Walking Through Walls Reviews

 huH: "Rated 9 out of 10" 

If aliens should ever invade, I hereby nominate Glenn Phillips to serve as communications conduit between we earthlings and the extraterrestrials. Upon hearing Phillips play guitar, any creature of intelligence would have to conclude that our species contains the universe's warmest emotions. Like Hendrix, but in a vastly different way, Philips' guitar is the voice of his soul, and it's a soul as stirring as that of any great poet. Through adroit use of vibrato, harmonics, tone, and God knows what else, Phillips creates swirling 6-string soundscapes over a placid sea of synth-based arrangements. In an era of cynical, corporate-inspired copycatting, Walls is the work of a true original.

 Relix: "Highly Recommended" 

Glenn Phillips is an incredibly gifted and unique guitarist. Phillips has been a solo artist for over two decades, and Walking Through Walls (Shotput) is one of his most satisfying and intoxicating albums to date. For this latest effort, which was some three years in the making, Phillips has reunited with the musicians that played on his debut album, Lost At Sea, 20 years ago. This, however, is not a trip down memory lane by any means.
Phillips is a dexterous player with an abundance of technical expertise. His real strength lies in his ability to fuse melody and texture to create music full of vitality and originality. The spectrum of sounds he draws from encompass the diversity of New Age music, the complexity of progressive rock, the reality of blues and folk, and the daring of avant-garde jazz. This is perfectly illustrated in the intricate sounds of "Slow Fear" and the superb "The Pipes are Calling". The latter is a truly magnificent piece that builds in intensity with Phillips' guitar and keyboards emulating bagpipes. The entire album is quality stuff. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

 Guitar Player 

Former Hampton Grease Band guitarist Glenn Phillips has just issued his tenth solo album, Walking Through Walls. He remains a bold stylist, retaining the open-ended spirit (and trademark vibrato shiver) of his younger days, but deploying it in much prettier contexts. He favors soaring modal melodies with ornate, folk-like ornamentation (think Mark Knopfler via Richard Thompson), stringing his tunes across simple digital synth pads….Phillips has never lost his talent to startle, morphing in seconds from teddy bear to grizzly. His technical idiosyncrasies - that electrified vibrato, those unholy portamentos, the off-kilter tones - make him instantly recognizable; his bipolar sweet/savage temperament keeps him fascinating.


Flag waving: Guitarist Glenn Phillips' past has been rushing back to him of late.
The Atlanta musician's 10th solo album, "Walking Through Walls" on Shotput Records, features the same musicians who played on Phillips' first solo set, "Lost At Sea," in 1975. And "Music To Eat," the unbelievable 1971 album by Phillips' first group, the Hampton Grease Band (two members of which appear on "Walking Through Walls"), has just been reissued.
"It's really nice," Phillips says of his reunion with his old musical partners. "I like it that I still have a connection and a tie with these people... The music transcends any personality differences."

Phillips' new album, on which he labored for three years, comes courtesy of Shotput, the Sony-funded, RED-distributed label established last year by Atlanta-bred producer Brendan O'Brien. "Music To Eat," which also bears the Shotput imprint, is receiving major distribution through Columbia/Legacy.

It was Jeff Calder, front man for Atlanta band Swimming Pool Q's and a friend of O'Brien's, who brought both projects to the producer/label owner's attention.

Phillips says of Calder. "He knew I'd been having a lot of frustrated efforts getting the Grease Band record re-released. [O'Brien] got behind it. I don't think the Grease Band record would have gotten out without Brendan getting involved. You're dealing with an incredibly huge bureaucracy at Sony."

The all-instrumental "Walking Through Walls" demonstrates the same musical assets that have animated Phillips' other solo work. His fuzzed-out, highly detailed guitar work manifests a perfect balance between freewheeling spontaneity and highly focused perfectionism.
"I feel like I'm walking a razor," Phillips says of the unique equilibrium in his playing. "You try to preserve that spontaneity and create this thing that you want to hold up."
His associates on the new album include a couple of Grease Band vets, bassist Mike Holbrook and drummer Jerry Fields. Their startling, uninhibited work with that storied Atlanta experimental unit, which also included vocalist Col. Bruce Hampton and guitarist Harold Kelling, bears comparison to Captain Beefheart's early Magic Band and should be sampled on "Music To Eat."

