MUSIC : TOAD THE WET SPROCKET : Coming Home : Four San Marcos High School buddies are flying high, having, among other things, just released a pair of albums on the Columbia label.
In the Locals Only Department, Santa Barbara’s Toad the Wet Sprocket is the only local band to be signed to a major record deal. Within the past six months, the four former San Marcos High School pals have released a pair of albums on Columbia and have finished their third tour opening for the likes of Michael Penn and The B-52s, among others. With a pair of gigs set for The Carnaval Club in Santa Barbara next Tuesday and Wednesday, it will be a homecoming of sorts for the youthful locals.
“It was very tiring, but it was also a lot of fun,” said guitarist Todd Nichols, describing the recent tour. “We opened for Michael Penn, then The B-52s, Debbie Harry a couple of times, then we were on our own for a month and a half. Touring is really interesting, even if you don’t get to see a lot. Sometimes, we’d play six days straight, and you’d see the inside of the bus, the hotel, then the place we were playing. Once in a while, we’d get a day off, which wasn’t a travel day. Some of the best places for us were Oxford, Miss., Baltimore and Atlanta college towns with college radio. On a small level, we’re doing well. We have a following.”
A big-time tour, a big-time label is quite a jump for a band that until recently was just like any other local band, long on dreams and short on cash. Much of Toad’s new-found success is due to Brad Nack, currently leader of Nothing.
“He used to be in a band called The Tan,” Nichols said, “and he came to see us one night at Oscar’s when we were opening for Guadalcanal Diary. He liked us and introduced us to a friend of his, Chris Blake, who was looking for a band to manage. They helped us record the demos that became our first release, ‘Bread & Circus.’ We did the whole thing for $650 at the end of last summer.”
The band, named for a Monty Python skit, was hard at work on their second release, “Pale,” when the bidding war among record labels began. “Yes, it’s true; we turned down an offer of a million from MCA, but all that money isn’t important to us. When a label offers a band a lot of money, it’s an advance, a loan, and you have to pay it back. A band like us--we’re not going to sell a lot of records right away. We just want to make small albums, and gradually get bigger. So we signed a four-album deal with CBS. When they re-released ‘Bread & Circus,’ we had just about finished with ‘Pale.’ We’ve got about 50 songs now, all originals. We’ve got a rehearsal studio in Santa Barbara now and we’ll probably spend the summer writing new songs for our next album, which, hopefully, will be ready by next January or so. We probably won’t play that much, but if a good gig comes along, who knows?”
Toad music is mostly mellow, no wild guitar solos, sort of like R.E.M. with fewer hooks. There isn’t any slam dancing when they play. Sort of artsy-smartsy, the type of music favored by serious, introspective English lit majors. Toad tunes written by singer Glen Phillips explore the possibility that J. Geils was right, maybe love does stink. Phillips writes stuff like “Solitaire, such a fateful game/She turns her cards and writes her name on the napkin/Now she turns another card/She dreams about the house and romance/He promised but won’t deliver. . . .”
“We’re a lyrical band,” Nichols says. “Glen, the singer writes the words, then I do the guitar parts and everyone else just fills in their part. It’s definitely a group effort. We just do what we do, we don’t think about it a lot.” Having packed Bogart’s in Long Beach last weekend, expect the same for The Carnaval Club. The Tuesday show will be a basic 21-and-over gig while the Wednesday show will be an 18-and-over gig. Opening on at least one of those nights will be Toad’s musical pals from the poor old days, The I-Rails.
* THE DETAILS: Toad the Wet Sprocket will perform at The Carnaval Club at 9 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday. The club is at 634 State St., Santa Barbara.