Toad the Wet Sprocket rose to prominence while I was still in pre-school, so I did not discover this jangly alternative rock band until much later in my mid-teens. I remember watching the commercial for Buzz Ballads and being immersed in the music that predated my listening habits. It fell into a slight lull with a few bands that I was not too enthralled with until suddenly I was jolted back with a 10-second clip of Toad’s “All I Want”. I did not order Buzz Ballads, but I did file away the band in my mind for future reference.
Flash forward six years later, I am reading the blog of one of my favorite songwriters, Dan Haseltine of Jars of Clay and he mentions that he and guitarist Steve Mason met because Haseltine was wearing a Toad t-shirt while walking through the campus of Greenville College. The mutual love for Toad’s 1991 breakthrough record, Fear, started a friendship and a band. I knew then and there I had to investigate this band further. I proceeded to buy their first three albums and became immersed in the incredibly earnest and introspective songwriting of Glen Phillips. Like Haseltine, I also felt a connection to Fear and still hope to obtain the original vinyl pressing in the future.
Phillips was just 16 when he joined Toad with Todd Nichols, Randy Guss and Dean Dinning in 1986 in Santa Barbara, California. After playing their first gig at an open-mic talent show and losing, the band continued to hone their craft and eventually released Bread and Circus, which scraped the Modern Rock Billboard charts, but did little else. Pale released on Columbia Records and received airplay on college radio and had a video that appeared on MTV. However, as with artists like Bruce Springsteen, the band did not break commercially until 1991’s Fear, whose singles “Walk on the Ocean” and “All I Want” were all over modern rock radio during the early 90s, solidifying the band’s reputation as torch bearers of the alternative movement. With songs in movies such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and So I Married An Ax Murderer, the band was well in the public eye. They released two more albums in 1994 and 1997, Dulcinea and Coil respectively. Dulcinea also achieved the same platinum-level success of Fear, but Coil’s lack of commercial performance marked the beginning of the end for Toad, who subsequently broke up, but their legacy lived on through diehard fans and bands influenced by their honest approach to songwriting.
Reunions followed sporadically for the next fifteen years with occasional songs written for compilation albums, a live album released in 2004 and performances as the opening band for Counting Crows in 2003. The biggest reunion occurred in 2006 with a 34-date tour. In May 2010, the band reconvened to re-record several of their biggest hits and fan favorites since Columbia owned the masters and offered little in the form of royalties. They also signed to indie label Primary Wave, who handles their back catalog and future releases. To the delight of fans, Toad announced the completion of their new album, New Constellation, in March of this year. According to Phillips, the band will use a Kickstarter to get the album to the fans. It’s a new and invigorated Toad the Wet Sprocket and the fans (new, old and future) could not be happier.
Toad the Wet Sprocket will be at Workplay Theatre on Sunday, May 12th, with Jonathan Kingman. This 18-and-up show starts at 8 p.m. and tickets are $25.