by Jeff Niesel
When indie rockers the Toadies formed in Forth Worth, Texas in the late ‘80s, there were a number of good alt-rock bands playing around town.
“There was a good music scene,” says singer-guitarist Vaden Todd Lewis, who brings the group to the Grog Shop tomorrow night. “There wasn’t a good club scene. It was all guerilla clubs. You open up a warehouse and play shows until the police come. That kind of thing. There was tons of good music and tons of good bands.”
Adopting a do-it-yourself ethic, the group self-released a few cassettes and then issued an EP that caught the attention of Interscope Records. By that time, Nirvana had broken things open for bands like the Toadies and the band’s major label debut, 1994’s Rubberneck quickly topped the charts thanks to the single “Possum Kingdom,” a song with a crunchy guitar riff and lackadaisical vocals.
“I do not know,” Lewis says when asked why “Possum Kingdom” became such a hit. “You know the drill. I was kind of over that song by the time we got signed to Interscope. I thought it was an okay song. Other songs were getting more favorable response from crowds. I thought it was a fun song and we would move on and do other stuff. The label wanted it on there and the producer wanted it on there. Once it took off, I have never tried to pretend to understand what makes people like certain songs because I don’t want to try to write the same song over and over. I don’t want to be that guy.”
Lewis says he writes best when he’s “blissfully unaware that anyone else is every going to hear it.”
“Everything is about timing,” he says. “If I had to take [‘Possum Kingdom’] apart, it’s a crossover between metal and what would become grunge. Everything went from Guns N Roses to the Pixies in a heartbeat. It’s a nice middle ground.”
When the band tried to shift musical directions with its follow-up album, Feeler, Interscope objected. The band went back to the drawing board and recorded Hell Below/Stars Above. That album didn’t come out until 2001. It didn’t connect with fans and bombed, the group disbanded. But the group reunited in 2007 and has been going strong ever since. For the current tour in celebration of Rubberneck’s 20th anniversary, the band will play the album in its entirety.
“It’s not like we hadn’t played the [Rubberneck] songs,” says Lewis. “There are some we play more than others. We know the relevance of the record. We started off with playing in order. We would play it in sequence from front to back and then take five and see if anyone wants to hear more music. If you buy a ticket to hear Rubberneck in its entirety, there you go. We got into rehearsals and we started taking the songs apart. You play a song for twenty years. We got a kick out of trying to nail the parts. That changed a little bit and then after the first couple of shows we left the stage after playing Rubberneck. We came back out and nobody had gone away. We play Rubberneck and then we stay out there and play more songs. It’s been a really positive experience.”
So does this mean the band’s future looks promising?
“I still love doing it so why not keep doing it,” says Lewis. “I love it and people still come to shows. As long as those two dynamics are there, why not? I still have things to say.”