Toad the Wet Sprocket emerges with new energy, new album
The beast that is rock-n-roll music is notorious for chewing its clientele up and spitting them out in the gutter with a heavy drug problem, no money to show for it, and a trail of broken relationships behind them.
Toad the Wet Sprocket made it out alive, and are back in full swing with new approach to their music, a record of new material due out in September (their first since 1997), and a full tour schedule, which will bring them to Chattanooga at Track 29 on Friday, July 12.
Longevity in any industry is tough, especially long-term commercial success. From 1989 to 1998, Toad the Wet Sprocket amassed five studio records with five major radio hits. Their music has been featured on many movie soundtracks, television shows, and college-to-main-stream radio around the globe. Yet all this was just a rock-n-roll fantasy for a couple of kids from Santa Barbara, California who, in 1986, swiped their name from a 1975 Monty Python comedy skit, “Rock Notes,” about a fictional rock band. (There was an extended skit about the fictional band Toad the Wet Sprocket later on “Rutland Weekend Television.”)
As they say, life imitates art. It sure did for these young dudes with a far-out band name. I was able to catch up with front man Glen Phillips at his Santa Barbara abode to talk about TTWS’s new album, all his creative outlets, and the circus of mayhem that is Toad the Wet Sprocket.
Phillips was gearing up for Toad’s tour that kicks off here at Track 29 and takes them on through the end of August. When he answered the phone, I could already tell this guy is a genuine dude. He had a light-hearted, laid-back swagger that was inviting. We shared a couple of random laughs and felt the vibe out. “Everything’s cool, everything’s all right, guy.”
What sparked the creative juices in TTWS to cut a new record after 16 years? “We were having fun again,” Phillips said. No, but really? “The chemistry was right for the first time in years.”
Phillips said that the release of their “Greatest Hits” album in 2011 really got them back into the studio. “We finally got to release our versions of our early songs, not Sony’s version,” he told me. Columbia Records now owns the masters of all TTWS’s early recordings. That was the band’s way of getting back some of their music’s licensing and publishing. However, they were recently able to get the rights to the songs off their first two records, which they are planning to re-master and re-release on their own record label, Abe’s Records, sometime after “New Constellation” drops later this year.
How have you guys approached writing the new songs on “New Constellation?” I asked. “Well, when I was writing songs for “Bread and Circus,” I was only 16, so I wrote like a 16 year old,” Phillips explained. He went on to note that guitarist Todd Nichols and bassist Dead Dinning have been co-writing songs in Nashville over the years under the name Lapdog. One of these songs, “See You Again,” will appear re-vamped and revised on “New Constellation” as “I’ll Bet On You.” Phillips said that this added a deeper dynamic to the group. TTWS also worked with some songwriters outside of the band for an even bigger dynamic. You can hear the title track of the album, which is also the first single off “New Constellation,” on the band’s website toadthewetsprocket.com.
We moved into how the band was able to keep it together for the new album and tour with the original line up after all the ups and downs of a 26-year career. “Part of why we had to break up was we didn’t allow ourselves to go and have other creative outlets,” Phillips said. He added, “Nobody wants to pay to see a band that doesn’t want to be there. That’s not fair.”
Yet TTWS members have had their own projects after the big split in 1998. Phillips has released three solo records and two EP’s and has toured extensively in support of his music. He also has several other projects, such as The Mutual Admiration Society, a group with members of Nickel Creek, Works Progress Administration, Plover featuring Garrison Star, and his psychedelic rock band Remote Tree Children.
I asked Phillips about what to expect at a TTWS show. “A circus of mayhem,” he said, laughing. “We feel more like the people in the audience than other rock bands. We’re just straightforward rock-n-roll.”
TTWS have triumphed over their ups and downs interpersonally and as a group and are riding a high that has led them to their first new record in many years, a full tour schedule, and a new appreciation for their music. So, my friends, get on down to Track 29 this Friday and get your toad wet!
Toad the Wet Sprocket
9 p.m., Friday, July 12
Track 29, 1400 Market St.