VH-1’s Behind the Music series has covered this storyline well: buzz band gets signed to a record label, finds immediate popularity but ultimately succumbs to the pressure of keeping their gravy train rolling.
Many of the artists that fall into this scenario don’t get a second act. The Toadies are one of the few.
The Fort Worth, Texas roadhouse rockers just released their fifth album, simply titled Play. Rock. Music. It’s their third release in four years, a fairly assiduous schedule by most measures. Not really, though, when you consider Toadies started 23 years ago.
They’re currently co-headlining a tour with Helmet, another ’90s wrecking ball of sound that’s seen its share of travails.
“We’re all fans of theirs; we both used to be on Interscope (Records) at the same time,” said Toadies drummer Mark Reznicek during a recent phone interview. “Musically I think we’ll go together pretty well. The opportunity came up and we said, 'Yeah, let’s do it.’”
Hot out of the Fort Worth scene in the early ’90s, Toadies signed to Interscope and issued their debut full-length, Rubberneck, in 1994. A rebelliously intense sound that’s played like punk rock ne’er-do-wells, they proceeded to stay on the road for two years both headlining and opening for acts as diverse as the Red Hot Chili Peppers and White Zombie.
Something peculiar happened along the way. Rubberneck spawned a remarkable six singles. That was never the Toadies’ nor Interscope’s plan though. Rather, radio stations around the country picked their own favorites and added them to the rotation until they took on a life of their own.
“The timing was never totally worked out,” said Reznicek. “Various radio station program directors just liked the band and said, 'I’m going to play this song,’ which is not a bad thing at all. There just never was a plan put into place.”
The creeping track “Possum Kingdom” in particular — with singer Todd Lewis’ memorable refrain “Do you want to die?” — became the Toadies’ most popular song, and led to Rubberneck going platinum. It was a surprise to the band and their label.
“I don’t think anybody can plan on being that successful,” said Reznicek. “There was pressure to produce a follow-up. You always hear you have your whole life to write the first album, then only a couple years to write the second.”
In the Toadies’ case, it turned out to be seven years. It would’ve been only four, but Interscope rejected the band’s next offering, Feeler, in 1998. It wasn’t until 2001 that the Toadies finally released their second album, Hell Below/Stars Above. By then they’d lost virtually all the momentum amassed from Rubberneck, working double to convert new fans and win back old ones. Within months of getting back on the road, the Toadies broke up after bassist Lisa Umbarger echoed the sentiments of everyone involved when she said she didn’t want to do it anymore.
“It was already getting frustrating,” said Reznicek. “It felt like we were starting over, like we couldn’t build on the success we had. It’s like we were hitting our head against a wall for seven years.”
Members scattered after that. Reznicek joined a country band from Dallas called Eleven Hundred Spring and Lewis formed a new group called the Burden Brothers. Guitarist Clark Vogeler moved to Hollywood to work as an editor on the cable fashion series Project Runway.
“We thought we were done for good,” said Reznicek.
But in 2006 the Toadies were offered a nice sum of money to perform in a St. Patrick’s Day parade in Dallas. The original cast except Umbarger accepted the offer. They were invited back the next year.
“At that point we started saying, 'This is fun. What if we start doing the band again?’” said Reznicek.
The Toadies proceeded to tour their native Texas, with Doni Blair replacing Umbarger on bass. Their 2008 album No Deliverance, released on Dallas-based Kirtland Records, got a positive response. And the long-shelved Feeler was re-recorded and finally issued in ’10.
Reznicek says the process by which the Toadies work now feels much different from the ebb and flow of their first incarnation.
“This is a lot more like what we had always planned to do when we started: You put out an album every couple years and tour, not sit around in a rehearsal room for seven years trying to write an album that keeps getting rejected by your label,” he said. “We’re now an actual working, functioning band like we should’ve always been.”