After a 1998 split that broke the hearts of a million alt-rock fans and a 16-year span bereft of a new studio album, ’90s mainstay Toad the Wet Sprocket is back together, and the band’s latest outing — “New Constellation” — hit the shelves Tuesday.
After five studio albums — “Bread & Circus” (1989), “Pale” (1990), “Fear” (1991), “Dulcinea” (1994) and “Coil” (1997) — that sold more than 4 million copies worldwide and produced hits including “All I Want,” “Walk on the Ocean” and “Fall Down,” why did it take Toad so long to put out its latest album?
“We all needed a huge break from the band,” Toad lead singer Glen Phillips said, speaking of himself, guitarist Todd Nichols, bassist Dean Dinning and drummer Randy Guss, who came together as Toad while still in high school.
“I had no idea who I was outside the context of the band, and I needed to kind of — yeah, I just needed to find something outside of it. We all did.”
When Phillips embarked on a solo career, though, he found a much different world from what he’d known with Toad.
“I tried to get a record deal — I couldn’t get a record deal anywhere,” he said. “I didn’t know how to make demos, I didn’t understand how the business worked.”
Phillips toured non-stop for 15 years but never found the widespread acclaim he had with Toad.
“I think a big reason we broke up was taking it for granted and not getting how lucky we were and how special it was. ... We spent a lot of years wondering when the hand of God was going to kind of reach down and put you back in the top echelon. And it never did — I just worked my —— off and got paid less.”
In 2002, Toad reunited to open a few shows for another ’90s mainstay, Counting Crows. But a long-term reunion was not in the cards.
“(They) asked us to get back together and open some shows for them, and we’re like, hell, it’s opening for Counting Crows, that’s good, you want to do that,” Phillips said. “So we did it, and before we even played one show, people were already trying to plan a full tour for us, people were already trying to plan a record for us.
“People shoved us so hard into a full reunion that we just freaked out,” he said. “We weren’t ready, at all.”
There was also vanity in play, Phillips admitted.
“I think I had a big chip on my shoulder, and ... my fear is always somebody is going to say I’m (going back to Toad) because nothing else worked and I’m doing it because I have to.
“At some point I just got over it and figured that people want to see it and it would be fun to do.”
The reunion started very slowly for the band members — they had 16 more years of life under their belts, and after a serious injury in 2008 that left his left hand half paralyzed, Phillips in particular had to approach Toad very differently.
“I couldn’t play a lot of the songs the way I used to,” he said. “I was relearning to play guitar, and we were doing shows, and I think even that to a degree, the fact that instead of me being a little Hitler and bossing everybody around, I needed them.
“I needed them to help me — I got my own humility back, and we had to show up for each other in, I think, a way that we didn’t have to show up for each other before. And even that process kind of softened us to each other, made us more of a band again.”
Anyone familiar with Toad will hear the DNA of the band in “New Constellation,” but it is very different from, say, 1991’s platinum-certified “Fear.”
Songs on “Fear” sound as if the band is playing in the middle of an empty warehouse, and while “New Constellation” still has some of that signature Toad reverb, it’s used to emphasize a mood, not create one, Phillips said.
The result is an album that sounds like Toad but like something completely different at the same time.
“We didn’t want to make the same record we’ve already made,” he said. “There’s something that we do that’s — I don’t know if it’s massively unique on a worldwide scale, but it’s unique to us. There is a signature ... there are things that we do that other bands don’t. So we wanted to respect that while still taking a little of the vocabulary of what happened over the last decade and a half.”
Phillips has dealt with depression for years, and you hear a lot of it in the lyrics of Toad’s previous albums. That trend has continued in much of “New Constellation.”
“About half the record, at least, is about depression, but I’m less concerned with the stories that make me sad and more concerned these days with the neurology that makes me sad.
“So I’m asking different sets of questions about it — I’ve suffered a lot from depression, so that’s still a key thing.
“(‘New Constellation’) is a different perspective, it’s not a 21-year-old, or whatever it was — which was ‘Fear’ — looking at this life as this scary, huge thing,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of life since then, and (I’m) trying to make sense of different questions.”
“New Constellation” was funded by a crowd-sourced Kickstarter campaign with a $50,000 goal that was met in 20 hours. In total, the band received more than $250,000 from about 6,300 people.
“We were overwhelmed, of course,” Phillips said. “The amazing thing is we can put the record out, and own it, and not be in debt. And actually already have it in the hands of our biggest fans first and give them something special you can’t get anywhere else.
“It makes me feel so grateful to be able to step back into the world Toad is in and to know it in contrast (to his solo career). ... I resented the difference between those worlds for a long time. It’s good to go back and appreciate Toad for what it is,” he said. “And try to let the other guys know how lucky we are too … to keep perspective, because nobody gets to do this with their life. It’s the dream job.”
Reporter Mark Boxley can be reached at (502) 582-4241 or on Twitter at @Boxleyland.