Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Bonus Q&A with Toad the Wet Sprocket

More from my phone interview with Dean Dinning (who handles bass, backing vocals and keyboards) last month from his home in Ventura, California...

What can fans heading to the Anthology gigs in San Diego look forward to?
It’s a full band electric show. We’ve been doing things at more intimate venues on the East Coast and it goes over really well. The band really sounds good in these rooms. We play a little quieter. We’re doing two sets there. Certain songs we have to play, but when we can, we’ll change out and do different songs. It’s a cool, relaxed vibe. We know that our fans aren’t 20 years old anymore, just like we’re not. They don’t necessarily want to go to a club and stand around and get beer spilled on their shoes. It’s a little classier environment, I suppose. You can really take the sound in and hear what’s going on. It’s good for everybody.

Anthology looks like a very classy place.
I’m not sure they’ll let me in.

Although the band got together for a few shows in 2002-03, it was 2006 when you guys really did a major string of shows, right?
Yeah. Glen had put out his “Mr. Lemons” album and his manager at the time came up with a cross-promotion idea where Glen would go out and play a couple songs off that album. Glen was doing an acoustic three-song mini-set in the middle. We don’t do that anymore. [Now] Toad is all about Toad. We’ll throw a Glen [solo] song in now and then. Glen has his thing and we have the Toad thing. We don’t cross them up really anymore. We keep the vibe of a Toad show.

I read some interviews with Glen in 2006 where he was adamant about not wanting to do a new Toad studio album. Is that still the case?
It’s not a forbidden subject. It may have been more so back in ’06. I think things have gotten a lot better, frankly, since he fired his last manager. I kind of took over managing...We have an agent who gets us live shows. We’ve taken control of the band back for ourselves and I think Glen really appreciates that. We’ve gone back to being independent and don’t have to answer to anybody. We don’t have anybody pushing us to do things we don’t want to do. When everybody wants to do it, we will.

If you had to choose, which of the five Toad albums do you think stands the test of time today?
I still think “fear” is a great record...We went to a residential studio, so we lived and breathed it the whole time and there were no distractions. There are [few] moments in time when you get that opportunity. I don’t know whether we’ve had it since. That was before anybody got married or had kids.

Would you consider the band playing at the Bill Clinton inauguration festivities one of the 1990s Toad era highlights?
It was so cool to be part of history and be there essentially because we were Chelsea Clinton’s favorite band at the time. She came and it was great to be part of that. We did some great stuff. I remember one thing in particular – it creeps me out. We did a free show, outside in the plaza between the two World Trade Center towers. It was a terrific show and all kinds of people came out. It was like U2’s “Where the Streets Have No Name” video or something. People still talk about that. It was just incredible. I remember going into the North Tower and looking for a bathroom. It’s one thing to know those buildings as icons, but to have had a personal experience or triumph take place right on those grounds, and everything that’s happened since then – it’s really profound.

Is it hard to believe your first two albums came out a little over 20 years ago?
I’d say looking back, it feels like 20 years. I just look back and think to myself how fortunate we were to have come out before the age of downloading and file sharing. We put so much effort into the artwork, the packaging, photography and everything. We were so thrilled. I remember when we got the very first CD of “Bread and Circus.” It was like, ‘wow, we’re on CD for the first time!’ We had only been on cassette up until then. We had creative control over everything, so we really took advantage of it and put a lot of thought into what we were doing.

When the band split in ’98, Glen has said everyone was so devoid of passion that it had to end. Did you agree?
It was a weird situation. It was not going well creatively. Glen was already starting to do solo shows. We had a plan when we made “Coil” that we were going to save money and build a home studio. Then take the money we saved and hire a really good mixer. Which we did do, but it took longer to finish than we thought. Glen was doing his solo acoustic shows and he saw that as a way to go out and get things done without having to wait around for us.

After the band, you got involved in some film work. Is that something you’d always wanted to do? I know you guys were considered “theater geeks” in high school.
We were. I originally got into doing some voice acting. I met a lot of actors and started taking acting classes. I did a few student films and a couple movies. It’s something I know how to do now and I’ve gotten calls for people asking me to do stuff. It’s nice to have another thing if I want to use it. As soon as I got in there and started taking it seriously, I looked around and realized all the actor friends I knew were broke. I thought, ‘this isn’t going to be easy. There aren’t even enough jobs to keep the people who are really great employed.’ Eventually, I had a moment where I thought, ‘what am I put on this planet to do?’ And that’s to make music.

You’ve done some soundtrack work, most recently the indie film “Desertion.”
I did the score for it. That kind of fell into my lap. I knew the producer. The guy they had dropped out and they needed somebody quick. I wanted to be able to do a score so I could use that as a calling card. The film won a Valley Film Festival award [in SoCal]. I worked with Todd on it. It came out great. It was really fun and we’d love to do another one. I was really scared of it before I did it. Then I found out how fun it was. Also, coming from acting class and having learned about the beats in a scene and building a drama…that’s why they call it underscoring the emotion. You ramp up the intensity of a scene. You can comment on it, but it’s all about not intruding, but hinting at things. It was a great experience.

You and Todd have been going down to Nashville periodically to write with several country songwriters. How has that been going?
That has been one of the best things I’ve ever done. The community of musicians and writers there has been really welcoming to us. We have met some wonderful people and their attitude about songwriting and music is just so different from L.A. They are very warm and collaborative. Everybody is helping each other out. Man, we have got some great material that we are pitching to artists every day now. A lot of people write and write. Then their publisher says, ‘ok, you’ve got five good songs, let’s go in and cut some demos.’ Since Todd has a home studio and we sort of know how to make records, we’ve been doing most of the demos ourselves and getting other people to sing on it. We have a guy who sets it up for us. We’ve made so many contacts and friends that we just let people know when we’re going to be there. We make appointments and get together and write. We take the stuff home, make the demos and get people to sing on it and we have a song plugger – the whole deal.

There was also a big collaboration with Darius Rucker recently. Tell me about that.
We did. He was in L.A. recently and it was his idea. Todd emailed him about playing some golf because we’ve been friends with him for a long time. Darius said, ‘let’s write a song while we’re at it.’ We took 2 days. The first we played golf and the second, we wrote a song. I’m not sure if I should be talking about it because I don’t want to jinx it, but it sure did come out good.

Since you came from an extended family well versed in the music biz, did you always know as a kid you’d go into music?
I used to put on my headphones and put on Journey’s “Escape” and imagined that it was me onstage playing those songs. You can take from that what you will.


Robert Kinsler said...

Great interview. I am a long-time Toad the Wet Sprocket fan and it was great to hear about the band's roots and possibility of doing another album together.

Robert Kinsler said...

Great interview! I enjoyed Toad the Wet Sprocket's show in Santa Ana on March 12 and hope to see the band again soon.

newwavegeo said...

Thanks Robert.