It’s been three and a half years since the accident, but Glen Phillips’ ambitious multi-project plans for the future would hardly suggest that just a short while ago, the guitarist and singer-songwriter severed 70 percent of the ulnar nerve in his left arm, leaving the way he plays forever changed.
Phillips – who may be most recognized as a part of the alt-rock group Toad the Wet Sprocket that rose to fame in the 90s with hit songs like “All I Want” and “Something’s Always Wrong” – was sitting on a glass coffee table that gave way beneath him, glass shards slicing his arm.
Surgery came soon after the incident, and doctors believed that guitar playing would pave the road to recovery.
“As soon as I could physically stand picking up the guitar, I did, and then I played until it hurt too much,” Phillips said, “and then I’d stop and do it again the next day.”
He was on the road two months later, but returning to touring meant figuring out how to perform his songs with a troubled left hand – his fretting hand and his dominant hand. He has since had to reconfigure the chords he plays, as his pinkie finger is still numb and his ring finger is partially numb, and has been “leaning very heavily on the capo” to get the sound he needs. Strengthening different parts of his hand has also helped to make up for the muscles in his arm that won’t work any more.
“I’ve started using my pinkie again just a little bit about a year ago, and I feel like I don’t have to make apologies for myself any more, or excuses for myself any more, that I can mostly just go out and play,” Phillips said. “And that’s good.”
He’ll be performing at The Barns at Wolf Trap Sunday, in a show that will feature songs from across his diverse 20-plus-year catalog, the product of an artist who doesn’t limit himself to a single venture – not even to a single genre.
“I find it hard to really do just one thing over and over,” Phillips said. “I guess I get bored and distracted easily, so it’s been really good for me in the past few years to have a lot of different projects to be able to put my energies into and enjoy how different all of those are.”
He currently records and performs with not only Toad the Wet Sprocket, and as a solo artist, but also with WPA – a folk-rock group formed shortly before his injury that includes established musicians from such groups as Nickel Creek and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. A far cry from both groups, Phillips also makes music with RemoteTreeChildren, an electronica-leaning pop project that lets him make music with “science and sci-fi strangeness in there.”
While he is certain to play the hits he’s known for, Phillips plans to stage a more intimate show at The Barns with some storytelling, letting the mood of the concert and the audience guide the proceedings.
“I haven’t been able to really refocus on playing solo acoustic, and it’s one of my favorite ways of going out on the road,” Phillips said of embarking upon his current tour. “So it was just high time that I do that.”
Phillips’ plans for the coming year include recording a new album with Toad the Wet Sprocket. He hopes to also record with WPA and RemoteTreeChildren, in addition to making a solo acoustic record. As far as recovery is concerned, Phillips says the physical recuperation has come to an end, but he’ll continue to refine his techniques.
“I was told that I’m probably as plugged in as I’m going to get, in a nerve sense,” Phillips said, adding that certain problems, like slow movement in some of his fingers, would probably persist. “It’s good to know that that’s my starting point. I know what I have to work with now, so it’s good because I don’t sit around waiting to get better. I just assume this is how it’s going to be.”
• For more information about Glen Phillips, visit glenphillips.com.