Phillips says his reaquaintance with his old bandmates wasn't plotted; he just accumulated them during the protracted sessions for the album. "It just all kind of fell into place like that," he says. "It wasn't planned, like a 20-year [reunion] thing."

DIY Guitarist Glenn Phillips 
by Russell Hall 

During the past 25 years, Glenn Phillips has created some of the most unique and captivating music any guitarist has ever produced. Following an apprenticeship with Atlanta's Hampton Grease Band, who released one lost-classic album on Columbia in 1971, Phillips recorded a DIY album entitled Lost At Sea. This 1975 release caught the attention of BBC producer John Peel, whose heavy airplay helped the album place second in a British Melody Maker poll asking readers to name their favorite import albums. Subsequently, Virgin Records president Richard Branson signed Phillips to a contract.

Virgin released Lost At Sea in England in 1975. Phillips' 1977 follow-up, Swim In The Wind, was issued on the label's newly-established American subsidiary. Soon, however, the American enterprise folded, returning Phillips to the task of marketing his albums himself. Since then, the guitarist's career has been characterized by short-lived signings to small labels, mixed with a stubbornly independent do-it-yourself approach. The two-CD compilation, Echoes, released on ESD in 1992, gathers songs from each of Phillips' previous albums, and serves as a splendid introduction. Recently, the guitarist signed with Atlanta's 57 Records, a division of Sony headed by producer Brendan O'Brien. The label has released Phillips' new album, Walking Through Walls, and has reissued the Hampton Grease Band's Music to Eat.

Goldmine: What was your background up to the point where you began releasing solo albums?

Glenn Phillips: I lived in New England for the first 12 years of my life. My family moved to Atlanta in 1962. Eventually I got together with a group of high school friends, and we formed the Hampton Grease Band. The band was popular in the local area, and we put out a double album on Columbia. We were together from 1967 to '73. When the band broke up, I started releasing my own records. I put out Lost At Sea in '75, which I'm told was one of the first artist-distributed independent albums.

Goldmine: What was that experience like?

It was a good experience. The way it happened was like this: The Grease Band was a great band, but we got into a lot of contractual problems. We had played a bunch of dates with Frank Zappa and the Mothers, and we were signed to their record company. Zappa was a great guy, but his manager, Herb Cohen, was a hardcore, unscrupulous business-type. [Little Feat guitarist] Lowell George recorded my first solo tapes. He took the tapes to Warner Brothers, and they wanted to release them as an album, but Cohen wouldn't let me out of my contract. He wanted an exorbitant amount of money. Warner Brothers had some bad dealings with him in the past, so the label said, "Forget it." Subsequently, I got frustrated with the whole business end of things, so I just waited till the contract ran out. Then I made a record on my own, had it pressed and released it.

Goldmine: How well did it sell?

Well, somehow a copy fell into the hands of John Peel, the BBC producer. He began playing it a lot, and it became real popular in England. Virgin Records got in touch with me, and they released the record overseas.

Goldmine: What year was that?

That was 1975.

Goldmine: Wasn't Virgin an infant label at that time?

Yeah, they had just started out. There was a readers' poll in Melody Maker, about import albums that readers wanted released domestically. Lost At Sea came in second. At the time, the only way people could buy the record was to import it from me, personally. Virgin Records, at the time, was really two enterprises. There was the label, which had just formed, and had recently had tremendous success with Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells. And then there were the Virgin record stores, which were importing Lost At Sea from me.

Goldmine: Did you meet with [Virgin founder] Richard Branson?

