Catching up with Toadies' Vaden Todd Lewis - OurVinyl

Catching up with Toadies’ Vaden Todd Lewis

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Whether you still love them today or at least remember “Possum Kingdom” (that “do you wanna die” song to some) blaring from your radio in the 90s, most people know the Toadies. Their first album, Rubberneck, was a great success and even went platinum. From there it’s been a roller-coaster ride of lost albums, break-ups and triumphant returns.

They’ve been back together since 2008 with a vengeance, playing with the enthusiasm and energy of bands half their age, rocking packed concerts of new and old fans alike. In their home state of Texas they’ve reached near-legendary status. Using this status to rally musicians and thrill fans, they’ve hosted a music festival every year, called Dia De Los Toadies, showcasing a wide-array of Texas rock and roll.

Tomorrow sees the release of Play.Rock.Music., the band’s 5th overall album and 2nd of brand new material since returning. Our Vinyl had the chance to speak with lead singer Vaden Todd Lewis about the new album, touring with Helmet, the annual festival, and much more.

Our Vinyl: So what have you been listening to lately?

Vaden Todd Lewis: For the last couple of years I’ve just been listening to XM, Pandora and Slacker for new stuff. XMU and Alt. Nation (on XM) satellite. I have that in my car and that’s about all I listen to other than politics.

OV: Right on, I listen to those a lot myself. I’ve really been digging the new Boom Boom Box record. I was surprised I didn’t see them on the lineup for this year’s Dia De Los Toadies. I know you’re friends with Andrew and Mike and your bands used to tour together a lot (when they were in Baboon).

VTL: Yeah, I don’t know. Even Baboon towards the end there weren’t really touring anymore, they would just get together and do shows to have fun. But I’m in Fort Worth and disconnected from those guys these days so I haven’t really kept up as much as I should.  I haven’t heard the new record yet but what I have heard from them I really like. I don’t know how I’ve managed to overlook that. But I guess that’s part of having a kid! (Laughs).

The Toadies’ No Deliverance

OV: So speaking of Dia De Los Toadies, can you explain how that came about in the first place?

VTL: Yeah. When we got back together and were working on No Deliverance, in pre-production for that, we saw all these offers coming in for festivals, radio festivals, stuff like that and while they’re fun to do, they’re not really our favorite thing to do because we can’t pick who we play with. So I think it was Clark’s idea. We didn’t know because No Deliverance hadn’t come out yet and didn’t know what our fanbase was gonna be like. But we kept seeing these emails and realized people still want to see us play. I dunno, that’s weird, we figured we just went away and that was it.

So Clark said, “we clearly still have some draw so instead of doing these festivals, let’s just do our own. We’ll model it after Willie’s Picnic, put it out in the country, maybe by water and we just sat there and spit-balled this idea and pitched it to our management and within a week or 10 days they came back with some locations. So now we’re on year number five and it’s been great.

OV: I think it’s great that you’ve used it to showcase Texas music. There’s not a lot of press out there letting people know what great music we have.

VTL: Yeah, definitely. This is actually the first year we’ve branched out from Texas for the lineup. We’ve got Mariachi El Bronx and Helmet, so we’re pretty stoked about that.

OV: Oh yeah, you’re doing a national tour with Helmet right now so that makes sense. How did you guys hook up?

VTL: We had some mutual agents who proposed it to us and everybody thought it was cool. So we were like, “Hell yeah! Why didn’t we think of that sooner?” (Laughs)

OV: Going back to Dia, I noticed you guys played “Send You To Heaven” at last year’s Friday night acoustic show. As a long time fan I was really excited to hear you guys place that after so many years. What made you decide to pull it out of the closet?

VTL: It’s an old fan favorite and people still ask for it. It’s a cool song and we decided, like everything the first night, to put a different spin on it. I was really pleased with it. We rehearsed it for a week or two before the festival, but the way we performed it that night was unique. I sat there listening to the band playing and the energy—it made me think, “this isn’t exactly the way we rehearsed it, but it’s kick ass!” I was beside myself.

OV: Did you catch it on tape?

VTL: It is caught on tape. I don’t know what we’re going to do with it yet, but something eventually.

OV: That’s awesome. It would be great to get it on a live DVD or something.

VTL: I think we’re looking at doing that down the pike, doing some sort of DVD or release of Dia highlights. It’s just in the “maybe we should do this” phase right now.

OV: So your last album, Feeler, was a re-recording of your “lost” album from the 90s. Any other unreleased material making an appearance in the future?

VTL:  I wouldn’t rule it out. We’ve been so focused on the new record though, so it hasn’t really crossed our minds lately.

OV: Do you think re-recording Feeler and re-incorporating that material into your setlists had an effect on the writing and recording process for this latest album?

VTL: No, I don’t think so. It was good just to get it done. The impetus for it was that there are these incomplete versions floating around. Unmixed versions—some of them hadn’t even been tracked yet. It was out there and we couldn’t do anything about it. What we had to do is wait for the 10 year re-recording clause to expire so we just waited it out and re-recorded it.

But as far as the new record goes, it was done differently than any other Toadies record. Usually what happens is, I will have demos that I work my ass off on, then send them off to the guys, they’ll send notes and then we go rehearse them. After that they’re pretty much done. Fully realized with the drums and everything. Of course we go back and re-record it, but it’s done; in the can for the most part. And then we’ll write one or two on the fly in the studio.

