Interview: Toad the Wet Sprocket
When I caught up with Toad the Wet Sprocket they were getting ready to play a show in balmy Miami and Glen, lead singer, mandolin and guitar player, wasn’t exactly thrilled to hear about he lovely Utah weather he would soon be experiencing. Last time the band was in town they played one of the most memorable shows ever that the Bar and Grill. If you missed out you can catch the band this month at the Horticulture Building.
SLUG: What would you say is the most dramatic change between your last two albums, Bread and Circus and Pale and Fear.
TWS: I think more than anything is the time we got to spend on it. It was about two and a half months to record and mix. We had about two years since we recorded Pale. We recorded Pale Before we released Bread and Circus. We’d finish both albums before we set up with Columbia than we re released them and started all over again.
SLUG: How do you like dealing with record companies? is it something you’d rather not do?
TWS: I guess the good part of the music business is music, the bad part is business. It actually isn’t that bad. They let us do what we want to do musically and I think we all know of realize that the business part is a job, and as far as a job goes it’s not that bad considering it enables us to do music.
SLUG: Putting it in the light of a job, what do you think about Toads future? The bad is relatively young. Will you be doing Toad the Wet Sprocket for the next 40 or 50 years?
TWS: Who knows. I think as far as we have a good time with it.
SLUG: The subject matter on your albums tends to pretty heavy, from “One Little Girl” to “Hold Her Down.” Where did that song come from, “Hold Her Down”? How would you categorize it? People have been throwing it around the anti-date rape name on it.
TWS: I don’t even know if it’s specifically about date rape. It started out just violence in general and from reactions of friends, and also just talking to friends, it became more and more about rape than just violence in general. The song kind of changed. I don’t know many women who haven’t been raped…
TWS: … I don’t know if anyone does. The statistic is something, about one in three, I guess.
SLUG: Does it set well with you that people are treating this as an awareness song, that this issue is being raised with people who hear it?
TWS: Well, it’s weird. ’Cause it was written as a personal expression. It was not written as, as…
SLUG: It wasn’t supposed to be the banner for the anti-date rape movement.
TWS:…Yeah, we didn’t intend to be spokespeople. It’s weird ’cause you write a song about something personal to work it out, to get out that anger, and it becomes public it become a message. That’s the weird thing about art, it should be about something. But as soon as it becomes public all of the sudden you’re preaching. So it’s kind of uncomfortable. But at the same time I guess it’s important.
SLUG: And a good cause at that.
TWS: Yeah. Jerry Garcia has a great quote about the whole rainforest thing that the Grateful Dead were doing. Something to the effect that somebody has to do something about the rainforest, it’s just kind of a sick joke that it has to be the Grateful Dead. So it’s good that the song is getting out there and hopefully its affecting people.
SLUG: Let’s talk about the rest of the album, there seems to be a lot of butterflies. What is your main source of inspiration? Is nature something for you or just the free spirit of butterflies, or that taking it a bit too far?
TWS: I tend not to really question and think out imagery too much. Butterflies kind of came along and seemed right. They’re beautiful, they’re a big symbol of change and the last few years have been nothing if not full of change.
SLUG: How would you describe your experience having made three albums now. Has it made your life exciting or has it taken what music was to you and changed it?
TWS: Well, music has become a lot more important, but that started before Bread and Circus. I don’t know, music is not, I love make it but it’s also not the most important thing in my life. Its more an expression. It’s important therapeutically, It’s important to get up and sing, it’s important to get up and write up songs. I guess in the last two years suddenly we weren’t going to school anymore. When we did the first two albums we were in school. The band was a hobby. It was like a sideline of life and all of a sudden it became the focus.
SLUG: Is it hard to keep perspective, when it becomes that much…
TWS: It’s not hard to keep perspective it’s just that all of the sudden when the only think in your life is the band you really have to start looking elsewhere for inspiration.
SLUG: And where else have you been looking these days?
TWS: Relationships. I fell in love so I actually wrote a few love songs.
SLUG: Now is that good or bad? Some musicians won’t write songs that have the word love in it, because they think it’s the tackiest thing they could do, so rock-n-roll cliche. Do you let that stop you?
TWS: It depends on if he was in love or not. Nothing is new in music. There’s seven notes in a major scale, there’s 12 notes total. It’s a matter of what you do honestly. “I Will Not Take These Things For Granted: was just kind of a straight ahead love song for me and it felt great.
SLUG: How does the rest of the band figure into the writing process? Do you write most of the stuff or is it a democratic process?
TWS: I write all the lyrics and the music about half from Todd (guitar), half from me. And then we kind of all kick it around. Once it’s introduced to the band it’s no longer anyone’s personal property. I mean it makes it a Toad song.
SLUG: The thing that I’ve been hearing from people is that those who saw you a year ago and then see you today are just impressed in the growth, on every level, of the band. Is that something you or the rest of the band has noticed?
TWS: Well we’ve been working pretty hard. I think we’ve noticed it. It’s weird, we got better as individual musicians and kind of a re-examined the way we worked as a band. We’ve just been working, we’ve been playing a lot. Touring is one of those things, I’d say a year of touring is ten years of playing in town.
SLUG: Are you sick of that?
TWS: No, not sick of it. I like being home a lot.
SLUG: Where’s home?
TWS: Santa Barbara.
SLUG: Is that where all the band is from?
TWS: Yeah, it’s good, it’s where friends are. I think we’re kind of simple people, we’re not much into the rock n’ roll ideal. But, playing for a different audience every night is wonderful. Being able to see the country, even if it’s through a window, is a lot of fun.
SLUG: How has the album done in the rest of the country?
TWS: “Hold Her Down” has been a problem. Three or four stations tried to out and they all got a lot of complaint.
SLUG: Why? Was it an issue people didn’t want to deal with?
TWS: Or an issue people didn’t understand, maybe they didn’t get the song/ It’s hard though, I mean there’s some satire. I think the chorus “They don’t know her / But what the fuck / They’ve got nothing else to do,” that for me, is really satirical. The whole song used to be satirical. And I actually ended up getting a letter from a women who thought that the song was basically saying that boys will be boys, and she loved Toad and couldn’t see how we could write a song like that. I wrote her a long response saying the chorus if anything is a satirical, throwing up hands saying, “I don’t get it, I don’t know why it happens.” And I don’t know, it’s a hard subject. ’Cause it’s not a pretty song, there’s no way to really handle it in a positive light.
SLUG: That’s what I found interesting. It just seems that we keep coming back to this song, because it’s a song that demands you talk about it and listen to it. The music is so catchy and poppy and the subject matter, the lyrics, the clash of the two is exactly what the song is about. Was that anything calculated at all or is that too much analysis?
TWS: We work our music first and the lyrics tend to come afterward. I don’t know if it’s a conscious thing but a lot of the times the more depressing songs will actually have somewhat happier melodies.
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