Yeah, Virgin flew me to England, and I hung out with Branson, and with Mike Oldfield. We toured and so forth. Then they brought me overseas again, when I recorded my second album, and that was when all the Sex Pistols' stuff was happening. It was an exciting time. England had this bicentennial thing going on, and the Pistols' had just released "God Save The Queen," which of course was banned from the radio. But the band's album went to number one, so it was an exciting time for the label. Later, Virgin became a lot different, which I imagine is why Brandon sold it. At that time, however, Virgin was trying to set up an American subsidiary. We were the first act signed to it, but then it folded. So I was back to putting out records on my own.

Goldmine: You realize this is beginning to sound like quite a string of bad luck.

(laughs) Business-wise, I've had mostly bad luck. Artistically, I've been lucky from the beginning, going all the way back to the Grease Band. I've always had a real stubborn streak about keeping things pure, on an artistic level. I've always felt that if I started making artistic sacrifices, I'd lose interest in what I was doing. And what I've learned over the years is that, when you maintain that attitude, you pay a price commercially. Beginning in the 80's, at least, record companies became geared toward wanting everything to fit into a marketable niche. I've had labels approach me over the years and say, "If you'll do this, or do that, we'll sign you." But I've been very stubborn about not making records that way. Even when my records are released on other labels, I don't take them to the labels until they're finished. I finance them myself, and I make them at my own pace. And 99 percent of the time, the label will say something like, "This is a great record. If we can make it more like a "rock" record, [we'll put it out]." The music business has been taken over by advertising people, and that's why so many albums, at least for me, are not very exciting, not very involving. They're marketing tools, and it's hard for me to perceive music that way.

Goldmine: What do you think happened that brought the music industry to this state of affairs?

Well, what happened was, in the '60's, music wasn't such a big business. Things were much more open, creatively. And if a band couldn't be categorized, that in itself was a selling point. However, as the baby-boomer generation grew up, they brought a completely different mentality into the business end of things. For the most part, the major labels aren't concerned with creativity; they're concerned with marketability. And that attitude doesn't always make for the most exciting music. But these things go in cycles. Whenever I ask serious music fans who they've been listening to, 90 percent of the time they name someone I've never heard of. Almost invariably, it's someone on an independent label who's barely scraping by, or who doesn't have a label at all.

For the most part, the best music has been driven underground. And for me, that's particularly depressing. My generation grew up with all this exciting stuff right at our fingertips. You could just turn on the radio and hear all these wonderful things. We didn't have to hunt and search for it; it was handed to us on a platter. Now I feel like my generation is in charge, and it's kind of like we've said, "Well, we got ours. Fuck the next genereration, let's make some money." And the irony, of course, is that my generation was supposedly anti-materialism, anti-greed. Today, kids are totally ripped off. They're spoon-fed stuff strictly on the basis of how much money it'll make. They can't have sex 'cause they'll die, they can't walk the streets 'cause they'll get shot, and they can't even hear good music on the radio because somebody thinks it's gonna be too hard to market.

Goldmine: Let's talk about your song-writing. You obviously spend a lot of time on your work, and you're very meticulous. Can you talk a bit about the process?

My music is very personal, and I spend a lot of time working on it alone. In the early days, there were periods when I spent more time developing stuff with the band, but over the years it's become more and more a situation where I might write a hundred songs, then pick 10 for an album. Then I'll record these songs over and over again at home, trying out different things, experimenting, and trying to find this indefinable core of what I'm after. It's hard to verbalize, but I've pursued this kind of musical vision for twenty years. And I've gotten to a point where I can tell very clearly when I've gotten what I want. That's the good part of [this process]. But the down side is that, when you've got such an exact vision, it takes a long time to get there. With some of these songs, I might've been experimenting with them and recording them literally for years before they make it onto an album. One of the difficult things I've found about working this way is how to keep a spontaneous, live feel to the music.

Goldmine: Nonetheless, the songs are filled with emotion. Many of them have a majestic quality. Is all that coming from the heart?

