Nostalgia’s nice, but that’s not what Toad the Wet Sprocket are interested in, not today, not ever.
Yet while that’s a usual line from bands going on package tours like the Toad gang is on with fellow stars of the 90s Smash Mouth and Tonic (which hits NYC’s Irving Plaza tonight), they’ve put their money where their mouth is with arguably some of their best work, with 2013’s New Constellation and this year’s EP Architect of the Ruin coming more than two decades after first hitting the charts with top 20 hits “All I Want” and “Walk on the Ocean” in 1992.
It’s the happy result of a reunion that could have been disastrous, but as soon as the four members of the band – Glen Phillips, Todd Nichols, Dean Dinning and Randy Guss – stepped into the studio to record New Constellation, it was like riding a bike.
“Because it’s these four people and because it’s the same four people that have been doing it since the very beginning, it didn’t really surprise me that much at all,” Dinning said of the band’s reformation and success in the studio. “I’m always a little bit surprised because you never know how things are going to translate when you’re in the studio, but for some reason, the way these four people do it, it has a sparkle to it and it really works. When we get away from each other, we forget sometimes, and then you get back together, you’re reminded immediately, and you go ‘oh, that’s why we do this.’”
Well-received by fans and critics, New Constellation’s timing was perfect, as younger music fans are starting to appreciate the music of the 90s, while some of the crusty curmudgeons who slammed it while it was going on are also beginning to begrudgingly give it its due.
“I think that is happening,” Dinning said. “I see it with some of the playlists that people make in places like Spotify. Our music still gets heard a lot. I’ll Google something and find out that “All I Want” was like the number ten most viral song in the UK for a couple weeks. It turns out it was because somebody added us to some 90s playlist on Spotify. That’s what people are doing nowadays. If you like something, you’re curating a playlist and I think there’s a natural filtering going on, and you’re ending up with less of the cartoonish 90s stuff and more of the stuff that was actually good and holds up. Maybe that’s the way it will eventually be remembered – I certainly hope so.”
But what it is it about Toad’s first five albums – released from 1989 to 1997 – that still holds up today? Dinning has a theory.
“When we starting the band, we were listening to people like The Cure and The Smiths and R.E.M., and if you think about a song like “Girlfriend in a Coma” – it’s a combination of really sad, depressing lyrics with deceptively upbeat music,” he said. “And I don’t know whether that’s a recipe for songs to last, but it might be. I think that’s very similar to what we do. The music is pretty upbeat feeling a lot of the time, but if you want to explore the lyrics, you’ll find that they’re thought-provoking and dark at times, and there’s a lot going on. So I think that element of depth has helped us to survive as long as we have. It’s not just a surface thing. We’ve never been fashionable, we were never really a part of any larger trend. Alternative music went mainstream after we had already had some success on the radio, and we really didn’t have to change anything that we were doing.”
The fans will always want to hear the hits though, and that’s what tours like the one they’re currently on celebrate. That’s fine with Dinning, and he and his bandmates are always focused on giving the people what they want. And thankfully, enough of them want to hear the new material as well.
“We have about seven songs that were successful on the radio, and as long as we have enough time, we have a great set going,” he said. “We’ve got between four and six new songs, one of them is from the EP we just put out, Architect of the Ruin, and we’re still playing songs from the New Constellation record. And obviously this is a self-serving thing to say, but what helps is that the songs are good and they’re memorable. I don’t feel like people are just wading through the new stuff to get to “All I Want” or “Walk on the Ocean.” That’s the climax of the show and it will always be that way, and we’re happy with that. But they do get excited when we play the new songs and we can see their reaction.”
As for the tour, which runs through Saturday, they’re having a blast.
“We just try to put together a good show, and what we ended up with was Tonic opening the show and then us playing second and Smashmouth really closing the show,” Dinning said. “They are, pure and simple, your party band. We knew that we couldn’t follow them, and who would want to. (Laughs) They do a great job of tearing it up at the end of the night, and people love it. I’m really happy that we’re out with those guys.”
And Dinning and his bandmates are happy to be on tour with each other, nearly 30 years after forming in California.
“We know each other really well and we know each other’s rhythms and moods and quirks and the certain things we have to put up with to get from A to B, and it feels pretty comfortable,” he said. “We all have separate lives, but the band is our life’s work, and we’re all very proud of what we do with it. In some ways, it’s probably easier because we’ve become like a family over the years. For better or worse, we’re stuck with each other.”
Toad the Wet Sprocket plays with Smash Mouth and Tonic tonight, July 29, at Irving Plaza in NYC. For tickets, click here