So, Todd Lewis, it has been six and a half years since the Toadies’ debut Interscope album, “Rubberneck,” was released, eventually selling 1 million copies and spawning the modern-rock smash, “Possum Kingdom.” And now this is 2001.
Good god, man, where have you been?!
“There’s no good short answer for that,” the singer-guitarist said, with a laugh, recently from his Fort Worth home. “There was a lot of writing, red tape, some problems with management, some mergers at the label and just trying to get to a point where we had the songs we wanted and also had the momentum at the label.”
Now that the group – Lewis, Clark Vogeler (who replaced Darrel Herbert on guitar in 1997), Lisa Umbarger (bass) and Mark Reznicek (drums) – has its act together, relishing in the long-awaited March 20 release of its “Hell Above/Stars Above” album, did the quartet fear fans would forget them?
“I tried not to dwell on it,” Lewis said, “but it’s always there somewhere. Our current management was really good about finding out who the people out there were and going back to them and finding out how to turn new people on.”
Between albums, the band kept a low-profile and did little touring, Lewis says. It’s a good thing, because their lives were in turmoil.
“We went into the studio in ’98 to track like 14 songs for the second album,” he said, “and that didn’t seem like it was working. We didn’t even bother to mix it. We scrapped it and used about four songs, retooled them, all the arrangements and words. Two of those made it onto this record.
“It was right when the (Universal-Seagrams) merger was going on and we had a bunch of weirdness going with our management then. We were all in a weird place, not really sure about what we were doing motivation-wise. We told we were a bunch of lame shits by the people we were paying to give us advice. It was just a weird scene.”
Complicating matters was the use of ProTools. The band tried it for the first time, but Lewis says the sound was mechanical and cold. Frustrated and stuck in a writer’s block, Lewis escaped in his car and drove around Texas for a while, uncertain what to do about the band and his life.
“I tried to figure out, ‘What am I going to do, go back to school?’ ” he said. “There were people trying to convince me to break the band up and that I didn’t have it anymore, that I was washed up. Every fucking head trip you can imagine, plus all the ones I put on myself.
“Then I was driving around, and I just said to myself, ‘Fuck these guys. What do they know?’ I got home and called the band and we got back together and started playing shows.”
From there on in, it was easy for Lewis to concentrate on writing new material. His confidence restored, Lewis fired some people and stripped down the group’s inner circle.
“I started managing the group, booking the flights, arranging shows,” he said. “I went out to L.A. and had a meeting with the president of the label, who I had never met and thought hated my guts. I learned so much. There wasn’t a huge cloud hanging over my head; it was a huge opportunity for me to jump on. I could sit there and whine about it or I could write some songs and do what I’m good at.”
Lewis wrote so many, they had nearly 40 songs to choose from when they entered the studio for “Hell Below/Stars Above.”
“We picked the best ones and narrowed them down to the ones that went together or pulled against each other in the right way,” he said.
The Toadies’ original fans won’t be disappointed; aggressive tracks like “Push the Hand” (the first single), “Motivational,” “Little Sin,” “Heel” and “Plane Crash” hint of the group’s boogie-punk sound, while the haunting “Dollskin” shows that Lewis is ready to expand their horizons.
“We didn’t consciously try to change our sound or repeat a certain sound,” he said. “There is a subconscious thing in my head to try to trump whatever I’ve done, throw some curves and try something new and different without trying to alienate people.
” ‘Pressed Against the Sky,’ to me, is the biggest limp we went out on, because it’s really on-your-sleeve and emotionally bare, not trying to hide behind a scary story. It’s just what it is. Since ‘Rubberneck,’ I’ve been trying to express myself without relying on some story to hide what I’m really getting at.”
Tracks from “Hell Below/Stars Above” may not get radio airplay alongside Shaggy’s “Angel” or Janet’s “All For You,” but Lewis isn’t concerned.
“The charm of this record is that we don’t fit in,” he said, laughing , “especially now with all the backwards-hats-wearing, scream-at-the-floor guys. It might be refreshing to hear somebody who can write a song and not be playing one chord on a seven-string guitar, screaming about their childhood.
“That’s what’s going to work with this record … there’s people actually singing and not being tuned by a computer and actually playing their instruments and actually writing a song. It has some merit to it, some hooks. It’s something to sing along to.”
Now it’s time to “get my ass in a bus and tour the country,” Lewis says. He’s itching to do it.
“I really believe that if people come see the band, hear the record or both, that they’re going to be turned on,” he said. “But if it doesn’t make it, I’m not going to jump off a bridge.”
THE FIRST RECORD I EVER BOUGHT: “Thin Lizzy’s ‘Jailbreak.’ That’s a good first one, and it had a kick-ass cover.”
THE FIRST CONCERT I EVER WENT TO: “I didn’t go to any until later on, when I was 16. My first was Journey, with Bryan Adams and the red rocker, Sammy Hagar. My parents had scared the hell out of me about concerts from the get-go. ‘You’re going to get stabbed,’ so I didn’t want to get stabbed. When I was 21, walking into a bar, I’d be thinking, ‘Okay, who’s going to stab me?’ Some guy got stabbed at a Willie Nelson concert when we first moved to Fort Worth from Beaumont; therefore, everybody gets stabbed at a show. Mass stabbings everywhere, at rock shows and drive-in theaters.”
MY FAVORITE TV SHOW?: “Right now, I’m into ‘Junkyard Wars’ on TLC. It’s an English show where these guys are literally in a junkyard and their objective is to build a rocket or a catapult out of the crap in the junkyard and see who does the best job. The last one I saw, these people had to build a rocket and you had to put a snow globe in the cone of the rocket and whoever could get the snow globe back to Earth without breaking it was the winner. It was fucking cool. I’m a MacGyver myself and like to put shit together and make it work, so this show’s right up my alley.”
BWF (before we forget): Leap on over to www.thetoadies.com or geocities.com/spacepod/mp3.htm for more on the group.