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Grant-Lee Phillips

American musician

Grant-Lee Phillips

Grant-Lee Phillips at Jammin' Java in Vienna, VA, November 20, 2009

Grant-Lee Phillips at Jammin' Java in Vienna, VA, November 20, 2009

Birth nameBryan G. Phillips
Born (1963-09-01) September 1, 1963 (age 58)
Stockton, California, U.S.
GenresRock, alternative rock, folk, Americana, indie
Instrumentsvocals, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass, banjo, mandolin, harmonica, drums, piano, synthesizer
Years active1987–present
LabelsYep Roc Records, Rounder Records
Associated actsShiva Burlesque, Grant Lee Buffalo, Robyn Hitchcock, R.E.M.

Musical artist

Grant-Lee Phillips (2015)

Grant-Lee Phillips (born Bryan G. Phillips; September 1, 1963) is an American singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. He led the group Grant Lee Buffalo in the 1990s, afterwards launching a solo career. He features as the town troubadour in Gilmore Girls.


Born in Stockton, California, Phillips began playing the guitar in his early teens. At age 19, he moved to Los Angeles where he worked tarring roofs to fund evening classes at UCLA and forming bands. He eventually dropped out of college and linked up with an old friend from Stockton named Jeffrey Clark. In the late 1980s, Phillips lived on campus at CalArts with future wife Denise Siegel, whom he met at a party through a fellow student and first Shiva Burlesque bassist, James Brenner. Phillips informally took art classes, went to public lectures and film screenings, and immersed himself in the school's World Music program until 1990. Shiva Burlesque released two LPs, Shiva Burlesque (Nate Starkman & Son; 1987) and Mercury Blues (Fundamental; 1990). Brenner was replaced by Paul Kimble, thus completing what would be the basis of Grant-Lee Buffalo. But Shiva Burlesque made no commercial impact, and Phillips and Clark disbanded in 1990. Phillips began playing solo around Los Angeles under the stage name Grant Lee Buffalo.

Grant Lee Buffalo[edit]

Following those handful of solo shows at clubs around Hollywood, Phillips recruited ex-Shiva members Joey Peters (drums) and Paul Kimble (bass) for rehearsals as Grant Lee Buffalo in mid-1991. Phillips was now writing lyrics as well as music, and the trio quickly built up a local following, selling out clubs on the strength of Phillips's intense performance. His political storytelling was delivered in a recently discovered voice: both a soaring falsetto and a drawl that matched his aggressive acoustic guitar stomp and pouting physicality. One song, "Fuzzy", was released on Bob Mould's Singles Only label in 1992 to critical praise and led to Grant Lee Buffalo being signed to Slash Records. The debut LP, also called Fuzzy, was released a year later, upon which Michael Stipe of R.E.M. declared it "the best album of the year hands down". In 1995 Grant-Lee Phillips was named the critics’ choice for Best Male Vocalist of 1995.[1][2]

A further three Grant Lee Buffalo albums followed: Mighty Joe Moon (1994), Copperopolis (1996), and Jubilee (1998). A live performance of Mighty Joe Moon's title track is available online from the South by Southwest festival.[3] Though all were heavily promoted through concert touring, they never escaped cult status. Phillips disbanded the band in early 1999.

Solo career[edit]

Phillips signed to the Boston-based indie label Rounder Records and launched a solo career, issuing Ladies' Love Oracle online in 2000. The recording was later more widely released. His first full-length album, Mobilize, was released in 2001.[4] Being praised as much for its gentleness as Buffalo were for their rock, it featured Phillips on many instruments.

During a short tour with Robyn Hitchcock, Phillips co-produced and co-starred in a concert film of the tour shot in Seattle titled Elixirs & Remedies, directed by Kris Kristensen. Kristensen would later direct the video for "The Sun Shines on Jupiter", from Phillips' solo release "Little Moon".

In 2004 Virginia Creeper arrived and with it a more folky, almost country record noted for its complete absence of electric guitar. In 2006 Phillips released another acoustic album, Nineteeneighties. A set of cover versions, it featured songs from The Smiths, Pixies, New Order, Robyn Hitchcock, R.E.M., The Church, and Echo & the Bunnymen. A new record of his own material, Strangelet, was released on March 27, 2007. On October 13, 2009, Grant released "Little Moon" on Yep Roc records. In October 2012, "Walking in the Green Corn" was released, partially funded by fans through a PledgeMusic campaign. Phillips toured with Glen Phillips to support the album.

