The members of Toad the Wet Sprocket may be the most unlikely career rock ’n’ roll musicians — at least, according to them.
“I don’t know if any of us are really the personality type who does this, if there is such a thing,” said vocalist, guitarist and main songwriter Glen Phillips recently from his home in Santa Barbara, Calif.
“There are sort of kind of people for whom that was their absolute dream they would have given up anything for, but [for us] it was very hard to make music we cared about and do a good job doing what we’re doing. I don’t know. I don’t think any of us assumed that this is what we’d be doing with our lives, and it’s a strange thing to discover that that’s what we’re doing.”
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Phillips has been performing music in some capacity since Toad the Wet Sprocket formed in 1986. When the band broke up in 1998, Phillips soldiered on with a solo career, working with bluegrass trio Nickel Creek and releasing three albums. In 2006, Toad the Wet Sprocket regrouped, embarking on annual summer tours in the following years.
Mixing in new songs
Up until this year, the band has only focused on its back catalog, spanning five studio albums and such early ’90s hits as “All I Want,” “Walk on the Ocean” and “Fall Down.” But they’re beginning to work new songs into the set now, with plans for an album in the distant future. This current tour, which hits The Egg on Friday night, will see the band debut some of this new material.
“I mean, up until now it’s been kind of weekend get-together work; this is probably the most concentrated touring we’ve done in a long time,” Phillips said. “In the last couple of years, we kind of got our groove back and started really just enjoying the process as a band again. . . . It’s more present tense as opposed to a nostalgia band, if that makes sense.”
Toad the Wet Sprocket didn’t experience a messy breakup the way many of their contemporaries did — in fact, the band played a few shows together in 2002. “When things got stranger and harder,” Phillips explained, “we didn’t waste a lot of time fighting about it; we just kind of let it go.”
Time is right
But deciding to make the band an ongoing concern again was something that Phillips and the rest of the group — guitarist Todd Nichols, bassist Dean Dinning and drummer Randy Guss — had to discuss first.
“It never happens by accident with us,” Phillips said. “More than anything, there are plenty of people around us who would have — that have been telling us to for years and years, but the internal dynamics of the band had never been able to support it until now. Enough years have passed, and we got over the history and gotten to the point where it felt like it was the right thing to do again.”
Fans can expect some growth within the band’s new songs. Phillips has been delving into newer indie rock such as MGMT, LCD Soundsystem, Of Montreal and Bon Iver, and is hoping to reflect changes in the times as well as in the band members’ growing tastes and playing styles.
“Obviously we’re not going to start where we left off — music’s a public conversation, and I’m listening to pretty different stuff than what I was listening to back then,” Phillips said. “Hopefully, Toad coming back won’t sound like a record from 1997. I don’t know how to describe it though. I’ve done a lot of projects, and it’s interesting now, because rather than having a band where everything I write winds up for it, I’m writing specifically for this group of people and the sound we have.”
The band hasn’t yet begun recording any new material, although they recently re-recorded a handful of past songs, with plans to sell limited editions at shows and on iTunes.
“[We did it] kind of to own the masters,” Phillips said. “It’s a sort of greatest hits, a slightly updated version. We just finished recording that, so new material is probably going to wait until the new year.”
The band formed while its members were still in high school in Santa Barbara, taking the name from a “Monty Python and the Flying Circus” sketch by Eric Idle. In 1988, they self-released “Bread & Circus,” and were signed to Columbia Records during the recording of second album “Pale.” It wasn’t until 1991’s “Fear” that the band began experiencing mainstream commercial success.
“We were a band that benefited from a time when the music industry was flush with cash, because of the invention of the CD,” Phillips said. “They were feeling like they could invest time on the college music just making its way into the mainstream, with REM having their first radio singles. There was this real shift in how people were getting their music, and we were allowed to put out two indie records, as they were, on a major label and do a lot of touring, do a real grassroots build with the backing of a major label.”
The music industry is much different today, and Phillips isn’t sure what to make of how his band fits into it, though he is “very curious.” “People I think listen to more music, and more of a variety, than they ever have before, but they don’t own most of it,” he said.
A different world
Toad the Wet Sprocket’s growth was slow — according to Phillips, the band’s first single off “Fear,” “All I Want,” didn’t break for the band until nine months after the album was released.
“Whereas now, if you don’t have a single one month into your first record, you’re dropped,” Phillips said. “Either that or you have to grow very slowly on a very small indie label, and don’t quit your day job.
“It’s a very different world now,” he continued. “In the current world, I think, chances are we would have just gone back to school.”
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