It’s no wonder why hometown hero Toad the Wet Sprocket continues to enjoy success, nor why the band keeps coming back — and come back it will, at Ojai’s Libbey Bowl on Friday, July 20. With a multi-decade career that includes some of the most enduring cuts from the 1990s (soon to see a vinyl rerelease), the thoughtful alt-rockers quietly hold a place as one of the 805’s greatest contributions to rock music since the area code was coined. I talked on the phone with bassist Dean Dinning about the upcoming show, the sound of Santa Barbara, and the band’s comforting catalog.
What can fans expect from this set? We do about 22 or 23 songs a night, and we have a very large catalog. Believe it or not, there’s some things we either haven’t played at all or played very little or haven’t played for a number of years. Last year, for the Coil 20th anniversary, I really felt like we got the set really right in terms of the balance of new and older material. We got into a real groove last year. It had a sense of polish that it hadn’t had since when we were doing a lot more in the ’90s. This time, we’re picking up where we left off, adding in songs from New Constellation that we did in 2013 and some other treats. We’re looking for an excuse to do something different every time.
How would you say the Santa Barbara area shaped your sound? I think that where we come from has a lot to do with how we sound. Take a song like “Walk on the Ocean.” We’re coming from Santa Barbara, which might just be the place where yacht rock was born. You got Kenny Loggins singing songs about being on a sailboat, David Crosby’s “Wooden Ships,” and all kinds of stuff. I wouldn’t necessarily lump us on a yacht-rock playlist, but some of the songs in the Toad catalog could fit. It’s infused by the ocean and the salt and the air and the sunshine, in much the same way the climate of Seattle influenced the grunge movement. Our new song “California Wasted” is about the contrast of living in a beautiful place and still not being happy, and asking yourself, “Why am I still not happy with all that beauty around me?”
That’s something I can relate to, and something in Toad’s sound, with more pensive lyrics even if the song’s upbeat … There’s always a balance, you know. Two bands we were very influenced by growing up, The Cure and The Smiths, both marry a happier musical sound with a more somber and even morose lyrical tone; it’s that the music is deceptively happy. While it’s not necessarily a conscious choice on our part, it’s a quality that often carries over. The music’s often cheerier than the lyrics, and it allows people to appreciate it on different levels.
Gratitude’s a frequent theme in the band’s songs. What are you grateful about these days? I’m definitely grateful for my family, and I’m grateful to be a creator and have so many great opportunities. When I think of the fact that we still have an audience after all this time, and what it takes to build an audience and keep an audience and a community of people that want to hear this music and appreciate what we create and what we say. Every year we go around, I’m continually amazed that it has lasted as long as it has.
Why should people go see Toad the Wet Sprocket in 2018? I think that we’ve got a great catalog, and the songs are all very meaningful for people. … This year, I don’t feel like people need to be stirred up or made angrier than they are right now. I actually think what people need is comforting: to put your arm around them and say, “It’s going to be okay, and we’re going to make it.” To offer hope is a great thing, and it’s one of the privileges of this job. Hopefully, people walk out just on a high that life is good, that they had a great night and a great experience.
Toad the Wet Sprocket plays Friday, July 20, 5 p.m., at the Libbey Bowl (210 S. Signal St., Ojai). Call (888) 645-5006 or see libbeybowl.com.