  • Grant-Lee Phillips is a registered member of the Creek Native American tribe (on his mother's side) and a direct descendant of those who walked the Trail of Tears.
  • Phillips is related to Chief John Ross on his father's side. Paternally he is of both Blackfoot and Cherokee ancestry.
  • Phillips has been married for more than 20 years. He became father to Violet Thea Phillips, January 11, 2008.
  • Phillips has scored several films and TV shows as well as having a recurring role as the town troubadour on the 2000–2007 TV series Gilmore Girls and its follow-up miniseries in 2016.[5]
  • Phillips has a comedic background, having been a cast member in high school of the only professional theater in Stockton, Pollardville.
  • Phillips has co-written songs with numerous people, most recently with comedian Margaret Cho. He can be seen featured in her video "Asian Adjacent." The song was partially inspired by Phillips and Jemaine Clement (of Flight of the Conchords), who is part Māori.

In 2015, Phillips released The Narrows, which extends Phillips' exploration of roots and folk music.[6]



Compilation appearances[edit]

  • I. C. Independent Celebration, Vol. 1 (2015, Birdstone Records) (song: "Buffalo Hearts")


  1. ^"Grant-Lee Phillips interview about 'nineteeneighties.'". August 1, 2006. Retrieved March 21, 2020.
  2. ^Looseleaf, Victoria (October 19, 2008). "Back to making worlds anew". Los Angeles Times.
  3. ^Grant-Lee Phillips: Might Joe MoonArchived September 30, 2007, at the Wayback Machine, Blender Online, retrieved on March 16, 2007.
  4. ^"CD REVIEWS: Beautiful Creatures, The Kim Band, Better Than Ezra, Ozzfest 2001 and many more.". Chart Attack, August 14, 2001, Evan Newman
  5. ^Zaleski, Annie. ""Gilmore Girls" town troubadour Grant-Lee Phillips will return to Stars Hollow: "It was such a subversive show"".
  6. ^"Grant-Lee Phillips puts new songs into old rhythms (Ep289)". March 2, 2016. Retrieved March 21, 2020.
  7. ^"Grant Lee Phillips | Discography". Retrieved March 21, 2020.

External links[edit]


11 Questions to a Nashville Musician: Grant-Lee Phillips

Grant Lee-PhillipsI was never interested in watching the “Gilmore Girls” TV series until my wife asked me if I knew who this singer playing the role of the town troubadour was. “Dang – that’s Grant-Lee Phillips” I said! I then proceeded to tell her all about this great singer and his band Grant Lee Buffalo. Well that was a while ago and with the Buffalo since disbanded, Grant-Lee has released ten solo LPs with “Lightning, Show Us Your Stuff,” his latest on Yep Roc Records.

It’s not just his trademark cowboy hat that makes the title “troubadour” a fitting one for Phillips., He is a modern-day balladeer with a deep but gentle and soulful voice that had Rolling Stone crown him “Male Vocalist of the Year” in 1995. Give a listen to “Mourning Dove” from his fine new record. Grant-Lee sings as great today as he did back then.

While this space has served as a great source for discovering new artists, it’s an honor and a treat to hear from a veteran who I have long admired. Thank you, Grant-Lee, for your 11 Answers and will be watching you weekly on until this pandemic ends. Looking forward to seeing you playing in person again and hoping for the return of Grant Lee Hitchcock with your friend, labelmate and 11 Questions alum Robyn.

Where are you from originally, when did you move to Nashville and why?

I was born in Stockton, CA. My creative ambitions led me to Los Angeles when I turned 19. I came through Nashville while on tour with Grant Lee Buffalo in the 90’s and a couple of times on my own later on. I was taken by the small-town pace and the ghosts of classic country that I grew up with.

Local musician Duane Jarvis and his wife put me up at their place. Duane’s brother Kevin drummed on my album Virginia Creeper and we toured together. Duane introduced me to Jamie Ruben at the old Family Wash in East Nashville. I felt very at home. I could imagine Patsy Cline and Roy Orbison stepping out of the Ryman after a show.

Nashville drummer Jerry Roe offered to help me make a record if I ever got to town. Then, when my daughter turned five, my wife and I started talking about getting out of LA. A lot of our friends had skipped town. After 30 years, we were some of the longest holdouts. The cost of living was going up, it felt like an earthquake was overdue. Nashville was a new frontier. My wife’s a Chicagoan. She was longing for seasons, leaves, thunderstorms. All of that brought us here.

What are the first and the last records you bought, and where did you buy them? Were they CD, vinyl or digital?

The first LP I bought was probably The Partridge FamilyAlbum. It came out in 1970 when I was seven. Along with the TV show, they had a big hit with “I Think I Love You.” I think my mom bought it at Tower Records in Stockton.

First and last live concerts that you’ve seen?

