By combining infectious hooks with acoustic elements, Toad the Wet Sprocket created some of the most memorable hits of the late 1980s and early 1990s. “All I Want,” “Walk on the Ocean,” “Fall Down” and “Something’s Always Wrong” became instant singalong earworms you couldn’t help but love.
The band, composed of vocalist Glen Phillips, guitarist Todd Nichols, bassist Dean Dinning and drummer Randy Guss, continued to record and tour through 1998. After a short hiatus, with members pursuing solo ventures, they reconnected in 2006 for a series of club dates and eventually announced a full reunion in December of 2010.
Now they are hitting the road, with a stop at The Birchmere in Alexandria, Virginia, for two shows Monday and Tuesday.
They also have a new studio album, aptly titled “New Constellation.”
Mr. Phillips checked in to discuss the group’s longevity, the new album and where the heck the band got its name.
Question: How long has Toad the Wet Sprocket been a functioning band?
Answer: A functioning band? [laughs] We have been together on and off for 30 years now — since I was 15 years old.
Q: Why did the group part ways in 1998?
A: We had been together since high school. It’s difficult to keep something that gets together that early in life feeling fresh. People change a lot in those times. We all took time away to figure out our own deals.
Q: What inspired the reunion in 2006?
A: We laid down the problems of the past and moved on. We eased into it. When we tried to get together before that, it didn’t work very well, so we waited a couple of years and tried it again. Once we started having some fun, we kept it going.
In 2010, we started doing longer tours again instead of a couple of weeks here and there. We did some rerecording of the old songs. We put that together as sort of a business setup.
But basically the band is still “a project.” We all do other stuff. We all have our interests and do other stuff. I just finished a solo record. The difference now is, Toad is part of our lives instead of the guiding central single thing in our lives.
Q: You have all four original members — no small feat. What is the secret to staying together?
A: Break up a lot. [laughs] Five-year gaps really help. [laughs] Everybody goes in their own direction and gets to come back with a little perspective.
Q: As a songwriter, how do you know when a song is a solo song or a Toad song?
A: There are some songs that work in both ways. Some stuff I wrote directly for Toad. Rather than just writing for acoustic, I would write knowing there would be drums and rhythms and lots of countermelodies because there are other people to sing them.
Q: Do you miss the days of major label tour support?
A: We never took much tour support. We were a very frugal band. We liked the idea of earning what we made and paying for what we used. We did well on tour, always had a loyal following. We would always plan our expenses according to our income.
Q: What is different about touring now?
A: Cellphones. That’s a big difference. [It’s] so nice not to have to pull over and find a pay phone. It is so weird when I think of going on the road in the old days. My wife would call the front desk of the venue and leave a message [and] hope that it got to me. Then I would try to find a pay phone, where I could call using a credit card for $2 a minute or more.
Eventually, I had a beeper, a pager, but they were expensive then. [laughs] Finding a meal is better. We have Yelp now. You have no idea how Yelp has changed eating on the road. Decent food is now more common. That is a wonderful difference.
Technology has changed things immeasurably.
Q: Who are coming out to the shows?
A: A lot of people who liked us way back when we mixed with some new generations, which is great to see. The good thing about Toad was we were never fashionable, so the only reason to be into us was because the songs affected you.
Q: Did the band really get its name from a “Monty Python” sketch?
A: It’s true — from a “Monty Python” sketch called “Rock Notes,” which was this fake rock news program that listed these really awful, hilarious band names. We thought Toad the Wet Sprocket was the silliest of them. It was supposed to be a temporary joke, and then we were going to come up with a cool name. But that never happened.
IF YOU GO:
WHAT: Toad the Wet Sprocket with Derik Hultquist
WHERE: The Birchmere, 3701 Mount Vernon Ave., Alexandria, Virginia, 22305
WHEN: Monday and Tuesday, 7:30 p.m.
TICKETS: $45. Call 703/549-7500 or visit Birchmere.com