Definitely. Those are all live performances. Although I've spent a lot of time working on the songs by the time we go into the studio, and we have the arrangements worked out and everything, we're recording the basic feel of the song live. We'll play a song until we get past thinking about it, and we're playing it for real. It's kindo of a balancing act, because I want to create instrumental music that's completely heartfelt, and very emotional, but at the same time, very musical. You can go in and jam with people, and get something really emotion-filled, but it usually doesn't hold up to repeated listenings because the music's not good enough. Once you get past the emotion, there's not much there. So I try to walk a tightrope with this stuff, to find the fine line between the two.

Goldmine: How much formal training do you have?

Not much. I started playing when I was 16, and the Grease Band was together by the time I was 17, so I was very inexperienced. But there was a great guitar player in the band, a guy named Harold Kelling. So I learned a lot from Harold. I also used to go to the library and check out music books and study them.

Goldmine: But you must have had an enormous facility for music, to begin with.

Well, I've talked about this before, but the fact is, when I picked up a guitar for the first time and hit the strings, it was as if a floodgate opened up inside my head. My head was filled with these sounds. And I remember feeling, at that instant, that [playing the guitar] was what I was going to do for the rest of my life. Now, looking back, I can see that maybe I was looking for some kind of escape. My parents were alcoholics, and I had a lot of emotional problems, but I really had that initial experience. And although I've studied music, what I've literally been pursuing are those sounds in my head, trying to capture them. Music theory, and the mathematics of music, have certainly helped me communicate with people, but as far as musical vision goes, I've always gone after a personal, internalized, emotional thing which hasn't been affected a while lot by theory.

Goldmine: To what extent have you been influenced by the work of other musicians?

The people who probably influenced me most are the people I've played with. Harold Kelling, the other guitarist in the Hampton Grease Band, was certainly an influence. And there were plenty of people we played with over the years who I loved listening to. Obviously, when you're a kid, these things really affect you. When I was growing up, I loved listening to Mike Bloomfield play guitar with the Butterfield Blues Band, or with the Electric Flag. I certainly loved the Doors. And Tim Buckley. I loved the energy of the Sex Pistols, the drive and the emotional statement they made. Whether it's a crude level or a very sophisticated level, when I hear someone tapping into this core of who they really are, and honestly communicating it, that's what affects me most. The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds is an album I really love. And I remember hearing Charles Mingus play and being really affected by that. Whenever I hear people being unafraid to be who they are, musically, that's what I latch onto.

Goldmine: Do you expect to continue to release albums on small, independent labels?

Well, it's becoming more difficult. I mean, I sympathize with the independent labels, because they're having all these problems just getting their albums into the stores. But you have to not get discouraged. I think it's more important, not just speaking for myself, but for anyone involved in the music scene, to never make the mistake of equating financial success with your success as an artist. It's a big mistake to make, and it's a mistake that a lot of really talented people have made. What happens is this: you get incredibly talented people, they make a great album, it doesn't go anywhere, and the next thing you know they're not playing anymore. The business beats them down, the band breaks up, the drug-taking gets out of control. And the way I look at it, when you do that, you're letting the assholes win. You're conceding defeat to the very people who you're trying to create an alterternative to. That's a common thing. It goes all the way back to Pet Sounds, which I think is an incredible album. When that album came out, it didn't sell very well. Brian Wilson became hopelessly depressed, and he cracked up.

Goldmine: Obviously, then, you have no regrets about the approach you've taken, in regard to not making compromises.

No, not at all. I've been doing this since I was 17, and I still really love what I do. It still means a lot to me when I go out and perform. In many ways, it's immaterial how successful you are, or how many people you reach. The fact is, if you can connect with anybody on a level that's real, and that's honest, then you're really lucky.

For All the Right Reason s 
An Interview with Glenn Phillips by Hal Horowitz


It's not a word that Glenn Phillips used in his conversation with me, but it's one that so perfectly describes how Phillips has doggedly pursued his lengthy career that even without actually uttering the syllables, it becomes the one adjective that absolutely pegs him.