This time I decided to do some demos in the studio since I’d never done that with this band, and we wanted to work with Frenchie, he’s a cool guy, we like him, let’s see what it’s like working with him. When we went in to record the demos it felt like, damn this is really working! These aren’t just demos these are actual songs. We decided we’d make an EP, start tracking, set a release date and decided, we’re having too much fun, let’s make a whole album. So we went back into the studio, continued writing and stuck to the same release. I don’t even know how. (Laughs)

OV: Some songs like “Sunshine” and “Get Low” sound even more Toadies-like than a lot of stuff off No Deliverance did. Do you feel like you’re in the “Toadies zone” now more than ever?

VTL: I hadn’t really thought about it like that, but yeah, I guess so. More than anything I just feel like I’m in the zone as a writer. I’ve finally gotten to the point in my career and personal/emotional development where I can just write whatever I want to without really thinking about it—in terms of whether anybody’s going to like it or whatever bullshit mindset I manage to do to myself. I’m my own worst editor. They don’t even see 9 out of 10 songs I’ve written because I’m the most critical editor ever. I am my own worst critic.

I just feel better about where I am in life. Tom Waits once said, “You’re never going to know how to write music. You’ll never sit back and say, I know how to do this so I’m done writing songs.” Every day I hear something new that blows my mind and I think, “I want to learn how to do that.” I’m still at that point, which is great. I can go into the studio with some ideas and turn them into fully realized songs that are good. You know, I fool myself. (Laughs)

The Toadies’ City of Hate

OV: No, it’s true, that confidence shows in the performances on this new record.

VTL: To back up for a second, “Sunshine” is actually one of the older songs on the album. It was mostly written and recorded for No Deliverance but I didn’t have lyrics because of that mindset thing I was talking about earlier. Everybody loved that song and I got fed up with it and wanted to throw it away. But everybody was really into it and kept nagging me so I finally wrote lyrics for it.

OV: I’m glad they harassed you about it.

VTL: Yeah, some good harassment is good! (Laughs)

OV: Despite being in the Toadies zone more than ever it does seem like your time in Burden Brothers has had an influence on everything afterwards. “We Burned The City Down” definitely seems to have a Burden Brothers influence. What do you think was the most important take away from your time with the Burden Brothers?

VTL: That’s a good question. What I most enjoyed about that band was that I wasn’t the main writer, the main guy. It was a group effort and while I contributed a bunch of songs, everybody else did too. I would sit back and let somebody write the lyrics to a song I sing; I had never done that before. It was a really cool experience and just a different dynamic, even down to how the songs were performed.

The Toadies’ Sunshine

OV: Do you think we’ll ever see a reappearance of the Burden Brothers, either recording or touring in the future?

VTL: I wouldn’t rule anything out. I don’t have anything on the books right now but I do still get together with Taz and Casey once in a while and shoot the shit. Somebody will bring it up we say, “yeah we ought to do that…sometime. Don’t know when but we’ll see.”

OV: Well that’s good you’re still friends. That’s the first and most important step.

VTL: Oh yeah definitely. When I started a band, I never dreamed I’d get to do this for a living, first off. I didn’t want to be in a band that’s like being at a job where I don’t like the people I perform with nightly. That doesn’t sound fun or cool to me. I try to make it a point to have people in the band that contribute artistically but also that I really like being around. It’s important to have that family vibe when writing and creating. If I didn’t have that sort of support I just wouldn’t feel right.

OV: I read that the band’s former guitarist Charles Mooney performed with you guys a while ago in Dallas. How did that come about?

VTL: Yeah, that was fucking awesome! He’d been keeping up with Clark and kinda touched base with me a little on Facebook, but he and Clark chatted it up and Clark knew he was going to be at the show so we talked about how cool that was. He even came back into the studio with us years and years ago to do backing vocals on “Got A Heart” and that was cool. I saw him at the show and told him we really wanted him to play guitar with us on that song. He thought I was fucking with him so he said okay. Five minutes before the encore started he’s backstage with Clark relearning the guitar parts that he hasn’t played in almost 20 years. Clark was beside himself with the whole experience. So Charles walks out that for the song and kills it like he never put it down. It was just amazing. I really wish I could’ve caught that on video.

OV: While we’re on the subject of 20 years ago, do you guys own the rights to your unreleased material from your Interscope days?

VTL: Nope, Interscope has all that and they’re sitting on it. They’re not playing ball with us. We tried negotiating for all that stuff. We tried to do the same thing for Feeler before we re-recorded because that [releasing the original recordings] would just be cooler, but no such luck. Right now we’re in  the process of negotiating again to see what might happen for the 20th anniversary of Rubberneck but I don’t see them giving a fuck honestly. “They” being the corporation.

OV: Yeah, unfortunately it’s well publicized how difficult they can be with artists once they leave the label. Just look at all the woes Trent Reznor had dealing with them. It’s just a shame really because everybody—the label, the artist and especially the fans lose out.

VTL: Definitely. My take on this is that everybody’s going to make money on this. What the hell do you have against us so badly that you don’t want to make money? (Laughs)

OV: I know, right? Do you think it’s a sour grapes sort of thing?

VTL: I don’t know. Probably the way they’re looking at it is this: it’s not going to be easy money, or a LOT of money so fuck you, go away. That’s the vibe I get. I mean I haven’t talked to them personally on any of this; it’s all been third party stuff so I don’t really know what’s going on in their heads.

OV: It’s frustrating because it would be nice to have a deluxe edition of Rubberneck that has unreleased and live tracks, even do vinyl re-release!

VTL: That’s exactly what we’re trying to do. We’ve still got two years to handle that so we’ll see.

OV: Well here’s hoping. Thanks for your time and good luck on your tour. I’ll see you guys at a Dia De Los Toadies.

VTL: Definitely. We look forward to it every year.

Written By:
Jarad Matula | Senior Writer

Photos by Michelle Pelissero, courtesy of Kirtland Records