Toadies: Far from Away

On the heels of numerous other 90’s alternative rock bands reemerging onto the scene with new albums and reunion tours, the Toadies are back with a slick confidence and solid sound that is sure to win the hearts of old and new fans alike. In fact, this was evident at their October 18th performance at the Rave in Milwaukee, as teens to thirty-somethings moshed and nodded their heads side by side to both beloved Rubberneck favorites and new No Deliverance jams.

Did the Toadies envision they’d be rocking the stage in 2008? Most likely not, as the abrupt departure of bassist Lisa Umbarger disbanded the group in 2001 shortly after the release of their delayed follow up to ‘94’s Rubberneck, Hell Below/Stars Above. The split occurred about five months after the album dropped and just after they set out on tour in support of the album. Lead vocalist Vaden Todd Lewis announced the Toadies’ official breakup on August 21, 2001.

But even before the lackluster response to Hell Below/Stars Above and the imminent disintegration of the band, Lewis hadn’t banked on a future for the Toadies beyond Rubberneck. When asked if he anticipated the success of their 1994 commercial breakthrough, Lewis said, “No, no I did not…I fully anticipated to make the record I wanted to make and have a good time doing it, and then get to see the states and get dropped and go back to work. That was honestly the way I went into it…I never anticipated it.”

The Toadies hit the road aggressively from ’94 – ’97 in support of Rubberneck, while their now classic single “Possum Kingdom” reached #4 on the U.S. Modern Rock Charts. Lewis says of those grueling days of touring: “It was fun, it was a lot of fun – it was a lot of work, but a lot of fun.” But times have changed since then: “I wasn’t married, didn’t have a kid, didn’t have a house or car, any of that shit, didn’t even have an apartment…so you know, it was a total ‘living the life’ experience.” His favorite band they toured with? “Either Baboon or Brutal Juice,” he says, both Dallas bands they hit the road with in ’96 – ’97.

After the 2001 breakup, the band members focused on other projects: guitarist Clark Vogeler went to work as a film editor, drummer Mark Reznicek hooked up with country-western band Eleven Hundred Springs, and Lewis formed the Burden Brothers in 2002. The Burden Brothers toured profusely while releasing a slew of EPs, two albums and a DVD, and by August 2007 Lewis felt it was time for a break. “We [Burden Brothers] got off the road in August and I was looking at a large amount of time off with that band. We needed a break, we needed some time apart anyway, just because we had toured so much – so I got home and just started writing. I didn’t really know what I was writing, but eventually I realized that a good chunk of the songs sounded very old school Toadies-ish. We had actually already lined up to do some December shows together at that point, so I just called the guys to see if they would be able to take a year or two off from their lives to go tour and do a record and whatnot. So, that’s just kind of the way it came together.”

Prior to hooking up to work on the new album in late 2007, the band regrouped on March 11, 2006 for their first “reunion show.” Lewis said the Toadies finally agreed to reconvene after a number of random offers. “It was nerve-wracking after not doing it for so long,” but the band went on to play a few more sold out shows in the spring of 2006 and again in the spring of 2007.

The Toadies have come a long way since forming in 1989 in Forth Worth, TX. After enduring a handful of lineup changes, an album rejection and total rewrite thanks to Interscope Records, and nearly five years apart with no live performances (seven years since their last album), the Toadies are back in action and ready for the next leg of their musical journey. Lewis describes the process behind their new album, No Deliverance, as such: “This time, it was just a fresh start. Primarily, this record is different because I wrote pretty much the whole thing. I got home from touring with the Burden Brothers, started writing, and once we decided this was going to be a record, I just dove into it full steam. It was cool because I had a new perspective now from Burden Brothers, and being away from it [Toadies] for so long and trying this other direction for so long, I could see, for me, what defines a Toadies song. You know, as vague as that is. It was really cool, just a blast to write it and to record it – it’s been a lot of fun.”

Lewis speaks genuinely and excitedly about No Deliverance, as well as the thrill of hitting the road these past few months. The Toadies have sold out shows this summer and fall in many major markets and performed for a packed house at the Roxy in LA on September 11. I ask Lewis how it feels to be back on stage, playing many of the same songs that were setlist staples 12-14 years ago. Of the Roxy show he says, “after doing this for so long and playing LA so many times, and seeing the VIP area where the industry people sit and rub elbows and talk and barely realize the bands – to look over there, and they’re standing on the tables, cheering – that’s just fucking cool.”

The picture Lewis paints of the execs at the Roxy illustrates just how contagious the Toadies’ explosive energy is on stage, as they plow through heavy Rubberneck favorites, Hell Below/Stars Above jams and the tight rock of No Deliverance. On Saturday night, the Toadies established the set with the opening track from Rubberneck, “Mexican Hairless”, an in-your-face instrumental that forcibly got heads bobbing with definitive spunk. Moving right into the third track from Rubberneck, “Backslider”, old school Toadies fans were in bliss as the pounding chords filled the air with Lewis’ perfect vocal delivery resounding that sorely missed ‘90’s grunge angst. As a small mosh pit formed in the center of the crowd, one front-row fan flung a pair of sunglasses, hitting Lewis in the face; miffed, Lewis called out the fan and asked that he resist throwing objects on stage and refrain from hitting/punching the fans around him. Unfortunately he did not comply and was hoisted over the barrier a few songs later.

