Having formed in 1986, Toad The Wet Sprocket has celebrated its share of ups and downs throughout its 30-plus year history. In 1991, the band released “Fear,” which was their first platinum-selling set, and it featured the hits “All I Want” and “Walk On The Ocean.” Success continued for Toad when they released “Dulcinea” in 1994, and the album went Gold. But then in 1998, the quartet broke up, only to reunite in 2006. These days, they pride themselves on touring and they’ll be performing at the Weinberg Center Sunday night at 8 p.m. We caught up with the band’s bassist, Dean Dinning, to talk about Frederick being the last date of the tour, the evolution of the music industry and why they know there are certain songs they can’t afford to not play whenever they hit the road.
This, from what I understand, is going to be the final date of the tour — the Frederick date. Is that accurate?
I think. It’s at the end of our touring for the year, that’s for sure.
You guys are on a break right now, I think. I’m assuming that was done on purpose — you knew you would need a break?
Yeah. We were on the road for five weeks straight and when we go out, we work hard. For guys our age, we work harder than a lot of people do. We do about five shows a week. We work Wednesday through Sunday and generally go dark on Monday and Tuesday. We don’t need hotels very often. We get a sleeper coach, a bus, and we drive overnight. After about five weeks, you’re just about ready to strangle everyone, even though you love them to death. And I’m talking about the fans; I’m not talking about the band (laughs). You come home, you hit the reset button, you go out and do it again. Generally, the shows in the second half are better than the shows in the first half. You can go out there and everything’s all dialed in. We refined the set list over the last month so we know what we’re doing. Yeah, it’ll be great.
Speaking of wanting to strangle people, you guys broke up for a few years. Where are things right now? How has the tour been? What is the state of the band these days?
This has been the best tour we’ve done in years. Everyone is getting along great. We don’t really want to strangle each other. This has been the most pleasant tour in years. We were all kind of surprised when it was over because it just went so well. The reason we broke up back at the end of the ‘90s, we got some bad advice. We didn’t really need to break up; we should have taken a break. It was a bad choice and we recognize that, so we’ve been playing together every year again since 2006. I think we’ve been back together longer than we were together the first time. You know, it’s not a bad experience if you learn something from it.
You said you guys got some bad advice — what was that advice?
We didn’t actually need to break up to accomplish what we wanted to accomplish. We could have taken a couple years off. When we broke up, we lost our record deal. Looking back on it now, we didn’t realize that when you flash-forward to 2018, compact discs wouldn’t be selling anymore. When you think about it, we lost a few years where we could have made some records and actually moved some CDs before the bottom fell out of the music industry.
Boy, I’m glad you said that because I’m really interested in that. Coming back now, compared with when you first started, the industry was so lucrative and as you said, the bottom fell out. What do you think was the biggest contributor? Was it a course-correction? Was it always over-bloated?
I think what happened was that the compact disc format and digital audio in general, after years of LPs and cassettes and eight-tracks and everything else … when people thought that CDs would be the end, and that would be the final thing … well, now, you can hear the music perfectly. So, I’m going to repurchase all my favorite music. If I really, really love it, I’m going to go buy a CD of this, so I’ll have it forever. What no one realized at the time was that CDs would not be the forever format that we thought they would be. I stream things. I have a Spotify Premium account. As someone who works at a studio and is constantly referencing things … there are just huge advantages to that, being able to have your entire library of music on a small mobile device. It’s interesting now because vinyl has made a bit of a comeback and we just remastered and reissued our two most successful records, “Fear” and “Dulcinea,” on vinyl. I went in personally to the guy that we worked with … and we did the whole package. The fans are just flipping out over these vinyl releases. And they really do sound good. People are really enthusiastic about the quality.
I wanted to ask you about that. I know you were pretty involved with the re-releases. Why did you want to do that to begin with and why were you the one to head it up?
I had the relationship with the mastering place. And the reason for that is fairly simple: It was because I lived closest to the place (laughs). So, it was closer for me to drive there than anyone else. We all just hung out and made it a fun day. It took all day to do it because we’d have to cut it on the lay and then go listen to it. In the end, we ended up shortening the time between songs in order to get wider grooves on the whole platter. I learned all kinds of stuff. I guess the main reason why I put myself in charge was because I thought it would be fun (laughs).
You were in a band called Lap Dog?
That was after Toad broke up the first time.
