This summer, Toad the Wet Sprocket hit the road to promote a new studio CD for the first time in 16 years. I sat down with Toad's lead singer, Glen Phillips, before one of their tour stops to talk about crowdfunding their latest album, " New Constellation," via Kickstarter, and what it's like to be one of the original "geek rock" bands now that geeks have officially taken over the world.
Since Toad broke up in 1998, following a string of alternative rock hits in the '90s, Phillips has released a handful of collaborations and solo albums, including the little-known but uber-geeky indie release " Secrets of the New Explorers," which included songs on a number of topics that Crave readers will be familiar with, from privatized space travel and solar flares to space elevators.
"It didn't sell very well, but if you join the Space Elevator Consortium you get a copy of my record with your membership," Phillips told me with a chuckle.
Obviously, the celestial theme remains present in "New Constellation," which might also refer to the vast new universe of options for bands looking to get music into the ears of fans. Toad enjoyed almost a decade-long relationship with Columbia Records, but the 21st-century incarnation of the band opted to fund this most recent studio record solely through Kickstarter.
In a campaign that kicked off last summer, the band set a fundraising goal of $50,000 but managed to raise more than five times that amount, allowing the group to do more than just pay for studio time. The extra funds raised beyond the goal made it possible for the group to record the album and own it outright, pay a publicist and other costs of managing the band, and deal with the myriad details of providing all those promised goodies to the more than 6,000 backers that chipped in to the online campaign.
"The logistics of fulfillment on Kickstarter were shocking," Phillips said. "It ended up being like $32,000 in shipping."
Phillips says that after Toad broke up and he had a hard time finding a record deal as a solo artist, he was forced to learn how to do things the DIY way, including putting up his own websites and using tools like Bandcamp for promotion, so when the idea of a Toad Kickstarter came along, it seemed like a good potential fit.
"A lot of bands feel like it's asking for a handout rather than thinking about it as a direct distribution method with kind of an emotional factor thrown in. That's how it works. "
Sitting down with Phillips, I was particularly interested in getting to know a little more about his geeky side -- after all, Toad is a group of self-proclaimed theater geeks who took their name from a Monty Python skit -- but wasn't quite sure how to broach the topic. Fortunately, he brought it up on his own when I asked him about his songwriting process and he started to tell me about his creative outlets for his geekier side.
Speaking of himself and producer/composer/musician John Askew, Phillips said, "We did a record with a song about World of Warcraft gold farming [aptly titled "You Will Be Pwned"], urban copper mining, chimeras; two of the songs on that album are based off of Radiolab episodes."
Phillips and Askew also teamed up for the aforementioned "Secrets of the New Explorers" album with a focus on privatized space travel, solar flares, and more. Digging deep into Phillips' geekography, he told me about growing up in a "Star Trek"- and Asimov-loving household led by his physicist father.
An original, dice-throwing Dungeons & Dragons player back in the 1980s, Phillips says he shares his love of fantasy and science fiction with his own children and loves the fact that in today's geek-owned world it's more acceptable for girls to get in on the action and that being good at math is no longer a recipe for instant ridicule.
Watch Phillips talk about his own geeky background and today's golden age of the geek in the video below, and for more, check out my essay about how difficult it was to resist geeking out on the man behind one of my favorite bands during the interview.