“I opened for a few times solo acoustic and Adam asked if we would consider playing a handful of shows opening for them,” he says. “We thought, ‘Why not?’ We did those shows. The first time we got back together, that was about 10 years ago and we kind of remembered why we broke up and didn’t play again for awhile.”
From that point on, the band — which also includes guitarist Todd Nichols, bassist Dean Dinning, and drummer Randy Guss — would reconvene for a few select shows over the years, but were hesitant to commit to a full-scale reunion. That, however, eventually changed.
“Three to four years ago, it started feeling like fun again,” Phillips says. “We started enjoying each other’s company and remembered what made it good and we kind of got out of our own inter-personal dramas a little bit. At some point, it felt like it would be a good idea to make another record, to actually enjoy each other’s company and make some good art again.”
That album, New Constellation, was released in October 2013, on the band’s own label, Abe’s Records, which the band founded 25 years ago with the release of their debut, Bread & Circus (later re-issued when the band signed with Columbia Records).
To finance the album, Toad launched a campaign on Kickstarter, hoping to reach $50,000 over a few months, but were pleasantly surprised to see their hardcore fans coming forth with the funds in a mere 20 hours. Mikal Blue, known for his work with Colbie Caillat, OneRepublic and others, was hired to produce the effort.
“He’s an old Toad fan. He came from England. It’s always good to have a producer with an English accent. It really helps. I just take people more seriously if they have an English accent. You assume they’re literate,” Phillips jokes. “The first show he saw in the U.S. when he came to the States hoping to be a rock star was a Toad show, so he’s been a fan since '89 or '90, when we first started. He was really wanting to help bring us back together and have us feel like a band again.”
As a result, on, Toad sounds like Toad again with tracks on the album recalling the R.E.M.-influenced jangle-pop of their '90s era signature hits, such as “Alll I Want,” “Walk on the Ocean” and “Fall Down,” but with a new, more mature perspective.
For Phillips, having new material is a welcome relief. “I have no interest in being a nostalgia act,” he says. Following Toad’s split in 1998, Phillips released a trio of solo albums and an album with Mutual Admiration Society, an acclaimed collaboration with progressive bluegrass act Nickel Creek; while Dinning, Nichols, and Guss recorded a few albums under the name Lapdog. “The thing for me that was hard about going back to Toad, when we would tour, all of the songs were 20 years old. As much as I loved the songs, it was difficult for me. I’m still a writer and still an artist, and I’m not done saying things. It’s been really good integrating some new writing into Toad.”
Plus, Phillips was pleased to see the band’s audience embrace the new material. “We’re not a huge mainstream band at this point,” he says. “But I feel like our audience wasn’t let down by the record. The response that we had is that it’s the record people hoped we would make, rather than afraid we’d make.”
As fate would have it, Toad is on tour this summer opening for those very same Counting Crows that encouraged their reunion, as well as playing select headlining dates.
This summer’s tour coincides with another reunion — legendary British comedy troupe Monty Python, from whose sketch Toad took their name. “I’m not going to fly to London, but I’m happy to hear they’re doing these shows and would love to see it,” Phillips says. “I’m a huge Monty Python fan and so is Dean. We both had the records and the sketch we got the band’s name from was on the Contractual Obligation album. It was just a dumb joke to see it in print. We were curious to see if anyone would get it right. The plan was always to get a real name, because nobody in their right mind would want to be in a band called Toad the Wet Sprocket, but a year went past and we were trying to think of something really cool and we never did and people were coming to our shows, so at some point we just said 'screw it’ and kept the name.”
To the band’s amusement, their comedic heroes acknowledged their existence on a few occasions. “John Cleese lived in Santa Barbara and he was amused by it,” Phillips says. “And Eric Idle, at some point, wrote a funny letter: 'I’m absolutely so flattered to learn you named that band that and if, at some point, you earn a gold record send me one and then I won’t sue you.’ And, of course, we did.”