An Interview with Randy Guss of Toad The Wet Sprocket
An edited version of this Pop Stops interview appeared on August 17, 1995 in The Star Newspapers.

Toad The Wet Sprocket tours Dulcinea



Toad the Wet Sprocket was ready to quit the road in support of its fourth album, Dulcinea, and get to work on a new record. And then came the chance to tour with The Cranberries.

Suddenly, their summer no longer included a vacation. Their new work schedule brings them to The World Theatre in Tinley Park tonight.

Toad drummer Randy Guss is resting up for the band's third show with The Cranberries in an east coast hotel room ("I think it's Philadelphia that I see out my window," he says sheepishly.) After Toad scored the top 40 with "All I Want" and "Walk on the Ocean" from their third album, Fear, and hit again with "Fall Down" and "Something's Always Wrong" from Dulcinea, you'd think the band would have some perspective on the travails of success. This is a band that recorded its first album in a living room for $650 eight or nine years ago. They used the profits from sales of that to record their second album, Pale, and got both released "as is" when they signed to Columbia Records in 1988.

"We have come a long ways," Guss admits, "and people ask us in interviews what it's like to have some success. But then we tour with someone like The Cranberries and we see what a real successful band is. And it's weird. Sometimes it's a little too disorienting doing the routine of a rock band and we can feel like we've moved away from something important. But when we put it in perspective, we really haven't. The four of us haven't moved away from anything — our core is still our music. Seeing The Cranberries for a couple nights really lets us see how you can be moved away."

The two bands have an almost equal number of hits, and Toad has twice as many albums — so what is the huge difference between them? To many it seems as if Toad should be headlining, not opening the double bill.

"The difference is we are opening and they have a lot of people coming to see them — we're playing huge places that we'd never in a million years play by ourselves," Guss says. "So something's different! We've played large places before, but never just on a two-band bill, always with festivals."

But Guss says the huge international, overnight success The Cranberries have had is not something he and the other members of Toad — singer/guitarists Glen Phillips, Todd Nichols and bassist Dead Dinning — ever looked for, or wanted.

"There're a lot of negative things that can happen with overnight success. And I believe not every band wants that to happen to them. But once it starts, you can't stop it. I also believe every band wants some success — no matter how much some alternative hero says he or she doesn't believe in commercial success. That's just a line to sell records, as far as I'm concerned. I don't think people necessarily want the success The Cranberries have. I'm comfortable where we are and I'm not sure that the huge success would be better or worse."

Certainly the band's name says this is a group of guys who were not looking for a roll-off-your-tongue name to sit easily in the Billboard Top 10 List.

"It was weird, at the time, when we first started, we never thought it could happen. It just didn't seem appropriate to choose a real name. That would have meant we were established, somehow, credible. And we always laughed at bands like that. Sometimes it's a drag when I'm on an airplane and people say 'what do you do?' and I answer 'I'm in a band, Toad the Wet Sprocket.' And they say, 'Huh?' and that's kind of a drag. But it's really good too, it's kind of a filter, that filters out different audiences."

The Monty Python-derived monicker hasn't stopped their third and fourth albums from going platinum and gold, respectively, thanks to their unique, intelligent blend of rock, smooth harmonies, lots of mood and even a touch of country. For their next album, which they'll being working on this fall, Guss says the band may take its perennial "do it yourself" attitude — the attitude which got their first album recorded and released for $650 — the next logical step.

"We're hoping to do the next record with our own gear. We're hoping we can build a halfway decent studio in Santa Barbara, California just for ourselves, not to operate. That way, we wouldn't have the pressure of spending a lot of money in a rented studio every day. We'd have more time to work and we'd be totally hands-on in everything from the ground up, from building the facility to the finishing of the record."

In the meantime, Toad fans can find some new band material popping up on compilation albums over the next few months. "Crazy Life" appears on the soundtrack to Empire, a cover of John Lennon's "Instant Karma" will appear on a Lennon tribute album in October, and Guss says the band also has a song on the soundtrack to the TV show "Friends."

"The Empire soundtrack song is one that Todd sings which we recorded for Dulcinea. The "Friends" song we recorded for Fear. That one's a straightforward pop song, but it was too' pop' for Fear-which should tell you something since FEAR was a pretty pop album. We're the only band I know that would leave songs OFF of albums because they could be potential singles. This is one of those songs. It's very jangle pop."

Guss says actually their first hit from Dulcinea, "Fall Down" was a song that the band had avoided recording for a couple of albums because it was too "pop" for their usual sound. The band is still trying to come to grips with displaying its "pop" side next to its moodier vibe, Guss admits.

"I'm not sure it's healthy to avoid songs simply because they might be successful. If people intentionally make a song that sounds commercial, that lacks integrity. We've always tried to just let the music happen. Sometimes I think it's easier to avoid a song that sounds too commercial — but that still is controlling the music."

Will the success of their "pop" songs change what the band records in the future?

" I don't think the songs will be any more commercial than they were before, but maybe we'll be less afraid to put them on the album. We're going to definitely push ourselves on the next record, but we're not going to go out of our way to make an affected record. I do think it's important for us to not avoid a certain side of us. If an album is a mirror, you can't cut off half the mirror."

The band now has a world wide web page on the internet through Sony Music, which Guss says is another way for the band to have direct contact with its fans http://www.music.sony.com/Music/Artistinfo/Toad.

"All four of us are starting to browse the internet more. This is the same sort of thing as the mailing list — there's no middleman between us and the people. We don't have to rely on MTV to give us an interview to get the information out. The web is still a developing technology - you can really get headaches trying to find stuff. But you can see that it's definitely a strange world out there. It's like going to New York City. You search around for awhile and say 'God, people are really like this?"

The band also still keeps up its mailing list, a holdover from its late-80s independent days which now includes 60,000 names — a whole city's-worth!

"Yeah, it's a lot of people. It's a lot different than when we were sitting around putting stickers on postcards ourselves. We use it to send out tour schedules to let people know what's going on and we send out Christmas cards."

Do they actually read the fan mail that results?

"We read all the mail we get. Most letters start with, 'you'll probably never read this!' But they each get read by one of us. It's important to us. It is hard not to get caught up in it. You have to be careful because you can start not second-guessing yourself enough — they say everything you do is great!"

So far, the fans have been right.

 


 

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