grantLeePhilips

Grant-Lee Phillips :: My Favorite Artists

Mighty Joe Moon, Grant Lee Buffalo’s second album, was my first encounter with Grant-Lee Phillips, though I do think I’d heard Jupiter and Teardrop, from their debut album, Fuzzy, on a mix tape that a friend of mine had made me before I’d left on a road trip to San Francisco. Regardless, it is Mighty Joe Moon that I remember distinctly as my first time with Grant-Lee’s songwriting and folk/rock/alt-country/and something else entirely sound.

It was a mid-Summer late afternoon and my on-again/off-again first husband and I, in the throes of an on-again spell, were at Tower Records perusing the listening stations, checking-out the featured selections in search of the next soundtrack to our ill-fated relationship (we did always have a shared love of music). It was Mighty Joe Moon that had me entranced, Green Day’s Dookie was his, and we brought them both back to his place (we’d just come off an off-again spell and were living separately). Though we never did make it, my love for this album did survive.

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It was during the next year that I saw Grant Lee Buffalo perform live. They were opening for The Cranberries at Universal Amphitheatre, They were incredible, and completely outshone the headliner. I was working at Tower Records now, albeit a different location than where I’d first purchased Mighty Joe Moon, and at work the next day I would buy Fuzzy with my much missed record store discount, and would fall for it as hard as I’d fallen for Mighty Joe Moon the year before.

I’ve been a fan ever since, both of his solo work, and his “Buffalo” albums. That said, Mighty Joe Moon remains my favorite – a definite Quintessential Album of mine (see my feature on it here). Sometimes you never get over your first time with someone.

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Grant-Lee Phillips (born Bryan G. Phillips, September 1, 1963) is an American singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist.

Grant was born in Stockton, California and began playing the guitar in his early teens, and persevered throughout high school. At age 19, he moved to Los Angeles, where he worked tarring roofs to help pay for evening classes at UCLA, and help with the band he was trying to form on the weekends.

He eventually dropped out of college and linked up with Jeffery Clark, an old friend from Stockton.

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In the late 1980’s, Grant lived on campus at CalArts with his future wife Denise Siegel, whom he met at a party through a fellow student and first Shiva Burlesque bassist, James Brenner.

At CalArts, Grant informally took art classes, went to public lectures, film screenings and immersed himself in the constant goings on of the school’s World Music program until 1990.

Shiva Burlesque released two LPs Shiva Burlesque (Nate Starkman & Son; 1987) before work on Mercury Blues (Fundamental; 1990). Brenner was replaced by Paul Kimble thus completing what would be the basis of Grant-Lee Buffalo. But due to the late 80’s/early 90’s Los Angeles obsession with spandex and glam metal, Shiva Burlesque made no commercial impact. Phillips and Clark disbanded in 1990.

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Grant began playing solo around Los Angeles under the stage name Grant-Lee Buffalo.

Following those handful of solo shows at clubs around Hollywood, he recruited ex-Shiva members Joey Peters (drums) and Paul Kimble (bass) for rehearsals as Grant Lee Buffalo in mid-1991. Grant 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 nourishing 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 huge critical acclaim 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“.

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In 1995 Grant-Lee Phillips was named the critics choice for Best Male Vocalist of 1995.

A further three Grant Lee Buffalo albums followed. Mighty Joe Moon (1994), Copperopolis (1996), and Jubilee (1998) were all quite different and highly accomplished. Though all were heavily promoted through concert touring, they never escaped cult status largely thanks to a lack of support from the Warner Bros label compelling a frustrated Grant to disband the band in early 1999.

Grant 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 LP, Mobilize, was released to enormous critical acclaim in 2001. Being praised as much for its gentleness as much as Buffalo were for their rock, it featured Phillips’s talents on many instruments, including both dreamy pop and dark but comforting ballads. Touring followed with sets containing solo and Buffalo material in equal measure.

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During a short tour with Robyn Hitchcock, Grant co-produced and co-starred in a concert film of the tour shot in Seattle titled Elixirs & Remedies, directed by Kris Kristensen of Scotopia Pictures in Seattle. 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. An ambitious 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. Grant toured with Glen Phillips to support the album.

Grant has scored several films and television shows, as well as having a recurring role as the town troubadour on Gilmore Girls (my all-time favorite television series).

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My Top 10 Favorite Grant-Lee Phillips Songs:

1. Honey Don’t Think
from the Grant Lee Buffalo album, Mighty Joe Young

Something wrong in my stars.
Could you look at my chart,
and help me healing these scars?
Could you learn to read minds?
In the case of mine do you read in the dark?”

2. Mockingbirds
from the Grant Lee Buffalo album, Mighty Joe Young

Devastation,
at last,
finally we meet
.”

3. Jupiter & Teardrop
from the Grant Lee Buffalo album, Fuzzy

“Just a girl who can’t say no,
and her sweetheart on parole.
Parents named her Jupiter,
to bless her with a lucky soul.
He’s a boy who never cried,
when they locked him up inside.
And she nicknamed him her teardrop,
for the tattoo by his eye.”

4. Fuzzy
from the Grant Lee Buffalo album, Fuzzy

“You know I love it more and more than before I ran away.”

5. Testimony
from the Grant Lee Buffalo album, Jubilee and the I Still Know What You Did Last Summer Soundtrack

“And every time I turn around,
feel as though I’ve let you down,
always something else.”

6. Mona Lisa
from the Grant-Lee Phillips album, Virginia Creeper

“Ain’t nothin’ that stays the same,
won’t ask it a’ you,
just that burgundy smile you wore yesterday,
say ya won’t ever lose.”

7. Don’t Look Down
from the Grant-Lee Phillips album, Ladies Love Oracle

“Luke the Drifter and me.
wrote us a song,
too lonesome to sing.”

8. Mighty Joe Young
from the Grant Lee Buffalo album, Mighty Joe Young

(live in ’95)

“Like Mighty Joe Moon there is no controlling him.
Drive off a bridge if he choose to swim.”

9. Under the Milky Way
from the Grant-Lee Phillips album, Nineteeneighties

“I wish I knew what you were looking for,
I might have known what you would find.”

10. The Whole Shebang
from the Velvet Goldmine Soundtrack

So, don’t you close the door on fate,
when she comes to call,
and tell her that you’ll join her there,
at the masquerader’s ball
.”

GrantLeePhillips

4 thoughts on “Grant-Lee Phillips :: My Favorite Artists

  1. Loved the GG episode with Grant going up against the rival troubadour. However, with the exception of that excellent eighties covers album, I haven’t gotten too much into Mr. Phillips or his work with Grant Lee Buffalo. So much music, too little time.

    Like

    1. I love that dueling troubadours episode, too, and all the artists that show up! Sparks! Sonic Youth!

      I do love the covers album. If I had to make a recommendation (not that you asked) I’d say start with the first 2 Grant Lee Buffalo albums.

      I agree, so much music, so little time. If I could only get a grant to do nothing but listen to music all day and still make a living!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I think my favourite music moment in GG was the covert operation to get Lane the latest Belle & Sebastian single, all to the tune of “Legal man”. Thanks for the tip! I’ll check them out!

        Liked by 1 person

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