Vaden Todd Lewis has a few choice words for Interscope Records. Actually, he has pretty much every choice word for Interscope Records.
"They pretty much had their heads up their (expletive)," Lewis says of the Universal-owned label. If he has even the slightest misgiving about loudly dropping obscenities in the middle of a DFW-area Lowe's — where, on the other end of the line, he's talking home improvement with sales clerks — he's not showing it.
"With Interscope, at some point the band just got to where we were saying, '(Expletive) you," Lewis says.
Lewis' steady stream of invective comes from a place of profound personal disappointment and squandered opportunity. In 1997, his beloved Fort Worth-based alternative rock quartet, the Toadies, was cresting a wave of success in the wake of its platinum-selling 1994 debut "Rubberneck," a guttural shot of post-grunge head-banging beauty that birthed a classic single in "Possum Kingdom." They stepped into the studio to record a follow-up, "Feeler," under producer and Butthole Surfer Paul Leary.
The sessions produced 15 songs — songs put on ice by Interscope, which told the band to go back to the drawing board. All told, it would ultimately take seven years to follow up "Rubberneck," with 2001's "Hell Below/Stars Above." The Toadies broke up that year, and "Feeler" was consigned to the limbo of half-realized bootlegs on file-sharing networks.
Until now. After more than a decade of being "the lost Toadies record," "Feeler" finds its way into stores today, vindicating Lewis and the band's struggles and at long last offering fans the chance to hear the album the Toadies wanted them to hear. Having finally closed the book on the band's ugliest chapter, Lewis and drummer Mark Reznicek will play an in-store performance at Waterloo Records today before throwing "Dia De Los Toadies" Aug. 27 and 28 at the Whitewater Amphitheater in New Braunfels.
As for why it took so long, well, you can blame Interscope. Again.
"It got out. It leaked. So it was out there in this half-done, incomplete fashion which we weren't happy with, of course. There were patchy lyrics, and it was unmixed," Lewis says. "But our contract had a 10-year rerecord clause, and Interscope refused to give the master tapes back to us. We tried for years, but we couldn't do anything about it. Eventually that 10 years expired, and we realized we could do whatever the hell we wanted."
In this case "whatever the hell we wanted" is code for "fly out to Los Angeles in June and bang out the album in three and a half weeks." With all the rights to "Feeler" returned to the Toadies, who reunited full-time in 2006, the band was free to take another stab at the songs, recording under the tutelage of "Rubberneck" and "Hell Below/Stars Above" producer Rob Schnapf, perhaps best known for his work with Elliott Smith.
What they ultimately recorded was not a straight-up reprise of the "Feeler" that would have been in 1998 — lyrics were changed, songs were added and dropped and Lewis pulled from dozens of tunes he penned during the late '90s. The resulting album is lean and mean in a way that belies its convoluted road to release.
"We had 60 songs to pick from that era. A few of them we had a bad taste in our mouth about, but really we just tried to find the songs that most captured the bigger feelings of those writing sessions," Lewis says. "We eventually narrowed it down to nine songs and went in and knocked it out for a tenth of the money and a tenth of the time that we used back then. If it was my way, we would have done it that way to begin with, but the truth of it was that with major labels then, if you didn't spend X amount of dollars on studio time and a name producer, they thought you weren't doing it right. They just felt like they had to throw money into the abyss."
Although this year's sessions might have been speedy and enjoyable, tempering the harsh memories Lewis associates with the "Feeler" songs — "The bad feeling in the pit of my stomach I'd get when I played some of those songs is gone now," he says — he still wanted to replicate the anger and frustration of those years on the record. Though the Toadies are in a happier place, "Feeler" is loaded with moments of rage that recall the struggle they found themselves confronted with in 1998.
"We wanted to make sure we kept the tone of the songs, lyrically, the same. And the tone was pretty pissed, and I wanted to maintain that," says Lewis. "For years, with every song I wrote, the first thing that went through my mind was, 'I wonder if the label will buy this one?' And that self-doubt and questioning was hanging over my head for years."
Lewis was right to harbor doubts where "Feeler" was concerned. Though Interscope never fully explained why it flatly rejected the album, Lewis has a pretty good idea.
"They didn't hear a single. They never said it out loud, but I believe and still believe that they wanted 'Possum Kingdom Part Two,'" says Lewis. "The logic that I was being fed at the time from the management and the label was, 'If we put this record out, it'll injure your career; you'll get dropped.' And I was like, 'Well, at least it'd be something.' I believe if we'd gotten it out, whether it flopped or not, it would have kept our momentum going."
Now the Toadies seem to once again have momentum. Reviews for "Feeler" have been strong. The band looks primed to sell out the 5,000-capacity Whitewater Amphitheater. And a new generation knows the Toadies through their evergreen status on alt-rock radio and their placement in "Guitar Hero." It's a marked change, Lewis says, from the band's darkest hours during the days of the original "Feeler."
"We were having trouble with our manager, with our label; we weren't getting support from either one of those," says Lewis. "We were only getting negativity. It was not a fun time. And, from my end of it, I can kind of tell that this time we're fresh. There's no pressure. There's no negativity."
Vaden Todd Lewis, Mark Reznicek
When: 5 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Waterloo Records, 600 N. Lamar Blvd.
Dia De Los Toadies With Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears, the Heartless Bastards, Centro-Matic, the Bright Light Social Hour and others
When: Aug. 27 and 28 (Aug. 27 sold out)
Where: Whitewater Amphitheater, 11860 FM 306, New Braunfels
Cost: $25 for general admission; check website for availability