Let this be an example for you whippersnappers out there still pining for a major record-label deal. In 1996, Vaden Todd Lewis’s six-year-old North Texas outfit the Toadies became alt-rock gods on the strength of their major-label debut Rubberneck and its unlikely blockbuster single “Possum Kingdom,” preserved, it seems, forever on modern rock radio’s playlist. Interscope excitedly ushered them back into the studio for a sophomore effort, Feeler, but decisively shelved the project in 1998, leading the group to break up a year later. After reuniting in 2007 and recording No Deliverance on Dallas-based indie label Kirtland, the Toadies found themselves back on the Billboard charts and headlining their own music festival, Dia de los Toadies, three years running. This month they also released a completely re-recorded Feeler on Kirtland. Lewis tells the Current what it feels like to finally call the shots, and why the Toadies can’t go back to Possum Kingdom.
What made you want to go back and not just re-release Feeler, but re-record it as well?
It’s a long story. Feeler was intended to be the follow-up to Rubberneck and we got approval to go into the studio. Somewhere along the line, before it was completed, we got the plug pulled out. So it was never completed and was subsequently leaked on the internet. When the band got back together in 2007 and started working on No Deliverance, we thought, if we can get the masters, we can complete Feeler and let people hear it the way it’s supposed to be heard. We contacted Interscope, we tried to buy the masters back, we tried to negotiate with them. They just stonewalled us. At first we were told, ‘We don’t have them, we can’t find them, we don’t know where they are.’ And then we were told various other bullshit stories. Finally we were told, ‘We’ll mix it and we’ll sell it to you wholesale.’ Like we’re a record store. We told them to suck it and waited out our 10-year re-record clause. Now we’re legally able to re-record that stuff and we did it.
Did Interscope ever give you a reason why they decided to shelve it?
They didn’t say directly ‘We don’t hear a single,’ but that’s what they were thinking. We were even told at one point, “Give me three good ones and you can shit all over the rest of the record.” In hindsight, they were looking for “Possum Kingdom” parts two, three, and four, and I just wasn’t up for that.
What did it feel like when you finally got to release Feeler?
It was great. We had a blast doing it. I can’t help but compare it to the first time we tried to do the record. At that point, it was a major-label endeavor — you can’t do anything less than $300,000 at all. We dumped a ton of money on it and we spent six or eight weeks or more in the studio recording it. Compared to now, we’re on an indie label, we call all the shots. We spent the amount of money we all agreed was reasonable. We spent the amount of time that we thought was reasonable, which was three weeks, and went in and nailed the stuff and had a great time doing it. I think the performances are even better than the original tracks.
Since you’ve had these two different experiences, one with a major label and one with an independent, do you think this new music industry `meaning the internet and smaller labels` makes it easier for bands to release the material they want to release, exactly how they want to release it, or is it still a struggle?
I think it’s a lot easier now. I’ve got a buddy in a band called Descender; he recorded the tracks by and large in his house using his computer system and then he negotiated with a producer to produce the rest of it on spec. Then he released it on Itunes without a label, with nothing. It looks and sounds like a record you’d pick up off a major label.
How does that change promotion?
That’s the catch. That’s the one thing that I think a major might be able to tout is promotion. But the flip side of that is, if they don’t believe in you 100 percent, meaning if they don’t think they can make a shit-ton of money off of you, they won’t promote you. They’ll let the money that they’ve spent on you be wasted rather than promote you. I’m in the captain’s seat now because I’ve got, in my opinion, a pretty big indie. They’ve got access to all the same promotional people that the majors do.
Does the loyalty of your fans ever surprise you?
Yeah, the last record we did, No Deliverance, I thought, we’ve been out of the scene for six or seven years, nobody will remember us, but this record is going to be great. We’ll go out and do a tour and have fun. Then we got out on tour, and our crowd was actually larger than it was when we left `the scene`. We were all just bowled over by that. How did that happen? I don’t know how to explain it, but they’re just some of the best music fans ever. Real diverse crowd; there’s every age and demographic. I think it’s a lot of big brothers and parents who are passing the word along, honestly. I’ve also had kids come up and say they’d never heard of the Toadies but they heard “Possum Kingdom” on Guitar Hero and they had to go out and get more music. That’s kickass.
Are you involved in putting Dia de los Toadies together?
Oh, yeah, this is invented by and for the Toadies (laughs). When we were doing pre-production for No Deliverance we were getting offers to do radio festivals and we started thinking: We definitely have a draw in Texas, what if we don’t do these radio festivals? Why don’t we do a festival where we get to call the shots?
How do you choose your venue?
We try to do it around a body of water so that we can have this theme of swimming and camping and picnicking. The first year was at Possum Kingdom lake, which was perfect. But we intentionally didn’t name it Picnic on Possum Kingdom Lake because we wanted to be able to move it, which is fortunate because we got run out of town by the sheriff. We can’t go back, ever.
Wait, the Toadies can’t go back to Possum Kingdom?
No. We did everything by the book. We had a great time. There was a .5-percent arrest rate. The sheriff basically lied to the city council … and made it sound like this crazy drugfest and scared all the locals so that they can’t have shows there anymore — especially Toadies shows.
How did you curate the other bands on the bill?
We want to keep it all Texas music. Specifically, Black Joe Lewis was the first thing out of my mouth when we announced that we were going to do number three, because I’m just a super-huge fan.
Most of your music is dark and cathartic. I always wonder if it’s a joyful experience to play that kind of music live?
It’s funny, because I don’t really consider the music that I write to be dark until I go back and read the lyrics and go, oh, fuck, that’s dark. I don’t know what that says about me and my personality, but we just have a blast playing live. It’s the funnest frickin’ thing that I can imagine doing. And I think the crowd picks up on that — well, I pretty much guarantee it. •
Dia de los Toadies
2pm Sat, Aug 28
White Water on the Horseshoe
11860 FM 306, New Braunfels