Name: Glen Phillips

Nationality: American
Occupation: Singer, songwriter, lyricist
Current Release: Glen Phillips's There Is So Much Here is out via Compass November 4th 2022.

If you enjoyed this interview with Glen Phillips and would like to stay up to date on his music and releases, visit his official website. He is also on Instagram, Facebook, and twitter.

Where does the impulse to create something come from for you? What role do often-quoted sources of inspiration like dreams, other forms of art, personal relationships, politics etc play?

My inspiration comes from everywhere. In the case of my new album, all the songs came from a songwriting game where a bunch of us are sent a prompt that we have to use in the song. I’m usually pretty surprised by where these songs end up.

It was good to look at this batch of songs and notice in hindsight that it documents some of the process of allowing myself to fall in love again.

There’s also some politics (“Big Changes”), environmental concern, songs about lockdown (“Brand new Blue”) and string theory through the lens of Rumi (“Call the Moondust”).

For you to get started, do there need to be concrete ideas – or what some have called a 'visualisation' of the finished work? What does the balance between planning and chance look like for you?

I will often start out writing in one direction but something will emerge that takes me somewhere else. I’d rather let the song be what it wants to be than force a preconceived idea into the wrong shape.

I carry around a lot of topics to write about but if I try to go too head on with them I often don’t love the result.
Is there a preparation phase for your process? Do you require your tools to be laid out in a particular way, for example, do you need to do 'research' or create 'early versions'?

I’m not too precious about environment except that I prefer to be alone unless I’m collaborating. If I’m starting about a subject that isn’t just about how I’m feeling I’ll usually do some reading around it.

With “Call The Moondust” I started by reading about the real deal and that definitely informed the song. Verse 2 is pretty literal.

Do you have certain rituals to get you into the right mindset for creating? What role do certain foods or stimulants like coffee, lighting, scents, exercise or reading poetry play?

I like a good run in the morning to work out some of the nerves, and I love my coffee. Sleep is getting a little harder to come by so the coffee may have to go away in the next few years. That’ll be a really sad breakup.

What do you start with? How difficult is that first line of text, the first note?

Sometimes I just mess around with a guitar or find a sound that’s inspiring and see what happens. If nothing’s emerging I’ll just move on after a while.

Sometimes I’ll have a line that sticks to a melody well. It’s like fishing - you keep throwing the line into the water but you don’t expect to get a bite every single time.

What makes lyrics good in your opinion? What are your own ambitions and challenges in this regard?

I like lyrics that are conversational, where the cadence doesn’t feel artificial. Good lyrics are just the ones that make me feel something real and don’t toss me around in a way that throws me out of believing.

It can be as obscure as Nirvana or as direct and poetic as Greg Brown.
Once you've started, how does the work gradually emerge?

Some songs happen really quick, but generally I write quickly at first and then edit ruthlessly over a long period of time. Every little connector word, every note of the melody.

Little details make a huge difference.

Many writers have claimed that as soon as they enter into the process, certain aspects of the narrative are out of their hands. Do you like to keep strict control over the process or is there a sense of following things where they lead you?

Being led by the emerging song is one of my favorite parts of the experience of writing. The conscious egoic mind is just a fragment of what’s going on inside, and when it stops trying to control every little thing wonderful surprises can happen.

The finish work on a song is conscious and detailed, but for the body I like to let the song lead the process.

Often, while writing, new ideas and alternative roads will open themselves up, pulling and pushing the creator in a different direction. Does this happen to you, too, and how do you deal with it? What do you do with these ideas?

Once again, I think the new ideas are kind of the point. I want to write songs that are teaching me something new, expanding my perspective, or giving me some advice from a future, wiser self.

There’s a degree of focus required so that things don’t turn into mush, but I’m a firm believer in letting the muses dictate instead of ordering them around.

There are many descriptions of the creative state. How would you describe it for you personally? Is there an element of spirituality to what you do?

“Spiritual” can be a loaded word, but for me writing is a spiritual process. It’s a way of looking at life from multiple perspectives, for observing my own personal dramas more objectively, for learning to expand my awareness and compassion. It’s also a way to hit a flow state where time melts away and the work is all there is.

It’s hard to imagine what life would be like without the practice of music.

Especially in the digital age, the writing and production process tends towards the infinite. What marks the end of the process? How do you finish a work?

What’s the saying? Work is never finished, only abandoned? I try and give myself deadlines or a set of limits to abide by that force my hand.

After finishing a piece or album and releasing something into the world, there can be a sense of emptiness. Can you relate to this – and how do you return to the state of creativity after experiencing it?

I always get a little depressed when a project is over. I love the experience of creating and collaborating. I’m not fond of the process of marketing and promotion.

A good number of songs never get recorded or performed, partially because they’re not up to snuff but often just because I get my pleasure from writing them and move on before I’ve made a document. At this point I try and remind myself that the letdown after completion isn’t a flaw, it’s just a part of the experience. It helps me to judge it less and get over it more quickly.

Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you personally feel as though writing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?

I think there’s plenty to learn from the mundane.

As someone who’s been touring since age 18 I’ve found plenty of opportunity to get addicted to peak experiences and undervalue quiet and subtlety. The song “Sound Of Drinking” on the new album deals with that issue.

That said, music provides something that nothing else I’ve found can provide. It’s not about something spectacular vs. something mundane. It’s about the degree of attention, about turning pain into beauty, about tapping into the core of human experience, about gaining enough skill to be able to disappear into something greater than myself.