Vaden Todd Lewis: The Culture Brats Interview

On Friday, September 11th, you'll find the Toadies at their eighth annual Dia De Los Toadies music festival in Fort Worth, Texas. On the 18th, the band will be release Heretics, their new album of reconstructed Toadies classics and more. Last week, we spoke with singer Vaden Todd Lewis on his fiftieth birthday about Heretics, the new songs on the album, the "Heart Of Glass" cover, Dia De Los Toadies, beer, and The Blues Brothers.

Happy birthday, man!

You have anything exciting planned for later today or tonight?
We had a big day yesterday and then tomorrow we have a big party over at a club around the corner.

Cool. I love Heretics and I love what you guys did with some of your classic songs. What made you decide to go back, deconstruct, and recreate these songs?
Well, it started with our festival, which is called Dia De Los Toadies. This year is the eighth one and starts a week from today, the 11th and 12th. Two stages, all day long, fun in the sun, it's a blast. In the third year of Dia De Los Toadies, we decided to bump it up to two nights, and the first night would be Friday and we'd keep it kind of scaled down and play acoustic, sort of semi-unplugged. So we did that, and the next year we added some keyboards. The next year we added a mandolin. We just morphed into these weird alternate versions of these songs. After last year's Dia De Los Toadies, we decided that it would be great to do this where it's a totally controlled environment, where we could run wild with it. We only have so many hands. We have extra players come up for pedal steel and vocals and guitar and whatever else, but we can only do so much live. We thought, "What if we went in the studio with our good friend Rob Schnapf, who did Rubberneck and Hell Below and Feeler, and have him just go to town?" We went into the studio with the basic idea that we'd do these songs that we'd worked on the arrangements. We got in the studio and cranked out two brand-new songs as well as a few songs that have never made it onto a recording and a cover song. It was a blast, man. It was a great time and I'm looking forward to seeing how people receive it.

It's like listening to killer new songs that you already know the words to.
Yeah! What struck me while deconstructing and putting them back together with this different instrumentation, they just have a different feel, a totally different vibe. I'm really happy with it.

Were there any songs that you redid that didn't make the cut?
We have a couple that are bonus tracks. We have one, "I Come From The Water," it's going to be on the vinyl release. But on the CD or download, it's going to be a bonus track. That one, it just didn't fit in. We wanted to limit it to x number of songs. We didn't want it to be too long on the regular release. It didn't fit, and we always need bonus tracks for whatever. We did a version of "The Appeal" with our good friend Will Johnson from Centro-matic singing. It's chilling, that guy's so good. But we decided in the end that the album should have my voice on it since I'm the singer, so that's a bonus track too. So if you buy the LP, you get a four-sided LP with all the stuff on it.

Tell us about "Queen Of Scars," one of the two new tracks.
Of course, the two new ones are my favorites. The newest songs are always my favorite ones. "Queen Of Scars," we wrote that in the studio. At that point, Doni had gone home for a little bit. It was just me and Rez and Clark in the studio in LA. I can't even remember what we were tracking, but it was one of the songs we had arranged and worked out. We were using all this vintage gear and it breaks all the time because it's old. The keyboards broke. Meanwhile, Rez and I are still in our isolation booths with our headphones on and our mics are still hot. We can still hear each other. I just started dicking around and wrote this little turnaround on the acoustic and Rez was playing along and accenting just the way he does. By the end of the next night, we had a full arrangement and we recorded it and sent it off to Doni to get tracked.

Does it have anything to do with "Jigsaw Girl?"
Yeah, it does. I didn't have any words at that point. I had the arrangement and I knew how I wanted the words to go, but you fill in the blanks with what you want to say. So I went home. This recording session was done in spurts. It was like a week or two here, and then a week there, just did it when we could get away. So I flew out to do vocals on that one and a couple of others for the very last session. And yeah, I had always wondered what might have happened to the main characters in "Jigsaw Girl." You wouldn't know it by listening to them, but a lot of them have recurring characters that pop up here and there throughout these different albums. I'd always wondered what if this guy used his magic on this girl and did his spell or voodoo. That's what "Queen Of Scars" is about. It's like a sequel.

