Toad the Wet Sprocket Biography

This US rock band was formed in the mid-80s at high school in Santa Barbara, California, by friends Dean Dinning (9 June 1967; bass/keyboards), Randy Guss (b. 7 March 1967; drums), Todd Nichols (guitar/vocals) and Glen Phillips (b. 29 December 1970; vocals/guitar/keyboards). The unconventional name came from British television’s cult comedy series Rutland Weekend Television, notably their brilliant satire of The Old Grey Whistle Test. By the time they had established their reputation on the local Santa Barbara club circuit, none of the band had even reached the legal drinking age required for entrance. Despite the irreverence of their name, the band’s lyrics were delivered with intelligence and poise, and addressed social issues and personal relationships. With a budget of just $650, their debut album was recorded in a cramped living room, but still caught the immediacy of their live show. Sold at local stores and gigs, it allowed them to finance the release of a second set, before the major record labels began to notice their local popularity.

The band signed to Columbia Records in 1988, who agreed to re-release both albums in their original form. As Phillips recalls, ‘We got signed in the summer after what was going to be our last year together. When the summer ended I was supposed to go off to college.’ What they did instead was to depart on support tours with the B-52’s, Debbie Harry and Michael Penn. Their major label debut, Fear, followed in August 1991. With ‘Hold Her Down’ receiving widespread airplay, the 100, 000 sales return of the album satisfied both artist and record company. Then, quite unexpectedly, Toad The Wet Sprocket took a giant commercial leap forward. ‘All I Want’ entered the US Top 40, as did its follow-up, ‘Walk On The Ocean’. With nearly 300 shows played in 18 months across North America and Europe, Fear acquired platinum status.

When they finally came off the road the band returned to the studio, this time the Site in Marin County, California, with the express intention of rediscovering the organic writing process that had produced their earliest songs (in interviews they expressed the collective view that Fear was too ‘manicured’). Produced with Gavin MacKillop, Dulcinea took its title from the story of Don Quixote, specifically the love of his life. The idea of unattainable perfection was central to the album’s concept, further explored in opening single ‘Fall Down’: ‘She hates her life, she hates her skin/She even hates her friends/Tries to hold on to all the reputations/She can’t mend’. Alternating lead vocals from Nichols and Phillips added further musical contrast to a selection of songs that drew heavily on folk and country as well as rock traditions, paying homage to Nanci Griffith and Loretta Lynn on ‘Nanci’.

On 1997’s Coil, the band abandoned their pop format and went for a harder-edged sound with deeper lyrics. The following year they announced they were splitting up. Nichols and Guss continued playing together in Lapdog while Phillips inaugurated a low-key solo career. The original line-up of Toad The Wet Sprocket was resurrected in autumn 2002 for a number of live shows.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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