Playing Possum

After six years, The Toadies' new album is finally finished, and it's good. So why isn't it out yet?

Vogeler had every reason to be fed up with the business side of the music industry. Funland signed with Arista Records in 1992, after the label and the man who signed the band, Richard Sweret, guaranteed the group everything from its own Arista imprint (to distance Funland from Arista's dance-only reputation) to a brand-new touring van. Instead, all Funland's contract produced was one EP (1993's Sweetness, which sold in the dozens) and a year's worth of broken promises and embarrassment as the band sat at home, playing video games and waiting to hit the road. When Funland split up, Vogeler was all too ready to be out of the business.

Joining a working band that was coming off a platinum-selling album and playing nightly in front of thousands of fans was too good of an offer to pass up. The band was ready to start working on a follow-up to Rubberneck and would probably be out on the road again in a year or so. After auditioning, Vogeler became a Toadie near the end of 1996, ready to finally do what he'd always wanted to with Funland. Instead, he found himself sitting at home. Again.

Maybe that's why it didn't take Vogeler long to become comfortable with the group, even though Lewis, Umbarger, and Reznicek had a five-year head start.

To them, he's God Lewis: Toadies frontman Todd Lewis at the Ridglea Theater in May.
Nancy Newberry
To them, he's God Lewis: Toadies frontman Todd Lewis at the Ridglea Theater in May.

"On Rubberneck, it was mostly me sitting around and writing," Lewis begins. "This [album] was more of me bringing in an idea and having the band flesh it out. We'd had enough time together as a band--me and Mark and Lisa--to start vibing that way, and kind of feeding off each other. And, uh..."

"Finishing each other's sentences," Reznicek adds.

"Yes, exactly," Lewis says. "Clark came in and kind of snapped right into it."

In fact, Vogeler's snapped into it so well, you'd never guess he hasn't been a member of the band since the beginning, though he still complains about being the new guy. "I'm trying to get them to add a tambourine player, so I can give someone else shit," he says.

The new lineup spent much of 1997 in a rehearsal space, writing and demoing new songs, periodically updating Interscope on their progress. By January 1998, the group had worked up 20 or so songs, enough to head into an Austin studio with Butthole Surfers guitarist Paul Leary, who had recorded most of the group's post-Rubberneck output, including songs on soundtracks for The Crow: City of Angels, The Cable Guy, and Escape from L.A. A few months later, the album was finished.

Except, it wasn't actually finished. Andy Wallace--who, in addition to mixing Rubberneck, has also worked with Nirvana, Rage Against the Machine, and Sonic Youth--was scheduled to mix the disc. But because the sessions with Leary wrapped up later than anticipated, he was no longer available, and no one else ended up taking the job. So, instead of sending Interscope Album No. 2 with a pretty red bow on top, The Toadies gave the label a very rough version of the album. It was unmixed, unmastered, and unwelcome.

Label representatives did not return a request for comment.

The band wasn't happy with the album either, and not just because Wallace didn't have a chance to put his ears to it.

"Well, it wasn't really going the way we wanted it to, and we were only scheduled to track it and then mix it later," says Lewis, who places the blame partly on their use of ProTools, a computer editing system. "Once we were done tracking, we didn't really love the hell out of it and the label didn't really care for it..." He pauses. "It just didn't sound live. It sounded really mechanical and cold and no feeling."

Lee says the first try at a follow-up "left a lot to be desired."

"I knew that they were capable of a lot more than that, especially with Clark jumping into the band. They weren't really good at writing songs yet--still. They hadn't really done much of it, you know? They had--what?--the 11 or 12 songs on Rubberneck, maybe 10 more songs that they'd written before they had to do all that touring for Rubberneck. Then they're told to go write a record."

The year ended without any progress made on the tracks they recorded in Austin. The band was still writing songs, but they hadn't recorded any of them, and even if they had, they would still need to be mixed and mastered, along with the pile of songs they'd already recorded with Leary. It wasn't all bad news, however; Lewis married the former Beth Clardy in September.

But as one marriage was beginning, another was ending: The Toadies split with their longtime manager, Tom Bunch, in December 1998, a situation the band declines to discuss much. They can't, really; Bunch is suing the group. (Bunch could not be reached for comment.) Lee points to the current state of the Butthole Surfers, another band Bunch managed, as an example of why The Toadies and Bunch parted ways.

"They're recording with Kid Rock right now," Lee says, referring to the Surfers' new take-the-money-and-run approach. "They've had to salvage whatever they can. They don't even care about their record any more. I talked with [drummer] King Coffey like three weeks ago, and he was like, 'Well, I go and play drums.'" Lee laughs bitterly. "It's so sad."

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