Having spent well over a decade of making superb and sometimes controversial recordings together, the Dixie Chicks put the breaks on their group for personal and professional reasons. However, the talent contained within the group would not stay dormant. The new self-titled album by the band's Emily Robison and Martie Maguire--otherwise known as Court Yard Hounds--reflects a new direction for the pair while maintaining a sensitivity to their former brand of music that made millions of fans worldwide.
This is an exclusive video, a third chapter of the story of Emily and Martie's new project titled "Songwriting."
Episode #1 "The Inspiration"
For fans of Toad The Wet Sprocket, a reunion tour that takes the hit group to a city near you is as close as they're (we're) going to get to a new project (or maybe not?). That said, the next, next best thing might be an interview with its members on all things Toad, covering personal reflections and just a hint of band fraternity.
A conversation with Glen Phillips of everyone's favorite group, Toad The Wet Sprocket
Mike Ragogna: So? A new Toad tour?
Glen Phillips: I think I said, "given long enough all bands become Spinal Tap." We did just like every other band. We played a few and it was interesting; I feel like, last year, we finally ditched our history and we were finally able to just enjoy what we were doing. So getting together again was just sort of a fun thing to be able to do.
MR: You obviously are playing some of the hits, like "Walk On The Ocean" and "All I Want."
GP: The crowd really wants those songs, and those kind of memories. They can go see a Toad show and they can get all of that.
MR: What about during your solo shows?
GP: I touch on it, not completely. I think at this point, I kind of have my own solo audience. Although they appreciate hearing the singles, they are also a small enough crowd, at this point, that they pride themselves on wanting to hear the new material, and not really just wanting to go back to memory lane. So it's good to get to serve both groups.
MR: Other than the hits, what are some Toad classics you guys are playing? And is there anything from your solo records?
GP: I don't think, as a solo artist, I have any well-known songs, but I've been off the radio for a while now. I think that's about it for solo, I kind of tried to combine the two, but at some point, I just realized I think the Toad audience just wants those songs. We stopped making records, and an audience is expecting familiarity. They'll be able to handle a little bit of new material, but not much. The old stuff that we are doing...it's a lot of songs, there are twenty-something songs in the set, and only maybe five or six of them were singles. So that's a lot.
MR: The story goes your name comes from a track by Eric Idle on Monty Python's Contractual Obligation album, it being a line from one of his routines. When people asked where the name "Toad The Wet Sprocket" originated, what were some of your more wise-ass answers?
GP: The common answer is that's what a woman cries when she has a real orgasm and we're very sorry you've never heard it. That was our worst catty answer to the band name question.
MR: There were folks out there like Steve Forbert who supposedly used to throw out origin lines like, "I'm the seventh son of a seventh son," never offering the same story twice.
GP: We had a few including it was a military industrial complex. But basically, it was a joke name that we thought was hilarious and wanted to see in print. Somehow it stuck.
MR: Around '89 or so, you guys putting the band together as pals in high school. You've had many EPs, five studio albums including Bread and Circus which was your first indie-released album, well, cassette. And there was your mega-successful Fear album. You had memorable hit singles, and many album tracks that fans adored. How does it feel looking back at Toad's accomplishments.
GP: It all seems very, very different. I think maybe of anybody in the band, I haven't gone off the road. I've kept making records and did 100 shows last year. It's odd, I have this kind of continuum where I can't separate it as much because I never stopped doing many of those things, though I started doing them in very different ways. I've become as indie as it gets in terms of not having had a manager in four years, a booking agent, you know. I get in a van and do my own travel and make my own websites and I make albums. It's been very active, but it's a bizarre memory that I can't really identify with if that makes sense. I'm grateful for it because we go out and play and there are a lot of people there again. It's very easy and it seems very strange, but it's part of a world that doesn't even really exist for most anymore. The ability to take time and have a patron who will let you put out your indie records and have faith in you and keep you on the road and let you make albums the way you want to make them and actually trust you to do your job and promote it after, it's like pretty much gone.
MR: Does it seem that with the most successful popular recordings auto-tuning, hyper-compressing, etc., it's a challenging environment for a purer artist to try and find one's own sound as well as big success.
GP: I've got to say, that's within a narrow pop world. That's a particular kind of music that's very placement friendly. Your best chance, once you're playing pop, is the major label game. But there are certain genres like punk where people can find music like that. And then there are singer-songwriters, you know, kind of "in quotes," with songs that have a particular, hopeful, beautiful swoon to them that will find their way onto Gray's Anatomy. It's kind of its own genre. A handful of people make their living through that. But I also think there are more incredible bands coming out now then I've ever seen before. I think it's an incredible fertile time. You're getting the first of the iPod generation.
