Glen Phillips of Toad the Wet Sprocket on Embracing Awkwardness
After Toad the Wet Sprocket (due at the Ogden Theatre on Saturday, November 22) started 25 years ago, the guys in the band eventually became reluctant rock stars, partly thanks to 1991's Fear, which included the singles "Walk on the Water" and "All I Want." But front man Glen Phillips says that none of them really felt like "band people."
"I think there's a certain self-confidence that normally comes along with people who have perseverance to get this job," he says. "I mean, we cared a lot about the music, but we didn't necessarily have that, which I think ended up being, in some ways, a strength, because at a time when everybody's being really aggressive we were kind of authentically awkward and vulnerable.
"For the people who were into Toad it's like, 'Hey, they look like they're not trying as hard as those other bands to be cool,' because we knew it was a lost cause. It's strange to have been able to continue to make music when we're not the kind of personalities that are supposed to be able to continue making music."
Although the band broke up in 1998, Toad reunited for occasional shows and a tour in 2006 and four years ago the band got back together on a full-time basis.
"It had been an interesting decade after the band broke up, and the music industry really kind of shrunk and changed," Phillips says. "We did the paying of our dues, I think, on the other side of things. Instead of while we were coming up we did it after we broke up. It's not what I thought I would be doing with my life. I'm really grateful to be able to make music, but I thought I'd be like a high school teacher or something. I'm still wondering how I ended up here."
Over the last decade and a half, Phillips made solo albums and he has a few other projects as well. During that same time, Phillips says there were periods where the band wouldn't play at all for a while or maybe play a few shows and just wouldn't right so they'd wait a few years and play a few more shows to see if it felt better.
"I think enough time just passed that we realized that people asked all the time when we were going to make a record," Phillips says. "There was a period when we finally.... I don't know, we were on the same page enough, and we felt like we could do a record that had heart and we could do a record that we'd be proud of. That was it more than anything. And even having an option to do it on our own."
When it came to record New Constellation, Toad's first new album in sixteen years, the band looked to its fans, and raised $264,762 on Kickstarter. $50,000 of that was raised in less than twenty hours.
"We're in a really lucky position that we have an audience who is actually wanting to hear what we do next," Phillips says. "So we're really grateful. It's a small group of people, but we could put out the record exactly the way we wanted it and we were in the black when we put it out. We gave it to the people who cared the most first and they were stoked and we were stoked and everybody won.
"There's a certain glass ceiling with doing it as an independent band like that. There's access you don't necessarily get. If you're on a major it's much easier to get, you know, late night TV, national press and all those other things can happen. But as it was we're able to be like a good family business. We're in our 40s. It's not like we're going to be the next teen sensation. That's a decent business for us to be in at this point."
And part of that business it touring. While a lot of things about touring have stayed the same since the Santa Barbara-based band started 25 years ago, a few things have changed, namely the internet and cell phones.
"I remember the days when you were dealing with road atlases and pulling over and waiting in turn with your credit card to make a call home from a pay home, hoping that would somebody would be home to pick up the phone," says Phillips. "Then it was this huge deal to me when I got a pager. My wife could page me to let me know when she was home and then I could go to a phone and make a credit card call home and she'd actually be there.
"Yeah, the world's pretty different. But you still show up, you play your songs and you hope people like it. That's the same as it's ever been."
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