The morning I was supposed to interview Grant Lee Phillips, I had the following exchange with my boyfriend:
Me: I'm interviewing Grant Lee Phillips this afternoon.
Boy: Who's that? Some folk singer?
Me (incredulous the Gilmore Girls super-fan doesn't know who he is): Dude, he was the troubadour on Gilmore Girls.
Boy: Oh my God! Ask him about Lauren Graham! Ask him if she's single!
I'm a good girlfriend, so when I found myself on the phone with Grant Lee a few hours later, I started off with, "So tell me about your experience on the Gilmore Girls."
Grant Lee sounds a bit taken aback, and then responds to my question. "Lauren and Alexis are great," he says. "Both of them have these incredible brains."
He then explains how he became the troubadour. "The producers of the show were fans of Grant Lee Buffalo, and the lead producer, Amy Sherman-Palladino, knows a great deal about music. It was supposed to be a one-time opportunity, and it snowballed in to a regular gig. ... People occasionally recognize me, and it's definitely helped me build a younger fan base."
Despite his TV semi-stardom, it was a long road to Stars Hollow for Grant Lee Phillips. He was raised in Stockton, Calif., and bummed around L.A. in the '80s. In the early '90s, Phillips recruited former bandmates Joey Peters, who played drums, and bassist Paul Kimble to start a project called Grant Lee Buffalo. The trio released a single, "Fuzzy," on Bob Mould's label in 1992, and critical buzz led to an industry feeding frenzy. Slash (like, Guns N Roses' Slash) eventually signed the band. When they released a record a year later, also called Fuzzy, Michael Stipe called it "the best album of the year hands down."
But alas, not even Stipean praise could make Grant Lee Buffalo rock stars. While they developed a cult following, they didn't sell enough records to stay on their label, and were unceremoniously dropped in the late '90s.
About that experience Grant Lee says, "making music was the whole point of it, and I'm glad we got to do that. I'll always take that over fame and fortune. The '90s were an interesting time, because artists were allowed to develop and be artists. There are a lot of great indie bands today, for sure, but I don't see that development happening as much."
Grant Lee decided to continue on as a solo artist, releasing an album, Ladies Love Oracle, online in 2000. He then released Mobilize in 2001 and Virginia Creeper in 2004. While his voice was as beautiful and distinctive as ever, he'd finally brought it out from behind the wall of guitars he'd used in Grant Lee Buffalo. Following a 2006 cover album called Nineteeneighties, Grant Lee has just released Strangelet.
"I'd like to think the record is a step forward, as they all are," he says. "This record felt really unconscious when I was making it. I did all the instruments and recording myself; it was a process I'd really come to enjoy while making Nineteeneighties."
Grant Lee will soon be leaving his house and hitting the road as the driving force behind an all-acoustic summer tour featuring Glen Phillips (formerly of Toad the Wet Sprocket), The Watkins Family (Sean and Sara Watkins of Nickel Creek) and singer/fiddler Luke Bulla, and will roam around the country all summer long. "We all know each other from a club called Largo, in Los Angeles," he says. "It's a small place where we've all had residencies and hang out there. It's nice to be able to take my friends on the road, and to have those friends be amazing musicians."
At this point, I've exhausted all my respectable critic questions, so I sigh and say, "Just one more thing... is Lauren Graham single?" The response is a burst of laughter: "Oh, I highly doubt it."
Grant Lee Phillips with Glen Phillips, The Watkins Family and Luke Bulla at the Big Easy on Friday, June 15 at 6:30 pm. $19. Visit www.ticketswest.com or call 325-SEAT.