John Doe, Kristin Hersh, and Grant-Lee Phillips are embarking on a tour dubbed “The Exile Follies,” a collaborative affair that gathers solo, paired, and trio performances by the three artists. They first came together under the Exiles moniker early in solo careers that each had launched after tenure as band mainstays (Doe in X, Phillips in Grant Lee Buffalo, and Hersh in Throwing Muses); now, almost 20 years later, they’ve revived the concept. Ahead of their date at City Winery Friday, we talked to Phillips about what brought them together in the first place, what brought them together again, and what might bring them together in the future.
Q. This isn’t the first time that you three have teamed up in this way, but it’s been quite a while since the last time.
A. Right, that was going on way back to the early 2000s. It was really the first time that I worked with John or Kristin, but we got so much out of it, and enjoyed it so much.
Q. How did the original collaboration come about?
A. Well, we each jumped into it. I had met John briefly. I had seen him around LA, where I lived for 30 years, and I was becoming more aware of his solo work at the time. I hadn’t really met Kristin, but I was a big fan of hers as well. We had a lot of mutual friends, but I didn’t get to know her until we went on the road, really until I was sitting next to her onstage.
Q. What was behind the name that you came up with?
A. We had all worked in bands, we had all come from that place of being the writer and front-person in those bands — John obviously shared those roles with Exene Cervenka in X — so we had that common experience, and the common experience of what it felt like to go and tour on our own. At that particular time, maybe we were trying to find a way to have that collective band experience while not losing ourselves and being able to present our current works as well. We were sort of in a period of self-imposed exile, feeling like we were on the outskirts of something, and having a little bit of fun with that in the title.
Q. That explains “Exile.” What about “Follies”?
A. Well, you still have to do a good high-kick, you know? You still have to get up and perform. So the notion that we’re providing some sort of traveling revue, I think we just got a kick out of that whole idea. There is a long tradition of singer-songwriters in the round, and it’s all so polite; we knew that wouldn’t really work for us, but maybe we could find a way to bring some spontaneity to the whole thing.
Q. What was the impetus to do it again so many years later?
A. Kristin and I went out last year for several shows, and we began to text back and forth with John. It just seemed like, wait a minute, somebody should be here with us [laughs]. We began to kick around the idea, and everyone was really gung ho, and the next thing we knew it was in the planning stages. We’re quite different, you know, in terms of our music, but there’s an intersection as well, funnily enough. When everything is laid bare and it’s just three songwriters onstage, that intersection is perhaps more apparent.
Q. So the commonality emerges when you strip things down.
A. Yeah. What makes for interesting record production has a way of tricking the ear into believing that this stuff is a lot more disparate than it really might be. I think that all three of us have a certain amount of rooting in American music, and we all find delight in mixing up that batch — pulling from the blues, pulling from folk, just seeing how far we can take it.
Q. How do you structure the performance?
A. One of us will start the show off — I think we’ll probably draw straws or roll dice — perform for a period of time and then we’ll bring on one of the other artists and we’ll do something together, and then we’ll hand the baton to that performer and it will continue through the evening that way until we pull the three of us together by the end of the show. So I’m learning a handful of Kristin’s songs and John’s songs, and they’re doing the same, so we have a shared repertoire and we also have room to do our own sets.
Q. Will you also venture outside of your own material?
A. We’ll delve into that territory as well, because it’s a place where we can meet in the middle.
Q. What is your perspective on doing this again, compared to the first time you did it?
A. Perhaps I shouldn’t offer this, but my observation is, 20 years out, my neck is thicker, my guitar is smaller. It’s hard to imagine doing another “Exile Follies” 20 years from now, but science being as it is, maybe just our heads will appear or something like that. There must be a way.
Interview was edited and condensed. Stuart Munro can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
THE EXILE FOLLIES
With Kristin Hersh, John Doe, and Grant-Lee Phillips. At City Winery Boston, Feb. 7 at 8 p.m. Tickets $28-$40, www.citywinery.com/boston