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 bandís last tour, when bassist Lisa Umbarger told the rest of the groupóLewis, guitarist Clark Vogeler and drummer Mark Reznicekóshe was quitting and going home. Why? Even Lewis isnít sure.

Nancy Newberry

"Sheís given a lot of reasons, but I havenít been able to make a whole lot of sense out of it," Lewis says. "Youíd probably have to talk to her to figure it out, if you possibly could figure it out. Sheís going through a lot of life changes...I donít know how long sheíd been thinking about it. You know, who knows? Sheís decided she wants to have a real job and do boring, real-people stuff." (Umbarger couldnít be reached for comment Wednesday evening.)

It only took Lewis a couple of days to decide that if Umbarger wasnít going to continue playing with the Toadies, the Toadies couldnít continue playing without her. "Thatís 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. Iíve said it before: This band finally got to where I wanted itócreatively 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 Umbargerís announcement "made sense."

Lewis admits that the tour the band was on at the time of Umbargerís departureósupporting its second album, Hell Below/Stars Above, released in Marchó"was not going too well. I donít know if that figured into it or not, but it didnít help, Iím sure." Sales of Stars Above have been much lower than expected, and according to Lewis, the groupís label, Interscope Records, decided they werenít going to get much better. Itís quite a different situation than when Interscope released the bandís 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 Toadiesí credit line with Interscope had apparently reached its end.

"The label was doing the usual label thing: ĎIf you donít sell X number within X number of days, then you suck,í" Lewis says. "Especially these days; itís just so competitive. So that didnít help, Iím sure. But, you know, that would have gotten better eventually, or we wouldíve done another record and it would have gotten better then. I really believe in this record. Thatís 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 isnít sure about his plans, and Vogeler intends to move to Los Angeles to attend film school.

"The break-upís 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 weíre proud of. Iíll 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, canít give up on music, even if it tries to give up on him.

"I have a choice, I guess, but itís just in my blood to do music," Lewis says. "I canít really ever see me not doing it. I would just be miserable. So, Iíve got a little project that Iíd already started before the shit even hit the fan, and Iím 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 itís 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 didnít 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 doesnít 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.)

Two months ago, County Judge John Peyton agreed with the band that Bunch was not entitled to royalties or commissions. But the Toadies finally settled the suit with Bunch last week, agreeing to pay Bunch the money he contended he advanced them as expenses.

"The Toadies decided to focus on music rather than any past problems and complaints they had with management," says the bandís attorney Frank Majorie. "This way, they can focus on their farewell tour."

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