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Toadies Frontman Vaden Todd Lewis Discusses New Album ‘Play.Rock.Music’ + More

Kirtland Records: Matt Cooper

The Toadies are making the most of their second chance at music, recently prolonging their stay in the studio to extend their ‘Play.Rock.Music’ EP into a full album. The result is a fresh sounding rock record that fits right in with the top releases of their career.

Loudwire had a chance to sit down with singer Vaden Todd Lewis to discuss the ‘Play.Rock.Music’ album, their bizarre video for the single ‘Summer of the Strange,’ and their annual summer bash, Dia De Los Toadies.

This record feels really fresh and that’s not always necessarily the case when a band breaks up and gets back together. Frequently there feels like there’s something missing from the original vibe, but it’s not so here. Can you talk about what it’s like working with the guys now and how that relates to what it was like in the beginning?

You know as far as working with the guys for so long, it’s just communication. You have these conversations about how a song should go or just dynamics and occasionally I just step outside of myself and look at the conversation and nobody would know what they hell we were talking about if they walked in the room. We have such inside lingo, like any group of people will when they are isolated for a long time.

‘Summer of the Strange’ is just arriving for fans to hear. It’s got a cool, yet sinister vibe to it. Can you share a little on how it came together and the inspiration behind it.

That was one of the first songs for this record. We basically had the verse one and two and that’s about it. [laughs] I didn’t know what to do with it. That bass line loop with that guitar on top of it with those two verses, that’s all I had. It was like this is something, I just don’t know what it is, and I brought it into the guys and we just kind of flushed it out and I felt it with the guys. It’s been a blast to play live. People have really responded to it.

The video definitely makes us laugh. It’s everything that you could want in a video in terms of nudity and, of all things, violence against food and drink. How much fun was that to shoot?

It was a blast. I’m not a big fan of music videos and I wouldn’t say I go out of my way to watch them. For me, I like to listen to music and have my own story when I hear it. So, for me, a video, it was like I don’t know, I guess it’s like the things we like [laugh] and I don’t know, somehow that happened.

It was a blast. Everybody had a lot of fun and it was just one day and it was intense with nudity, violence, and everything. It was great.

We’re not sure how much you get a chance to see comments on things, but have you looked into the response for that clip and what people are saying?

You know I try to avoid comments for the most point unless they’re directed to me or handed to me, but a lot of what I got [on the video] is along the lines of, ‘I loved it, and now I can’t sleep.’ That kind of stuff. It’s just weird. People just love the weirdness of it.

We’re definitely digging ‘Rattler’s Revival’ that kicks off the record. It’s got that great clap-along vibe and lyrics you can’t get out of your head and at one point you’re more preaching than singing. That’s got to be a great song live. Could you talk about how fun it was to put something like that together, knowing the possibilities that it has for pulling in the crowd?

That’s one of the ones I had demoed pretty much all the way through with some minor edits we did in the studio and so we had an idea going into it what we wanted on that song. It was like, ‘How about some percussion? Hell yeah! How about some claps? Hell yeah, let’s just do that.’ And we just kept having fun with it. I’m just truly happy with that.

I think I knew going into the studio that song was going to open up the record and I had an idea when I got around to sequencing it that that would be the first one. The weird thing is that we’ve been closing shows with it. We started doing that on our tour with Social Distortion, and we had different sets that we do every night, and I got to where I’d put that song at the end every night and it’s against the rules to close with a new song, you just don’t do that, but I don’t care about rules that much. It’s just a lot of fun, and people are like, ‘Whoa, what the hell is this?’ And it’s just a fun way to close the show.

That is a great song to play live. Just curious, how much have you been able to play live so far, and is there anything that’s really standing out with the fan response at this point?

Well ‘Rattler’s’ definitely gets the biggest response, just physically watching people go off during the song. We’ve been playing a handful of them live and we’ll work up more. We just recorded some of them like two weeks ago so we need to practice them first. But we do like four or five of ‘em live.

‘Beside You’ is one that I was kind of surprised at because it’s kind of this sleepy, slow, drone-y, hooky chorus and you never know. I can’t ever predict how people are going to react to a song. I just gave that up a long time ago. And people really dig it. It’s weird, occasionally we’ll get a mosh pit to that song, and it’s really just a pretty and delicate little song. [laugh] You just never know what you’re going to get.

Speaking of ‘Beside You,’ that’s a nice change of pace on this record. It’s got a more personal feel and does seem like it could be a single down the road.

That was one that was just kind of like a sketch. It was like ‘Summer of the Strange’ in that it was just an idea for a song. I didn’t even have any words. I just kind of wrote it right there on the fly and I wrote that song when we were just about to leave for two months and we were in the studio and I was missing my daughter and that song was just kind of a note to her. It’s a love note to my kid.

The whole fact that this was an EP that turned into a full record, was there something that kind of launched this project from one thing into the other?

I don’t know about a particular song, but I do remember getting home from a session and calling it a day and saying it’s going to be an EP, and then walking around the house a listening to it again and going, ‘Damn it, I don’t know. I want to write more songs.’ It just sounded good and there was such a good energy in the studio, I wanted to keep it going. So I made some calls.

