When you're called Toad The Wet Sprocket, the most frequently asked question asked is:
"Where the heck did that name come from?"
The answer is simple enough. The British comedy troupe known as Monty Python put out an album sometime in the seventies called CONTRACTUAL OBLIGATION. One of the tracks was called "Rock Notes" where a befuddled journalist announces:
"Rick Stardust, lead electric triangle player with Toad The Wet Sprocket, has had to have an elbow removed following their recent worldwide successful tour of Finland."
The guys in Toad, teen-agers at the time, thought the name was so bad that it was good. Good enough for a fledgling band that had jokingly referred to their act as "Three Young Studs and Glen." It was probably meant to be temporary at the time, and yet it has survived as their moniker for over ten years.
And there's a bit more to the story. In December of 1995 Toad had a platinum album award (DULCINEA) made up for Eric Idle, one of the original Monty Python members, and a mutual friend delivered it to the surprised comedian. The band immediately received a letter from the gracious and surprised Idle, who informed Toad that he originally thought of the name for a TV sketch because he wanted "to think of a name so silly and unusual no one would ever consider it for a group."
No one, except of course, four young men putting together their first band in Santa Barbara. When Idle first heard the band and their name on the airwaves, he said he "nearly drove off the road. It was spooky but I was also very thrilled." So were the guys in Toad when they received his thank you note.
"How did the band get together?"
An early Toad press release says that they are "a band born of friendship rather than design," and over ten years later that still holds true. Guitarists Todd Nichols and Glen Phillips, bassist Dean Dinning and drummer Randy Guss met through the drama club at San Marcos High School, an institution boasting such alumni as model Kathy Ireland and actor Anthony Edwards. Growing up in one of the most beautiful cities in the USA, the four teen-agers, who started rehearsing in their parent's garages after high school let out, found a common fear amidst the palm trees and red tiled roofs of sunny Santa Barbara, a fear of "ruts."
"We didn't want to lead the same sort of mundane, suburban life we saw all around us," Glen told an interviewer in 1991, describing the motivation that led to the creation of Toad. "We hoped to always be trying something that we hadn't done before. We didn't want to get to our thirtieth birthdays thinking that we'd already lived the best years of our lives." As the guys in Toad individually approach that milestone age, they have plenty to look forward to, but back on September 3, 1986 their goal was simple enough: win the talent night contest at a local restaurant called "Joe's Two." Of course they had no way of knowing that that evening's performance would be the first of over 1000 shows that they would play together, especially after they went home without the prize money.
BREAD & CIRCUS
"Did Toad really record their first album for 650 bucks?"
The answer is "yes." BREAD & CIRCUS took 8 days to record and mix in 1988, thanks to the efficient and inexpensive studio known as Camp David in Thousand Oaks, California, owned and operated by the personable David Vaught, who also mixed and engineered the album. Originally released as a home-made cassette in Santa Barbara area music stores, Toad's management team of Chris Blake and Brad Nack made sure the tape was readily available to the numerous record companies located a hundred miles south in Los Angeles, and one of them (Columbia Records) signed Toad in 1989. As part of the deal, Toad insisted that BREAD & CIRCUS be released without any alterations or remixing. Even the cover art, a painting by co-manager Nack, stayed exactly the same when Columbia put it out later that year. Nine years after it's release, BREAD & CIRCUS still sells a few hundred copies a week, making it percentage-wise one of the most profitable albums ever released while the four guys who recorded it can still say they've never been a member of any other band except Toad.
"Who is Marvin Etzioni?"
Before Toad signed their deal with Columbia, they were ready to record their second album, once again using their own funds and their own friends in the process. In their search for a "real" producer, managers Chris Blake and Brad Nack suggested an old friend from the L.A. music scene named Marvin Etzioni, a talented musician who had played and written songs for the popular country-rock band Lone Justice. Etzioni's "roots" approach in the recording studio led to another low-budget (as in approximately $6500 for the entire album) and no frills session that resulted in PALE. Toad once again insisted that PALE be released by Columbia without any alterations or remixing. Without that intervention, it's doubtful that any label would have put out such a uniformly gentle yet downbeat record. If it's a rainy day, you're all alone and your life seems to have no purpose, then PALE is the album for you. It appears to be a favorite among those who were teenagers in 1990.
In the following years, "Marvin" (as he is simply known in the music biz) has remained a close friend of the band, and he even performed at Randy's wedding. He also produced the track "Brother" for the "So I Married An Axe Murderer" soundtrack (later to appear on IN LIGHT SYRUP) and toured with the band as an opening act in 1992. Currently Marvin moonlights as a studio player with such friends as Maria McKee and Dogs Eye View while pursuing solo ventures as a singer, songwriter and producer.