MR: Very different than any other because of the technologies.
GP: I mean, when I was a kid, it was like people were so into their one genre, right? If you were into punk, you were only going to be punk. If you were metal, you were only going to be metal. Now you have kids that are going through their parents' iPods, going through their own iPods, and they're actually challenging each other on a basis of breadth of knowledge. The wider your musical taste is, the cooler you are. I think with the breadth, you're getting like a lot of new bands making really intricate, kind of epic, kind of far-reaching non-genre specific music. A few of them find their way to the light like a Grizzly Bear popping out, however they managed to do that. So, I think there's more interesting good music happening now than ever before. It's just finding it is a real challenge because there's more of everything including junky pop and the fact that anyone can put an album out there.
MR: Everyone's got Pro Tools.
GP: I read some statistic that I cannot verify that's saying there are like 105,000 records released last year and 1500 of them sold more than 10,000 copies. I mean, it's a fascinating era in that anybody can put up an album, and a lot of them are actually really good. How then do you distinguish yourself or get heard? I'm feeling very lucky these days having a band like Toad, having some history back when a record company let us do our job and they did their job and it actually worked and people bought records. Now people don't people really "get" buying records. Economy aside, they don't understand, by-and-large, that THEY are the patrons of the arts to make it fly. And I think they have a very magical thinking process on how musicians make ends meet. So, I've been feeling very lucky, but I also know so many people who are so talented and so capable who are not really doing well. They didn't have their day on the radio, so they can't get the old crowd who remembers. It's a bizarre combination, there are great opportunities and there's great adversity.
MR: As far as the iPod generation, I've never heard it put in the context of "they're the new patrons of the arts." I don't think they look at it that way.
GP: I know, it's more associated with the classical world or the art world, places where there are grants. Talking about available music grants, for instance, from the government, in Canada, you get matching funds to record an album. You get matching funds to go on tour as an indie band. They have the idea that you should support the arts and that songwriting is one of the arts. The United States has a very odd stance in that in order to get any kind of arts grant for writing, you have to prove that it is completely commercially non-viable.
MR: That's odd considering our government, these days, is all about capitalism and that's about it.
GP: The strange thing about songwriting is that it can occasionally be extremely economically viable, sometimes just for a very short period. It has that potential. But the potential is so rare for most writers these days, that it's almost non-existent. You combine that with the fact that this actually is the art that people consume on a daily basis. They don't tend to wake up and look through a book of paintings though some people do. They don't necessarily sit there as they're getting ready for work and, you know, go through a few pages of poetry. They listen to music throughout the day. They put on that music to underscore the things that they do to enhance their lives constantly. It is the most consumed type of art that there is. It's the most appreciated, most personally important, and it's the least recognized. I think we're in a state where songwriters, to some degree, are in danger, in at least as far as make a living doing their art. I'm just saying a modest living, not making a killing. And I think people continue not to buy albums, and then radio stations die, and most music is streamed or pirated. It will actually become a big question whether being a traditional songwriter is now an endangered enough position that it should perhaps be eligible for patronage.
MR: Unfortunately, I have a feeling that the country just isn't in the mood to hear this type of argument because it seems like we've been so self-centered.
GP: We are. I think that's a national tragedy. The thing is people will complain about the music that's out there and they will complain how there's nothing good on the radio, how the major labels suck and then they will happily burn twenty copies of their favorite records for all their friends. All their friends will sit and listen to whatever great new band it is and talk about how wonderful it is and play that record over and over and they will never consider paying for it because everybody thinks it's somebody else's problem. And the question is when does it stop. There'll be a lot of guys who have day jobs, they'll make beautiful records at night and people will continue to listen who love music, but it will never actually enable that artist to continue making that music as anything more than a hobby.
MR: What's happening in your solo career lately?
GP: I've spent many years kind of thinking I was going to build myself up just to one higher level, and then I would take stock of my life. I think I realized this past year that I have three pretty amazing kids. I have adolescent girls. I have kids, I have a family I like. My main thing is trying to figure out a balance of limiting my touring forty shows a year into kind of intense bursts. I've never been home for nine months straight. I've never been able to go back to school. I've never been able to have a schedule. I've never been able to ask myself what I want to do when I grow up. That's kind of my primary plan. I'm starting to write for another album, but the primary goal is to live at home 'cause I kind of painted myself in a corner with touring. While I really like doing it--I love playing shows--I want to scale it back to a degree where I feel like I live at home. That's very exciting to me. So I just may do forty Toad shows one year and no solo shows, and then get a solo album ready and do forty solo shows. Hopefully, in the meantime, I'll do a lot more bizarre projects. My personal interests are a little less mainstream than Toad, as evidenced by the lack of mainstream presence over the last ten years. But I'm happy with that decision. I get to explore where things go.
