Mon, 15 Sep 2008 00:34:09
Taproot have grown up quite a bit since their 1999 debut, Gift. Vocalist Stephen Richards laughs, "We disappeared for a couple of years there. There are priorities, and then there's reality. Our guitarist has a wife and child, and our drummer has a wife and two children. They had 'important' things to deal with. However, the music is what we do and what we love, and that's still the case." That's instantly apparent after one listen to Our Long Road Home, Taproot's fourth full-length offering. The album is easily the band's best to date. Our Long Road Home channels the aggressive spirit of Taproot's early albums through a space rock filter, and it yields twelve tunes that are simultaneously incisive and intelligent. Electronic flourishes segue into gnashing riffs, and Stephen's uniquely vibrant voice guides this beautiful chaos. Stephen is a funny dude, but he's also a serious artist. He's got balance down to a science, and he spoke to ARTISTdirect about his band's latest album, their unique partnership with their management, Howard Stern YouTube videos and dirty song parodies.
Our Long Road Home feels like a complete journey from start to finish. Would you say that's the case?
Yeah, thanks! Obviously that's what we like to have happen, but I really feel that way about this album—especially with some of the behind-the-scenes trickery when it came to mastering, song triggers, fade-ins, fade-outs and the crossovers. I really put a lot of time and effort into the tracklisting itself to make sure it feels cohesive. So it's cool that came across.
Even the title, Our Long Road Home, connotes that this was a journey for you.
It was literally our journey back home. It was a really cool experience. During the first three albums that we did, we were buried away in Los Angeles recording, writing and going insane. This time we got to do it more casually. We did this record how we used to do records, before we were signed and doing the Hollywood thing. We did it at a studio that was literally ten minutes away from my house. We took a casual approach, and we really tried to bring out the best, most fun and most inspiring music that we could.
Did being at home encourage you to experiment more?
A little bit, yeah. Obviously, we took our sweet time. Everything else going on at home made the music more fun for all of us. We got to mix it up and still have our lives first.
You've matured and grown so much since your debut.
That was June of 2000, so it was a little over eight years ago. It's cool to look back. The craziest thing about Gift that a lot of people don't realize is 80 percent of that record is made up of songs that we already demo'ed and had been playing as a local band for a couple years before that. We started in 1997. The band's been together for 11 years. We've grown musically as well as human beings. I think it definitely shows in the new album. We can still rock. We can be aggressive and pissed off when we have to be, but it doesn't always have to be that way. We can be happy and live life at the same time. I think a lot of people relate to everything.
On this album, you've got the ethereal, space rock tendencies of Blue Sky Research, but you've mixed those with the harder elements from the first two records.
Actually, almost a year ago, we thought we had the album wrapped up, and we figured we'd start mixing and mastering. However, we still felt like we were missing an element that the fans would miss. We also didn't know if we were really presenting the new album how we wanted to present it. So we ended up doing two more songs. They turned out to be two of my favorite songs on the record—"Path Less Taken," the first song on the record as well as a song later in the album called "Karmaway." Those two were really imperative to making the record solid and making it flow well from beginning to end, like you said. Those were two elements that we were missing upon listening back to it the first time.
"The Path Less Taken" has almost every emotional element on the album previewed in the context of an opening track.
Absolutely, it was really cool to write that song too. A lot of times when I jot down lyrics, there are a lot of cooks in the kitchen saying, "Change this word, or maybe you could do this with the producer, etc." It's cool that way, but "The Path Less Taken" is one of a couple songs that completely wrote itself. Nothing could really be contested. At that point, we were pretty much done with the record. Instead of looking for something inspiring, the song was actually written about our career and where we were. It dissects the idea that maybe people had forgotten about us and were questioning, "Why aren't they heavy anymore?" The song is about the state of the band. I think it's a really cool opening track for the record. The chorus says, "A path worth saving." We're still going, and we haven't disappeared. I think it's a really cool element to have a song that slaps the listener in the face and says, "Yup, we're back, and this begins the journey." You know?
Your path has been "A Path Less Taken" by a lot of your peers that have emerged in the past decade because you've always been true to yourselves. You've always been Taproot.
Absolutely, I'm glad you noticed. Wow, you're probably one of the brightest guys I've ever talked to [Laughs].
You come to the interview, and I'm like, "Oh my God!" [Laughs] I think of this album as journey in and of itself. We did have options to go back to a major label. Obviously, that whole structure is dwindling away. Now the indie labels are becoming more "major" than they used to be. So we decided to go a different route and just go 50-50 partners with our management and do it ourselves. We're doing "a path less taken," in this sense too—more than taking a lesser path to ourselves.
