Interview – Dean Dinning of Toad the Wet Sprocket

Toad the Wet SprocketToad the Wet Sprocket has their first release as a full band in at least 15 years.  It’s a big deal.  And we know it’s a big deal because when the guys in Toad went to fans for help on producing the album via Kickstarter, you won’t believe how quickly the band made their target of $50,000.

Ventura Rocks (VR):  I have been listening to the new CD, I’ve kept it constantly in my car for the past couple of weeks, I’m loving New Constellation.  I don’t understand how you can just pick out a song to push on radio because there are so many solid songs on there!

Dean DinningDean Dinning:  Well that is interesting, because we are about to release another single. We released the title track, “New Constellation,” as the first single; it got a little traction out there on the radio, but we’re ready to release another one.  This is the first time we’ve put out a record in 15 years, but thanks for things like i-Tunes where people can actually go on and sort of cherry pick the record and the songs that they like, it’s really kind of helped us find out what song should be the next single.  It’s interesting because you can take a look at what individual songs people seem to be responding to, and just go, “Oh, obviously, that’s what people want to hear, so let’s put that one out as a single.”

(VR):  Alright, so what’s going to be the second single then?

Dinning: It’s going to be a song called “The Moment.”

(VR):  Nice, very nice. I was putting my money on a bonus track, “Finally Fading.”

Dinning: It is a great song.  That song was previously on Glen’s solo album back in 2002 or so, and that’s the reason we didn’t put in the main listing of songs for the record or release it as a single.  One of the things we wanted to do was to put out something 100% new.

(VR):  Well that makes sense, you’d want to choose a song the whole band had done together as a group effort.

Dinning: Right, especially after all this time.  But it’s such a great song and we’ve been playing it live in concert and people really like it and are responding to it.  We do a really great version of that song, a little more rocking than the version Glen had done on his solo album.  While we were in the studio making the record, we didn’t know if other songs would turn out as good as we hoped, and we might need an up tempo pop single like that.  But as it turned out we had other songs that hopefully would do the job.

(VR):  As a former program director of a rock alternative radio station here in town, KXBS, The Bus, and I’d like to think I have an ear for what would work on radio but I have to say I’m having a hard time! “California Wasted”, “I’ll Bet on You”, “Get What you Want,” Is there Anyone Out There,”  “Life is Beautiful,” these are all solid songs.  You guys have got to be proud of what you did here.

New ConstellationDinning: We’re really happy with what we did, we had a great bunch of songs.  Before we made the record we went in and played for Mikal Blue, who is our producer.  He has a studio down in Thousand Oaks, we played for him absolutely everything we had. And some of the songs like “Bet on You” was originally another song that Todd Nicols, the guitar player, and I had done on a record we had done with a band that we had briefly after Toad called Lapdog, and we had done this song called, “See You Again.”  And I played that for Mikal Blue one day when we were in the studio and we were playing every idea that we had so we could make sure that some undiscovered gem would not be heard when we went to make the record.   And he just flipped out for “See You Again” and he worked on it and rearranged it and rewrote the lyrics and it’s a whole new song.

(VR):  It’s beautiful.

Dinning: You know you look at the album “New Constellation” as kind of a best of everything that we all been doing for the last 16 years I suppose, and us throwing it all in there and making a Toad record out of it.  But thank you!  That was the idea to have really strong songs with sing along choruses and stronger individual identities and hopefully it wouldn’t just all blend together.  We wanted something that would get people’s attention.

(VR):  Crazy good harmonies, you got the hooks up the wazoo.  It’s really nice.

Ok, Let’s talk about Kickstarter; from what I read, Toad was thinking it would take two months to hit your goal of $50,000, but it took so much less!  How did you get wind that this was going on?  Explain how it all unfolded.

kickstarterDinning: We were actually in New York out on a very short tour where we were scheduled to play at Willie Nelson’s 80th birthday celebration and the the Kickstarter went live during that time and we were watching it.  We all got the Kickstarter app for our phones and we were watching it in real time.  It was climbing so quickly…you know, it was unbelievable!  It was sort of like watching the individual song sales on i-Tunes.   (laughs) You know there’s this new fangled thing called the internet these days and you’re able to watch your project in real time as people are pledging and the numbers are just going up and up and up, and halfway through the first day we realized we were going to hit the goal the next day! And we did!  It was unbelievable, we set a $50,000 goal originally and we hit it in 20 hours.

