People who saw the arrival of a new Toad The Wet Sprocket album, “New Constellation,” in 2013 as a signal that the group was going to return to being a band that records and tours extensively, can lower those hopes.
Yes, the band is back on tour for six weeks this summer and is even releasing an EP to coincide with its shows (alongside Smash Mouth and Tonic). But singer/guitarist Glen Phillips still sees Toad The Wet Sprocket as something he enjoys returning to on a limited basis, and a group that exists alongside any number of other musical projects he and his bandmates can pursue.
“‘People outside, they’re always like ‘Oh my God, you guys are doing Toad again. Great. I wondered when you’d stop making solo records,’” Phillips remarked in a phone interview. “They don’t exactly say that, but I ignore those people as much as I can. It’s an odd thing. I understand Toad’s significance historically and I feel I can come back to it if it’s one of many things I do. And then I can look at it with gratitude and I can really enjoy it. But I don’t want to be trapped in the ‘90s.
“I don’t feel nostalgic. I’m just not a nostalgic person,” he said.
“So the idea of living in the past holds really zero appeal to me. But the idea of getting to go out and make a bunch of people happy and play some songs I’m proud of with some people I really like, I think that’s a great thing. As far as part time work goes, it’s probably the best possible job in the whole entire world. So as long as I keep that in mind and I don’t feel like I’m somehow trapped by the past, then it’s all pretty awesome.”
For quite a few years following Toad The Wet Sprocket’s breakup in 1998 (coming off of two platinum albums, 1991’s “Fear” and 1994’s “Dulcinea,” and a 1997 release, “Coil,” that fell short of that sales level), Phillips sounded like someone who couldn’t see himself making new music with the group.
He and bandmates Todd Nichols (guitar), Dean Dinning (bass) and Randy Guss (drums) tried to restart the band in 2002, but things didn’t turn out well.
Phillips instead was more focused on his own career. In addition to releasing his second solo album, “Winter Pays for Summer,” in 2005, he also formed a group with the bluegrass-oriented group Nickel Creek (Chris Thile, Sean Watkins and Sara Watkins) called Mutual Admiration Society, which released a self-titled album in 2004. Then in 2008, Phillips, the Watkins siblings and several other notable musicians (including drummer Pete Thomas and bassist Davey Faragher, the rhythm section in Elvis Costello’s band, the Imposters, keyboardist Benmont Tench of Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers, fiddle player Luke Bulla and multi-instrumentalist Greg Leisz) came together to make a self-titled album as Works Progress Administration (WPA), which was released in 2009.
By the time he released his third solo album, “Mr. Lemons,” in 2006, Phillips was fully intent on establishing himself in the folk/singer-songwriter scene as a solo artist — and in a sense changing the idea that he was a pop artist because of his time in Toad The Wet Sprocket.
But Toad The Wet Sprocket continued to get together for occasional shows, as well as a full tour in 2006, and things got better between the four band members. By 2009, they considered the group an active ongoing entity once again.
The idea of making new music with the band started to take shape when Toad The Wet Sprocket re-recorded hits from its catalog for a 2011 greatest hits album, “All You Want.”
“It was so easy and fun to do. It made a record seem like something we could do without any problem,” Phillips said of “All You Want.” “I had the faith that Toad was going to be a project and not the definition of who I was as a musician. And once I gave myself that latitude it was fun to kind of go ‘OK, so what’s a Toad song? How’s that different from the other stuff I write? Hey, I can do drums and electric guitars and I can write three-part harmonies and counter melodies instead of having to do it solo acoustic.’ I was so happy to get to look at Toad in a new way.”
In fact, the group is releasing a new EP, “Architect of the Ruin,” featuring two new songs and four tracks from the “New Constellation” sessions to coincide with this summer’s tour.
Phillips, though, isn’t promising that more full-length albums will be in Toad The Wet Sprocket’s future.
As he sees it, completing “New Constellation” made a nice statement for the band.
“Things had not always been easy (within the group), and to manage to get together and make something we were all proud of, even one more time, is a huge achievement,” Phillips said.