Toad The Wet Sprocket: Not Bikers' First Choice

'90s alt-rockers Toad the Wet Sprocket, playing House of Blues tomorrow night, may be an established act now, but back on the heels of their second album, 1990's Pale, the Santa Barbara, Calif.-based quartet had to take their lumps just like everyone else who has ever left the practice space and hit the road to gig.

We talked to bassist Dean Dinning, who has been there since the beginning, about the early days of Toad, from inexplicably opening up for Rollins Band at a radio festival, to their current touring model which allows them the freedom of actually having a personal and family life.

Rocks Off: Before last year's show at House of Blues, you hadn't hit Houston in quite a while.

Dean Dinning: I actually starting asking people, because I couldn't remember when it was. Maybe 1995 when we went out opening for Cranberries. We played at one of the sheds out there [Ed. note: Cynthia Woods, most likely]. Glen (Philips) had toured through there with his solo stuff, but I haven't done any touring with my side stuff.

It's a weird thing. We get a lot of calls to play on the East Coast, but we were thinking that we were missing the whole Southern part of the country and we made a conscious effort to go and play where we haven't been in a long time.

RO: What is touring like now?

DD: We fly into places and just work, work, work. We don't really have days off. We have this new way of touring, where we don't go have to go out for months at a time. We kind of do it the way the country artists do it, except we use Los Angeles as our hub. We go out and play for a week and come back home for a couple of weeks.

We tour regionally and just go out with guitars and use standard amps and things like that, and play with no days off and go home. It works a lot better that way when you have a family and kids.

RO: What was one of Toad the Wet Sprocket's worst gigging experiences?

DD: It would have been in Chattanooga, Tennessee, playing a bar there and we had no fans. We had decided to go out and do a headlining tour when we had just released our second album, which was Pale. So we went out and ended up in small clubs where nobody knew who we were. There were a bunch of these biker guys in this bar, so you can kind of see where this is going.

After our set, one of them came up to me and said "You guys sound pretty good, but just one thing..."

And I said "What's that?"

"Y'all play like pussies!"

There were things like that, for instance a place in Mobile or Huntsville, [that] when we got there the owner offered to bet what we would get paid that night on a game of pool.

RO: What about festival mishaps or pairings?

DD: You know, alternative rock in the '90s was such a wide spectrum of things. You had people like us, the Gin Blossoms, and Dave Matthews Band who were all considered alternative, but then you had things like Rollins Band that were very hard, tough and very punk.

We would get on these radio festivals and they would put the lineup together and we'd end up playing right before Rollins Band. So all of his fans would have already pushed their way to the front of stage by the time we got there. You have all these guys that just look like they wanna kill you. Huge, muscular, angry people. Probably very nice people, but they looked very angry.

One guy I remember standing right in front of me, giving me the finger with both hands with his arms up for the entire set.

RO Now you can pick who you want to open for you at this point.

DD: With the Internet, it's easy enough for someone to contact us wanting to open a show. It seems like every time we announce a show we got a lot of folks wanting to open for us. We get a lot of indie guys with some cool stuff that is established and we can pick who we want. It's not like a Journey tribute band is going to play with us now. I mean I love myself a good Journey tribute band...

With Sounds Under Radio, 8 p.m. Saturday, May 15, at House of Blues, 1204 Caroline, 888-402-5837 or www.hob.com/houston.


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