Of course we had announced the release date for an EP and that it was going to be an EP, but, oh well, things change. We actually planned to stick to our original release date which was f—ing crazy.

Another thing you’ve got this summer is Dia De Los Toadies, which you’ve done for several years now, so it’s got to be a labor of love for the band.

It’s a blast. This is year five and it just gets more fun every year.

What makes that event so special for you?

We had planned on doing it from the get-go as an annual festival. We kind of modeled after Willie’s Picnic. We wanted to do it outdoors by a body of water and the first time we did it was at Possum Kingdom Lake and we intentionally named it Dia De Los Toadies with no location attached to it because we wanted it to be moveable. So we’ve done three different locations in the four years we’ve done it and we’re going back to Whitewater, cause it just works out so well. It’s just the perfect facility for us, and it’s beautiful. It’s right on the water.

It kind of came about because we were back together and working on ‘No Deliverance,’ and we were getting offers for whatever radio festivals and it was Clark [Vogeler] who brought it up and said, ‘Clearly we’ve got a big draw in Texas going.’ We were so surprised and we didn’t know what we had after getting back, cause ‘No Deliverance’ hadn’t come out yet, and we didn’t know what we were going to get so we realized that we had a large Texas draw … cause we’re from there, and why not capitalize on that instead of doing radio festivals. Let’s do our own festival, promote it ourselves, and pick all our own bands, handpick everybody and just do it the way we want to do it. We just kind of talked about it for an hour or two and then threw it to Tammy and Dale, our managers, and within a week to ten days they had some locations picked out for us to go look at. It’s been a kickass event every year.

One of the things from the Dia De Los Toadies website is the mention of tubing. Have you been able to take advantage of that on top of putting on this festival?

Yeah, we’ve been at this location for two years and this will be the third and the last two years we’ve done Friday and Saturday and then on Sunday we float the river. That’s a good sign that things have gone really well, if you have extended fans and crew and management, stagehands, everybody, just floating the river together. We had like 50 people on the river and we’re all getting along after this emotionally grueling two days because everybody’s working so hard to put this on in the heat and everything. And to be able to float the river, and still get along and have a beer together tells me that we’re doing something right.

This year’s lineup couldn’t be more diverse with Helmet, Mariachi El Bronx, and Riverboat Gamblers leading the way. They all bring their own thing. Can you talk about choosing the bands and the diversity you want?

We start at like maybe 2 and we have two stages so we have music going all day long and every year we try to get it where we start with Texas rock and country and maybe kind of progress through the day so it gets a little more intense. And we just like showing off different kinds of music. And this is the first year we ventured outside of Texas for support acts on this bill and two of the three you mentioned – Mariachi El Bronx and Helmet – are honorary Texans for this show. But we expanded outside of Texas because we want to keep our options opened as far as what kind of music we can bring in and expose people to. Basically, we wanted to set up a show that we wanted to watch. If we were going to be standing in the heat all day long, what would make us happy, and that’s what we try to do every year.

And this summer as well, not only are Helmet with you for Dia De Los Toadies, but they’re with you for the summer run. Both bands came up in the ’90s and you guys have even been on the same label. What’s the relationship there with Helmet?

No history really. It just kind of came up as an option to do a co-headlining tour. They were game and we were game and it was like, ‘Hell yeah, that would be a great bill. I’d go see that.’ So I had some like vague third party conversations with Page [Hamilton] before about production and stuff like that, but I’ve never really had the chance to sit down and talk to him, so I’m stoked.

We know you’ve been asked about this a million times, but after all these years ‘Possum Kingdom’ still gets significant radio play. What are your recollections on putting that song together and what has it meant for the group?

That song, I think we put it on a self-produced EP, an EP for Grass Records, which became Wind-Up, and when it came time to do that for ‘Rubberneck,’ the label, they didn’t tell me that wanted that to be a single. They didn’t tell me anything except that they wanted that song on the record.

I was over it. I was kind of done with the song, and I’m glad in hindsight that I caved. But I don’t know what it is that people catch onto in that song, but I’m glad that it’s something that people react to continually for a long time now. I just feel lucky and happy to stumble upon something that people react to like that.

Any thoughts on what might be coming down the road next for you guys beyond what’s already out there?

We’ve done some bonus tracks for this record that I think are going to be a cool surprise for people. But this has got me pretty much occupied through the end of the year. As far as what’s on the horizon, I’d like to do this again. Just go in and write stuff and see what happens whenever the time comes.

I’ve used my downtime, whenever I have it, to do some producing. I produced a band from Fort Worth called the Fuss and worked with them on three or four songs and got the vibe and stuff, and that record came out a few months ago and it’s really good. So yeah, I’d like to dip my toe in the water there.

You mentioned the possibility of bonus tracks. Any of those covers or just leftovers from the sessions?

We did two songs that are different versions of the songs on the record and they feature the horn section from Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears. So then they’re really jacked up and cool. And the other one is ’400 Bucks,’ a cover by the Reverend Horton Heat. We hadn’t played that in a long time and then on the Social Distortion tour someone suggested we pull that one out and it was a blast.

The Toadies’ ‘Play.Rock.Music’ album arrives in stores July 31 through Kirtland Records.

Watch the Video for the Toadies’ ‘Summer of the Strange’

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