By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
In theory, Clark Vogeler joined the Toadies at just the right time.
It was 1996 when he got his invite—only a month after the breakup of his former, locally adored band, Funland.
"It was a pretty perfect situation," the guitarist says over the phone from his home in Los Angeles. "I was joining a band that had just gone platinum [with Rubberneck], and we were going in to record the follow-up."
Turns out, reality wasn't so kind.
Says Vogeler: "I joined just in time for five years of bullshit."
Before Vogeler joined the Toadies, the band had already become radio mainstays across the country and hard-rock icons at home in North Texas. But somehow they couldn't keep the attention of their label, Interscope Records. As was the plan, the band went into the studio, sure enough—but the higher-ups at Interscope didn't approve of Feeler, the disc the Toadies recorded and hoped to release in 1998 as the follow-up to the record that spawned classics "Possum Kingdom," "Tyler" and "I Come From The Water."
But the album was shelved, never to see the light of day. A disappointing turn of events? Absolutely. Granted, he's biased—it was his first album with the band, remember—but Vogeler never understood the label's decision. Feeler, he says, is the Toadies "at its purest form."
"It would have been a great second Toadies record," he says.
Stuck at the mercy of their label, the band returned to the road and to the drawing board. After three more years of touring and writing, the Toadies had enough material to produce their eventual Rubberneck follow-up, Hell Below/Stars Above, in 2001—a full seven years after their debut. By that point, though, the radio landscape that so warmly welcomed the Toadies in 1994 had all but vanished.
"It had been seven years, which is ridiculous," Vogeler says. "The trends changed. People were listening to different stuff."
And, really, the band's future had already been cast. Within a year of Hell Below/Stars Above's release, the band broke up. Frontman Vaden Todd Lewis went on to form the Burden Brothers. Drummer Mark Reznicek went country, joining Eleven Hundred Springs. Vogeler, meanwhile, went to Hollywood—where he would eventually earn three Emmy nominations for his editing work on Project Runway.
Looking back on those last days of the Toadies, Vogeler openly wonders if Feeler—and, namely, the label's reaction (or lack thereof) to it—was to blame for the band's demise.
"We were crushed and surprised when Interscope rejected it," he says. "It just deflated us emotionally and personally. It might be part of why we broke up in the first place."
But when the band reformed in 2008 to release No Deliverance, which came on local independent label Kirtland Records, everything changed. Fans too young to see the Toadies during their mid-'90s heyday showed up in droves to see the band on their victory lap. The draw was massive—the band performed to the biggest crowds of its career in near-headlining slots at festivals like Lollapalooza and Austin City Limits. In turn, the band gained some much-needed perspective—on their accomplishments, on their successes and, sure enough, on their failures.
Not surprisingly, Feeler remained a bug in the band's collective ear. And this month, 13 years after the fact, with Interscope's ownership of Feeler's songs now expired, the band returned to the studio to give the songs another whirl (the band retains rights to the songs, but Interscope remains in control of the recordings). In August, the band finally will release the disc—first as a digital download and later in standard compact disc form. Mostly because, well, they can—and because, unlike Interscope, Kirtland stands behind the disc. But beyond that, the Toadies are returning to Feeler because they feel like they need to.
"What I feel when I hear and play these songs," Vogeler explains, "is the optimism that I felt at the time—which was only to be crushed and shat on soon after. There's a real draw of redemption for us, to finally put this record out. We want to prove that Interscope was wrong."
And they're doing so quickly: Feeler, which originally took some three and a half months to record, was recorded in just a two-week span this time around. On Friday, the band was putting the final touches onto the disc in a Los Angeles studio, mixing the record that once was supposed to serve as the Toadies' second full-length but will now serve as its fourth.
"It's been the easiest recording process I've ever been a part of," Vogeler says. "And what we're all pleasantly surprised about is that there's so much life in these songs."
And the band's doing very little to change the songs. The arrangements, Vogeler explains, are largely the same. So, too, are the lyrics—although, Vogeler concedes, Lewis has made a few edits in that regard.
The production, however, has changed a great deal. And, despite the gravitas he and Toadies folklore place upon Feeler, Vogeler thinks that's a good thing. When the band originally recorded the album, it did so on Pro Tools—then a new, relatively untapped software—and the album, in turn, boasted a glossy sheen. Going back and listening to the recordings, that much stood out immediately to the band.
"We felt like there was something missing," Vogeler says. And now, with creative control in their hands and a supportive label behind them, the band is making sure to record the album they want to record. "One of the big lessons I've learned," Vogeler continues, "is that you don't have to spend $300,000 to make a good recording."
The result, Vogeler adds, is a dirty record—one that fans might see as a detour of sorts between Rubberneck and Hell Below/Stars Above, but one that capably explains the long-missing link between the two.
And, with the Toadies also between new records—Lewis is currently writing for a No Deliverance follow-up the band hopes to soon record and then release in 2011—the process of returning to their old bridge of an album is proving a fruitful one.
"I have a feeling that it will influence the next record," Vogeler says, detailing how even the lack of guitar solos on Feeler has caused the band to rethink their inclusion of so many on their new material. "Of course we all feel like we'd much rather have put Feeler out in '98, but doing it now is a good thing, too. I mean, there's 50 unreleased Toadies songs, at least. To start chipping away at that is great. "