We were in danger of becoming strictly nostalgia, so it’s been great to feel like we’re a band again,” says Glen Philips, frontman of Toad the Wet Sprocket.
Though they officially disbanded in 1998, none of the group’s four members (Philips, bassist Dean Dinning, drummer Randy Guss and guitarist Todd Nichols) stopped pursuing music. Toad began “tentatively” playing out a few years ago (their Web site tagline is “quality music on and off since 1986”), and recently reformed to hit the road with earnest. Now that they’re touring and writing new music, Philips says ,“it’s not all about the past.”
Paying homage to British phenom Monty Python, the band’s name references a sketch that lists what Philips calls, “really ridiculous band names [where] Toad the Wet Sprocket was basically the worst of them all.” He says the band had a gig—but didn’t have a name—and “figured it be hilarious to see [Toad] in print and have it be us. So it was kind of a joke that went on too long.” The band then made it big “right out of [high] school,” signing with Sony’s Columbia Records “almost by accident,” according to Philips.
“We had an extraordinary experience. I feel like we worked really hard for it [and] had a commitment to make great music, but none of us were expecting we were going to be able to do this for a living.” Philips says he came from a “quiet, academic family,” and that the band’s “plan was to go through that summer then break up and I was going to go away to college. The next thing we knew we were signed to Sony and going on tour.”
Their early ’90s chart toppers like “All I Want” and “Walk on the Ocean”—plus songs on the soundtracks to Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Mike Myers’s So I Married an Axe Murderer, among others—helped earn the band two RIAA-certified platinum albums (1991’s Fear and 1994’s Dulcinea), and a dedicated fan base.
Soon after the release of their fifth studio album, Coil, in 1997, Toad disbanded. “When we broke up, we had really good reasons to stop playing together,” says Philips. “What I tend to say is any band, given long enough, will turn into Spinal Tap. Watch any episode of VH1’s Behind the Music and it’s all the same crap. We had our own variation. We just needed to have some time to back up and grow up and get some perspective, basically. In the last couple years we started having a really good time playing music together and started to have the weight of history stop burdening us so heavily. Once we were able to enjoy it more, we were able to do more of it. It was pretty simple.”
What’s less simple is the music industry that Toad has returned to. “The industry is headed off a cliff—which is fine,” says Philips. “Certainly there aren’t going to be many killings made. That will be left to Lady Gaga and those who are more about branding, and make music in the process of making their branding work.”
Overall, Philips says, the music business has “grown up, adapted, messed up and now it’s going to turn into something else. People are going to have to be more creative.”
But Philips doesn’t let consumers off the hook. “It used to be that downloading on Napster was sticking it to the man,” he says. “I think audiences have to remember that this is somebody’s livelihood. Now, the man is just the band. I think people need to take a long, hard look at their iPods and ask themselves if they’re helping these musicians out.”
In the end, the game may have changed, but Philips says performing still carries the same thrill. “It’s nice to have being doing it for this long and still have most of the audience know the album tracks—not just one or two singles and everybody goes home,” he says. “There are few people who only really got into us from the radio. But the ones who are still around got into the whole package and it’s a real honor to have an audience who cares that much about it.”