The Toadies Talk 27 Years of ‘Rubberneck,’ Lost Songs, and Making Coffee and Comics

When Rubberneck turned 25 in 2019, the Toadies were touring around the silver anniversary of their debut album before canceling the remainder of the tour when COVID hit. Rescheduling dates for 2021, the Toadies are picking up where they left off, now celebrating the 27th anniversary of Rubberneck, and getting back on the road for the first time since December 2019.

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Produced by Tom Rothrock and Rob Schnapf, Rubberneck introduced the world to the Toadies’s obscure, murkier alt-rock with the crashing “Mister Love,” the swagger of “Backslider” and swampier “I Come from the Water” and “Possum Kingdom.” It was another time, but one that still has a connection to frontman Vaden Todd Lewis.

“I’m a different person now, but it’s interesting going over all the songs at home and refreshing over the past two years, getting ready to go on tour,” says Lewis, reflecting on Rubberneck now. “I was like ‘wow, that was pretty good. I’m glad I did.’ I’m glad I didn’t have any internal editor going back then. I just let it all out, and that’s a good thing.”

Slowly working on new music, a follow-up to the band’s seventh album The Lower Side of Uptown in 2017, there is no set date in the near future for a new album. “I’m always writing and I’ve got ideas but it’s way easier to write when I hang out with my guys and be super loud,” says Lewis. “I’m just waiting to get back together when we can just be loud and float ideas between each other.”

Digging further back into their archives, the band recently found the very first two songs they ever recorded, which they may (or may not) release. “Those are honestly just really hard for me to listen to,” laughs Lewis. “When you’re a young person, you’re just grabbing whatever you think is what you want to do, so it’s actually 900 different things and then you cram them all into this one song.”

Recently re-releasing “Got a Heart,” originally released on the band’s first EP Slaphead in 1989, the song was remixed and mastered by Chris “Frenchie” Smith in 2021 with a portion of the proceeds benefitting the band’s original bassist Lisa Umbarger, who was recently diagnosed with cancer.

“We wanted to do something with it, and she’s playing on that song,” says Lewis. “It just seemed like the least that we could do.”

In 2020, the band also partnered with Full City Roosters in Dallas for their very own Dark Secret Coffee, a robust and nutty blend and follow up to the band’s first collaboration with the roasting company, a Texas Pecan coffee, released in 2019.  “We’re all big coffee drinkers,” laughs Lewis. “Once we got out of the ’90s, we started drinking coffee, because it was better than everything else we were doing.”

Intrigued by the idea of seeing the band’s songs in a visual, printed format, Lewis collaborated with illustrator Lee Davis and released new lyric comics, “Jigsaw Girl.” Toadies drummer Mark Reznicek, has continued working on his comic series “BUZZKILL,” first released in 2013 and co-written its Donny Cates and co-created with Dark Horse Comics with art by Geoff Shaw.

The Toadies Dark Secret, in collaboration with Full City Rooster, Dallas (Photo: Tina Eves)

“It’s one of those things I thought I could do, says Lewis, an avid fan of horror films and books, most of which have inspired many of the Toadies songs, including Rubberneck single “Possum Kingdom.” 

“I watched him [Reznicek] do it and learned from him and was thinking of songs of mine that would lend themselves well to that form,” says Lewis. “Then, I started writing out scripts and took the storyline of ‘I Burn’ and ‘Possum Kingdom’ and expanded those out. I like to go back and revisit characters pulled out of songs from time to time. It’s not necessarily in chronological order of when the songs were written, but it all kind of maps out this character going through these different situations. It’s creepy and weird, and I like it.”

Lewis adds, “I never approached music visually but comics I can wrap my head around, and it was great working with Lee and bouncing ideas off of him. Going back into the comics I feel like I was really reading the lyrics again.”

When it comes to Toadies songs, it’s always the music first. “Usually something sticks with me and rumbles around my head, and that’s always been pretty consistent,” says Lewis. “Over the last three records, I’ve gotten a lot more comfortable with coming in with ideas, foundations, and fleshing out the songs in the studio.”

He adds, “When we came out it was just too expensive. There was no way I could afford to do that, so everything had to be good. As things turned digital, we were able to go in and have a little more freedom where we’re not just burning through tapes. It’s also just a matter of comfort with where I’m at in my life now.”

Thinking back on Rubberneck and more than 30 years of Toadies, Lewis is still surprised at the long road of the Toadies.

“I never thought I would be lucky enough to do this for more than a couple of tours,” says Lewis. “So it’s just a cool thing whenever I’m able to do my job.”

Check out our Behind the Song: “Possum Kingdom” here.

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