Neil Young at the Cow Palace in San Francisco on the Trans Tour in 1983. That was the first big concert. The last show I saw was a Nashville Tornado relief event that I took part in back in March. Steve Poltz, Rhett Miller, who was in town making an album with the Old ‘97s and a whole bunch of folks on one stage.

Whose star should be added to the Music City Walk of Fame?

Eddie Stubbs.

Where do you go in Nashville for coffee and pizza?

Ugly Mugs in East Nashville and Five Points Pizza.

What’s your favorite record to ever come out of Nashville?

Neil Young’s Harvest. Much of it was tracked at Quad Studios in Nashville.

Where’s the best place to eat late night after a show?

Back to Five Points Pizza. I’m easy.

The Bluebird calls and asks you to host an “In the Round.”Pick three local songwriters to join you.

Kevin Gordon, Will Kimbrough and Kim Richey.

What are your favorite music venues to play in town?

The Basement, City Winery and The 5 Spot. I’ve had good shows at all of these places.

Name a musician who you’d like to see move here.

Neko Case because why not?

Finally, what’s in your musical future?

My new album, Lightning, Show Us Your Stuff, came out September 4. I’ve got shows booked for 2021 overseas and like everyone else I’m hoping we can get a grasp on this pandemic. My Sunday night Live from the Parlor series on has been a lifeline. I plan to keep it going in the months ahead.

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 2018 Destroyer (writer: "The Hook")

 2017 Logan (performer: "Find My Way") / (writer: "Find My Way")

 2011 Friends with Benefits (performer: "Boys Don't Cry")

 2011 Girl Walks Into a Bar (performer: "Only Bad Can Come") / (writer: "Only Bad Can Come")

  Hung(TV Series) (performer - 1 episode, 2009) (writer - 1 episode, 2009)

- This Is America or Fifty Bucks (2009) ... (performer: "Strangest Thing" - uncredited) / (writer: "Strangest Thing" - uncredited)

 2007 Arctic Tale (Documentary) (performer: "Itchin", "Song of the North (Beneath the Sun)") / (writer: "Itchin", "Song of the North (Beneath the Sun)")

  Bones(TV Series) (performer - 1 episode, 2006) (writer - 1 episode, 2006)

- The Girl with the Curl (2006) ... (performer: "Mona Lisa") / (writer: "Mona Lisa")

  Smallville(TV Series) (performer - 1 episode, 2004) (writer - 1 episode, 2004)

- Legacy (2004) ... (performer: "Mona Lisa" - uncredited) / (writer: "Mona Lisa" - uncredited)

 2003 Easy (performer: "Heavenly, Heavenly", "Snowflakes", "Folding", "Humankind", "Nothing Is For Sure") / (writer: "Heavenly, Heavenly", "Snowflakes", "Folding", "Humankind", "Nothing Is For Sure")

  Six Feet Under(TV Series) (performer - 1 episode, 2002) (writer - 1 episode, 2002)

- The Last Time (2002) ... (performer: "Humankind" - as Grant-Lee Phillips) / (writer: "Humankind" - as Grant-Lee Phillips)

 2002 Zig Zag (performer: "Sadness Soot", "APB") / (writer: "Sadness Soot", "APB")

 2001 Roswell(TV Series) (performer - 1 episode)

- Secrets and Lies (2001) ... (performer: "Beautiful Dreamers" - uncredited)

 2001 Witchblade(TV Series) (performer - 1 episode)

- Sacrifice (2001) ... (performer: "Cathain Legend")

 1998 I Still Know What You Did Last Summer (writer: "Testimony")

 1998 Velvet Goldmine (writer: "The Whole Shebang")

 1995 Mad Love (writer: "Mockingbirds")

 1994 With Honors (writer: "Fuzzy")

Grant-Lee Phillips - at home interview and performance

Grant Lee Buffalo

American rock band

Grant Lee Buffalo was an American rockband based in Los Angeles, California, United States, consisting of Grant-Lee Phillips (vocals and guitar), Paul Kimble (bass) and Joey Peters (drums). All three were previously members of another Los Angeles band, Shiva Burlesque.[1]

Shiva Burlesque[edit]

Grant-Lee Phillips, Paul Kimble and Joey Peters started as a rock music formation called Shiva Burlesque.[2] The band was active in the late 1980s. It released two studio albums, the self-titled Shiva Burlesque in 1987 on Fundamental Records. The follow up album, the band's second and last album was Mercury Blues and was released in 1990 on Ripple Effect record label. Shiva Burlesque was reformed in 1991 as Grant Lee Buffalo.[2]


Grant Lee Buffalo released four albums: Fuzzy (1993), Mighty Joe Moon (1994), Copperopolis (1996) and Jubilee (1998).[1] They toured with major bands including R.E.M., Pearl Jam, the Smashing Pumpkins, and The Cranberries. In the United States, the band's 1998 single, "Truly, Truly", received extensive airplay.[1]

Paul Kimble departed the band in 1997,[3] but Grant Lee Buffalo's next album Jubilee met with more success than the prior releases thanks to "Truly, Truly." But, as Phillips describes, a number of changes led to the dissolution of the band's time at their label and their time together.

