Since 1986 Santa Barbara, California’s favorite sons have been thrilling audiences with hits like “Walk on the Ocean,” “All I Want,” “Somethings Always Wrong” and “All Fall Down.”
Today’s Toad lineup remains the same four guys — Glen Phillips, Dean Dinning, Todd Nichols and Randy Guss — who started the band back in 1986. Sure, there have been breakups and side projects along the way, but through it all, Toad has remained true to well-crafted, acoustic-based pop rock you can’t help but love.
If you’ve never had the pleasure of seeing Toad’s live show, you are in luck as the band will play two gigs this week at The Birchmere in Alexandria, Virginia. Lead guitarist Mr. Nichols spoke about the rigors (make that “joys”) of touring, the band’s brotherhood and what they might have named themselves instead of Toad the Wet Sprocket.
Question: Is the touring harder or easier for you these days?
Answer: These days it’s definitely easier because we don’t do it as much. When we were kids we had a grueling schedule because we were at a huge record company and had hits on the radio. A lot of people depended on us.
Now we just go out and tour, about four, five, maybe six weeks a year. I wish it were twice that.
We’re also smarter now. We know what to do and what not to do. We know not to stay up all night drinking when you got an early show the next day. We just don’t do stupid things as much as we used to. We try to stay healthier on the road.
Q: How is everybody’s health?
A: Good except Randy, our drummer, just hurt himself. He’s got bone issues [and] is prone to some problems. We just found out he had an accident at home. He’s OK, but he broke some ribs.
We’re going to have to have someone fill in on the tour. It won’t be the same without Randy. We’ve played with him for the whole 30 years.
Q: One of the impressive things about the band is you have had all four original members the whole run. How do you keep it together?
A: It’s super rare these days. I bet you could count on two hands the bands that are still going out with all original members. We pride ourselves on that. We’re all alive. (Laughs) That makes it easy.
Besides that, we try to respect each other as much as we can. Try to be positive. We did break up for a while in ‘98. The usual stuff. That was one of the worst decisions in my life — walking away from such a great record deal. Those kinds of record deals are unheard of now.
Q: This tour celebrates the 20th anniversary of the band’s album “Coil.” Are you playing “Coil” all the way through?
A: No, we’re not going to do it front to back, we’re gonna pick from it. I’m re-learning [the songs] here in my workshop studio. “Coil” is fun to listen to now. I think it’s one of our better records.
Q: The band is playing two shows at the Birchmere. Will the sets be different each night?
A: Definitely. We try to shake it up and change a few songs every night. If we’re doing two shows back to back in the same place, for sure we’re going to split it up considerably.
Q: How does the band decide what is in the set list?
A: I get together with Dean after soundcheck and we just type it out. A lot of it depends on guitar changes, to be honest — a lot of capos. We try to make it work so we’re not switching guitars every song.
Q: As a guitarist, do you prefer electric or acoustic?
A: I love electric. I’m infatuated with them right now [and am] learning how to fix and repair them. It’s something I’ve never done before. Especially Fenders. They’re works of art.
Acoustics are OK, although they hurt to play and you can’t play with all the fun effects. (Laughs)
Q: We all know the band’s name comes from a Monty Python sketch. What were some of the other band names considered?
A: I don’t like to mention them because they were kind of crude. (Laughs) I remember we were rehearsing in Randy’s dad’s basement and Dean brought in this logo he was drawing in math class. It was this sprocket with the wet drops flying off. And the toad. He was a big Monty Python fan. I didn’t even know who they were. Still don’t really.
We never thought it would stick. No one ever told us to change it. I think it has hurt us and helped us at the same time. So it’s kind of a wash. The name’s a funny thing.
Q: Toad’s last CD, “New Constellation,” came out in 2013. Any chance of a new Toad studio album anytime soon?
A: Wow, it’s been that long already, huh? I would love to do another one. I hope it’s in the works. I think it is. We’ve got a bunch of songs. We could probably do them next year if we wanted to.
It was really great [recording “New Constellation”] after all these years to prove something to ourselves and the fans. It’s awesome they stuck around all these years.
Toad the Wet Sprocket plays The Birchmere in Alexandria, Virginia, Wednesday and Thursday. Tickets are available at Ticketmaster.com.