Toad the Wet Sprocket: An Extension of Hangouts and Friendships
Photo by Rob Shanahan
Every young and aspiring musician dreams of banding together with childhood friends to eventually embark on artistic stardom. Toad the Wet Sprocket is one of the few to have lived out this so-called fairytale, experiencing the unexpected complications that come along with one.
Their fame did not merely spring from fortune, it arose because of talent. Todd Nichols (lead guitar and vocals) and Randy Guss (drums) developed a friendship at four years old, and Dean Dinning (bass and vocals) joined their duo in junior high. The guys met Glenn Phillips (lead vocals and guitar) as teenagers and during these high school years the group would jam together on a consistent basis. Little did the California foursome know that they would later produce chart-topping hits, such as “All I Want,” “Walk the Ocean,” and “Fall Down.” Their style was and continues to be a nostalgic taste of smooth alternative-rock with a mix of folk-pop.
They had a good run for about 12 years before hitting a rough patch and deciding to suspend their musical endeavors in 1998. The same creative talent they produced in 1986, however, inspired them to reunite in 2010. Since their reunion they have released the album New Constellation in 2013. This album was solely funded by the support of their fans who raised more than $260,000, surpassing the band’s original goal of $50,000.
“We wanted to make a record that would not sound like what we had done in the past, but something that kept the same sensibilities. We wanted it to be natural. When reuniting, we had all come back from having different life experiences.” – Dean Dinning
The band’s album Coil released in 1997, and the last album before their split, has hit a milestone of 20 years. To celebrate, they’ll be touring the country July through October, and partnering with the Sierra Club’s #Readyfor100 campaign to support renewable energy.
Catch Toad the Wet Sprocket at Rams Head On Stage, July 18th at 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. Tickets are $62.50.
We spoke with Dinning ahead of the upcoming performance.
Growing up, was music a career that you always wanted to pursue or was it something that developed as you got older? Who would you say were your musical influences? When did you know was the right time to create Toad the Wet Sprocket?
I’ve known about the music business my whole life because my family has a long history in the industry. My three aunts formed a singing group when they were teenagers and my dad was their manager. My Uncle Mark was a singer, maybe you know his “Teen Angel.” I wasn’t actually encouraged to go into the music business. I was encouraged to do something different for a change. But, my family’s history, clearly, had an influence on me.
The four of us, Glen, Todd, Randy, and myself, all became friends in high school. All of us had at least somewhat of a musical background, so we would spend time jamming in a basement. The band really fell together more than got together, because it was just an extension of an original hangout and friendship. Our first real gig was in Goleta, California at a place called The Shack, which didn’t allow any song covers, not even Happy Birthday. This got us into a flow of writing tons and tons of material and contributed very much to our start.
Celebrating the 20th Anniversary of your fifth studio album Coil is quite the milestone. How would you compare the album created in 1997 to the music that is being released in today’s music industry? Which song are you most excited to play from the album?
We wanted to reach out a bit for Coil and make it very rich and detailed. We heard Death Cab for Cutie and thought, ‘These guys are really trying to do something timeless and poetic.’ We wanted to be the people attaining those goals, too. Making the record in ’97 was much more difficult. We recorded in a home studio and put layers upon layers of work into it, and hoped that the talent would reveal itself.
I’m very excited to play “Amnesia.” It’s a specific type of song that I felt we should play live, simply because of how it makes a room feel. It’s powerful. I have seen a lot of bands that have this effect on their audience, this energy you can physically feel. I wanted to have a song that would do that for our fans.
“All Things in Time” is one of my favorite songs of ours. We had a demo of it but never thought about putting it on a record. Having both “Amnesia” and “All Things in Time” balance the album out. One is very heavy and one is very earthy and beautiful. It’s a way of moving forward and coming back around to a familiar voice.
Continuing your tradition of partnering with a nonprofit organization, the band will be partnering with the Sierra Club on this tour, promoting the #Readyfor100 campaign. Can you elaborate a little more about this campaign and why the band has decided to take part in this particular nonprofit?
The four of us are active in the outdoors and love being in the environment, so this #Readyfor100 campaign is something we support and believe in. It’s all about renewable energy. California is doing a very good job so far, but many states across the U.S. are not. Rather than preach for this, we want to show our fans and the rest of the country what all of us have the ability to do. It is such an obvious necessity to take care of the planet, and renewable energy is a huge part of that.
Where did the band pull inspiration from to write the album New Constellation? Being the first album to be published after reuniting, what effect did you want it to have on your fans?
We wanted to make a record that would not sound like what we had done in the past, but something that kept the same sensibilities. We wanted it to be natural. When reuniting, we had all come back from having different life experiences. Glenn wanted to experiment with more pop and synthetic, so we threw in different flavors, but still kept the same foundation.
How is the relationship within the band different this time around, compared to the pre-breakup period in 1986 to 1998?
Our relationship is much better. We’ve all learned that the present problems that seem so bothersome really are not as terrible as you think, and in time, they won’t mean anything. When it comes to conflict, it’s always better to be honest about what is bothering you, and then move forward. It’s so easy to take the good things for granted. Each of us are able to make music by ourselves or with other people, but I think this Toad thing that we do tends to generate the most magic.
I imagine that being in the music industry today is very different from the music industry in the ’80s and ’90s. How has social media influenced the band's success? Has it changed the way you handle business and how you interact with your fan-base?
In 2013, we decided to launch a Kickstarter campaign for New Constellation since it was our first album in 16 years. Long story short, we hit $50,000 in the first day; it was the fourth most successful start in music history. For the following three months, we posted updates with our progress, and even did live videos. We learned that with social media you have to stretch out your advertising, because unlike print media, it can disappear from the public eye within a short period. We also learned the importance of establishing a connection with the people because that’s really what they care about most.
In retrospect, is there anything you would have wanted your 20- to 30-year-old self to do differently regarding your music career? Is there anything you would have wanted Toad the Wet Sprocket to do differently?
The band had a great situation, and unfortunately, we allowed one small disappointment to snowball. Our break up was unnecessary. In truth, we were all burnt out from the road, and we should have taken a small break instead of giving up. This would have given us a chance to find our identities outside of the band.
We now feel very fortunate to have the same four guys back together. I have to hand it to our audience, they never left us and were there for us when we came back.
What are you hoping fans will take away from this tour?
We want our fans to know that we’re looking back and looking forward at the same time. What I mean is, our past is still totally relevant. This is a chance to celebrate all of our creations, new and old.
We made our fans a deal; if you bought the New Constellation album in stores the first day of its release, you got a free ticket. This made a huge impression on our audience because every show sold out. I want to bring back that excitement into this tour.