"The celebrational spirit of Jubilee actually brought a renewed optimism to me personally. The album was well received and understandably the expectations at the label were high, probably too high. Although the highly refined Jubilee had brought the band considerable success at radio with "Truly, Truly," a shift within the industry was well underway. The label's constant nagging about "Call-out Response" was both a new term and a bewildering concept to our ears. The basic strategy: a radio station arranges to call up a listener who is asked to consume about 30 songs over the phone, perhaps 20 seconds of each. From this remote encounter, the listener will then proceed to judge the material. Insufficient call-out response was a big reason that Jubilee hardly got a shot at Warners. Grant Lee Buffalo tunes are often like an old car or an old amp that needs a few seconds to get warmed up, but when it does... look out! Meanwhile, a new crop of young record buyers, the largest since the Baby Boomer era, were now being targeted to the exclusion of Gen-Xers, like myself, still waiting for the Pixies to reform.[4]

In 2001, a compilation of singles, album tracks and rarities called Storm Hymnal was released.

Grant Lee Buffalo's sound is comparable to Neil Young and an electrified version of Americana songwriter John Stewart.[1] Phillips writes that their first album "would galvanize the sound of Grant Lee Buffalo, i.e., the acoustic feedback howl of overdriven 12-string guitars, melodic distorto-bass, tribal drum bombast, the old world churn of pump organs and parlor pianos."[5]

Lyrically, they reference American history as well as contemporary events.[2] For instance, “Lone Star Song” from Mighty Joe Moon references the Waco siege and “Crackdown” from Copperopolis references the murder of Yoshihiro Hattori as well as the Oklahoma City bombing. In May 2011 the band returned on a limited tour, making stops in Los Angeles, Dublin, London, Brussels, Copenhagen and Oslo.[6] On August 8, 2011 the band performed at Dranouter festival in Belgium, and on August 9 in Copenhagen. The band also played at the German Haldern Pop Festival in August 2012.

In October 2017, Chrysalis Records acquired Grant Lee Buffalo’s back catalog from Slash Records. Chrysalis/Blue Raincoat CEO Jeremy Lascelles had previously signed the band to the label’s publisher in the 1990s.[7]

Solo careers[edit]

Main article: Grant-Lee Phillips

Lead singer Phillips has had his own solo career as well. He explains:

As for Grant Lee Buffalo, I sensed they were beginning to wonder if we'd ever get through finishing school. Before that could happen, band and label parted as did Peters and myself. The scenery was changing and I was looking for new explorations. I'm sure we all were. Perhaps we always will be."[4]

He was signed to the Boston-based indie label Rounder Records and launched a solo career, issuing Ladies' Love Oracle online in 2000. The recording was later more widely released. His first full-length album, Mobilize, was released in 2001. Phillips has released ten albums between 2000 and 2020.


Studio albums[edit]

Year Album details Peak chart positions


1993 Fuzzy74
1994 Mighty Joe Moon
  • Released: 20 September 1994
  • Label: Slash / London / Reprise / Liberation
  • Format: CD, LP, cassette, digital download
24 48 8 23 38 16[15]
1996 Copperopolis
  • Released: 4 June 1996
  • Label: Slash / London / Reprise
  • Format: CD, cassette, digital download
34 43 9 28 27 16
1998 Jubilee
  • Released: 9 June 1998
  • Label: Slash / London / Polydor
  • Format: CD, cassette, digital download

Singles and EPs[edit]

Year Single / EP Peak chart positions
UK NL U.S. Modern RockAlbum
1991-1993 Fuzzy
  • Fuzzy Australian Single (1993)
  • Fuzzy CD-4 (1993)
1. Fuzzy / 2. Stars and Stripes / 3. Dixie Drug Store (alternate album take) / 4. I Will Take Him
1993 America Snoring Single
1. America Snoring / 2. Wish You Well / 3. The Hook (Live) / 4. Burning Love (Live)
1993 Buffalondon live EP
1. The Shining Hour (live) / 2. For The Turnstiles (live) / 3. Grace (live) / 4. America Snoring (live)
1993 Blue Plate Special
1. Dixie Drug Store / 2. America Snoring / 3. Jupiter and Teardrop (Live - Park West, Chicago) / 4. Wish You Well (Live) / 5. Burning Love (Live)
1993-1994 Jupiter and Teardrop
1. Jupiter and Teardrop (singles mix) / 2. Wish You Well (alternate album take) / 3. Soft Wolf Tread (alternate album take) / 4. The Shining Hour (alternate album take)
1994 Let go of my hand / We're coming down
1994 Lone Star Song
1994 Mockingbirds

