By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
In March, the four members of the Toadies--Todd Lewis, Lisa Umbarger, Clark Vogeler and Mark Reznicek--sat around a table at a Lakewood Italian restaurant to celebrate the impending release of the band's second album. They were giddy with anticipation, a welcome relief after so many months--years, actually--of not knowing whether Hell Below/Stars Above, as the album came to be titled, would even wind up in record stores. The past few years had not been kind or easy: The band endured an acrimonious split with its guitarist and its manager, and Interscope Records had no interest in an earlier version of the album the band submitted. The band felt embattled on all fronts: The Toadies were once more fending off all comers who'd seek to destroy the band.
"Part of our motivation...was to be able to go and take this record and this tour and what we're doing now and kinda wave it in front of people who've given us the finger in the past and go, 'Fuck you, man, you don't know what you're talking about,'" said front man Lewis, who formed the band 12 years ago with bassist Umbarger and guitarist Charles Mooney, whose game room served as the band's original practice space. "That's for the people who've told us to quit or break up or whatever--one big 'fuck you.'"
Five months later, that relief and confidence have evaporated, as has the band.
On August 22, Lewis called the Dallas Observer to confirm rumors that had been swirling around town for several weeks: The Toadies, he said, were no more.
Lewis explained that he made the decision to dissolve the band on July 17--three days after Umbarger turned in her resignation during what proved to be the band's first, and final, tour promoting Hell Below/Stars Above. Lewis told the Observerthat Umbarger quit for several reasons, "but I haven't been able to make a whole lot of sense out of it. 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 says her reasons for quitting are actually quite simple: The band had gone on the road without any support from Interscope Records, which made touring insufferable and next to impossible. After a talk with an executive at the label, she realized "only the Toadies were putting the Toadies first" and came to realize that being in the band 12 years later had become "a waste of time."
"I had a conversation with someone at the label, an insider who shall remain nameless, and found out they had no intention of doing anything else for the record," Umbarger says. When asked what Interscope did do for Hell Below/Stars Above, she says only that the label "released it. When I found out they weren't going to do another single, that it was going to sit there, it looked gloomy, and I have things that looked brighter. I wanted to get out while I still had air in my lungs."
Interscope publicist Jennie Boddy couldn't be reached for comment--several messages were left and not returned--and no one else at the label will speak about the Toadies. Tom Whalley, former president of Interscope and now the head of A&R at Reprise Records, also couldn't be reached despite several attempts.
One of the brighter prospects of which Umbarger speaks--and that seems to confound Lewis--is the Avalon Foundation, a nonprofit organization "dedicated to supporting the transformation of our world from a society of independent individuals, to a community of connected souls," as the organization's Web site (www.avalon-foundation.org) states. Umbarger recently completed training in an ancient Japanese healing technique--in other words, she's decided to use her hands on people instead of her bass, for the time being. She also is continuing her visual-art pursuits. Her work will be exhibited September 8 at the Ridglea Theater in Fort Worth.
After Umbarger turned in her resignation, it took only three days for Lewis to dissolve the band: 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."
But Umbarger says she was stunned by Lewis' decision; she insists she had no idea her resignation would lead to the breakup of the band. She thought the Toadies would simply hire a replacement and soldier on, despite (or, given Lewis' tenacity, because of) Interscope's lack of support and apparent lack of interest in the band.