All of the following acts toured with Toad The Wet Sprocket; True Or False:
1) Wild Colonials
2) Soul Asylum
3) Rusted Root
8) Letters To Clio
9) Hootie & The Blowfish
11) Gin Blossoms
12) Ziggy Marley
13) Geggy Tah
14) Jane's Addiction
15) Michael Penn
16) Melissa Etheridge
17) Deborah Harry
18) Jackson Browne
20) Billy Bragg
21) The Grays
22) Midnight Oil
23) Wasted Tape
24) Counting Crows
25) Chris Whitley
26) Bon Jovi
29) Marcy Playground
30) Dave Matthews Band
Actually, the answer is a combined "true" and "false." Every one on the list has shared the same stage on the same night with Toad in one way or another, but only the "odd" numbered acts on the above list have toured with Toad. The "even" numbered acts have been on the same bill with the band for one or two nights. Click to see where and when.
"Is it true that "All I Want" was nearly left off the album FEAR?"
Yes. Difficulties encountered while recording the tune left the band frustrated and ready to abandon it all together as Todd describes in the notes to the songbook "Collection:"
"It almost didn't make it on the record. We really didn't like it very much, and it was hard to get in tune. It wasn't until it was finally mixed down that it took on a shape that worked, but up until that point, we didn't know where it was going to go. It was very surprising that it turned out to be a hit."
And a hit it was, Toad's biggest selling single to date, providing Toad with their first major radio and MTV breakthrough. Yet even after the recording sessions for FEAR were over, the song's fate was in doubt. A memo sent to Columbia Records from producer Gavin MacKillop's manager on March 13, 1991 states:
"I spoke with Gavin about the need to limit the mixing to 14 songs. His only hesistation about providing a list of the final 14 (for the FEAR album) is that there is apparently some difference of opinion about what should be on the list."
The memo goes on to list 5 songs already mixed, 8 more on which everyone involved had agreed upon (including "Good Intentions," which would not be released until IN LIGHT SYRUP) and then "2 songs on which not everyone is in agreement." Those songs were "All In All" (another future IN LIGHT SYRUP track) and "All I Want."
The memo concludes: "In order to arrive at 14 songs, a decision would have to be reached on "All in All" and "All I Want." This is obviously an issue for Sony and the band."
Fortunately for all in involved, "All I Want" was chosen as the last track to complete FEAR, an album which remains Toad's biggest seller ever.
THE TV TUNES AND SOUNDTRACKS
"What movies and TV shows do Toad songs appear in?"
Toad listeners probably know that two of the tracks that appeared on the IN LIGHT SYRUP collection were culled from soundtrack albums. "Little Heaven" was written for the "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" (1992) prom dance scene and "Brother" was recorded for the Mike Myers comedy: "So I Married An Axe Murderer" (1993). As discussed earlier, the song "Good Intentions" sat in a vault for 4 years before gracing the FRIENDS TV show CD (1995). Yet there have been other Toad tunes heard on movies and television. "Fall Down" pops up in the Wesley Snipes action flick, "Drop Zone" (1994) and "Stories I Tell" shows up in "Pushing The Limits," a 1994 skiing adventure made in France.
On the boob tube, Toad's music has provided the background for the 1995 Surfer magazine series seen on ESPN, and "Fall Down" was one of first tunes heard on the short-lived "My So Called Life" series (1994) starring Claire Danes. Another show popular with teen-agers, "Party Of Five," used "Walk On The Ocean" for its pilot episode as well as four other tunes on subsequent shows.
As for late-night TV, Toad first played "All I Want" on the old "Late Night" with David Letterman show (3/31/92) and subsequently returned for three more stints (twice in 1994, once in 1996) on the revamped "Late Show." Jay Leno has had the band visit the "Tonight Show" twice (1992 and 1996). Three other hosts whose shows are now defunct had Toad play for them: Dennis Miller (5/11/92), Arsenio Hall (12/11/92) and Jon Stewart (5/5/95).
DID YOU KNOW THAT:
-Glen is a voracious reader who doesn't even own a TV?
-Dean's uncle is the late Mark Dinning who had a hit in the 50's with "Teen Angel"?
-Todd is a 14 handicap golfer and plays in several annual charity tournaments?
-Randy is an avid Lakers fan and rotisserie baseball team owner?
"Who is Gavin MacKillop?"
As a producer and all-around studio maven for three of Toad's six albums, Gavin MacKillop has played a major role in shaping the sound and success of the band for the past six years. The man behind the console for FEAR, DULCINEA and COIL was born 35 years ago in Scotland and got his start as an engineer in 1981 at Virgin Records' studios in England, working alongside legendary producer Steve Lillywhite and recording such bands as Simple Minds, Big Country, and Echo and the Bunnymen.
His first production offer came three years later from the group General Public and resulted in a hit album, ALL THE RAGE, and single, "Tenderness." He finished off the decade doing free-lance work before moving to the States in 1990 and beginning his relationship with Toad a year later by producing, mixing and recording the group's first platinum album, FEAR. In the fall of 1993 he and the band took up residence at one of MacKillop's favorite studios, The Site in Northern California, and recorded another best seller in DULCINEA. MacKillop and the band took advantage of the studio's accomodations and "live-in" mode by recording the songs in a "live" setting with minimal overdubs. Two years later, a number of tracks recorded for, but left off of FEAR and DULCINEA, appeared on IN LIGHT SYRUP, including the MacKillop produced hit "Good Intentions." When Toad began recording COIL in the summer of 1996, they realized they could use a little help in their brand new, self-built studio, and it soon became obvious who to call: Gavin.