Velvet Hammer's always been a forward-thinking management firm. It seems like a great business model that you've engaged in for this album.
Right, even at the beginning of our career, they were the company that got us our record deal, and we were their first band through Atlantic. It's always been a partnership where we've been together trying to do things differently. We're very comfortable with what we're doing. With them on our side and doing this album close to home, we could really focus on making the best album that we could at this time, and I think we achieved that.
One song that really stood out was "Hand that Holds True." What's the story behind that one?
The quick story is I grew up a drummer myself, and I love to play the drums more than anything else. I actually got to play the drums on that song, so I was pretty stoked on it [Laughs]. I don't really know what to say off the top of my head. It's just a good rock song. It's the model for a mind. There are good and bad things. Lyrically, that song is the shock element that anyone can have a bad day. You can be let down by someone that you wouldn't expect to be let down by. That's what makes us human. Although it seems like a negative idea, it's really the kind of understanding that nothing is perfect, and then that's why it's beautiful. Even though everyone's different, we're still the same.
The last track "Footprints" also packs a punch.
"Footprints," to me, is a really good anthemic song. I'm glad we put that last on the record. The image that I get from the word "Footprints" is powerful. Not that I picture myself walking on a beach by any means, but it's about leaving your mark and leaving your impact, whether it's on people or whatever it is. Whether you intend for it to be good or you intend for it to be bad, you always leave your mark somewhere in the world. I think when you're conscious of that it sort of makes you a better person.
The lyrics definitely come through vividly.
That's good, as long as it's working for the listener, it's good news [Laughs]. I'm not an author or a comfortable writer. I just got stuck being a guitarist and vocalist by default since we didn't know anyone better. I was always a drummer growing up. I think over time, being the person that I am allowed me to come up with some cool ideas. Then I'd lay them out in layman's terms so a 15-year-old could get into it as well [Laughs].
“Whether you intend for it to be good or you intend for it to be bad, you always leave your mark somewhere in the world.”
Do you write lyrics before the music's done, or do you just write to the music?
It's changed, honestly. I used to do a lot of journal writing, and I'd write ideas down whether I'm watching a movie and I think it's really cool or see some hero I think is really amazing. I used to just jot ideas down. However, during the last two records—especially for Blue Sky Research—we had close to 80 songs written before we chose which ones we were going to use on the album. That really spins out the content a little bit—writing that much. This time around, we probably came close to 40 songs. I got to a point where I was like, "Look, tell me what fuckin' songs we're going to be recording." That way, I'd have the right amount of good content, as opposed to just saying, "Oh, I'm going to write a song today." It could be really impactful at the end, but it'll take a lot of tweaking because there are five other songs that have the same thing since we wrote five songs when I was in the same mood for five days. I definitely still write. I have a lot of fun with music too. I'd recommend going to my stupid YouTube page. I thoroughly enjoy doing Weird Al-style spoof songs. You can check that out. A song like "The Path Less Taken," it's cooler when a song can write itself, even when I have ideas written down it's usually what the music makes me feel that steers me in which direction I want to go. Whether it's really dark and eerie or uplifting, I try to match the notes with the general ideas that I have. Song like "The Path Less Taken" and "Karmaway" really just wrote themselves. They're literally me talking.
Elaborate about these parodies.
You're not by any chance a Howard Stern fan, are you?
[Laughs] Okay, go to YouTube.com/pyipstephen. Or Google "Baba Booey song parodies." I did four song parodies for a contest they just had, and only one of them made it on. I like the other ones too though, and I made shitty little videos for them [Laughs]. There was also the video that Phil put up on YouTube that looks like the intro to Growing Pains. It starts off with the real song then halfway through it switches over. Most people can't even tell it switches over, but it's me doing the whole second half. It's pretty fun stuff. Actually, that was my birthday present for my fiancée last year who lives in Louisiana. I did an entire album of modern and throwback songs where I just made everything just a little bit perverted and disgusting, but I made the music sound identical.
She must've been thrilled.
Well, yeah. Until I got to see her a couple weeks ago, and everyone had a few too many cocktails. We got a little liberal with what we were playing in front of the future in-laws and family members. Then they realized I was saying dirty things about their daughter, to a Journey song nonetheless.
So it was a Long Road Home from there?
Yeah, there was a layover too [Laughs].