MR: Might there be a new Toad album down the line?
GP: It's possible. Certainly after last year's experience, really honestly, we all felt great about it. It took us about 15 years to get to that point. We've got a lot of history. Whether we could turn that into something that is artistically viable, moving forward? There's a whole lot of reason to do it because people apparently want it, and it would be an economically good decision. It needs a delicate balance. We need to be very careful about the next steps we make. And I have, I think we all have a whole of creative outlets that we're extremely happy with. Dean and Todd have been co-writing in Nashville. Todd's been producing people. Dean has been working on film stuff. Randy has been playing with a number of people. It's like everybody has creatively-fulfilled lives. So, I think it's a possibility, but I mostly see it as other people's desire.
MR: You know, some acts have put their toes in the reunion studio album water by releasing live albums.
GP: Yeah, and I think we're going to do some re-records pretty soon. We got our publishing back for the sake of easy licensing. We're probably going to go in the studio just to do soundalikes of our own material, not to sell, but for use in licensing. So, I won't say never. And we may find we just have an incredible time.
Dean Dinning's Reflections On Toad The Wet Sprocket
I think the connection between Toad and our fans is still really strong. Back before the internet, we started a mailing list because we assumed we'd never get played on the radio. We would send out postcards when we toured, Christmas cards during the Holidays, we even sent them all a cassette single of the demo versions of 2 songs that were about to be recorded for Fear. So the fans got to hear our home recording of "Walk on the Ocean" before it was ever on the radio, or on an album, before we even knew it was going to be on the album.
We did in store appearances where hundreds of fans showed up, and rather than just sign autographs, we played an acoustic concert first. People loved that! We even had one of our in-stores canceled by the Mayor's office in Shaumberg, IL, (we had already arrived) because they were worried about what might happen when the (obviously) crazy fans showed up to meet this band with the crazy name. Undaunted, we used a photo taken in front of the store that day as the cover for our live EP, "Acoustic Dance Party." We always took the time to really meet and talk to our fans, and many ended up becoming friends. There were people who would follow us around for days at a time, and if I would just put them on the guest list, hang out with them before and after the shows; fun stuff. We really like our fans.
We did a few tours as an opener. We opened for Deborah Harry, The B52's (when "Love Shack" was on MTV all the time) Michael Penn, Chris Whitley. After that, we made the decision that we needed to tour as the headliner, even if it meant playing smaller places. We ended up getting a lot more popular and having a ton of great people open for us over the years; Hootie and the Blowfish, Gin Blossoms, Dave Matthews Band, the Wallflowers and lots more. Even Milla Jovovich opened for us when she was thinking of transitioning to being a singer. I've heard that the time in a person's life when music makes the biggest impact is between the ages of 18-25. We played practically every college in the country from 1991-1998, so we got to make that connection with a ton of people, and I think that bridge still stands today.
The 2nd or 3rd time we played in New York City, we found out that Jon Bon Jovi was in the audience. He was there with his wife, and Lou Diamond Phillips and his wife. Randy, who can talk to anyone, goes out after the show and meets Jon Bon Jovi. Years later, we were playing a gigantic radio station multi-band concert at Madison Square Garden and the recently reunited Bon Jovi were the "secret unannounced headliner." Nobody in the audience knew they were on the bill. Randy bumped in to Jon Bon Jovi backstage, and Jon remembered Randy, of course. Toad had recently covered "Rock and Roll All Night" for Kiss My Ass, the Kiss tribute album. Randy asked Jon to come out and sing it with us during our set, before anybody knew who the "secret" headliner was. When Jon walked out on that stage for that 2nd verse and started singing, the place went absolutely nuts. It was like being behind a 747 taking off. Funny thing was, this was a concert being put on by an "alternative" radio station, and at that time if you had asked any of the people in the audience if they liked Bon Jovi they probably would have slapped you. In the end, their love won out over their coolness.
