What it Means to be Schtickless
by Jeremy Griffin
An Interview With Glen Phillips
Back in 2010, we talked with Glen Phillips (Toad the Wet Sprocket, Mutual Admiration Society) about his craft, his influences, and a little bit about footwear (really). We recently caught back up with the singer/songwriter to talk a little bit about how he got into music, as well as his plans for the future.
CB: Give us a little background info on how you got into songwriting and performance. Toad formed while you were in high school, where you actively studied music, is that correct?
GP: I met the rest of the Toad guys in high school theater (Our Town and Oklahoma, specifically). They were seniors and I was a freshman. I was in choir but was much more of a theater person. I started at the city college at age 16 and by then switched over more to music studies. We started touring when I was 18.
CB: You had plans to become an actor when you were younger. How do you think your interest in drama has informed your songwriting? Do you view them as distinct spheres of your life, or there some crossover?
GP: My parents and brother studied at USC Berkeley. I was the non-academic black sheep; I studied a little at SBCC. I was almost anti-theater within the band. We went at music in a way that was much more about personal authenticity and honesty. Maybe that was a reaction to how theatrical a lot of music was at the time – if we had any schtick it was that we were hoping to be schtickless…
CB: How do you feel your work has evolved since then, if at all?
GP: I hope I’m a much better writer. Maybe less mainstream (and certainly less known), but I feel like I have some command of the form now, and haven’t run out of material. If it doesn’t evolve there isn’t much of a reason to do it, at least for me.
CB: What do you strive to accomplish with your music?
GP: I want to write songs that make people cry. Don’t care if it’s happy or sad tears, just as long as I can occasionally communicate well enough to make somebody feel something real and intense.
CB: You’ve said before that many of the themes in your music come from your lifelong battles with anxiety and depression. I wonder if you could talk about that a little, how you use music as a way to cope with those things. Are there certain songs of yours that best illustrate this struggle?
GP: I’ve written quite a few songs around the subject of depression. The one that nobody thinks about is “All I Want” – it’s about how rare and fleeting clarity can be. It’s much more about being sad than being joyful. People who don’t get depressed seem to think that depression comes from situations. The heart of depression isn’t about plot lines, it’s about a particular combination of body chemistry and ruminative thought habits. The chemistry is a hard one to fix permanently, but the thought processes can be changed, which makes the low dips shorter and less damaging. Plenty to be learned in there. Writing and listening to music help a lot. Science has helped even more – learning how memory and stress work allow you to look at the thought processes more objectively, instead of getting lost in my own (largely fictional) depressive story.
CB: As of 2011, you were working on a film musical with a friend of yours. How is that going? Any plans for it yet?
CB: What is the view out your window right now?
GP: An avocado tree and a couple sheds.