1. Mockingbirds / 2. Orpheus / 3. Let Go of My Hand / 4. Fuzzy / 5. Dixie Drug Store

86 14
1994 MJM - Four Track Sampler
1995 Honey Don't Think single
1. Honey Don't Think / 2. It's the Life (Live) / 3. Mockingbirds (Live) / 4. Wish You Well (Live) / 5. Honey Don't Think (Live) / 6. Last Days of Tecumseh (Live)
1. Honey Don't Think / 2. It's the Life (Live) / 3. Grace (Live)
1996 Homespun single
1. Homespun (single edit) / 2. Comes to Blows / 3. Armchair / 4. Crashing at Corona
1998 Truly, Truly (Yours Truly)

1. Truly, Truly (album version) / 2. My My My (album version) / 3. Were You There / 4. Mockingbirds (original 4-track demo)


Compilations and live albums[edit]

Year Album Description Track list
2001 Storm Hymnal: Gems from the Vault of Grant Lee Buffalo
  • Released: 23 October 2001
  • Label: Slash / London
  • Format: CD, digital download
The best of and B-sides/rarities Disc I: Takes

1. Fuzzy (4:56) 2. The Shining Hour (3:52) 3. Jupiter And Teardrop (5:57) 4. Stars N' Stripes (4:41) 5. Lone Star Song (4:34) 6. Mockingbirds (4:41) 7. Honey Don't Think (2:43) 8. Happiness (3:00) 9. Bethlehem Steel (6:04) 10. Arousing Thunder (5:42) 11. Homespun (5:35) 12. Two & Two (3:45) 13. Truly, Truly (3:58) 14. Testimony (4:00) 15. My, My, My (4:06) 16. The Shallow End (4:14)

Disc II: Double Takes

1. We're Coming Down (4:12) 2. The Shining Hour /Alternate Acoustic Version/ (3:24) 3. Wish You Well /Alternate Acoustic Version/ (3:43) 4. Soft Wolf Tread /Alternate Acoustic Version/ (2:36) 5. I Will Take Him (4:26) 6. Let Go Of My Hand (4:09) 7. Orpheus (4:53) 8. Goodnight John Dee (3:15) 9. Halloween (4:15) 10. Gold Chain Drag (2:16) 11. Crashing At Corona (4:20) 12. Mr. Know-It-All (2:55) 13. Were You There (6:46) 14. Where Do We Go From Here (3:49)

2013 Live At the Royal Festival Hall
  • Released: 9 April 2013
  • Magnetic Field Recordings
  • Format: Digital download
Live at the Royal Festival Hall in London on May 18, 2011 1. Shining Hour (5:03) 2. Wish You Well (3:32) 3. Jupiter and Teardrop (5:49) 4. Demon Called Deception (3:22) 5. Lady Godiva and Me (5:03) 6. Soft Wolf Tread (3:03) 7. Stars 'N Stripes (4:52) 8. Bethlehem Steel (5:34) 9. Honey Don't Think (2:51) 10. Happiness (2:53) 11. Sing Along (4:09) 12. Drag (3:25) 13. It's the Life (3:44) 14. America Snoring (4:01) 15. Fuzzy (6:16) 16. The Hook (5:37) 17. Homespun (5:01)

Music videos[edit]


(*) - Soundtrack demos only, not on the OST.


External links[edit]


Wife grant lee phillips

Grant-Lee Phillips on New Album “Lightning, Show Us Your Stuff”

“Come on lightning, show us your stuff. The words of my young daughter, as she thrust a manzanita branch toward the night sky. Kids being kids, I figured…then I heard the thunderclap.”

Grant-Lee Phillips’ latest album, Lightning, Show Us Your Stuff, is a turbulent and highly musical rumination that finds the veteran singer-songwriter addressing the strange fragility of life. His tenth solo release bears the markings of his prolific output, a melodic prowess and an ear for lyric in everyday conversation. 

The album offers a salve to a wounded world, struggling to regain equilibrium. This is Grant-Lee Phillips at his most reflective, wrestling with the most pertinent of questions. What we value, how we define security, our vulnerability – here Phillips takes stock of the deeper questions with intensity and humor.