After a spot-on rendition of Hell Below/Stars Above’s “Little Sin”, another Rubberneck favorite, “Happy Face”, flew by with Lewis’ proclamation of “No more son of a bitch” closing the tune with implicit force and satisfaction. After another track off Hell, they tested the waters with the high-power “So Long Lovely Eyes” from No Deliverance. Well-received, they moved into two more songs from Rubberneck, the eerie “I Burn” and the fist-pumping, mosh-inducing adventure known as “Quitter”. A few more tracks from Hell are thrown into the mix, as well as the title track from No Deliverance, followed by the opening swell of Rubberneck’s “Away”. The Toadies translate so well live that music from a decade and a half ago sounds more fresh and alive than one would expect; the songs are polished to perfection while maintaining an authentically gritty and anxious resonance. The whirlwind of the second half of “Away” soared into oblivion, and those few minutes were the absolute pinnacle of brilliant alternative rock music.

“Song I Hate” from No Deliverance kicked in next, a catchy tune with a nice progression in true Toadies’ style. Watch a video of the song here!

Moments later, the much-anticipated hit “Possum Kingdom” belted through the speakers proudly, while a crowd of primarily boys aged 16-22 took over the front section with energetic moshing. Though it is safe to say the beloved “classic” was thoroughly enjoyed by all in the venue, it is important to note that “Possum Kingdom” was not the one big moment fans went crazy for. As with some ‘90’s bands, those one or two big hits are all some fans show up to hear. This is clearly not the case for the Toadies, as fan participation was prominent throughout the entire set.

One more song each from Hell and No Deliverance followed, and Rubberneck’s thrashing “Mister Love” and the catchy “I Come from the Water” rounded out the set. The Toadies came back for an encore performance of “Hell in High Water” from No Deliverance, followed by Hell’s closing track “Dollskin”. The lovable strumming of Rubberneck fan favorite “Tyler” closed the show, with fans screaming the lyrics in unison all the way through to Lewis’ final declaration, “I will be with her tonight!” It was the perfect ending to a virtually flawless show, and the Toadies absolutely nailed it.

I feel confident in saying the Toadies are still extremely relevant and more capable than ever, and have successfully proven that they are anything but a 90’s band past their prime. Their extremely dedicated fan base remains loyal and active, and when I asked Lewis why he thinks fans have stuck with the Toadies all these years, he said, “Man, I don’t know, but they have, and it’s just amazing – just stunning.” Perhaps it’s because of the individual attention they give each one of their fans, as they still conduct meet and greets after every show, taking the time to chat, sign autographs and take photos. Fans also stay active by frequenting the Toadies’ MySpace, Facebook, and fan sites.

The Toadies aren’t going anywhere, that’s for sure – after wrapping up their current tour in late November, they will take just over a month off before heading to Hawaii for a few shows. Lewis says they plan to look at raising their profile a bit more next year, as they hope to open for a prominent headlining band in 2009. Lewis expalins, “We’re talking about getting out in front of more people and using a headliner to do that with. That’s one thing that’s never changing – touring is the thing – if you want people to know who you are, you get on the road and you go out. There’s other ways to do it, but that’s a way that still works and that I highly subscribe to…and I really enjoy it.”

Eager to constantly reach new fans, Vogeler was able to secure a spot for the Toadies on Guitar Hero II for Xbox – “Possum Kingdom” is featured on the game, and there is a strong possibility that more tracks will soon be released as downloadable content. Vogeler says, “We’ve gotten a lot of e-mails and messages from kids who had never heard of us before Guitar Hero, so that’s just another great avenue for getting the music out to people who love to hear it.”

Just like the Toadies, “Possum Kingdom” won’t be going away anytime soon, via the radio, video games, or live shows – and I can understand why. Lewis says, “Somebody asked me at a show last month, ‘do you ever get tired of doing “Possum Kingdom” over and over again?’ And there was a period when I did get tired of it, but I had kinda lost my focus in a lot of ways…the short answer is, how can you get tired of seeing all these people jump up and down and smile, ya know? It’s just kickass. So, I mean, if you focus and keep your priorities straight, it can never get old.” And this is yet another reason why I will always love the Toadies.


A few other tidbits from my interview with Todd:

CoS: What is the most personal song you’ve written?

T.L.: “Lyrically, it’s been about 50/50 – stuff that’s directly from my life, and stuff that I feel is influenced by my life – but I’ve kinda made up this fictional landscape. But as far as the most personal one, I would have to say “Pressed Against the Sky” and “Backslider”, probably. I can’t think of one off the new record – as I get further away from the new record I’ll probably look back and give you one off of that record.” But Vogeler reminded Lewis of the song “No Deliverance”, and Lewis immediately agreed. “Each one of those came from me looking at a point in my life and focusing on it and writing on it, writing about it.”

CoS: What is the meaning behind the song “Tyler”? Is it really about a peeping tom that once roamed Tyler, TX?

T.L.: “Loosely, a lot of that record I wrote based on me just being a fucking weirdo and making up characters. But a lot of it I wrote based on stories that I’d heard from my family. I have family that lived outside of Tyler, TX (my grandparents’ farm) and over dinner one night, they were talking about this guy who was just running around coming onto peoples’ property and looking in windows, and nobody could really catch him. It dawned on me when I heard that, even though I was a little kid, probably early teenager, that it struck me as a load of crap, because I mean, everybody’s got 50 shotguns right by their door…you’re not gonna go look in windows unless you really want to die. But at any rate, I kinda took that character and just ran with it.”

CoS: Is there anything you would change, looking back at your career?

T.L.: “Well, it would have been good to have had a better contract the first time around, but, you know, I’m not a big fucking cry-about-the-past kind of guy. We could have made a little more money, but big fucking deal – we’re doing fine, you know. I don’t know, I did all the drugs that I could, got laid as often as I could…I think I’ve had a pretty good past!”


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