Singer-songwriter Grant-Lee Phillips' most well-known band, Grant Lee Buffalo, broke up after the release of Jubilee when he and fellow musician, Joey Peters, decided to terminate their contract with Slash Records, a Time Warner company. Phillips felt that Slash had lost interest in promoting the group's music. "It was apparent that Warner Bros. were beginning to scramble, seeking artists that would yield an immediate payoff while severing bonds with other career artists....it was time to look to the future," Grant would later write.
Such a gifted musician, however, could not go long without attempting to continue his career. In October 1999, Phillips' musician friend, Jon Brion, was in the final days of scoring the movie Magnolia for director Paul Thomas Anderson. Seeing that Phillips was restless, Brion offered to make the recording equipment then at his home available. Over the course of three days, Grant-Lee recorded nine songs that would comprise Ladies Love Oracle. His first solo record was sold mainly online, but his loyal following of fans flocked to his new website, grantleephillips.com, and LLO, released in 2000, represented an important creative step forward on his own terms.
With an independent effort under his belt, Grant-Lee signed a new contract in the winter of 2001. Zoe/Rounder Records, a Boston-based label, released the majestic Mobilize in August that same year. The new record received overwhelming praise from the critics and was viewed by many of Phillips' fans as his finest work to date and a personal triumph for him artistically. As usual Grant-Lee toured in support of the album. Helping to round out Mobilize's fully wired sound live were musicians Bill Bonk and Phil Parlapiano. Grant-Lee also toured briefly with fellow musicians Kristin Hersh and John Doe. This series of shows was styled as The Exile Follies.
2001 also marked Grant's offshoot into other creative areas, beginning with his recurring role as the Town Troubadour on the WB's show The Gilmore Girls. He wrote the musical score for a movie and would even venture (briefly!) into acting with different bit parts on TGG.
Virginia Creeper, Grant's current album, was written over a year ago but only released this February. Largely evocative of Southern Gothic literary style, it emphasizes his talents for storytelling and what he refers to as "swamp dirges." Ghost stories abound. Singing harmonies on Virginia Creeper, Cindy Wasserman adds layers to the mostly acoustic sound. Already hailed as a triumph by varied critics, the record's songs continue to evolve as Phillips tours the U.S. this March. On March 2nd he opened the tour in Cambridge, MA and played every song from the new album. A reviewer from the Boston Globe wrote, "Phillips was a picture of magnanimous, unhurried authority as he surveyed a career bejeweled with one of the most splendid, if under-recognized, song catalogs of the past 10 years....It became all too easy to forget, with Phillips up there conjuring, that this wasn't a bewitching seance of music and magic but rather a packed-to-the-gills rock club in Central Square."
As if to confirm the reputed "splendor" even of Grant's past songwriting, the recent release of "Storm Hymnal: Gems From the Vault of Grant-Lee Buffalo" is a collection fan favorites and previously unheard-of tracks from the old days when he, Joey Peters and Paul Kimble were still a band.
The future looks brighter than ever for Grant as he continues to grow and evolve as an artist. Forays into movie scoring with Easy, shown at the Sundance Film Festival, and experiments in style with other musicians on other projects give him new creative outlets, but best of all, his unique and wonderful talent is on parade for the world to reocognize and appreciate. Given the great strides he's made as a solo artist, including the startling lack of artifice on the brilliant "Susanna Little" (from Virginia Creeper), it seems hard to believe that this is only his third record since the demise of Grant Lee Buffalo.