And Now For Something Completely Different

Toad the Wet Sprocket's frontman Glen Phillips looks to the future


As of late, I've done a great deal of waxing nostalgic due in part to a return to the stage by bands/musicians whose music was important to me during my formative years. Thomas Dolby, ABC, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and A Flock of Seagulls have all gone back out on the road--often playing small, intimate venues--offering those of us who missed seeing them in their prime a chance to stand up close, sing along with the songs and remember where we were and who we were with the first time we heard them. One such band I missed back then, but am looking forward to now, is Toad the Wet Sprocket.

Toad the Wet Sprocket (who got their name from a Monty Python skit) is Glen Phillips on vocals, Todd Nichols on guitar, bassist Dean Dinning and drummer Randy Guss. In 1988, they recorded their debut CD Bread and Circus for around $700. Their second recording, Pale, garnered them attention from Columbia Records and for the next decade, Toad toured relentlessly, enjoying moderate success and a dedicated fan base but not each other. Letting bygones be bygones, the band is going back out on the road. Since they're playing in the area, I took the opportunity to speak with lead singer Phillips. When I caught up with him, he was setting up for a show. In a quiet, tired voice, he told me about being a part of Toad, venturing out on his own, raising a family and getting back together with his old bandmates.

BW: How have the shows been going?

Phillips: So far everything's been good. The crowds seem happy and it's fun playing the songs.

Are people responding well?

Yeah. It's old favorites, so it's a safe bet (laughs).

You guys are enjoying playing [the old favorites] again?

It's been a good time. I've keep using this metaphor, but since all the interviews have been the same, I won't come up with a new one. Not that they've all been the same, but you know what I mean.

Of course (laughing).

It's a metaphor that works.

If it ain't broke ...

Right. Historically, the [band's] fifth member was this heavy, bad-smelling Doppleganger who just made everything kind of miserable--this invisible "other" thing. This time out, everybody's been in a good mood and happy to be out with each other. It's been really cool. It's been a pleasant, positive vibe instead of something heavy. Whether or not we ever do this again, it's really good we're having this experience.

Do you attribute getting along with each other to a sense of nostalgia?

No. I'm not enjoying the nostalgia of it. Nostalgia bugs me. I'm more enjoying just being back together and that it's not heavy. My memories of it are of all the heaviness and now I'm getting to say, "You know, we're actually a pretty good band." Everybody sounds good, I like the songs and I like that people like them. It's great to have that experience.

Is there any new Toad the Wet Sprocket material?

No. I'm doing one song off my new album (Mr. Lemons), and a couple of solo acoustic songs in the middle of the set, but it's pretty much all Toad.

When you play the old stuff, does it sound or feel different? Do you remember how to play everything

Well, I've been playing it on tours and I wrote or co-wrote all of the songs, so I'm pretty familiar with all of it. It's been easy to get back into it.

What made you guys decide to go on tour now?

I got an e-mail from Todd [Nichols] asking if I'd want to do a few shows this summer. It sounded like a good idea. Once again, time has passed. We grew up a little and things blew over. That was the big thing: He sent me an e-mail and asked me and I said yes.

Well, it's good news for people like me who missed you guys in the '90s and now have an opportunity to see you.

That's been the coolest part about it. People who were too young to come out and see us can now. There's even a second generation of people who are coming out.

Do you have children of your own, and what do they think of their dad the rock star?

I have three girls ages 10, 9 and 4. I guess they think it's pretty cool. I always downplay it so I think they think it's cooler than I do. I always wonder what it would be like for them to go to another show. Their idea of a show is that they have the run of the place. They'd think, "We have to park and walk and stand in line? Why can't we go backstage and drink all their soda?"

Do you take them on tour with you?

I can't afford to. I'm out there making a living and I'm doing it out there alone. I have been for the last seven years. This whole Toad tour, though, is so that we can [afford to] take the whole family to Europe for 10 months. I've been gone so much the last two years. By August, I will have done 95 shows this year. So, I'm gone about half the time. It's too much. My wife threw down the gauntlet (laughs), so it's time to be a family now. We're going to go to Europe and live as cheaply as we can. The girls are at the right age that they'll love it. I'll play a few shows and we'll just make sure that whatever we do, we do it as a family. We'll make it work.

Toad the Wet Sprocket performs on August 9 at 7 p.m. at the Eagle Knoll Winery, 3705 N. Highway 16, Eagle. Tickets are $35 through Select-A-Seat. Matt Nathanson is opening.