Interview: Toad the Wet Sprocket

Toad

Toad the Wet Sprocket found unlikely success as an alternative rock band in the ’90s, and now they’re back.

Going up against the grungy sounds coming from ’90s radio, it’s sort of hard to see where Toad’s soft melodic sound fit in. But they found a niche and for a short time Toad the Wet Sprocket were freaking huge. With two platinum albums and a string of chart-topping singles (including their #1 Billboard hit “Fall Down”), Toad was one of the most well-known alternative bands of the ’90s. Then, on the heels of one of their best albums, they disbanded.

Since breaking up in 1998, Toad have toured off and on between the various band members’ other projects. But it wasn’t until a few years ago that they started full-time touring and recording again. They now consider themselves a band back together and are currently in the midst of recording their first studio album since 1997. It’s the right time for Toad to start bringing some of the beauty of their music back into the world.

Toad the Wet Sprocket will play the Belly Up this Thursday, March 7. In anticipation of the show, O&B contributor Webb Valarezo interviewed Toad songwriter, lyricist, singer and guitarist Glen Phillips.

Webb Valarezo: I just want to tell you, without sounding too gushy, that the music you make has been a major part of my life since I was a teenager in the ’90s. I know you’ve got a family, and the industry isn’t what it used to be. I really appreciate you still putting out as much music and touring as much as you do. As a fan I really appreciate it and as a father I understand how hard it must sometimes be.

Glen Phillips: Thanks. It’s my job…it can be hard going away, but the alternative is unemployment. I’m grateful to have a job, and have it be making music.

Webb Valarezo: Speaking of fatherhood, your kids must be getting to be around the age where they’re discovering music on their own. Do you try to guide them away from the more soulless pop music of our time or do you just sort of let them get into whatever they get into?

Glen Phillips: They have great taste. My 16-year-old got me into Alt-J, Ben Howard, and a bunch of other stuff I love. My 11-year-old sings Weepies and Gillian Welch songs with me. We are long past the point of NOW compilations, thank God.

Webb Valarezo: What do they think of Toad and your solo work?

Glen Phillips: I think they like it. They know Toad more from live performance than from records. I don’t know if they ever listen to my records…I tend to not like hearing them unless I’m in the middle of mixing or other work, so they don’t play it when I’m around. But they like having a musician and a midwife for parents.

Webb Valarezo: Your music has always had a spiritual aspect to it. It’s never been a very specific thing which is nice. It’s always seemed like you were more of a seeker; someone who embraced the mystery more than someone who thought they had found the answers. Now that you’re a little older, do you still feel like you’re exploring the mysteries of different religions the same way you once did? Or have you sort of “settled” on one religion or another?

Glen Phillips: I don’t consider myself a seeker. I think the mystery is the point — it’s not about figuring everything out or finding the answers, it’s about respecting the human experience. I’m very skeptical of religions as belief systems, but I’m also very drawn to them as languages for discussing subjects which more literal languages fail to satisfactorily address. The experience of ecstasy or spiritual union is a neurological fact, and as narrative-oriented creatures we like to make up stories to explain those feelings. I think those stories can teach us a lot.

Webb Valarezo: When you guys disbanded after your last album, Coil, I was pretty bummed out. The production, versatility, and overall growth of the sound on that album were all things I was really excited about and was hoping to hear a lot more of. Songs like “The Damn Would Break”, “Rings” and “All Things in Time” remain some of my favorite Toad songs. Now that you’re back together, does it feel like you’ll pick up where Coil left off, or has so much time gone by that you feel that the direction of the band has changed?

Glen Phillips: I hope we’ve made up for lost time. There’s a couple of new songs that will feel like a more direct nod to the band we used to be, but we hope this is more like the record we would have made today if we had stayed together. I’ve never stopped writing and making records, and Todd and Dean became a writing team after the band broke up, and are bringing what they’ve developed together back in to the band. It should be a step forward, not a step into the past.

Webb Valarezo: I feel like all of this ’80s nostalgia is slowly (and finally) starting to fade and that people are ready to start remembering how great the ’90s were as far as music goes. Do you sense a similar shift and if so does that have anything to do with the timing of getting Toad back together?

Glen Phillips: Not really. It’s mostly about us getting a little older and wiser and being able to get along and come back to the band with gratitude and happiness. The timing is nice, though.

Webb Valarezo: As a fan of modern indie music, I can hear Toad’s influence on bands like Guster, Band of Horses, and even Bon Iver. It feels to me like there is a definite place for new Toad music in the indie rock scene. How do you feel your music fits into today’s current musical climate?

Glen Phillips: Who knows. The rule book has been thrown out, so who knows if there’s a place or not. It seems like every success these days is an outlier. I do like that it’s ok to strive for beauty now. When we were out, everyone was trying so hard to be edgy, and the assumption was that if you weren’t yelling, then you didn’t have anything to say. I’m glad that’s done with.

Webb Valarezo: Is there any talk of working on more albums together in the future? If so, will you still be releasing solo work as well?

Glen Phillips: I’ll never stop making solo records and having other projects unless I stop making music altogether. What makes Toad fun to do for all of us now is that it’s not our only creative outlet. As for another album, it’s too early to say. We’ll put this out and put a lot of work into touring for it. Maybe another album will happen, maybe not. We’re just concentrating on the job in front of us, and happy that we were able to come together to make this record. It wasn’t possible a few years ago, and I’m glad we waited until we were really to do it. We could’ve made a record for business reasons at any time, but I don’t think we would’ve been very proud of it. We’re very proud of the work we’re doing together now.

Webb Valarezo: Can you give us any information about the new album like a release date or title possibly?

Glen Phillips: I’ll let you know as soon as I do. We’ll be done with mixing in a couple weeks. Still looking for a name. We should have it with us on the road and maybe online in the summer, with a broader release in the fall. Ish.



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