(VR):  Oh My God!

Dinning: You know we had a feeling that our fans would really respond to the idea of Kickstarter, because they really wanted us to make a new record.  Our fans have been paying real money to buy tickets to come out and see us live for the last 15 years.  I mean we were broken up, we got back together, and we’ve been touring off and on pretty steadily since 2006.   But we had no idea that they would jump on it with that kind of enthusiasm.  And even at the end of the two months – well once we hit the original goal, we made another goal, which they call a stretch goal, And we said, Okay, if we get to $100,000, then we’ll throw in a live acoustic CD.  And people encouraged their friends, shared it on Facebook to get more people to participate.  Our fans just really showed up.  That’s the main thing that we found out just how much real love there was for the band out there in the world.

(VR):  What validation.  That is just so amazing.

Dean DinningDinning: And we did this other thing with Kickstarter where as soon as we hit our original funding goal which was really big, we didn’t expect to hit it that quickly, we wanted to let people hear the music, and that was the ideal all along.  The record was pretty much done, and we wanted people to be able to download it.  No one had ever done that on Kickstarter before; normally you have to wait until the end to even get the email addresses of the people who had pledged.  So we had to figure out a convoluted system.  We set up a second page where we would have to send messages to the backers and then have them put their email addresses on another page and we would send them a download for another site…you know, at the end of the day, we ended up with about the first 6,000 of the most diehard fans of the band got the download of this new record they had been waiting for, for all this time.
And as far as critical reviews, we’ve done really well, but having the fans love it as much as they did right off the bat…it made me feel like I really didn’t care if someone gave us a bad review now, because the people I care about love it.

(VR):  Exactly, and that is the bottom-line, It’s about the fan, the person who wants and knows and loves the band, someone who has always been there…and how they feel about it.   That’s all that really matters.

Dinning: Yeah, that’s what matters. And we got them first which was really really cool.

(VR):  What’s it like this time around?

Dinning: I can’t get over how fortunate we are to have all of these people who have stuck with us for so long.  The best reason to want to keep doing this music is the difference that it has made in people’s lives.  Every night going out there on stage and seeing their faces light up when we play a certain song, it’s the best thing in the world.  It’s pretty cool.

(VR):  And Glen’s voice seems to be holding up alright?

Dinning: It’s doing just fine.  We have a new rule where we don’t do more than four shows in a row, and he’s not spending too much time talking after the shows.  We do these big meet and greets after the show; we’ll go out in the lobby and take pictures and things.  People always want to engage in some very deep conversations, but he’s had to develop some sort of discipline to say, “You know I’d love to have this conversation, send me email on Facebook.”  The voice is something that you just can’t wear out. Talking is actually worse than singing.  So yeah, we’re holding up real well!

(VR):  What’s next for the band?  Continue doing what you’re doing?  Keep touring and see how long you can go with this?

Dinning: Yeah, that’s the great thing about doing this ourselves; we get to decide when it’s over. No one in an office somewhere is looking at a balance sheet – and our balance sheet is on the positive side – but no one is looking at it and saying, “We’re not going to put any more money into this.”  It’s up to us. The next single is going to go to radio right after Christmas, we’ve got tour dates in the West…it’s so odd, but we get calls to play on the East Coast all the time, and we have to schedule things more along the West Coast, so finally we’re getting to places like Salt Lake City and Seattle and Portland.  Things are so much more spread apart in the West, it’s harder to tour out here, and there are lots of places. So we invariably fine ourselves going up and down the East Coast and in the Mid West more than we make it out here to the West. But we’re going to do all those places in about two weeks in February and we’re looking forward to summer and the rest of 2014.

Toad the Wet Sprocket