Skeptics might view the Toadies’ most recent reunion tour — yes, there have been others — as nothing more than a past-its-prime band looking to cash in on a little ’90s alt-rock nostalgia. Frontman Vaden Todd Lewis saw the North Texas band’s holiday-season mini-tour (which hit San Antonio for two shows last December) as a chance to peak into the future and decide if his band actually had one.
As it turned out, compelling sizable legions from Generations X and Y (the Toadies’ primary fan base) to buy tickets the first time around wasn’t particularly difficult, if only because the thought of reliving glories of yesteryear by singing along to “I Come From the Water” and “Mister Love” was simply too enticing for some to pass up. But less than a year removed from that sold-out double-bill, and with a new album — No Deliverance — slated for an August 19 release, Lewis will soon learn whether his band will, in fact, live on beyond drunken karaoke versions of “Tyler” and the occasional radio spin of “Possum Kingdom.”
“I think the audience is still there,” Lewis says by phone in advance of the Toadies’ show at Sunset Station on Friday, June 20. “Real music fans are so put off by what’s been foisted on them for so long and shoved down their throat on radio, so they’re looking elsewhere.”
Nevertheless, things have changed since the Toadies’ mid-’90s heyday, highlighted by the 1994 release of their platinum-selling Interscope debut album, Rubberneck. Lewis went on to form Burden Brothers, currently on hiatus while he devotes himself to his latest Toadies-related endeavor. Many Toadies fans have moved on with their lives, both musically and personally, and Nickelback — for better or worse (hint: it’s the latter) — is now the rock band that rules the radio airwaves, while the only major American rock bands that remain from the Toadies’ mid-’90s peak are Pearl Jam (maintaining a low profile), Smashing Pumpkins (watered down and humbled by public indifference), and Green Day (maturing into political awareness).
The Toadies have evolved as well.
Lewis, for starters, is going by his first name (Vaden) rather than his middle name (Todd) these days. He has also settled down with wife and fellow musician Beth Clardy, and has even started viewing music as a business, rather than a means of scoring drugs and getting laid.
“A lot of priorities have changed,” the 43-year-old Lewis says. “With the very first Toadies record, we went into it as punk-ass kids. As a punk-ass kid, I figured I’d get to put a record out, and it would sound great, and I’d get to go on tour a couple of times. Then I would get dropped and I’d go back to my job at the record store. That’s how I thought it would go down. From that, I’ve evolved into somebody who knows what he does for a living.”
In keeping with the current trend among established artists liberating themselves from the corporate strictures of the record industry, the Toadies will be releasing their new album through a small label, the Dallas-based Kirtland Records. The band was burned by the major-label system when Interscope rejected their followup to Rubberneck, and by the time they’d completed an album satisfactory to the label, seven years (and considerable commercial momentum) had slipped away. The resulting album, 2001’s Hell Below/Stars Above was poorly promoted and roundly ignored, and the failure spurred longtime bassist Lisa Umbarger to leave the band. At that point, Lewis decided to pull the plug on the Toadies.
“After going through the major-label grind and the experience of all that, it’s like we’re coming full circle,” Lewis says. “Putting out a record on an indie label with complete artistic control and no lanes at all, doing what you want to do, it defines the band.”
Even after the success of the band’s most recent reunion tour — a tour Lewis originally declined to label an official reunion — he refuses to look too far into the Toadies’ future. Though the band is booked into the fall — including a headlining gig at Lollapalooza in August — Lewis won’t speculate on just how long this particular Toadies’ reunion will last.
He does, however, have hopes for the band’s ultimate legacy.
“I hope that people remember the band as a kind that played by its own rules,” Lewis says. “Even on a major, which is why it took so long to do the second record, because we wanted to do it our way. Wrestling back and forth, that’s the way I try to live my life.”
And even if No Deliverance falls closer to Hell Below/Stars Above than Rubberneck in terms of commercial and critical acceptance, the upcoming tour will at least give Lewis and company the opportunity to hear thousands sing along to “Tyler,” which is as catchy as it is creepy.
“That’s the one people go nutty for,” Lewis says. “I don’t know why, and we gave up a long time ago trying to figure out what it is.”
As for Lewis, he’s content these days to earn an honest living and go home to a loving spouse at the end of the day. He’s matured since the Toadies first burst onto the scene, though he insists he learned a lot from the wild times — so much so that if given the chance, he’d offer up much of the same knowledge to his 20-something self.
“Get more pussy,” he’d say. “That sounds like a pretty good motto.” •
8pm Fri, Jun 20
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