Last summer Toad the Wet Sprocket opened for Barenaked Ladies on that band's Last Summer on Earth tour. Glen Phillips, lead singer/guitarist in Toad the Wet Sprocket, came away impressed by what he saw from that veteran Canadian band.
"We got really inspired going on the road with Barenaked Ladies. I loved seeing how they, as a band, especially after the departure of Steven Page, how they reformed themselves, how they stepped up and how they became more of a band," Phillips said, mentioning the former Barenaked Ladies singer/guitarist and songwriter, who split with the band in 2009. "I feel like they, on an individual level, a writing level and a band level, decided to move forward together. That was really inspiring to us to see them decide to do that and to ask how we can do that."
In reality, Phillips and his Toad the Wet Sprocket bandmates, lead guitarist Todd Nichols and bassist Dean Dinning, have done a good job so far of writing a second chapter in their band's life following a breakup in 1998 and an aborted reunion in 2002. For quite some time, the split looked like it would be permanent.
Phillips spent much of the time Toad was inactive pursuing a solo career that at first was hampered by difficulty getting a record deal, but has moved along steadily since, as he's built a catalog that includes seven studio albums, a trio of compilations of non-album material and a trio of live releases. Nichols and Dinning, meanwhile, formed a band called Lapdog, with original Toad drummer Randy Guss joining in time for the second of that band's two albums.
But gradually Phillips, Nichols, Dinning and Guss (who retired in 2020) came back together as Toad the Wet Sprocket, with scattered shows sandwiched in the years before and after a 34-date summer tour in 2006. Finally, in 2009, the band announced an official reunion. But Toad the Wet Sprocket returned with a different mindset.
"I think when you're younger, as well, especially on a major label in the '90s, there's this idea of you trying to get somewhere with it. Now, it's no, we go play music. That's what we do and we do it every year," Phillips said in a mid-May phone interview. "We're trying to get better and we're trying to keep things interesting for the audience, but at the same time, I think there's less of this feeling of like, we're not trying to win in the same way or to get somewhere commercially or having this ambition or competition. I think now it's more just trying to take in the fact that it's a lucky place to be. We're not U2, but we're not broken up either. So we're winning. We're doing all right."
The '90s were a rollercoaster for Toad the Wet Sprocket, as the four band members navigated their way through lean times, a stretch of major success, creative and personal differences and eventually pressures to meet commercial expectations before imploding rather abruptly in 1998.
Formed in 1986, the band's first two albums, 1989's "Bread & Circus" and 1990's "Pale," didn't make major waves commercially. That changed with the 1991 album, "Fear," which became a platinum-certified success when the singles, "All I Want" and "Walk on the Ocean," became major hits. The next album, "Dulcinea," became another platinum-selling album and featured the chart-topping modern rock single "Fall Down."
But with album number six, things went sideways.
They took a larger advance from Columbia Records to make that album and faced pressure to deliver a third straight hit album. That atmosphere didn't help, but today Phillips points to one particular decision that doomed the album, 1997's "Coil," to limited success.
"We didn't go with the producer that someone at Columbia wanted and he assured us that the album would stall as soon as they had broken even, and that's exactly what happened," Phillips said, adding, "I will say this, there were a lot of great people at that label. People worked their asses off for us. People really believed in us. But yeah, it only takes one."
With "Coil" standing as a relative failure, the band broke up.
For the most part, the second chapter of Toad the Wet Sprocket's career has been productive and positive. The band returned to making new music with the 2013 album, "New Constellation." An EP, "Architect of the Ruin," arrived two years later as the band settled into a more regular touring routine.
A second post-reunion album, "Starting Now," came out in 2021 to mostly positive reviews, although Phillips said that project had its unique challenges.
"It was a weird album," Phillips said. "I'm going to say it was disjointed. We were getting songs together and we went in to do drum tracks on a bunch of songs and then the pandemic happened. So the rest of the record was done, basically we recorded our parts alone at home and sent them in via Dropbox. So there was inherent disjointedness to it that none of the other records really had.
"Even at a writing level, just it's the first album – hopefully it will be the only Toad record where I wrote all of the songs," he added. "Toad needs Todd's and Dean's musical voice more. So I feel there was a ball we kind of dropped there. But all of that said, I'm still proud of the songs. I like the album, but it's not the Toadiest of Toad records."
Along the way, the three band members have learned more about working together and have reached a good place internally.
"It's been such a long road and parts of it have been really difficult, for all of us," Phillips said. "You get four guys who are really different together at an early age and then have a career that both starts and ends abruptly, and then kind of try to make peace with it. In some ways, it's still a process to see each other for who we are today instead of who we were 10 or 20 or even 30 years ago. I think we're all willing enough to be peacemakers that we have been able to continue on this, and I think we just also respect each other enough. We make great music together. I mean, Todd's an exceptional guitarist...He has such a signature tone and a signature way of playing, and such a uniqueness. And Dean is just a great bass player and arranger. He's so musical. So, you know, we have these strengths together musically, but also, I think, just a willingness to get through it. Yeah, it's been really interesting. In many ways, I think we have more of a balance, and a friendship, a camaraderie, than we've had in a really long time."
Phillips, Nichols and Dinning will get to enjoy playing together – and their friendships — this summer as Toad does an extensive tour, including its stop in Bend at Silver Moon Brewing on July 10. Fans can expect to hear their favorite songs, and maybe a couple of surprises in the set.
"It's not going to be a sea change in the set, but we're always trying to kind of mix it up and keep it fun," Phillips said. "I won't give away, but (we're doing) a couple of songs that we haven't ever really played much live and a little acoustic set in the middle. So yeah, it's going to be a good time."