The last time Toad the Wet Sprocket put out a new studio album, the world hadn’t yet heard of Monica Lewinsky.
Since then, nearly everything about the music business has changed. To everyone’s surprise, though, it’s actually easier today for a band like Toad—generally commercially successful but with a truly devoted fan base hooked years ago by the songwriting chops demonstrated by the band’s albums’ deeper cuts—to make music that actually reaches their fans. New Constellation, the band’s triumphant return after a decade and a half of solo projects, was funded through Kickstarter where 6,304 of those old fans pledged more than $264,000—shattering the band’s goal five times over.
“It used to be you would work through the label, and when the album came out, you’d be deep in debt and hoping you could sell enough to maybe break even someday,” lead singer Glen Phillips tells PW on the phone from California. “Now we put out this record, and we own it, lock, stock and barrel, and we’ve already sent it to the people who care the most about it. When it gets sent out to stores, we’re actually in the black, which is amazing.”
While new bands thrash and scrape to reach their Kickstarter goals, bands like Toad, that is bands already with a preexisting fan base eagerly waiting for something new, are served rather well by crowdfunding.
Just as the funding mechanisms have changed, the feedback mechanisms have evolved as well. Whereas a 1990s Toad would have needed A&R hacks to decide which single gets released when, that particular job has been, again, outsourced to the fans, who generally don’t even realize they’re voting. “We put the record up, and within the first week, we look at iTunes, and we notice that the song ‘The Moment’”—a well-crafted tune, but not immediately obvious as single material—“is selling twice as much as any other song,” Phillips says. “The whole guessing part of it is nicely done away with.”
One thing that hasn’t changed: New Constellation still sounds like vintage Toad, with a handful of radio-friendly pop tunes balanced out by tender, thoughtful songs that will likely have a little more staying power. But the music world’s tolerance for thoughtful and tender seems to have finally caught up with the band.
“When we first came out, there was a lot of underground music that was just starting to go mainstream,” says Phillips. “There was this conflating of depth with edge. This was before Elliott Smith made it safe to make beautiful music that was also considered depth-ful and cool. All the other bands were really good at being kind of edgy and cool, and we showed up and were just awkward.” Now, though, awkward isn’t such a bad thing. “Now nerds run the world, and nerds have the power, and therefore, nerds are sexy. It’s okay to like us publicly.”
Sat., Nov. 9, 8pm. $27.50-$32.50. With Lee DeWyze. Keswick Theatre, 291 N. Keswick Ave., Glenside. 215.572.7650. keswicktheatre.com
PW's Music Issue 2014