The band Toad the Wet Sprocket took its name from a Monty Python skit.
“I once wrote a sketch about rock musicians,” Monty Python co-founder Eric Idle has said. “And I was trying to think of a name that would be so silly, nobody would ever use it or dream it could ever be used.”
Truth is stranger than fiction, as Lord Byron once wrote. It’s even stranger than silliness. The name was used and used to great effect.
The bona fide band Toad the Wet Sprocket will perform at the Clyde Theatre on August 29.
Regretting the Silliness
Toad’s bassist, Dean Dinning, said the name was chosen quickly and waggishly and was not meant to be permanent.
“Most days we regret having named the band that,” he said in a phone interview. “No one would have named the band that on purpose. We were just silly, nerdy kids who wanted to see that name in the paper.”
One good thing might have come out of it. Dinning has a theory that DJs were tricked by the band’s name into thinking it was edgier than it actually was.
“If you just heard the music by itself, you would have thought it was the new song by Bread,” he said. “’What the hell?’ you would have thought. ‘They sure took a long hiatus.’ But because we had this wonderful alternative-sounding name, our music was played on a lot of alternative stations.”
From 1991 to 1997, the band churned out irresistible pop hits that may or may not have reminded their listeners of Bread.
Then, like Bread, the band broke up.
Appreciating what they have
Toad the Wet Sprocket has been fully reunited for about nine years now.
The band fell victim initially to an accumulation of minor disputes, Dinning said. One of those disputes, believe it or not, was competition for the attention of the sound board man.
This has since been resolved thanks for a high-tech system that allows each musician to control his own mix via remote control.
“We were always bickering during sound check,” Dinning said. “One of us would ask the sound engineer for something when someone else wasn’t done getting what he wanted.”
But in 2008, lead singer Glen Philips suffered an arm injury that will probably hamper his guitar playing forever. Dinning thinks this experience made Philips more appreciative of the band.
“I think it’s something that makes you realize, ‘Oh, this could all go away,’” Dinning said. “He has mostly got his playing back. There are still certain things on guitar he can’t do.”
The Billboard charts being the fickle and quixotic things they are, Toad the Wet Sprocket’s hit-making days are probably behind it.
Still, the band continues to release superb new music. Its 2013 album, New Constellation, was well-received by critics. Fred Thomas of AllMusic.com had this to say about it: “Older, wiser, and with a newfound hopefulness that wasn’t there in their younger days, Toad deliver an uncluttered and thoughtful next step of their ongoing songcraft.”
No longer resenting Nostalgia
Of course, many of the fans who will attend the band’s Fort Wayne show will be anticipating a concert that mostly stokes and strokes their nostalgia.
The band was anti-nostalgia at one point but its views have since evolved.
“There were times when we felt more like, ‘I’m a legitimate artist. They should pay attention to our current output.’ The way to look at it is whether song has emotional connection with the audience or not. If the answer is yes, it means they have chosen to bring that music into their lives.”
Dinning said he goes through the set list every night and asks the other band members if they might like to replace a song that doesn’t have that emotional connection with one that does.
“It’s so hard to make that connection in the first place,” he said. “So if you’ve established that connection and you reject it because you think you’re owed that connection on a newer song, you are making things unusually hard for yourself.”
The band’s resentment of nostalgia was so strong years ago that it rather contemptuously put its biggest hit third in the set list order.
“The conventional wisdom is that you should play your biggest song at the end,” Dinning said. “Ours is ‘All I Want.’ Because we were feeling a little cynical about the conventional wisdom, we decided to toss it out there third. Our thinking was, ‘If there are people who came here just to hear this song, they can leave after that.’”
This backfired in the best way possible.
“What happened is that they were so thrilled to hear their favorite song, they loved everything we did after that,” Dinning said. “Once they hear ‘All I Want,’ we have them in the palms of our hands.”
Making a living in a changing industry
Making a living in a music industry that is much changed since the band’s heyday isn’t easy, but Dinning said the musicians who tend to complain loudest about this need to educate themselves.
If you think your royalty check from the streaming service isn’t big enough, he said, you need to ask yourself where the rest of the money is going.
The artists who have mastered the system understand the principle of “super-serving.”
“Look at Drake,” Dinning said. “He’ll put an album out with 37 songs on it. You know that every fan is going to listen every song at least once.
“Our manager says, ‘Whether you put out an album with one song that’s streamed a million times or you put out a million songs that are each streamed once, the results are the same.’”
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