Fronting his own band and pursuing his own vision since the breakup of the Hampton Grease Band in 1972, Phillips' instrumental guitar music has consistently evolved and matured through the past 25 years. More than changed, he's refined his approach throughout that time, and with the recent release of Walking Through Walls, Phillips first album in six years (on Brendan O'Brien's new Shotput label), has reached a stage where, after three years laboring over it, he feels that he's finally nailed all the elements in place.

I spent a thoroughly inspiring half-hour speaking with Phillips as he described his career, visions and artistic approach with the determination and sincerity that comes from a thorough awareness of who he is, where he's been and where he's going. It's an understanding he acquired at an early age.

How can Phillips spend all his time perfecting his music when he's far from a household name? How do the bills get paid? "This is what I've been doing for a living since '68. I started playing when I was 16, and by the time I was 17 we started the Hampton Grease Band. I've had jobs when I was younger, but I've been doing music for a living for the last 25 years. I got very focused about what I wanted to do really young. I realized I wanted to make records, and that I wanted them to be based on artistic decisions as opposed to commercial considerations. And I just set my life up around that. I bought a place to live when I was fairly young, rented out the other side of it, and just created this lifestyle where I could live very cheaply, and the band could support what I do. Even when I'm working on a record, we're still out doing dates."

But without "hit" albums, how does Phillips cultivate a fan base around the country? Who comes out to the gigs? "Over the years, when the band would get into a town and play because I've kept the music really geared toward this artistic pursuit of following some sort of personal vision... when people saw us they seemed to get what we were about." And those audiences still come out when Phillips does one of his infrequent tours.

And they hopefully will increase substantially when they hear Phillips' new album. Walking Through Walls is clearly an artistic high point in a career without a lot of, well, compromise. Even for Phillips it's difficult to describe what he was after when creating the album. "For me, after doing records for so many years, I was trying to step into another spot with this record. Take it into a place that was deeper for me musically and emotionally, but was kind of a dark, unknown area. And trying to do it in a way where it's not a contrived intellectual thing, but an emotional step. I was trying to reach to a spot inside myself that was a little deeper and more mysterious. When I was making this record it was a very frustrating process, because I was trying to reach for something emotionally, but I couldn't tell you what it was until I got there. Making the record was more a process of walking into walls than walking through walls. But when I complete it, I felt really fulfilled."

At 46, being fulfilled artistically is an accomplishment lots of other artists never experience. Phillips has been doing this a long time, long enough to be able to look at the music industry and how it relates to the creative process with an experienced eye. "It's rare that you see an artist making records 30 years after he started, and I think it's a real shame, because I think you learn things and there's things that you have to offer that take you to a deeper level. But it doesn't often work that way. People begin to gauge their worth as an artist by how successful or unsuccessful they are. And it begins to affect how you view your art yourself. Music to me hopefully stands up against that train of thought."

And although he never utters it, that is - in a word - uncompromising. And that is Glenn Phillips.

Glenn Phillips Lifts the Veil of Music's Mystery
By Michael Miller

Glenn Phillips has a new album out. You may have heard of him; most likely, you haven't.
For the past 30 years, he has listened to a most unique musical muse. The electric guitar is his paintbrush, and the sound waves, his canvas. The soundscapes he paints are ones never before imagined, much less heard.

He jammed onstage with Frank Zappa at the Fillmore East in 1971, Lowell George once said Phillips was the most amazing guitarist he'd ever seen.

He got his start in 1967 with a most quixotic outfit called the Hampton Grease Band, but more on that later.
For the past two decades, critics have championed his solo work, often using words like "genius" and "virtuoso." Phillips is happy when people like what he does, but that's not why he does it.

You see, he's got this crazy idea that music is an art form, not a marketable commodity. He even thinks its OK to pursue this art form without worrying about how well it will sell - a frightening concept in the 90's.

"My commercial goals are _pretty far down the priority list," he said by phone earlier this week from the Atlanta house he has lived in since 1969. "When I started doing these records, my intent was to create a kind of timeless music with a goal of pursuing an artistic vision instead of a commercial endeavor... and try to find a way to make that survive."
Survival hasn't been easy for Phillips, but he has survived. He records his music on his own, working passionately to find the right tones, combinations of sounds and rhythms that strike the perfect emotional chords. His new album, "Walking Through Walls," contains 10 musical expressions that are sometimes haunting, always exhilirating.

