In the latest installment of our occasional conversations with Fort Worth newsmakers, musician Vaden Lewis, spoke with arts and culture editor Marcheta Fornoff about his band The Toadies, their influence on Fort Worth and their upcoming show at Billy Bob’s on Dec. 30.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity. For the unabridged version, please listen to the audio file attached to this article.
Marcheta Fornoff: Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me today. Can you talk about the origin story of The Toadies? The band has been a part of the fabric of the music scene in Fort Worth for so long that I wonder if people might have forgotten how you all got started.
Vaden Lewis: Well, that goes way back. I was in cover bands in the ’80s and out of high school and got fed up doing it because that’s really all you could do. There was no live music as far as original music (goes). I got fed up with playing cover songs and started writing my own songs and put a band of my friends together. We started getting gigs over on Magnolia Avenue back when it was just warehouses and empty buildings.
Fornoff: How has the Fort Worth music scene evolved? The city looks a lot different (today), and I’m (guessing) the music scene and venues have changed quite a bit, too.
Lewis: Oh, yeah. There were all kinds of ordinances against any kind of fun in Fort Worth. There were way more rules about live music venues. You had to have a dance permit. (There were) all these licenses and permits and everything. The whole vibe was we don’t want you people here. We don’t want young people being loud and having fun in our city. That was the vibe.
I don’t know how many places I played got shut down. It’s just become way more inviting for music. I think the city finally snapped to the fact that it’s a resource. It’s a part of the heart of what people come here for is music, so that’s been a really cool development over the last 25 years or so.
Fornoff: Do you have any ideas as to what initiated the change of heart?
Lewis: I don’t know for a fact, but everything’s about money, right? It just seems like the city saw some potential. Dallas was doing rock and roll clubs and Austin, and I think the city looked around and went, ‘Maybe we shouldn’t run these people off.’ And then you had some bands coming out of Texas. We were lucky enough to be among them that were kind of doing something nationally and drew some attention. I think that helped, too.
Fornoff: I’m curious if any of that had an impact on the music you wrote or changed any of the music you made?
Lewis: I would love to say yes, because then I would write more accessible music every time I played a bigger place. But the way that I write is to kind of forget that anybody is ever going to hear this, and that’s where I get what I think is my best stuff.
Fornoff: Interesting. Is it out of self-consciousness that you’re able to be more vulnerable or get things on the page when you are not thinking about the hundreds of people who or thousands of people who might eventually listen?
Lewis: I don’t know. I think I’ve learned it’s kind of just a kind of a Zen thing. I just kind of get in my own head and forget about everything else and see what happens. That’s when I get my best stuff.
I’ve always felt like whenever somebody needs me to write something, like, we had a lot of pressure on the second record to write “Possum Kingdom” again. I did not want to, but I tried to do what I could to appease the people at the label. That record is kick ass. I love that second record. There are a couple of songs that I wouldn’t have put on the record if I hadn’t been thinking about more people listening to it. The more I do this job, the less I know how to do it.
If you go
Time: Doors open at 6 p.m. Performances start at 8 p.m.
Date: Dec. 30
Location: Billy Bob’s Texas
2520 Rodeo Plaza
Fort Worth, Texas 76164
Fornoff: It’s interesting to hear you say that because the Toadies are obviously quite well known and have this massive presence beyond Fort Worth. It seems like you figured something out.
Lewis: I think the part that I really figured out was just getting comfortable with myself and feeling like I belong here and can do this. That was a big help early on. It was like who do I trick into listening to this crap, you know? It’s just a self-discovery thing, I guess.
Fornoff: Was there a particular moment where that really clicked for you?
Lewis: Not that I can think of, but there’s a process every record cycle where I’m writing and it’ll get to a point where I’m like, ‘Oh, crap, I didn’t realize I was just writing a whole record.’ I guess I’m doing alright.
Fornoff: Will you tell me about your upcoming holiday show here? I hear it’s quite a tradition. Is there anything different about how it will be set up this time around?
Lewis: For Billy Bob’s every Dec. 30, we try to throw in some obscure songs that people haven’t heard in a while. It’s always a blast. It’s my favorite show of the year because we can go out the night before a New Year’s Eve and have fun and then hang out with friends or at home or whatever and not be out in the masses.
But also, New Year’s Eve shows are such a pain. It is so weird because I spend a lot of time making a set, the order of the songs, and we have to stop and do a countdown in the middle of the set and the momentum is killed. That’s why I really prefer the 30th. It’s my favorite night.
Marcheta Fornoff covers the arts for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at email@example.com or on Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.