Randy Guss' Reflections On Toad The Wet Sprocket
I was thinking about Toad's first Bio. We wrote it ourselves which is kinda how we always liked to do stuff like that. And all it was was each of us writing what Toad meant to us and what the others meant to Toad. I found a copy of that about year ago but I have no idea where it is now. But I thought taking on this thing in that fashion might be the best way for me because, honestly, not that much has changed. So here goes:
It all starts with Dean. He's the single most important member of Toad. Todd and Glen bring in the songs, or song parts, but nothing would go anywhere without Dean. I met Dean in Junior High School and he's always been like that: the perfect support guy. Everyone probably has someone like this in their lives. Like when you say something funny and that guy says it funnier. Dean's like that. If you give him anything he'll give it back 10 times better. And by the way, I don't think the importance of humor can be overstated. It's probably what drew us all together to begin with and it's still my favorite part of hanging out with those guys. Like, Todd and I have known each other our whole lives, since we were two. So there's a lifetime of inside jokes between us. And when we met Dean things got funnier.
Glen once said about Todd that "he oozes music." Actually, that's a pretty unpleasant image huh? But I know what Glen meant and I think he's right. Todd goes through phases where a bunch of really cool song ideas just start coming out of him. He's always been a "one at a time" person...he focuses on only one thing and while he's focused on that he does that thing really really well. That might be typical of a lot of people, I don't know. But I've never in my life known someone like Todd who is so single-minded in that respect. But what's weird is that I've never met anyone who's so talented across the board...in so many ways. He does so many things and he does them really well, but only one at a time.
Glen is the voice of the band. Well, obviously. But I mean it's his creative touch that's most noticeable, that's most obvious. And of course, he writes the lyrics. Which still mean something to me. Certainly not what they once did, but I feel I'm at my best when I'm connecting to the lyrics in an emotional way, so I've adjusted the song's meanings over the years. And, obviously, his voice is really good, and when he's at his best it's almost embarrassing to be playing with him. I mean he's really, really good. I remember when we recorded "Little Heaven" and Glen just went off. The three of us and Gavin, our producer, were listening in the control room as he did it and, like I said, it was kind of embarrassing.
By the way, that's something that I really value about the era in which we recorded our records. Because everything was so expensive there was always time pressure. And that meant we had to be there when things were being recorded because as soon as one thing was done we went on to the next thing, which could've been anything. We had to be witnesses just for the sake of expediency. OK, so anyway, Glen's really good. He's sometimes great...I mean genuinely, great. I don't know why he's not always great. I see him solo and it's the same thing. Sometimes he just blows my mind. I don't know what the difference is. Maybe he's thinking too much. But f*#k, I don't know what it's like to be a singer/songwriter/front man. I don't even know what it's like to perform while standing up, let alone standing front and center. My Dad once said about Toad "you guys were an amateur band, and some people really liked it!" And I think that's about right.
I think what I brought musically to the band was, and still is, the amateur part. I wish I could sound like a pro, but I don't, I can't. I think we all have limits, and like anybody doing anything we want to get the most out of the gifts we've been given. I became aware of my own physical limitations as a child, earlier than most people probably do. I have a bone-disease (osteogenesis imperfecta), so I've broken a lot of bones, and I'm really small and physically weaker than most people. I think usually the drummers are the opposite. They're the big strong ones in the band. With us it was never like that. And as I get older certain things about drumming are becoming more difficult. Let me say, though, I never "maxed-out" my physical abilities. I think that's true with Toad too. I don't think we've ever got to the point where we thought "that's all there is. We can't do anymore." There's always been room for improvement, I don't think we ever fully achieved all that we could musically. That kinda sucks, but it means we can still get better.
The way I think of it, Toad lasted constantly from 1986 to 1998, and occasionally since. All we do is play live, which is fine. I love playing live, it's always been my favorite part of being in any band, and I think we're sounding better than we ever have. We're definitely enjoying it more so now than before. It's really just feels right. But for me there's something missing without new music. It's kind of like what I imagine being a vegan to be. I could survive doing it, and probably be healthier, but eating just wouldn't be as fun.
Ladies & Gentlemen, (Re-)Introducing Mr. Tony Lunn
Tony Lunn is a dynamic singer-songwriter and a ferocious fan of The Band, The Flying Burrito Brothers, and Joe Cocker. I know this firsthand because I had the honor of working with him as a co-producer on a handful of catalog projects a couple years back. His dedication to Americana and roots music is unquestionable, and it's alive and kicking in his new video, "Something To Believe."
Tony Lunn's last video was for his song "Change" that was used in the presidential campaign for Barack Obama and featured on his album The Last Days Of Diresville: