Having the chance to interview an artist that is as excited to be interviewed by Screamer Magazine as we are is one of the best parts about music journalism. Earlier in the month, we ran into Dean Dinning, bassist/keyboardist/backing vocalist of the chart topping band Toad The Wet Sprocket and he graciously accepted when asked to spend some time with us and discuss all things “Toad” along with his side projects. “So this is the original Screamer Magazine, right? When you had mentioned it, I had no idea it was the same magazine from the 80’s. I have always wanted to be interviewed by you guys. My 13 yr old self would have been stoked to know this would happen.” As Toad The Wet Sprocket is set to start their national tour co-headlining with Smashmouth on June 19th in Seattle, Dinning mentions there won’t be a Los Angeles date at this time due to scheduling conflicts but there will be a show in Temecula and San Diego.
For anyone wondering how Toad The Wet Sprocket came up with their interesting and unique name, Dinning confirms that he is the right person to talk to on the subject. “I had this friend in high school whose parents were right off the boat from England, so they had a lot of Monty Python movies” Dinning says. “We were the nerdy kids in the 80’s, before it became cool thanks to Pitch Perfect, Glee and High School Musical. We loved Monty Python’s clever but different sense of humor. There was The Contractual Obligation album and we watched a sketch by Eric Idle he wrote for Rutland Weekend Television and he comes out and says ‘Rex Stardust on electric triangle with toad the wet sprocket.’ I thought that name was the funniest thing I’d ever heard and I just kept laughing. So when we had a gig coming up and still didn’t have our band name, I had them put Toad The Wet Sprocket as our name on the marquee and we just left it like that.” Eric Idle once told Dinning about how he was driving in Hollywood listening to the radio and their song All I Want came on followed by the announcer crediting Toad The Wet Sprocket. Dinning details how Idle was shocked and never thought in a million years those four words would be a band’s name. “We sent him a gold record with his name on it” Dinning concludes. “It absolutely blows my mind that if I think back to 1984 when I first discovered that album that I would be communicating with Eric Idle.”
Toad The Wet Sprocket has managed to keep their original lineup and it is mainly due to the fact they are childhood friends. Glenn Phillips (lead vocals, rhythm guitar, keyboards, mandolin), Todd Nichols (lead guitar, backing vocals, mandolin), Dean Dinning (bass, keys, backing vocals) and Randy Guss (drums, percussion) met in high school during a production of Oklahoma and since they were theatre and choir nerds, they ran with the same crowds. “We had jammed a few times” Dean says. “Todd and Glenn started writing original songs because Glenn’s dad bought him a 4-track recorder. They started producing demos and brought me in to play keyboards for some songs that were already recorded. I stuck around and migrated over to bass and backing vocals. I still play keyboards when needed. There was this bar in Goleta called The Shack and the owner didn’t pay for ASCAP or BMI licensing fees so you could only perform cover songs. Even Happy Birthday was off limits. That got us to write even more new material and just kept getting bigger from there.”
Dinning comes from a musical family. His father’s younger sisters were a popular group in 1940’s called the Dinning Sisters. They were signed on NBC and did radio shows. Dinning’s father’s brother, Mark Dinning wrote and sang the 1960’s hit Teen Angel so naturally he had accumulated the gene. Music picked him. Dinning was only six years old when he started playing piano and excelled quickly but he switched to clarinet so he could join the high school marching band and this is where he met Guss, the drummer. Dinning continued to teach himself to play guitar but his father wouldn’t get him one saying “there are ten guitar players for every bass player” so he saved his money, bought one and realized his dad was right. There were a ton of guitar players and as luck would have it, Dinning ended up being drafted to play bass in another band and when keyboards weren’t needed in Toad The Wet Sprocket. He has not look back since.
Like a lot of bands, Toad The Wet Sprocket has had their ups and downs. The band was started in 1986, signed to but broke up in 1998 and got back together on several occasions during 2006. In 2010, they fully reunited and began touring. “You know, even working with the band in the studio is so different. This band knows the space they work in so well and things just sound really good, really fast. I think the one thing about breaking up and getting back together is that it has allowed us to do other things and therefore we have become more appreciative of each other and the project. We’re really proud of what we have done as we look back on everything.” It has been important to the members of Toad The Wet Sprocket that they stay the same and have therefore managed to keep the same members. “It is our story” Dinning exclaims, “This band wasn’t formed by putting out an ad for a guitarist. It was people who were already hanging out and liked music. We never thought we would make it, it was just fun for us and it sounded good. For a while we couldn’t believe the response we were getting. We made and sold cassettes for $5.00 a pop and they sold out in a week. No one was really chosen for the band, we all just fell into it.
With the kick off of their summer tour, they will be releasing two new songs to be bundled with four songs off of their 2013 album New Constellation to create an EP and play the new songs during the shows. “We have been taking care of technical aspects and packaging, it’s been exciting” Dinning excitedly mentions. In addition to preparing for the tour, Dinning is also working on another project with bandmate Todd Nichols called Lap Dog which is mainly music that wasn’t used with Toad The Wet Sprocket, even traveling to Nashville for Tim McGraw at various points, and in the studio with Mikal Blue in Thousand Oaks. “ I just co-produced a song for a gal in Santa Barbara named Cory Sipper, she had asked me to come out and do an arrangement for her and she liked the direction I went on another track and I’m really happy about that. I just started with three business partners on an artist development company and we signed our first artist and in process of recording her demo to get her signed.”
Over the years, Dinning has had the honor of working with others, which can be rewarding. Darius Rucker of Hootie and the Blowfish is one that he truly enjoyed working with on a country song and they have been friends for a long time so it was great to connect musically. Dinning expressed how he would like to work with Matchbox 20’s Rob Thomas. “I have been talking to Thomas a lot on Twitter, it’s really cool.”
Dinning embraces how social media is influencing everything these days. From documenting recording sessions or practices with a photo on Twitter to a simple comment, these are things that people get excited, and it ramps up what an artist or band is doing whether it’s for a tour or an album release. Fans tend to engage in this and it has become a really great tool about things coming down the pipeline and seeing how interested people get about upcoming projects. “We posted a little video of us doing hand claps in a song and the fans just go crazy for stuff like that. Of all the ways the music industry is getting harder with streaming and cutting into revenues, social media is one of the things that is exciting. If you use it properly, it’s amazing. Matt Nathanson, another friend of mine continues to work and work and then one day someone posts a photo of him doing a cover of AC/DC and all of a sudden he had tons of new followers because they found out about it on social media.” The other positive aspect of social media is now bands are using it to let others know they want to work with them. “Rob Thomas has been talking to us on Twitter a lot. Who knows? Maybe we will work together.”
Starting his own artist management company, Dinning has been doing a lot of co-writing and producing and is mainly inspired by the feel of a song. The music just makes your body move and you can’t stop because it takes over. “I am finding that point, finding that groove. I am more of a feeling guy. The other day I went in and this gal said ‘I have this thing where I am kind of feeling this Ed Sheeran vibe’ and I said ‘OK, absolutely love Ed’ and had by coincidence made this beat on my phone that I had thought of in the the middle of the night that I could turn into an Ed Sheeran song and so I was like ‘oh I have this already’ so it really is the feel of records. I am not a dancer, but I am a bass player. I’m a rhythm section so I guess I am inspired by rhythm and groove and melody. You put some great words on top of that. Words can be refined but they can be changed. Once you get a great groove you can build on that.” Working with Mikal Blue is a musical match made in heaven because hours can go by but it seems like minutes. Yet, they always come up with some astounding sounds. Spontaneity plays a part but it is also amazing to know how well they work together. It all comes down to great voices for Dinning as well. Voices that give him a chill.
Dinning brings back his inner theatre geek working on a Funny Or Die-type comedy YouTube channel making sketches and things like that. His 12 year old daughter loves to film little scenes and then play them back in slow motion so it makes for good entertainment. This is nothing that would be considered big but it is fun for him. Dinning just continues to live a normal life as best he can. “Aside from being in the studio or touring, I do laundry and go shopping at Trader Joe’s. Since I left Santa Barbara 20 years ago, people have figured out who I am so it’s not as bad, but I get many asking me to come check out their band and I do sometimes.”
With the tour getting started, his artist management company and trips to Trader Joe’s, we can expect to see a lot more of Dean Dinning and Toad The Wet Sprocket. While a lot of bands are doing their final tours, “Toad” is just getting started again and plans to stay around. Who knows? Maybe they will do some Monty Python-esque albums in the future, but what we can look forward to is the new music being put out and the fact Dinning is continuing to write, record and play. Assuming we have the chance to run into him again, Dinning has relayed his excitement once again about being interviewed and looks forward to the issue coming out.