Playing Possum

"We've got the AC/DC collection, if you want it," Toadies guitarist Clark Vogeler says as he glances at the disc in the stereo's CD player. "It's basically the same record." Vogeler laughs as he and drummer Mark Reznicek take seats across from each other in the cramped rehearsal space. Reznicek slumps comfortably on the couch as Vogeler perches on the edge of a drum riser wedged into a corner, and they simultaneously light cigarettes, which, from the smell of the place, is a common occurrence. As they settle in, the band's frontman, Todd Lewis, walks through the door.

The room, part of Last Beat's recording and rehearsal complex on Commerce Street, is piled high with equipment cases, teetering sculptures of handles and hinges. A couch sits in front of one collection like a retaining wall made of musty upholstery preventing a landslide. Cables snake across the floor. The room is wallpapered with posters and fliers advertising shows the band has played and stickers of groups they've played with. Although there is scarcely enough room for four people (bassist Lisa Umbarger is on vacation in Scotland), the members of The Toadies look comfortable here. It's their clubhouse, one of the few places where they're only asked to come up with songs, instead of explanations and apologies.

"Or we can hear AC/DC," Lewis says, replacing the disc in the CD player with an unmarked one he was carrying in the pocket of his shorts.

"I already made that joke," Vogeler says.

Lewis laughs and presses the play button. After a few seconds of silence, a solitary guitar emerges, hacking through power chords like a muscle car with engine trouble. Suddenly, Lewis' familiar screech kicks off the song, and you're in the path of a Sherman tank driving at full-speed. A rumbling bass line bullies your pulse into beating to a new rhythm, while a kick drum knocks the air out of your chest in 4/4 time. Vogeler and Reznicek smile at each other.

But Lewis isn't paying attention anymore. The music is deafening, but he doesn't seem to hear it. He grabs a guitar, clips off its strings with a pair of wire cutters, and begins cleaning it. Reznicek and Vogeler register every guitar lick and drum fill with their feet and heads, tapping and nodding along. They know every inch of the song, and they should. It's the first song on their new album.

"Do you like rock?" Vogeler asks. The smirk on his face suggests that he doesn't really expect an answer.

The smirk says this: Screw "Possum Kingdom," we've got something better. He's right. After more than six years, two attempts, one new guitarist, and several dozen new songs, The Toadies have finally come up with the long-promised follow-up to 1994's platinum-certified Rubberneck, the disc that spawned the inescapable "Possum Kingdom," which is, no doubt, still playing on a radio near you.

Over the next 45 minutes or so, the three Toadies unveil their new album, happy to show it off for the first time to someone who's not a friend or family member. After it's over, the disc, titled Hell Below/Stars Above, goes back in its plastic jewel case and into Lewis' pocket. Although the record has been finished for months, it won't be reaching stores any time soon. The group says February, their label is sticking with the more nebulous "spring," and the fans--yes, there are still fans waiting for a new album--want it yesterday.

The members of the band admit--no kidding--they wish the record was out already, or at the very least, they wish Interscope would officially tell them when to expect its release. But that's as strong a statement as they'll make on the subject. In the past, they've described the endless waiting game they've played with Interscope as "frustrating" and "fucking depressing," yet now, they claim to be through with all of that. They're confident that the record will come out, and when it does, everyone will know why it took so long.

"We're past all the frustration stuff," Vogeler says. "You know, it's done now."

"Yeah, it's done, and there's been like a lot of momentum at the label, and the record's good, and we're happy with it, so that's where we're at," Lewis says.

"I don't wanna sound like everything's candy land," he continues as he puts his now-clean guitar back in its case. "But it almost is."

"When is what coming out?" Clark Vogeler deadpans when asked the question he's had to deal with virtually every day since joining The Toadies in 1996. He's sitting at a table at the Angry Dog, smoking a cigarette. It's an hour or so before the impromptu listening party at the band's rehearsal space. Todd Lewis and Mark Reznicek, crowded around the table with Vogeler, both laugh knowingly. Obviously, this is Vogeler's pat answer to that question.
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Zac Crain
Contact: Zac Crain