I’m reading a sentence from the Internet: “Dinning quit the band to split his time between recording and producing local music and pursuing his acting career.” I wasn’t aware that you had an acting career. Can you talk a little about that?
It was very brief. It was something I wanted to try because I liked to do character voices. I had friends that talked me into going to a class. And I had taken a lot of improv and a lot of on-camera classes. I just started hanging out in the actor scene in L.A. What I realized was that everyone else I knew was way better at it than I was and I had no business messing around in that area. But I learned a lot of things that I’ve been able to put back into music. When I’m in the studio working with a singer, I handle them a lot like an acting coach would, especially if I’m trying to get them into a certain emotional place for a song. I’m just better at music than I am at acting anyway.
Do you miss acting?
You know, I get to do so much great stuff in other aspects of the film and TV world, so I don’t really miss it. I’m more of a behind-the-scenes person. Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of post-production work. Scoring, doing songs after the fact, for film and TV. I think that’s more my place.
You had mentioned that the biggest albums you guys put out came in the early ‘90s. That was a very fun time for music. This might be a tough question to nail down, but were there any bands in that era that didn’t get the big break they deserved? Maybe a band you loved that not a lot of people knew about?
Santa Barbara got a lot of attention after we got our record deal. There was a band called Summer Camp — they actually toured with us — and they had a song that was a hit, but it was only a hit overseas. Then, there was Dishwalla, but they managed to get a platinum album. The funny thing about the ‘90s was it seems like it was so much easier to get success then, than it is to get success now. Now, you have to have social media numbers. Think about how much it wasn’t about appearances back then. It was just Pearl Jam going on stage, wearing whatever. Now that everything is so image-based, you can’t really do that. But I’m sure there were some. One of our favorite bands that we ever took out with us was a band called Geggy Tah. And one of the guys in that band was Greg Kurstin, and he’s actually a huge producer now. He wrote “Hello” with Adele. I can’t really say I feel bad for Greg, though, is my point (laughs).
Would you say that now is a better time for music as a whole or was back then a better time?
First, we have to define what a better time means. Is it a better time because anyone can release anything they want? I think there’s a huge problem out there with people releasing things before they’re ready. If we were coming out today, and we made a demo, people would say, “Oh, that’s great, you guys should put that on Spotify or release it on iTunes.” A lot of people didn’t like the old system of A&R and gatekeepers and tastemakers, but now, we still have that, except they are people who curate playlists. Everybody’s focused on how to get their song on certain playlists. The payola that used to be in the music industry — that’s still alive and well. A lot of these playlists that people get on — at least if you’re on a major label — is costing thousands of dollars, just like it cost thousands of dollars to get on certain radio stations back in the day. That type of thing has always been going on. It might be harder and easier to find great music. I can put on a playlist and if I hear something I like, I can add it to a playlist of mine and I can refine my choices. I’m managing to be my age and I’m still hearing new music that excites me every week. But there’s a lot of stuff to wade through. It’s really hard to break through because there’s more stuff now than there was ever before, and a lot of the story is the same: A lot of the stuff that will get noticed is the stuff that has the most money behind it. That’s the way it is.
Do you miss the concept of an album?
I don’t miss the concept of an album. There are certain artists that can definitely pull off an album. The thing is, I’ll hear a single by somebody, and another single and another single. You can’t just drop an album all at once because everything today is about stretching the story out as much as possible. Unless you’re Drake, you drop an album, you throw all 10 songs out there at once. And then a month later, it’s gone. But if you stretch it out … it’s all about telling the story nowadays. If a band gets three great records in a row — I think that’s the hurdle to get over. Then you can have a pretty decent career. For us, we have so many songs right now that we pretty much have to play every night that even if we did put out a new album, we’d only be able to add maybe two or three of those songs to our setlist. When you get to the stage that we’re at, it’s more about the live set than it is making albums. And if you’re lucky, you get to kind of have a show that you get to take around for people. It’s more about how the songs fit together in terms of what you’re presenting every night. For us right now, a song would have to be pretty darn great to be able to make it into the live set because it’s like, “what song are you willing to lose?” And that becomes a harder and harder question. I can’t imagine what it’d be like to be Elton John. I mean, that’s ridiculous. You just have to realize that some people are going to be disappointed every night and that’s the way it is. But to bring it back around … no one will be disappointed at our show!