By Drew Ailes
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By Kyra Scrimgeour
By Jena Ardell
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By Tom Murphy
Perhaps not, but scenesters in Dallas embraced pretty much everything else by the Toadies. The band's sweaty, kinetic live shows, featuring giant slabs o' guitar, whisper-to-a-scream dynamics and Lewis's gothic pronouncements, inspired crowds to gather and reviewers to wax rhapsodic. But when Rubberneck hit stores, keepers of the mainstream media did not immediately clasp the Toadies to their bosoms. The musicians were left to crisscross the country pretty much on their own. According to Lewis, "We hadn't really done a damn thing touring-wise before we got signed. So the whole first year was a shock. Thank goodness we had a decent van--although it's not that nice now. It's sitting in front of my apartment right now with a cooler full of beer from last year. Maybe I should get rid of that.
"Our first tour was with Samiam, and they really showed us the ropes. They were really cool people--but we still had to get used to a lot of stuff. Like learning to sleep in the van with a bunch of other people, and never getting what you're supposed to get in terms of money and rider and so on. Some people were pretty cool, but there were definitely some hassles."
The situation gradually improved over the course of a jaunt with Big Chief and the Goats and two sojourns with Bush, an Interscope labelmate about whom Lewis finds it impossible to gush. But a pleasant side effect to the inexplicable rise in Bush-mania was that the Toadies suddenly were being seen by thousands more people each night than had previously been the case. Interscope responded by finally putting some muscle behind Rubberneck. These efforts persuaded MTV to push the vampiric video for "Possum Kingdom" into the Buzz Bin, and before Lewis knew it, the Toadies had sold over 500,000 albums and were playing arenas with the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
That's not all that's changed for the group. The decision-makers at Dallas radio stations that once resisted playing songs by local talent have decided that if the rest of the country likes the Toadies and such Texas brethren as Tripping Daisy, maybe they should give them a spin as well. In the meantime, the number of regional acts being signed by record companies is up--way up. Lewis sees this last development as double-edged. "I hope it doesn't become an official 'scene' that would warrant label attention," he says. "Don't get me wrong: There are a lot of bands that deserve label attention more than anybody. But when you get bands trying to sound like other bands just to get signed, well, that's a drag."
Such are the dangers of success--and there are others. The Toadies once had good press and no liquid assets; now they have the funds they previously lacked, but they're being victimized (unfairly) by the critical backlash against modern rock. Lewis says he understands; after all, he's noticed that there's a lot of lame music out there, too. "Definitely the more quantity you get, the less quality there's going to be--if that makes any sense," he grants. "More of it's going to be crap--which is why we get compared to crap quite a bit. Somebody was writing about us and said, 'Who needs another Bush?' I couldn't even laugh that off. I got really offended by it. And somebody else said we single-handedly killed off alternative rock.
"I'd like to take credit for that, but I don't know. Single-handedly? I don't think so. Maybe we just gave alternative rock colon cancer."