"I spent three years making this new record," he said. "I didn't tell anybody I was making it. I didn't talk to any record labels. When it's all mixed and completed, that's when I talk to labels about it."

Phillips doesn't necessarily have anything against people at major record labels - he just doesn't want their help in making his music.
"I sent a copy of this record to a guy at a major label," Phillips recalled, "and he said, 'Geez, this is a great record. I love this record. It might be the best one you've ever done, but there's a problem. You're finishing these projects on your own. You're not allowing the label any input.' I told him that if I wanted label input, all I'd have to do is turn on the radio. To be honest, I'm not interested in their input."

This philosophy keeps Phillips behind the music-business eight ball, but it grants him tremendous artistic freedom. His Atlanta pal, Jeff Calder of the Swimming Pool Q's, convinced Brendan O'Brien to release Phillips' new album on his 57 Records label, a new Sony subsidiary.
"This is like the 10th record I've made," Phillips said. "For me, these records and this music have always been about the importance of the individual in society and his ability to express himself."

Grease Band days.
Phillips began playing guitar in 1966. He said that when he first hit the strings, a floodgate of sounds opened inside his head, and he instantly knew what he was going to do for the rest of his life.

He started a b
and with friends Bruce Hampton and Harold Kelling in 1967. Hampton was the vocalist, Kelling played guitar, and they recruited Phillips' brother Charlie to play bass and friend Mike Rogers to play drums. They called themselves the Hampton Grease Band and learned how to play as they went along.

At first, no one in Atlanta would book the band, but a place called the Stables Bar & Lounge gave them a shot. One night, a patron pulled a gun on Hampton and demanded to hear some James Brown. The frontman turned to the band and shouted, "Popcorn, parts one and two!"
The Hampton Grease Band earned a reputation for being aggresively innovative and nonconforming. They were Phish before Phish was born. People either loved the Grease Band or hated it. There were times of scintillating music, but there was no middle ground.
The Grease Band started playing regular gigs in Piedmont Park. Soon they were being joined by the likes of the Allman Brothers Band, Spirit, and the Grateful Dead.
Columbia Records signed the band in 1971 and released a double HGB album called "Music To Eat." Songs were between five and 20 minutes long, and lyrics were sometimes read from the encyclopedia. Legend has it that it was the second worst-selling album in Columbia Records history, second only to a yoga record. It recently was reissued by Columbia.
The band broke up a couple of years later, and Phillips remembers going home and crying for a long time.

 Experiencing the mysterious.
After recovering from the demise of the Grease Band, Phillips immersed himself in the making of instrumental solo projects. In 1975, he recorded "Lost At Sea," an album that became an import favorite among British rock fans. Eight albums followed, then in 1992, the double-CD compilation "Echoes" earned Phillips a four-star review in Rolling Stone. Once again, sales figures were less than impressive.

On the back of "Walking Through Walls," there's a quotation from Albert Einstein that reads:
 "The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science."
It could be Phillips' credo.

"For this record more than any other I've ever made, it was about that," he said. "It really was about a sense of the mysterious.
"When I was a kid growing up, I'd turn on the radio then go out and buy all those records. It was like all this wonderful stuff was just dropped in my lap. That's what attracted me to music, the way it triggered my imagination."
At 46, Phillips feels the anger in his early playing with the Grease Band has been replaced by compassion. The naive anger of youth has mellowed, but the alluring mystery of the music remains.

Times change, so Phillips changes too.
It's like somebody lifts a veil and you see things you never saw before. As you move forward, a little veil gets lifted, and the trick is to keep moving forward while not forgetting where you came from. A lot of people forget that... they forget what drove them. I still hold very dear what music meant to me when I first started playing and what a salvation it was for me as a confused teenager.

"I never want my music to be anything less than that for anybody."