There are countless ridiculous band names—from Chumbawamba and Limp Bizkit to Hoobastank and Thirty Odd Foot of Grunt. Then there’s Toad The Wet Sprocket. What’s a sprocket, why is it wet and what does that have to do with a toad? As the story goes, the band named themselves after a comment Eric Idle made on the skit “Rock Notes” from the 1987 Monty Python’s Flying Circus album, The Final Rip Off. Even Toad The Wet Sprocket’s lead singer, Glen Phillips, once admitted it was “a joke that went on too long.” Initially intended to be temporary, the name stuck. More than 30 years after they released their debut album, Bread & Circus, Phillips, Todd Nichols, Dean Dinning and Josh Daubin are still rocking with it.
Formed in Santa Barbara, California, Toad The Wet Sprocket catapulted to mainstream notoriety with the 1991 album, Fear, which included the singles “Walk on the Ocean” and “All I Want.” The project peaked at No. 49 on the Billboard 200 and both singles were Top 40 hits. Their fourth album, 1994’s Dulcinea, produced two more hits, “Fall Down” and “Something’s Always Wrong,” and the album was eventually certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). With their success mounting, they returned three years later with the Top 20 album, Coil, but it would prove to be their last for 16 long years. After several breakups and makeups, Toad The Wet Sprocket reconvened in 2013 for New Constellation and followed up with 2021’s Starting Now. The band is currently on tour and will make a stop at the Mishawaka Amphitheater on July 2 with special guest Reed Foehl. BandWagon caught up with bassist Dean Dinning to discuss fame, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and random encounters with Jay Leno.
BandWagon (Kyle Eustice): When did you pick up the bass for the first time and what about it did you like?
Dean Dinning: When Toad was starting out, I was the keyboard player and Glen played bass. I had a Fender Precision bass that my dad had bought for me, but I hadn’t played it very much because it wasn’t fun to practice. The first time I played bass for real was at a Toad rehearsal when we were working on a new song that didn’t seem to warrant a keyboard part. I came up with a great bass line on the spot, and from that point on, I was the bass player in the band.
What was your first band called?
Believe it or not, my first band was called Toad the Wet Sprocket [laughs].
Did you anticipate finding the kind of success you did with Toad?
When we recorded “Bread and Circus,” I felt like we could get a record deal. After that, when we made ‘Fear,’ I thought we could be successful. All we needed to do was get people to hear the music.The songs were legitimately great, and we had Columbia Records promoting us and we were out there in the road building a following. It didn’t come out of nowhere.
What did fame and notoriety feel like for the first time?
Fame definitely felt weird at first, like some kind of alternate universe. One time Toad had just played on The Tonight Show, and I had gone out to a restaurant in Beverly Hills with my wife and her parents after the taping. As we are standing there waiting to be seated, Jay Leno and a few friends come in behind us. Jay Leno sees me, walks over and says ‘Where do I know you from?’
The reason for the band’s breakup was “creative differences.” What kind of conversations needed to be had to reunite?
After we broke up, we all needed to realize that a band creating their sound is kind of a magical thing that is really hard to replicate, especially if you grow up playing with each other and filling the spaces in the music that other people leave for you. We also needed to understand that Toad was a valuable thing that we had created, and that our music had brought joy and comfort to a lot of people. As crass as the music business can seem sometimes, being a part of people’s lives in that way is nothing short of a privilege.
After 1997’s Coil, you didn’t release another album until 2013. What did you do during this hiatus?
During the hiatus from 1997 to 2003, I explored a lot of things that I had wanted to do when I finally had the time. I took voiceover classes and acting classes, did some plays, made some films and met a terrific bunch of actors and writers, some of whom are now producing big TV shows. I still recorded music at home, and played bass on songs for people, but I did very little live playing.
How did it feel to make another album together?
Making New Constellation was really fun because we wanted to make something special for our fans who had waited so long for a new album. We swung for the fence in a way that we hadn’t done since Fear. We put pedal steel on it. We put strings on a few songs. We had a new producer, Mikal Blue, who had been a fan of the band since the beginning and had always wanted to work with us. He knew what was great about the band and how to capture it. It also contained two songs that I had written the melodies for: ‘California Wasted’ and ’Is There Anyone Out There?,’ which was a first for me.
The music industry has changed so much since you started. What are the pluses and negatives?
I guess you could say that one of the negatives of the music business in recent years is that we don’t sell CDs anymore because of streaming. But I don’t think Toad would be selling many CDs right now anyway because there would not be any copies in the record store, other than a few gathering dust in the used bin. I get that at a certain level artists are hurt by streaming. But in our case, I think it has helped keep our music live and allow it to be discovered by a new generation of listeners. Some of them show up at our concerts and walk out with a CD, but many of them would rather just have a t-shirt.
How did COVID-19 impact not just your music career but your mental health?
When COVID hit, the thought that we might not ever get to play in front of people again was devastating. Music is one of the things that brings people together. A live music experience, where fans of an artist really get to share that love together, it’s just so important for the future of mankind. The thought of not being able to play shows Dean combined with not even being able to go to shows was unthinkable. Needless to say, I was very depressed.
What does making music mean to you?
It’s my purpose for being here. To appreciate it, enjoy it, be moved by it, and participate in its creation. To have helped create something that will be enjoyed by people around the world for years to come has been my honor. I want to keep doing it as long as possible.