"To me, (recording) is all about great songs and great lyrics," MacKillop once told Billboard magazine.
"However, I don't think there are any hard and fast rules to anything, because every record you do is different, and I find that exciting." Indeed, each record he has produced for Toad has captured a different stage and sound of the band's career, and to this day MacKillop and the band remain friends, both inside and outside the studio.
THE SANTA BARBARA RAPE CRISIS CENTER
"What charities are supported by Toad?"
Throughout their career, the members of Toad have been involved with and have contributed to various charities, including Amnesty International, Rock The Vote and Concerts For The Environment. In their hometown of Santa Barbara, California, the band turns their attention to the local Rape Crisis Center, which provides anonymous counseling and comfort to victims of sexual abuse. To help raise funds for the Center, Toad has staged an annual benefit concert for the last four years which has featured the likes of Soul Asylum and Hootie & The Blowfish, as well as popular local acts like Spencer The Gardner and Corrie Sipper.
On the national scene, Toad headlined a benefit show in 1993 for the Rock For Choice organization and since 1995 they have allowed RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) to set up tables and distribute literature at their shows. Perhaps the largest audience ever to see Toad perform was at the N.O.W. (National Organization of Women) rallies held at the Washington Mall on April 9th, 1995 and April 5th, 1992. Over a half million spectators attended the latter date, and numbers approaching that attended the former. Toad's concern for victims of abuse and women's rights in general is reflected most strongly in "Hold Her Down," a hauntingly powerful track from the FEAR album, with an equally striking video directed by close friend Dana Tynan. In a letter to radio stations explaining the nature of the song, Glen wrote:
"Hold Her Down" was written a couple of years ago as a personal response to the tragic experiences of people close to me. It was my way of dealing with my anger, and of expressing my awe at the strength they had in surviving such a senseless and terrible assault. It is uncomfortable to have the song released as a single at all...it has the potential danger to be taken at "face value" because of it's somewhat graphic nature. It's not a pleasant song‹it is angry and ugly, but sexual assault can't be portrayed as anything but ugly. It is, however, a very personal piece, and not a contrivance. It should be a disturbing song‹but it is not without hope."
IN LIGHT SYRUP
"How many 'Mailing List only' recordings have Toad produced?"
In late 1990, Toad began writing and recording demos for their third album, and decided to send a cassette of two new songs, "Walk On The Ocean" and "All In All" to the few thousand listeners who had signed up for their Mailing List. So they had some artwork drawn up, and under the title of "Rock and Roll Party All Night" a tradition was born. Two years later, the band put together a Volume 2 with left-overs from the FEAR album: "Hobbit On The Rocks" and "Are We Afraid." About that time, Toad released their first commercially available single "All I Want" sided with the non-album track "All She Said" (an out-take from the PALE sessions) and another precedent was set of releasing singles with non-LP bonus tracks. The bonus tracks from subsequent singles and three movie/TV soundtrack tunes provided the bulk of material for IN LIGHT SYRUP, along with the song "Chicken" which was part of "Rock and Roll Party All Night Volume 3." This mailing list volume also included "P.S." which was left off of BREAD & CIRCUS and PALE, and eventually IN LIGHT SYRUP as well. The band chose another tune, "Janitor" for I.L.S. instead, making "P.S" the only Toad tune to have been rejected for three albums! So all in all, three mailing list singles have been sent out to the over 65,000 listeners that have signed up in the past eight years.
"How many videos have Toad made?"
Toad made seven videos for songs from their first three albums that were packaged together in the video anthology "Seven Songs Seldom Seen." Since then, five more have been filmed, including three from DULCINEA and one each from IN LIGHT SYRUP ("Good Intentions" with guest star Courtney Cox) and COIL ("Come Down.")
"Did Toad really record in a homemade studio?"
Yes. After a year and a half of touring in support of DULCINEA, the four members of Toad returned home to Santa Barbara for some much needed rest. When the topic of a "next album" came up, all agreed that it would be nice to record it somewhere in the vicinity of their homes. After all, Glen and his wife Laurel had one baby to look after and another on the way while Randy and his wife Heather were also expecting. Ideas of renting a large home and furnishing it with recording equipment came and went before Todd took it upon himself to buy some property and install a studio in one of the older buildings on the site. Throughout the spring and summer of 1996 Todd worked on the building project along with Dean and long-time Toad pal Jonas Marquez. Finally, after getting the "bugs" worked out the COIL sessions began in earnest, resulting in the band's "fifth" album (not counting the IN LIGHT SYRUP compilation.)