Just over twenty years ago, songwriter Grant-Lee Phillips reclaimed his last name and wound down his successful Los Angeles-based band Grant Lee Buffalo. Now he's nine albums into a solo career and living in Nashville. He'll launch a guest-filled residency at the City Winery on August 14.
The Grant-Lee Phillips Parlor of Stars will run for three Wednesdays in the upstairs lounge with short sets by guests taking turns with the host. It’s an Music City take on a similar curatorial exercise Phillips used to do at Largo in L.A. and mode he's fond of. “I do a lot of touring in that fashion these days," Phillips tells WMOT. "I find it makes it more fun for me and for the audience if I can kind of buddy up, go out on the road, share the driving and share the experience. So this was sort of like that. What if we could bring some of that and kind of expand upon it?”
Phillips grew up in Stockton, California and moved to L.A. in 1983 to attend school. "And at that point you could go see bands like X. Dave Alvin would be playing some club," he says. "There was a movement of a sort of rockabilly punk convergence, and then there were other folks like Dwight Yoakam coming up, and I'd go see guys like him at the Palomino. I felt a kindship with that."
Hints of that twang and country soul wound up in the indie rock of Grant Lee Buffalo. Michael Stipe was a big booster and they toured with REM on their way to major label success. Just not quite enough success for the go-go 1990s. In a triumph of non-logic, their label's complaints about lack of hits climaxed just as they were enjoying their biggest hit, "Truly Truly." That album Jubilee was the swan song.
Since launching his solo career on Rounder/Zoe Records in 2000, Phillips has leaned into Americana and country rock over nine admired albums and a life built on touring widely in the US and Europe. You may also have seen him in a recurring role as the town troubadour on the whip-smart and beloved TV The Gilmore Girls. He's playing a Gilmore convention later this year.
His most recent outing, 2018's Widdershins, takes its title from an arcane word meaning counter-clockwise motion that's connected with diabolical superstitions. It's a sign of how playful the songwriter is with words and how comfortable he is going against the grain. It earned raves, including a coveted spot in Mojo magazine's year-end top ten.
The songwriter moved to Nashville about six years ago. And many of the friends he’s made and worked with here will be part of The Parlor of Stars, which is presented by WMOT. It kicks off Wednesday Aug. 14 with Phillips' old friend Robyn Hitchcock, plus Dawn Landes and Andrew Combs. Aug. 21 brings Kevin Gordon, The Wild Ponies and Alex Wong. Aug. 28 features Jarrod Dickenson and Steve Poltz.