Toad The Wet Sprocket’s New Constellation
Toad The Wet Sprocket's rise to stardom in the early 90s was sudden and according to the band themselves, unlikely. “It was a strange time to do the music that we did,” recalls lead singer Glen Phillips, who attributes the band's early success to their ability to be “authentically awkward” in an increasingly edgy era of music or as Phillip puts it, “pre nerds being cool.” Regardless of their odds, Toad sustained a strong musical presence primarily with 1991's Fear and its follow-up Dulcinea, until they formally split in 1998. At a recent show in NYC, in support of their first studio album in sixteen years, the members of the band sat down to discuss their long road back.
After Toad The Wet Sprocket disbanded in the late 90s, the quartet, who had been playing together since high school, continued to tour from time to time to play for fans that were still very much invested. Despite the steady outpouring of support, it became increasingly difficult for the band to ignore the constant curiosity surrounding the possibility of a new Toad record. “It was always something that could be asked,” reflects drummer Randy Guss, “but we couldn't ask it among ourselves.”Instead they went along very cautiously, attempting to deflect any pressure from their labelto book a big tour or write a hit song. They just weren't ready. “In pieces we were getting over our group history and our personal history” adds Phillips, who has worked consistently on his own solo project since the band split. But without any new Toad material in the works or even on the horizon, the band had a hard time moving forward.“I love playing the old Toad songs” says Phillips, “but it was weird for everything to be about the past.”
In addition to Phillips' solo career, bassist Dean Dennings and guitarist Todd Nichols forged a strong musical partnership, writing songs together in Nashville. Dennings noted that these outside projects took some pressure off of writing new material for Toad. “It was great to be in that creative process and be in the mode of getting together, writing a song, making a demo...It didn't really matter if anything got cut or not it was just being in the flow.” Guss agrees that it was their projects outside of the band that ultimately brought them back together. “We started in high school, it was the only band we ever experienced and we did that until we broke up and now after all this time you can say these are the things I do and then I have this thing that I do with Toad. That freedom of choice has given us all freedom.” Eventually the songwriting just started happening on its own. “Every once in a while we'd write something and say 'god that'd be a great toad song,” adds Dennings, “we should save that'.”
In 2011, the band got together to re-record some of their old songs for a greatest hits album titled, All You Want, a move which also allowed them to regain the licensing rights to these songs. Around that same time, Phillips sustained an injury that left him with massive nerve damage on his fretting hand. He needed a lot of help from his fellow bandmates. “Everyone had to slow down, relearn, rearrange and it was humbling for me to have to get that much help and to ask for it and I think it was good for everybody in the band to have to regroup and support each other rather than kind of be able to just go back on automatic which we had done before,” expresses Phillips, “that made a change in how we were able to relate to each other and after that period we started working on new songs.”
When the prospect of a new album became more of a reality, the band made a conscious effort to enjoy the process from the very beginning. Phillips recalls, “There were early discussions like, ‘OK if we're gonna do another record it should be something that number one is gonna be wonderful to play live, that it should be exciting for us, that it should be fun for us on the road and it should be exciting for people to hear’...and so it was great to come in with these ideas and write for the project.” According to Dennings, there were also talks early on about how their music would transform. “When we decided that we were gonna try and do a record...I think we really tried to figure out what the sound of the band was...and what we wanted to either do the same or do differently this time.” Like Dennings, Phillips knew that the songs would need to reflect what had changed about them as a band over the last sixteen years, specifically when it came to lyrical content. “Thematically the album can't really avoid some amount of darkness but I wanted it to at least be looking at a balance of kind of awe and joy and total despair and the juggling act of having those exist at the same time...the idea of happiness being a practice is something that comes into a lot of these songs” says Phillips, who shares this new perspective on music and life with the rest of the band. It seems they have all been able to let go of the past as well as any expectations they might have for the future. “Anything that happens, there's something to be learned from it” says Phillips, “not that it happened for a reason not that it’s what you deserved but if you don't learn anything from it then it's just purposeless.”
The icing on the cake for Toad The Wet Sprocket, is that they've been able to release their latest effort entitled, New Constellation independently. Thanks to the crowd-funding site Kickstarter and their unwavering fan base, the band met and surpassed their goal of raising fifty thousand dollars in just two days. In the end, they wound up with over two hundred and sixty thousand dollars to finish the record. Fans who pledged were given an early listen to the album, backstage access to shows and even music lessons from the band, who are eager to show their appreciation. “When your favorite band has a name like Toad the Wet Sprocket you're signed up for an experience,” jokes Dennings while discussing the unbelievable outpouring of support from their most dedicated fans. He adds, “as much as we wanted them to have a new Toad album I think a lot of them also wanted us to have one. They knew what it would do for us.”
New Constellation doesn't pick up where Toad the Wet Sprocket left off sixteen years ago, but it isn't a complete departure from their former sound either. It is clearly a fresh start for a band that has had to work hard for just that. The title track as well as “California Wasted” and “The Moment” are particularly successful at depicting the positive impact that time apart has had on Toad and their evolution.The album as a whole is upbeat and hopeful and while the content often flirts with the darker side of life, Toad hasn't reformed their stance on being edgy for the sake of being cool. “So it's still authentic,” notes Phillips “which is really our only card to play.”