Toad the Wet Sprocket leaps forward
STATELINE, Nev. — Toad the Wet Sprocket, a harmony-driven, alternative rock quartet that formed while the members were in high school and had a bunch of hits in the 1990s, is spinning into its third decade in full voice.After a 10-concert tour’s final 2012 stop — a Saturday night show Dec. 1 in Harrah’s Lake Tahoe’s South Shore Room — the band will head into a studio to record its first album of original songs since 1997’s “Coil.”“We’ve had a lot of time to work out a whole lot of material, so we’ve been able to pick through and really choose the best songs,” bass player Dean Dinning said. “I think it’s going to be our best album ever.”Two of the new songs will be performed Saturday, Dinning said.Because there are so many new songs from which to choose, the band elected to bring in Thousand Oaks producer Michael Blue, who has worked with Colbie Caillat, Five for Fighting and OneRepublic, to make objective decisions. Afterward, the new album will be shopped out to labels with the goal being to not repeat mistakes that prevented the band from using its own music.Toad the Wet Sprocket in 2011 released a greatest hits album, “All You Want,” with rearrangements of their best known songs.“It was the same for us as it was for everybody,” Dinning lamented. “When you sign a record contract with a major label, they essentially loan you the money to make your record but after you pay them back, they own it. It’s a really messed up system. Some people who have been in our situation have gone to their labels and asked how much would it cost for us to buy our masters back. Often times the price is in the millions of dollars because labels don’t want to do that. They want to hold on to that stuff, just in case, because they can.”Toad the Wet Sprocket wants to recapture its magic with a new studio record. While a band making a comeback after a several-year hiatus is commonplace, Toad’s tale is somewhat different in that all four of the original members remain. Glen Phillips sings and plays guitar, Todd Nichols is on guitar and the drummer is Randy Guss.Toad the Wet Sprocket broke up in 1998 and a few years later reunited for weekend shows. In 2009 it played 30 times.“All of a sudden getting together and having fun became the new normal,” Phillips told Lake Tahoe Action before a January 2011 show. “We took another year to make sure that that wasn’t a random occurrence. Now, for the first time since we broke up, we’re making plans for the future.” It’s something of a minor miracle that Phillips can even play guitar after slicing his ulnar nerve in his left arm on a broken coffee table in October 2008. He had intense shooting pain in his arm for a year. While his condition is much improved, he can’t spread his middle and ring fingers and can’t use his pinkie at all. He said his arm feels like it does when hitting the elbow’s funny bone — “pins and needles all the time.” “I’ve learned to play with three fingers,” he said. “I can mute various strings.” Toad the Wet Sprocket became successful at a seminal musical period during the emergence of grunge rock. With three singers, the band’s hit songs emphasized a “harmonic tension” created by minor chords: “All I Want,” “Walk the Ocean,” “Fall Down” and “Something’s Always Wrong.”“People always like to hear great vocals,” Dinning said. “That’s a classic thing that’s always existed in the music business and it’s one of our strengths. We weren’t the hardest band out there. We weren’t playing fast, tough stuff. We weren’t Pearl Jam but we had the ability to layer these vocals in the studio and then pull them off live.”The influence goes back to the mid-1960s folk rock band the Byrds, which was led by Roger McGuinn’s long-held notes on his Rickenbacker guitar.Peter Buck of REM had the same delivery in the 1980s and it was continued with Toad the Wet Sprocket and its touring brethren the Gin Blossoms.“It’s not about shredding but about more of the Peter Buck style of guitar playing,” Dinning said. “I think it all goes back to the Byrds. That’s where it comes from. We weren’t even stealing it from REM because they were stealing it from somebody before them.”
Music inspires emotion, passion, loyalty and controversy, but in the end its fans can find common ground and peace.Ray Charles married R&B with country and western. The rockers and the mods reconciled with the B-52s. And even the glam metalheads Kiss and Beatle Paul McCartney recorded disco tracks.Toad the Wet Sprocket’s two sets of fans — college kids who discovered them before they were famous and the “All I Wanters” who bought the records after hearing singles on the radio — have settled their differences. Perhaps those students from the late 1980s have more pressing concerns nowadays, such as keeping their Social Security benefits or putting their own kids through college. Moreover, isn’t it supposed to be about the music, anyway?“We were in an era where being on a major label was not cool,” Phillips said. “Being on the radio was definitely not cool. There were a whole lot of rules about what credibility was. It was a very strange era.” Fans liked to take ownership of the band, preferring to turn friends on to the music rather than having them discover it on radio, Phillips said. The hit songs created a divide in the concert-goers. There were the fans who were album fans, and there were singles’ fans, the “All I Wanters.” But times have changed.“I think the definition of what it meant to have a hit song on the radio kind of changed,” Dinning said. “People who you never thought would have a hit single were having hit singles. For God sakes, Anthony Kiedis actually started singing rather than rapping with the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Everything changed. I don’t think there was a great divide. There may have been, but it was short lived.”It took the Internet to prove it.Toad the Wet Sprocket did a survey asking its fans what it would like to hear at its concerts.“I really think that the people who liked us already, they didn’t decide that they disliked ‘All I Want’ or ‘Walk on the Ocean’ just because they got played on the radio,” Dinning said. “We did a poll and it wasn’t a bunch of obscure songs that we never played. The real fans love our singles as much as the casual fans do.”
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