sprocket is working on its first new studio album since 1997's "Coil," and will perform two new songs at the show.

I had the chance to talk to Phillips about his current activities.

Q - Do you see this tour as another step in your rehabilitation? How has the tour been for your physically?

These days I feel like I don't have to make apologies for my playing any more. I still try to push myself to use my affected fingers more than I have, but I generally feel like I'm as close to healed as I will get. 

It's been fine physically - my hand locks up here and there but luckily never while I'm playing.

Q - I imagine a lot of thoughts were going through your head after your accident. Has your rehabilitation gone better than you expected?
I was pretty amused. I'd been hoping something would happen to give me a new challenge, but certainly didn't expect that this would be the way it came. 

I got a little more frustrated later on. I'd hoped I'd recover more completely, but I'm lucky that I can play guitar, and lucky I didn't get more seriously injured. 

Plenty of people have died after being attacked by a coffee table.

Q - How did you go about choosing the songs you play on the tour? Is each show different? Do you think the tour is a good representation of your career?

Q - I usually just write down 40 songs and play whichever 20 or so feel right for the evening. I like to be able to read the crowd and keep the show spontaneous. 

There are songs from my solo records, Toad, WPA and other projects. It's a pretty broad sampling.

Q - How did you hook up with Jonathan Kingham and how do you like working with him?

I met Jonathan at a songwriting conference in Durango, CO. We hit it off and toured a bit, and became fast friends. 

He backs me up on a fair portion of my set, and has also joined Toad as our utility (keys, guitar, mandolin) player and tour manager. I love touring with him.

Q - After the Old Town show this month, you will be coming back to the area next month with Toad the Wet Sprocket. Was it last year's tour that made the group want to do it again this year?

We've been able to get over some of our history over the last few years and enjoy being a band again. It's been a slow process, but we're doing it our own way and are keeping our own pace.

Q - How is the new album coming along? When can fans expect it to be released?

The album is going slowly, but well. We just cut a few more songs in the last two days. We're not spending every day in the studio - mostly it's being done at home, between touring and other projects. It should come out late this year or early 2013.

Q - Do you view Toad The Wet Sprocket as your main project these days? What's the status of your side projects, like WPA?
Solo is my main focus. Toad works best for me when I think of it as a side project. 

Obviously with a new album it will take more focus for a while, but it's just one part of what I do. I hope there's more time for WPA - we've been wanting to do more together, but it can be hard to juggle all the time.

Q - The music business seems to be constantly changing. Is it easier or harder to be a musician these days?
It's easier and harder. There are great new tools, and everyone has access to them, which means it's easier to make music and get it out there, but since there's a whole lot more stuff out there it's hard to be heard above the noise floor. 

The big success stories are all outliers, so there's not much to learn from it except that doing it your own way and being authentic to who you are is more important than ever. There's more livings in music, but less huge careers.

I don't think that's a bad thing at all, and the indie world has never been more vital and interesting. Great music is being made. That's the important thing.