56 year old Phillips wryly proclaims, “Ain’t Done Yet.” He still has plenty to say and “more dreaming left to do.” Commenting on some of the new tracks he says, “There’s definitely a questioning - I notice it on my more direct or confessional songs like Mourning Dove. I think about the people we are when we come into the world, how we get beat up along the way and sometimes corrupted in pursuit of some brass ring. As the line goes, the things we chase that can’t be kept.” He continues, “I’ll admit it’s that nagging tendency to question everything that inspires a song like Drawing the Head and even when I’m writing through the voice of a character, as I am with Straight to the Ground.”

His last work, Widdershins, reflected the recent and radical shift in the American social climate - a world turned upside down. “I’ve tackled some of this head-on at times, addressing the inequities of this country, trying to get a few jabs in. Ultimately, I came back to the most interesting and fertile topic - our vulnerability and the scars we have to share with one another.” 

Lightning, Show Us Your Stuff is grown from the same rich soil that Phillip’s long career, from Grant Lee Buffalo to his solo work has sprang from. The result is a beautifully human musical tapestry. The warm, live on the floor, instrumental bed is the perfect support for Phillips’ inimitable voice. This spontaneous approach has become a tradition among his solo works.

This record is supported by peerless drummer, Jay Bellerose (whose many credits include Raising Sand by Alison Krauss and Robert Plant) and bassist Jennifer Condos (heard on Bruce Springsteen’s Ghost of Tom Joad and other classics). On pedal-steel Eric Heywood lends impressionistic touches (Son Volt, The Jayhawks and Joe Henry).  LA session musician Danny T. Levin voices a symphony of unusual horns; the euphonium, trombonium and coronet punctuates the tracks,” Leave a Light On,” “Sometimes You Wake Up in Charleston” and the album opener, “Ain’t Done Yet.”

Phillips sums up his inspiration, “These days, I’m interested in writing about the quiet lives of people who are wrestling to hang on, trying to retain dignity, fighting back forces beyond their control. Ultimately, so much is out of our control. Confronting our dependence on one another can sometimes leave us feeling uneasy and yet we are inseparably linked. Music reminds of us of our connection to each other and I remain in awe of it.  I’m not interested in pinning the songs down or reducing their mystery. I’m attempting to capture a sliver of time.” 

Grant Lee Phillips 100 More Gilmore Girls Fan Fest

Grant-Lee Phillips: On his Nashville life, the big sound of ‘The Narrows’ and hanging on to your humanity

Roy Jurgens on
Grant-Lee Phillips

Grant-Lee Phillips pulled up stakes and moved from L.A. to Nashville three years ago. In a conversation with Buzz Bands LA’s Roy Jurgens, the troubadour talks about his new environment, his new album “The Narrows,” his “Gilmore Girls” fame and, in these trying times, feeling a call to action.

California born and bred, Grant-Lee Phillips was ours to claim until three years ago when he pulled up stakes and moved the family east to Nashville in search of fresh inspiration and a new voice. His 2016 Yep Roc Records release, “The Narrows,” is a warm and earthy representation of his new home. Recorded at Dan Auerbach’s studio, the album comes across as resolute and romantic, as Phillips penned heartfelt tales of love, loss, struggle and pain. The change of scenery has stirred a new sentiment within him, one that resonates with the fire of a crackling hearth and the comfort of pipe tobacco in a leather-bound library. From his beginning with the late ’80s psych-folk of Shiva Burlesque, to fronting the critically acclaimed and sorely under-appreciated Grant Lee Buffalo, to his work as a solo artist, Phillips has left a vast legacy of influence and acclaim within the City of Angels. 

He returns to the friendly confines of L.A. tonight for a show at Largo at the Coronet Theater, and we spoke with him in advance of the show.

Roy Jurgens: You were such a stalwart in our L.A. music scene for so long and I have to admit that some of us locals were a little hurt when you left. That said, your new surroundings really seem to have inspired you. You sound really fresh and rejuvenated on this record.

Grant-Lee Phillips: I really appreciate that. Yeah, I’ve been kind of getting back to the business at hand. Just grabbing the guitar and telling stories and going about it the way that I naturally would. And you know, I spent so much time these days on the road — something that I’ve resisted, because it beats the life out of you — but it makes you a better player and it sharpens your writing as well.

I imagine that you just pick up stories as you go.

Yeah, I mean this record is sort of a road tale. Not so much with [being on the road], but with leaving California for a new life somewhere else.

Your last couple records where more sparse and intimate, and this record sounds more full and richly orchestrated.

Yes, it’s a bit fuller because I recorded it live with a band in the studio. The previous record was pretty much just me, a guitar and late hours of the night and nothing much else. There are moments like that on this record.

