Hell Freezes Over

It took seven years to make a new record. It took five months for The Toadies to call it quits.

The rumors have been floating around since late July, but now they can be confirmed:

The Toadies have broken up.

Singer-guitarist Todd Lewis called the Dallas Observer late Wednesday afternoon to deliver the official word, saying the decision was made on the band’s last tour, when bassist Lisa Umbarger told the rest of the group—Lewis, guitarist Clark Vogeler and drummer Mark Reznicek—she was quitting and going home. Why? Even Lewis isn’t sure.

"She’s given a lot of reasons, but I haven’t been able to make a whole lot of sense out of it," Lewis says. "You’d probably have to talk to her to figure it out, if you possibly could figure it out. She’s going through a lot of life changes...I don’t know how long she’d been thinking about it. You know, who knows? She’s decided she wants to have a real job and do boring, real-people stuff." (Umbarger couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday evening.)

It only took Lewis a couple of days to decide that if Umbarger wasn’t going to continue playing with the Toadies, the Toadies couldn’t continue playing without her. "That’s just the core of the band, you know?" Lewis says. "Me and Lisa have been there from the start, and that just never even entered my mind. I’ve said it before: This band finally got to where I wanted it—creatively and input-wise and everybody was on an even playing field and just everything was good as far as the band itself. Then this happened, and I just figured, well, fuck it then." Vogeler says the decision to break up after Umbarger’s announcement "made sense."

Lewis admits that the tour the band was on at the time of Umbarger’s departure—supporting its second album, Hell Below/Stars Above, released in March—"was not going too well. I don’t know if that figured into it or not, but it didn’t help, I’m sure." Sales of Stars Above have been much lower than expected, and according to Lewis, the group’s label, Interscope Records, decided they weren’t going to get much better. It’s quite a different situation than when Interscope released the band’s debut, Rubberneck, in a 1994. The disc lingered on shelves for more than a year before anyone, including Interscope, paid much attention to it. Eventually, Rubberneck sold more than a million copies, buying the band seven years to produce a follow-up. But the Toadies’ credit line with Interscope had apparently reached its end.

"The label was doing the usual label thing: ‘If you don’t sell X number within X number of days, then you suck,’" Lewis says. "Especially these days; it’s just so competitive. So that didn’t help, I’m sure. But, you know, that would have gotten better eventually, or we would’ve done another record and it would have gotten better then. I really believe in this record. That’s the shame of it. I was really looking forward to getting out and beating people over the head with it, to convince them how good it is, because I really, really believe in this record."

The Toadies will have one last chance to beat people over the head with Stars Above, playing a handful of farewell dates around Texas (including September 29 at the Bronco Bowl, in a KDGE-FM-sponsored concert), with Baboon bassist (and Dallas Observer music listings editor) Mark Hughes filling in for Umbarger. After that, The Toadies will go their separate ways. Reznicek isn’t sure about his plans, and Vogeler intends to move to Los Angeles to attend film school.

"The break-up’s sad, but bands break up all the time," says Vogeler, whose previous band, Funland, broke up after releasing its best album. "We made a record we’re proud of. I’ll probably still play guitar in my room, playing George Harrison songs, but I am done with being in a band trying to get record deals and trying to be part of the machine. I am going to film school, something I wanted to do since I was 18. From the fire into the frying pan, as they say."

Lewis, however, can’t give up on music, even if it tries to give up on him.

"I have a choice, I guess, but it’s just in my blood to do music," Lewis says. "I can’t really ever see me not doing it. I would just be miserable. So, I’ve got a little project that I’d already started before the shit even hit the fan, and I’m gonna fuck around with that. And I wanna get into different things. Who knows, jingles or whatever, just to keep my brain going and hopefully pay the bills or whatever."

One reason it’s taken so long to make the announcement official is because of a lawsuit in which the band has been entangled for more than two years. The suit was originally brought by guitarist Darrel Herbert, who was ousted from the band in 1996 and replaced by Vogeler. The band insisted it didn’t owe Herbert money, and contended that whatever money the guitarist might have been owed should come from manager Tom Bunch, with whom they parted ways in December 1998. Herbert settled his claim for an unspecified sum, but the battle between Bunch and the Toadies continued: Bunch, who also manages the Butthole Surfers, claimed in legal documents that he was due unpaid management fees as well as continued royalties, while the band insisted it doesn’t owe him a thing, since the two parties never signed a management agreement. (One was drafted, but it was never signed; Bunch sought the enforcement of it anyway.)

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