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Toad The Wet Sprocket Quietly Keeps It Together
It’s been a decade since Toad the Wet Sprocket formally broke up. But the quartet has not been shy of reuniting.
With a jangly brand of pop and earnest lyricism that led to two platinum and one gold album in the early and mid-’90s — as well as melodic hits such as “All I Want,” “Walk on the Ocean,” “Fall Down” and “Something’s Always Wrong” — Toad’s members have largely patched up their differences and developed a way of working together again in a sporadic, low-key fashion.
“We just do shows every once in awhile — probably a maximum of 10 a year,” explains frontman Glen Phillips, who’s had the most prolific solo career outside of the group and will perform both solo and band sets at tonight’s Ann Arbor Folk Festival show. “We’re able to be slightly less psycho about it. So every once in awhile, we feel like, on principle, we should be able to do that, just ’cause it would be fun.” The problem, Phillips notes, is that the group’s modest terms often differ from those around them.
“Often we’ve had the people around us get extremely excited, and it’s snowballed,” explains the 37-year-old singer, songwriter and guitarist. “They want us to do more, and I always freak out when that happens. I don’t want to be pressured into doing it.”
Phillips does understand, and is grateful for, the demand. Formed in 1986 in Santa Barbara, Calif., when Phillips was 14 and the other three members — guitarist Todd Nichols, bassist Dean Dinning and drummer Andy Guss — were 17, Toad was the antithesis to the so-called grunge and alternative rock waves that swept the period. It was often played alongside those bands and drew fans from various corners of the rock community, from the H.O.R.D.E. tour to the Lollapalooza crowd.
After five albums, however, Toad found itself creatively spent by the summer of 1998.
“We got together young, and we had this odd success — it does weird things to people,” Phillips explains. “As friendly as our break-up was, it’s never as happy as the press releases say, and we all brought a lot of baggage to it.”
The hard feelings began to dissipate by 2002, when the group staged the first of a series of reunions, including a stint opening for Counting Crows. Phillips says the band enjoys doing the shows but is wary of fans’ expectations.
“Have you ever seen ‘Napoleon Dynamite,’ the scene with the uncle who’s trying to throw the football over and over again, trying to recapture the perfect throw, that moment of glory?” he asks. “That’s kind of what it’s like for us, being in a band that was successful 12 years ago, and everyone’s handing that football to you asking you to throw it again.
“So we’re happy to go play those songs, but we all have our lives that we’re excited to get on with.”
For Phillips that includes a new solo EP, “Secrets of the New Explorers,” which he released via his Web site, www.glenphillips.com, as well as a couple of band projects — Plover with fellow singer-songwriter Garrison Starr and a new “supergroup,” tentatively dubbed the Scrolls, with members of Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers, Elvis Costello’s Imposters and Nickel Creek, which has recorded an album that should be out later this year.
So with all that going on, Phillips doesn’t hold out much hope for the Toad reunion to expand to recording anytime soon.
“I don’t see any future in it,” he says. “We had a real spark when we started, and I just don’t see how that gets rekindled, how you get past the history.
“We had a particular kind of band, and there was a time that worked really well. But as far as doing new material, I have such a list of things I can’t wait to do. There’s so many projects that are just flooring me. So just playing a few shows a year with (Toad) is nice, and it’s good to have it without the extra weight.”
The 31st Annual Ann Arbor Folk Festival takes place at 6:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday (Jan. 25-26) at Hill Auditorium on the University of Michigan Campus in Ann Arbor. Friday's show features Ben Folds, Toad the Wet Sprocket, Shemekia Copeland, Trina Hamilin, Natalia Zukerman, Down the Line and Brian Vander Ark. Saturday’s bill includes Emmylou Harris, Patti Griffi n, Shawn Colvin, Otis Taylor, Kenny White, Jill Jack and Glen Phillips. Jonathan Edwards will emcee both shows. Tickets are sold out. Call (734) 761-1451 or visit www.theark.org.
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