Hell Freezes Over

Nancy Newberry

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 bands last tour, when bassist Lisa Umbarger told the rest of the groupLewis, guitarist Clark Vogeler and drummer Mark Reznicekshe was quitting and going home. Why? Even Lewis isnt sure.

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

It only took Lewis a couple of days to decide that if Umbarger wasnt going to continue playing with the Toadies, the Toadies couldnt continue playing without her. "Thats 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. Ive said it before: This band finally got to where I wanted itcreatively 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 Umbargers announcement "made sense."

Lewis admits that the tour the band was on at the time of Umbargers departuresupporting its second album, Hell Below/Stars Above, released in March"was not going too well. I dont know if that figured into it or not, but it didnt help, Im sure." Sales of Stars Above have been much lower than expected, and according to Lewis, the groups label, Interscope Records, decided they werent going to get much better. Its quite a different situation than when Interscope released the bands 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 dont sell X number within X number of days, then you suck," Lewis says. "Especially these days; its just so competitive. So that didnt help, Im sure. But, you know, that would have gotten better eventually, or we wouldve done another record and it would have gotten better then. I really believe in this record. Thats 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 isnt sure about his plans, and Vogeler intends to move to Los Angeles to attend film school.

"The break-ups 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 were proud of. Ill 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, cant give up on music, even if it tries to give up on him.

"I have a choice, I guess, but its just in my blood to do music," Lewis says. "I cant really ever see me not doing it. I would just be miserable. So, Ive got a little project that Id already started before the shit even hit the fan, and Im 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 its 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 didnt 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 doesnt 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 bands attorney Frank Majorie. "This way, they can focus on their farewell tour."

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