I really noticed a return to that signature guitar sound that was so prevalent in the ’90s.

I guess that’s true, I mean right out of the gate in a song like “Tennessee Rain.” I mean really it’s the sound of a trio, and I find that a very workable place. It’s just enough. To get across this big sound, you have to work a little bit harder as a trio. In some ways it’s just a bit more intense.

Well it gives you someone to play off of. You don’t always have to carry the melody that way, you can sometimes just carry the atmosphere.

Good point. I can really put across a lot of atmosphere and paint a picture with the two other parts. I don’t know, I do so much touring entirely on my own, but when I have that chance to get into the studio with a couple of other people it inspires me instantly and it kicks me out of my head. And the next thing I know I’m standing outside of it witnessing it just as I am a part of it. It’s exciting.

So do you live with in Nashville proper? Or are you out in the country somewhere? I understand that Nashville is going through quite the renaissance.

I’m not really in the thick of it, I’m out of little bit more in the sticks. But I am quite close. It’s a similar situation as when I lived in the Valley when I would going to Hollywood and play a show and I could get out of there when it was over and I could find a little bit of peace. As much as I travel and as much as I thrive on the city, I do better when there’s quiet at some point of the day.

Yeah, I used to bash the Valley, but now I love it up here. There’s nature.

L.A. is a lot of things to a lot of people, but it certainly has its share of nature and solitude if you know where to look. That’s the sort of thing I was looking for when I came here. I grew up in the country at in central California (Stockton). It was that kind of experience I wanted to impart on my young daughter. Something that my wife was yearning for, with trees and shade and all that kind of stuff.

And seasons are are always nice.

Yeah, seasons as well. I looked forward to that. One week or two, often in March, it would turn a little gray in Los Angeles, and I wanted to do nothing but write during that time.

You were a pretty integral part of the Largo scene here in L.A. Have you found anything like that in Nashville, a local singer songwriter hangout where you’re safe among friends and you can create and enjoy the act of making music rather that it being an actual formal gig?

I feel I’ve made some very good friends here in terms of the people that helped me make this record. I’m actually still getting to know people in Nashville. I’ve spent so much time away. It’s a hard thing to develop those type of lasting friendships like I organically developed in Los Angeles.  And truthfully, Largo is so unique. I can’t say that I have found its equivalent here. But that isn’t to say that something like that doesn’t exist. I mean, I get the impression that there are a lot of people here who just love to play and that’s why they are drawn to a place like Nashville. They want a good job in this business. They want to be prosperous, but there is also and magnetism to the place because there is just so much around and there always has been.

I imagine there has to be a lot of people who just get together for the love of playing.

Yeah, there are places like that where people just get together and share songs and they’re not doing it for the payback.

So what are your plans for the coming year?

Oh, I’ve got more touring scheduled, beginning with this trip to Southern California. I haven’t played Largo in quite some time so I’m looking forward to that. A night at Largo with my friend Sara Watkins, then a trip to Santa Barbara and a trip to San Diego, Del Mar to be specific. And all of this will lead into another European tour in February, followed by a tour with my friend Donovan Frankenreiter in March. Donovan is a guy who I’ve collaborated with over the years. He reached out to me some time ago about co-writing with him on a record he was working on most recently called “The Heart.” So we are starting in Houston and doing 25 straight nights, finishing up March 25 at the Glass House in Pomona. I’ll join his group and play some songs of my own. It’ll be nice.

You’ve been doing that a lot lately, joining other artists on the road.

Yeah, from time to time I’ve have the chance to joining forces with guys like Steve Poltz and Howe Gelb. I’ve spent time with those guys over the past couple of years. It introduces me to a new crowd, for one, and it makes the travel a lot more adventurous. The music gets more adventurous when we get to play together as well.

I’m recalling a show you did many years ago with Robyn Hitchcock at the old Largo on Fairfax, actually I think you did several of those. Those were always just hilarious, with moments of high comedy interspersed with real poignancy. The scene at the old Largo was so insular and vibrant, and you were a big part of that.

Most certainly. In terms of Grant Lee Buffalo, we really cut out teeth on that little stage. We played quite a few local clubs over the years but Largo became the place where we could try anything.

Flanagan (Largo owner) was always a big supporter of you guys. 

It was pretty unique. The city was really aching for something like that, and it just had the right components. I don’t really know if you can necessarily engineer it, it just happens, and its a beautiful thing when it does. 

You got together with Paul and Joey for some Grant Lee Buffalo shows a couple years ago. Any discussion regarding warming that back up anytime soon?

Nothing is really in the works at this time, but it was really a blast to do the shows together and again and Joey jumping up and joining me at the show at McCabe’s last year was really nice.

