By Larry Widen Special to OnMilwaukee Published Sep 13, 2023 at 5:01 PM

“Hold on, hold on, hold on to what matters.” -- Glen Phillips, Toad the Wet Sprocket

Only a band who lost an open-mic contest, placed a song with the film “So I Married an Axe Murderer” and marketed an album via Kickstarter could find international success as Toad the Wet Sprocket. As for that peculiar name, founding member Glen Phillips said, “I was raised by nerds, so we watched Monty Python as a family. It was (bassist Dean Dinning's) idea in 1986 to take Toad the Wet Sprocket from one of their sketches as the name for our band. It was a temporary joke, but it stuck!”

TWS found fame in 1991 with the release of their third album, “Fear." In the next seven years, the band capitalized on the success of “Fear” with constant touring and the release of three more albums: “Dulcinea," “In Light Syrup" and “Coil." As with many bands who spend so much intense time together, Toad the Wet Sprocket came apart. They announced a break-up in 1998.

Over the next two decades, the band members pursued solo projects and worked together every so often, doing small summer tours. In 2009, Dinning said Toad the Wet Sprocket had formally regrouped, and their first new studio track was a cover of Sam Phillips’ “It Doesn't Feel Like Christmas." Several albums and a lot of live shows over the next 20 years led to the release of their current album, “Starting Now." 

During an interview before the band’s Pabst Theater show on Thursday, Sept. 14, Phillips recalled some of Toad’s career highlights. 

OnMilwaukee: Your music has never fit into one marketable category. That usually makes people trying to sell your albums go crazy!

Glen Phillips: Yeah. We never fit too cleanly into any particular genre, but that’s alright with us. The fans seem to appreciate our little creative world, and we like to keep things diverse to keep ourselves interested.

How does it feel to be on the road, in front of an audience? Has the fun worn off, or is this what a band like Toad the Wet Sprocket lives for?

It’s still fun to tour. I love singing and performing. It would be great to be able to teleport home and see my wife and sleep in my own bed, but aside from that, it’s a real gift to be able to do this for a living. Music is everything to me.

At what point in your career did you acquire a manager who really was looking out for you, and not himself?

All managers, like all people, do a bit of both, but that said, we lucked out. Our manager, Chris Blake, always had a DIY, long-term attitude. He did a really good job of protecting our creative freedom and moving us forward.

The covers of John Lennon’s "Instant Karma" and KISS’ "Rock and Roll All Night," songs from two different musical generations, were great choices. 

They were tied to tribute albums, so the artists were pre-determined. I’d always loved “Instant Karma," and we got a pretty good version of that together quickly. For the KISS tribute, we thought we were a left-of-center choice, so we took something really rocking and turned it into a campfire waltz. We thought our version of “Rock and Roll All Night” was hilarious and a good joke about ourselves. Some KISS fans disagreed, but Gene Simmons loved it.

Is your musical path locked in for now?

Music keeps giving back if you keep giving to it. I have things I want to write about, and the band is always finding new things to try. If Toad the Wet Sprocket is just 'bout nostalgia, I have no interest. Creative people must keep pushing forward.