The membership of Toad the Wet Sprocket has remained constant since the band formed in high school 25 years ago. But after early success with intelligent pop songs like “Walk On the Ocean” and “All I Want,” they broke up in 1998. The group, most prominently front man Glen Phillips, forged solo careers but resisted efforts to continue the band’s name.
“I think other bands may be more comfortable with the idea of branding — changing personnel and keeping the name,” Phillips said recently from his home in Santa Barbara. The group will play Stockbridge Theatre in Derry on Sunday, April 3. “We felt like if it was the four of us it was Toad; if it was a different combination, it was something else.”
In 2006, Toad the Wet Sprocket — the name comes from an obscure Monty Python bit — played a handful of shows and began a tentative return to an official reunion. Last year, they released their first new song since the breakup and announced plans to do a full-length album. But Phillips is still taking it slowly.
“We tried a lot of times over the years to come back and start playing together [and] it often would get weird again,” he says. “We broke up for very good reasons … I think everybody’s assumption was that because we did not go out and insult each other publicly we were getting along great, and we just creatively decided to move on. But it was really sticky, and we had a lot of history to get over.”
“So that’s why when we play again, there’s a lot of joy to get back together and enjoy each other and get some of that back. Every band turns into Spinal Tap if they’re together long enough and has to find a way out of it.”
After Toad, Phillips focused on several artistically fulfilling projects.
“I kind of had a nervous breakdown a few years ago and I decided I was only going to do labors of love,” he explains. Plover included singer/songwriter Garrison Starr, and Phillips worked with Nickel Creek on Mutual Admiration Society after meeting them in an L.A. club. “We did a record together that took about four years to release for various reasons; it was almost successfully buried but not quite.”
In 2007, Phillips brought together Sean and Sara Watkins (Nickel Creek), Benmont Tench (Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers), members of Elvis Costello’s band and über-producer/multi-instrumentalist Greg Leisz to form the supergroup Works Project Administration (WPA). But the seemingly sure thing couldn’t find an audience.
“I had no resources to let people know they existed and I did a very poor job in getting things organized to get WPA out,” says Phillips, who lost most of his personal savings on the project. “If I had only broken even on it, maybe I would be more encouraged. As it is, I want to believe that labors of love can work, but I don’t have any proof personally of that yet.”
These commercial bumps and bruises helped Phillips’ appreciation for the band responsible for his greatest success. “I spent — wasted — a lot of energy resenting Toad and it’s made me really grateful that there’s something I do that people want to go see, that I can write songs for and there will be an audience for them. I feel lucky to have that now instead of resentful that the world didn’t move to all the other projects. Because to have anything is really rare and can’t be taken for granted.”
After serving for the past few years as the band’s graphic designer, webmaster and mixer and relying on bass player Dean Dinning for booking and tour transportation, Phillips is also glad to once again have a back office team. “When we go in and play a show now … we actually have people doing stuff for us,” he says. “The problem with doing all these jobs is unless you’re 20 years old with no kids and have an adrenal gland the size of a baseball, you don’t have that time in your mind that lets you be an artist.”
That’s no small thing, says Phillips. “Now that Toad has management, the other day I was able to walk around and go for a drive and spend about three hours. If anyone were watching me, they would think I was doing absolutely nothing. But I was working on trying to finish up a bridge on one song and a chorus and lyrics on two other songs. I just needed quiet, space and time to play them in my mind over and over again, and I haven’t had that for months and months.”
The band continues actively writing material for the record, but with no firm timetable.
“We’re just feeling it out and making sure … we want it to be creatively worth doing and of course, there’s a lot of pressure. It’s one of those things, from time to time when we got back together everybody around us would start moving so quickly and hurrying us to get the brand back, and we were much less interested in the brand and much more interested in the band,” he says. “We’re just writing songs, working things into the set; our intention is to put out a record next year, probably.”