Let's talk about Blondie's "Heart Of Glass." You didn't change any of the words, but it feels like you're listening to a totally different song.
Yeah, I've got a backstory on that. I've got a little girl who's now twelve. She's in band, singing, into music, all this stuff. Having a girl that sings--I've always liked that Blondie song--my ear is more attuned to females singers because I think of her singing. Anyway, I heard that song for about the 1,000,001st time but it was the first time I really listened to the words. If you pull the words out of that song, they're really sad. So I took it home and sat with my daughter and worked on the arrangement. We just kind of messed around with it a little bit, slowed it down, and figured it out on guitar. I sent it off to the guys and they loved it.

You mentioned that the eighth Dia De Los Toadies is next weekend. How did that festival come about?
We broke up in '01 and got back together periodically for radio festivals. Those are fun to do, but it's just a bunch of bands that are on the radio, which more often than not, are not my favorite bands. Nothing against them, it's just not what I would pick to have us headline for or open under. When we got back together in '07 and we were working in pre-production for No Deliverance, we started spitballing the idea, "What if we stopped doing those all the time? What if we cut back on those and create our own demand and do our own music festival where we get to promote it ourselves and we get to pick the bands and pick everything, the food trucks, the beer, everything?" It just took off from there.

Within a couple weeks, we had a couple ideas for the site for the first one. The very first one was out at Possum Kingdom Lake in Texas. The next one was in central Texas, out near Granbury. It was out in the country, way out in the middle of nowhere. Then we went down to New Braunfels for a few years. Now we're on our third year in Fort Worth.

You guys are doing a short tour of Texas dance halls in October before mounting a US tour in November. Why Texas dance halls?
We just thought it would be fun. I've always wanted to go to these places and hang out. We've always wanted to play these places but we couldn't because we're a rock band. We're too big, it'll get too raucous and too crazy. But this current incarnation is more chill and more laid back. So we're going to go do it, film some of it, and record some of it. It's going to be a lot of fun.

But you're not going to be performing behind chicken wire like in The Blues Brothers?
We should set that up! That would be awesome.

You guys have your own beer. How did that come about?
It started about two-and-a-half years ago when we were working on the re-release of Rubberneck. Last year was the 20th anniversary of that album's release. We were thinking, "What can we do to blow this up and make this cool and weird?" A little backstory on me: I'm all about everything Fort Worth. I love this town, I love the people in it and the creativity here. Such cool businesses and such a unique perspective on what life is like here. So we started looking around. We knew some other bands that had beers, like one-offs, done and we thought, "That would be great if we could do one to commemorate the record." There's a brewery here in Fort Worth called Martin House and they said, "Around the time the 20th anniversary of Rubberneck happens, it'll be our first anniversary as being open as a brewery, so why don't we get together and make a beer?" So last year around May, Rubberneck Red came out and that sold like crazy. It sold all over Texas. It was a limited run so it's gone now, but my understanding is they're bringing it back for Dia De Los Toadies next weekend in kegs. I think you'll be able to get it there. But that went so well, they came back to us and said, "You want to work some more with us? What do you want to do?" We came up with a different slant on a kind of beer. There are very few bock beers that you can find. There's Shiner Bock and a few others. They're good, but they're not our beer. They put together this kickass beer [Bockslider] and it's out now. It's really good.

I've got one more question for you. I know you already have Dia De Los Toadies, but we ask everyone this question. You're in charge of a music festival and you can get any five artists, dead or alive, to appear on the bill with you. Who do you choose?
That would be AC/DC with Bon Scott and Phil Rudd. Queen. You gotta get your Zeppelin in there. This is one you're going to have to Google: Brainiac. The fifth one? Probably Mousetrap. Those two are bands that were on Grass Records way back in the day with us. They just kicked a lot of ass.

What song do you all perform together as the final jam?
That's tough, man. I think it would be fun to do "Feel Like Makin' Love." That's one of my guilty pleasure rock songs.

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