Late this fall the internet was abuzz regarding the return of the Troubadour of Stars Hollow. There were a lot of folks who binge-watched the new “Gilmore Girls” miniseries on Netflix. I imagine that strange bit of fame reaches you wherever you tour in the world. 

Yeah, the show has a diehard loyalists throughout the world. I’ll be in some far-off place and run into “Gilmore Girls” fans. It’s how they discovered me in some cases. It’s a wonderful thing; I’m mean, talk about another universe. I don’t know how else a lot of these people would have discovered my songs had it not been for that show, so I’m very grateful for it. When that show happened for me back in the day it was an amazing experience. That happened out of the blue you know? It essentially occurred because they were fans. That doesn’t just happen every day. I’m was so excited that it happened again.

I intend to keep trying to hang to the things that matter to me more than anything, hang on to beauty in life.

You spent much of last year in Europe. Based upon some discussions I’ve had with other Americana artists, I have this theory that traditional American sounds seem to be more widely accepted there. Is there any validity to that?

Goodness, it’s one of those things I’ve often wondered about. It seems to me that the European listener is more at peace with a diverse listening experience. They are more apt to be aware of music that was created outside their country. For instance, look at the jazz players of the ’50s and the ’60s. They had to go to Germany and the Netherlands and France in order to find real acceptance. It seems to me that historically Europeans of been a little bit more progressive and open to traditional sounds but they’ve also been more progressive in things that are just kind of beginning to develop. So it’s a little bit of both, no I’m not sure why that is. Maybe because it’s a little bit more chopped up? We are a big, big country. I think music is disseminated very differently here, you know?

I think there also may be this fascination with the Old West and what they think America is. In essence, if you think about it, when you’re over there, you’re “world music.”

Yeah, you’re right, I never thought about it that way. Maybe it’s a romantic lens in which someone outside the U.S. might peer through. Maybe that has something to do with it. I just feel that I was quickly well-received when we toured Europe for the first time with Grant Lee Buffalo in the early ’90s. Things developed more quickly in Europe and we were able to build on that. I was able to build on that as a solo artist.

I’m sure you noticed some interesting attitudes from Europeans regarding what was going on in the States over the past year. 

Yeah, it was interesting. I had a few exchanges. Waiting for a train in Italy, I was making my way to Bologna, and I struck up a conversation with a young man, and he was offering his take on things. His father had been an immigrant, and at some point and time, many, many years ago before the war, he had to make this awful decision to either join the Armed Forces in the U.S. or go back to Italy and fight. It was a terrible fork in the road. This kid was telling me he had a lot of anxieties about what his future might hold in store, looking at his own country. 

Europe is going through a crisis in itself. You’ve got far-right movements, but at the same time they’ve always been ahead of us in terms of being socially liberal. 

You can’t help but sense that nativist current wherever you travel these days. It’s an alarming thing. But you can’t help but sense it.

I wouldn’t necessarily characterize you as a purely political songwriter, but you’ve penned quite a few socially conscious songs over your career. You tend to artfully hide your viewpoint and use metaphors instead of blurting out sentiments in a punk fashion. Would you say that past year has moved you in a different direction consciously in terms of what is going on? 

Well, I think what you’re speaking to is what it means to be an artist in these times. Artists are citizens just like anybody else. We have concerns, we have families, we have our futures. Even when I attempt to suppress that conversation, it finds a way of emerging. That how it is, you know? There have been times where I would have liked to tackle it a little more directly; some of the Grant Lee Buffalo songs were like that. I can think of “America Snoring,” and I think “Stars and Stripes” is the song of Grant Lee Buffalo’s that still rings true to me, because its about trying to hang on to your humanity, and that is what it comes down to. Politics is not some other universe that never collides with this universe we desire to live in, the one we find security and comfort and hope in. Those universes they collide, they interact, culture, politics, art — there is no compartmentalizing really. That said, I intend to keep trying to hang to the things that matter to me more than anything, hang on to beauty in life. But every time those things are under threat, you’re going to hear artists speak out.

I’ll hear people say “Well I don’t care about politics,” and I respond “Well, politics cares about you.” So there is no escaping it, so if anything good is going to come of this, I hope it leads to resurgence in smarter, socially conscious music.

Well, I would hope that call to action would extend to all of us, not just those of us with guitars.

||| Live: Grant Lee Phillips will be appearing at Largo at the Coronet with Sara Watkins on Thursday. Tickets




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Plus her lingerie, which is already a hundred years old. Which, she washes with laundry soap in a ditch. Constantly something hurts her there, then she does not want, then the day is not suitable for this, and even recently, she also hit religion, so. In general.

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