HOME AND AWAY

It’s fair to say that Glen Phillips has had three important families in his life.

The first, of course, was the one he grew up in, right here in Santa Barbara, up through his days at San Marcos High School.

Toad the Wet Sprocket comes next. While obviously not a nuclear unit, the pop group he formed back in 1986 (when he was only 15) has been an integral part of his life on and off for a full 20 years now. Maybe that’s why he stayed with Toad perhaps a bit longer than he should have, past the point when the glory from the hits and album sales outweighed the internal squabbles, to a time when membership became more stifling than inspiring, leading to the band’s demise in 1998. So there’s been no little satisfaction that the current reunion tour seems to have buried the hatchet between the band members for good.

Which leads us to family number three, and that would be his own, the one he’s created with wife and longtime love, Laurel, and their three girls, all students at Cold Spring School, which is not far from the family homestead. This is the same family he thinks he might have been neglecting in recent times as he plied his solo career these last eight years. Four full-fledged studio albums (not to mention a plethora of self-released live discs and demos) have yielded a strong body of work, but necessitated his absence much more than family man Phillips would prefer.

“The trap is if I’m working I’m gone, and as things have gotten smaller, I’m gone more and more,” he said over the phone last month. “In the last few years I’ve been (away) more than I’ve been home…I’ve been working really hard so that we could have a life, but I’ve been doing it at the expense of us having a life…. I finally figured out that it’s not really worth missing every second of my kids’ lives….And whenever I get home and get to spend time with Laurel, I’m still completely in love with her. I fall for her all over again every time.”

So when the current tour ends later this month, Phillips is planning on spending a little bit more time with the wife and kids. Like a whole year. But the catch is they’re doing it overseas – just packing up the clan and heading over to Europe.

”It’s a chance for us to be together as a family,” Phillips said. “But it’s not exactly time off.”

Indeed, the trip is sort of a working vacation, comprised of single solo shows all over the continent interspersed with more extended periods of tourism and family bonding time.

“I’ve never been able to get started professionally in Europe because the idea was to make a big success in America and then go over,” he says, is voice trailing off. “So, I’ve never been there.”

Phillips says the family has been saving money all year in preparation for the trip, but the numbers weren’t adding up until he checked out the online community, Craig’s List.

“It was frightening how expensive things are,” he says. “But [the site] lists people who are willing to sublet without looking for tourist dollars. We also asked around for anyone who might have an apartment they can rent for at least a week for cheap. And then when I’m touring we can’t afford hotels, so we’ve written to my fans, and checked out places like couchsurfing.net, which offers ‘experiential barter’ – people who want to put up travelers just for being exposed to other cultures. That’s what we’ll do for single nights when I’m gigging, three or four shows a week at most, just to get a foothold in Europe, and play enough shows so that we can at least get by for the year. And when I’m not playing, hopefully we’ll stay places long enough to learn some language and culture and make some friends.

“The main idea is that we do it as a family,” Phillips goes on. “We’re just going to figure out a way to make it work come hell or high water.”

Not exactly the life of luxury you’d associate with a former rock star. But Phillips has come to terms with a changing frame of reference.

“I’ve been on both sides and fame is definitely nice,” he says. “I wasn’t financially stressed. People gave me free stuff. I got treated well, had lots of access and excitement. But it doesn’t actually mean anything. Fame is a very fickle thing, and there’s a lot of pull away from the things I think are most important: humility, family, community, the stuff that really matters.”

The timing of the trip comes not only at the end of the Toad reunion tour – which helped replenish the coffers, no doubt – but also while his girls are still young enough to anticipate the opportunity.

“They’re at an age where they’re really growing, but they still think their parents are cool,” he says. “They’re old enough to shoulder some of the weight of the travel, and they’re excited and eager to go. In a few years it won’t be so easy because they’ll be more attached to their friends and their school. The chance is going to pass us by if we don’t just make it happen… I figure the life experience they get will be more than worth anything they would learn in regular school.”

The fact that Phillips is in his 35th year isn’t lost on the singer-songwriter either.

“Everybody I know in their thirties is weighing the life they have compared to the one they dreamed of,” he says. “There are a lot of things you can’t make happen, but I’m hoping [the trip] will help us simplify ourselves and get away from all the objects we own, and the distractions, and just be together for a while. I can’t wait to step out of my rut a little. If we don’t go completely broke it will be an utter success.”

Montecito Kings

While Phillips takes a step back and takes stock of his life and career, a brand new Montecito-based band is knocking on the door looking for a way in.

Kings of Spain began as a cover band called Fit of Love, but when two members graduated high school and headed out of town for college last fall, singer-songwriter-guitarist Will Loomis, now 21, and drummer Adam Baltieri, 18, holed up in Baltieri’s Romero Canyon garage to practice, write songs, develop a new sound and form a tight rhythmic bond.

When they emerged, bassist Adam Reiber, a music major at Westmont, and guitarist Tom Masker, a Cate School graduate and current SBCC student – both 19 – joined within the last month, and Kings of Spain was born. The band is competing in a new NBC reality show/battle of the garage bands called “StarTomorrow” after being selected as one of 100 groups across the nation whose videos will be seen on the Internet and on Monday nights on TV.

Loomis discussed the band’s fortunes on the way home from the taping in Los Angeles last week.

Q. Why Kings of Spain?

A. We saw a comedy sketch on TV show where a guy goes in for job testing and the consultant looks at his resume and says the job you’re best suited for is King of Spain. We just thought, “OK, this is what we want to do and we’re not really qualified to do anything else.”

Can you describe the band’s sound?

What sets us apart is we’re doing stuff nobody else really is, maybe White Stripes and Wolfmother. It comes out of classic rock, like Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones. Adam says we’re trying to tap back into the performance aspect of rock ‘n’ roll. Everything today is going digital, and is more about the image. But instead of just playing singles, we’re back in the seventies when people listened to a whole album, and got into the music. I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about the songs – I just write ‘em and record ‘em and move on to the next one. I think that’s what the NBC executive producer responded to, and they put us right into the next round without an audition.

How did the show come about?

We’d seen it on the Internet, and then we were in the neighborhood guitar-shopping down in L.A. and figured we’d drop off a CD and application. But when we showed up there was a huge line and we were wondering if it was worth it. All the others were pretty conceited soloists, singers with big egos. The cameraman was going around and asking us to look more excited, and we were like, “Um, no.” So they skipped us. The girl next to us, she was like, “Oh yeah, man, it’s all about the look.” So we’re thinking, “Oh man, we’re in the wrong line.” We’re just musicians, not showbiz people. It’s hard to tell if our music is really relevant today. We didn’t think we were going to get a callback, with our influences. But they apparently liked us.

So is this going to be your big launching pad?

We kind of have mixed feelings. We view it as almost dishonorable for the guys we look up to. I can’t see Zep or the Stones ever agreeing to do a reality show. But at the same time, it seemed like a great opportunity to reach people and have them find out about us. So we decided to go for it.