Michelle LaRose talks with Steve Richards and Mike DeWolf for Caustic Truths! Magazine
Photographs by Michelle LaRose
Taproot showed up as a blip on the radar screen after Limp Bizkit’s Fred Durst left a message on their answering machine exclaiming, “…Now you got enemies and you’re fucking yourself already… Don’t fucking show up at my show, ’cause, if you do, you’re gonna’ get fucked…” Fred was pissed and rightfully so. He wanted to be the one accredited with discovering Taproot. When Taproot made it without Durst’s help, Fred exploded, making answering machine history.
Steve Richards, Mike DeWolf, Jarrod Montague and Phil Lipscomb are collectively known as Taproot. They hail from Ann Arbor Michigan and have recently released their third major label record Blue-Sky Research. We sat down with vocalist Steve Richards and lead axe-man Mike DeWolf and had a chat about the new album.
Mike: We basically got together in 1997. Steve and I were playing together and Jarrod and Phil were staying with his cousin while attending at the University of Michigan. We met them that way, formed a band and just put in a lot of hard work and got lucky and got signed and went from there.
CT: For anyone who has never heard you before, how would you describe your sound?
Steve: I’m known for saying that we are heavy enough that we played two Ozzfest’s but we’re the only band that wore all white. We’re pretty heavy at times but we’re not just focused on being heavy. We’re a pretty good rock band.
CT: Your latest album is Blue-Sky Research. Billy Corgan (former Smashing Pumpkins lead) helped you out with this project. What was his role in helping with the album?
Mike: We needed another person to come in and help inspire us. We’ve been writing for quite some time so we needed a new source of inspiration. We went to Chicago and spent a week up there with him. He was filled with great ideas. We’d play him our song and he’d go, “Try this! Try that! That didn’t work. Try this! Try that! See how that’s totally shifting the song?” So it was really cool. He actually came in one morning and said that he had woke up and wrote a little guitar line and said “Take this, this song.” So he actually helped write a song for us. Yeah it was great.
CT: You’ve been quoted as saying that he “helped you break old habits.” How so?
Steve: Everyone just kind of falls into a formula when it comes to songwriting. Obviously people are worried about, especially now days with rock music not selling, you got to have hook, hook, hook, hook, chorus, chorus, chorus. We just kind of fell into a formula where we’d do a real melodic down type of verse but then we’d have the chorus hit really heavy with big harmonies then a bridge in the middle of the song to just get away from something. Just something else. He is the kind of a guy that’s like, It’s better to build a song. The second verse doesn’t have to be the same as the first verse. It can be a little bit different to keep the listener’s ear and you can always go from there and add something different to the second chorus. It doesn’t just have to be a set formula and that really opened our eyes. When you’re writing songs with the same guys in the same room it just gets a little redundant and you don’t know what you’re doing, you’re just writing songs. He said, “Here’s your formula. Look at all your songs. You’re doing the same thing with every song.” We’re like, “OK, we’ll change that up.”
CT: Toby Wright (Alice In Chains, Korn, Metallica) produced this album as well as your last album ‘Welcome’. You attribute Toby as having helped shape Taproot. How so?
Mike: We basically took him in as the fifth band member. It’s good to have someone you trust musically and as a producer and to be able to tell you, “That sucks” or “That’s great. Go with that.” He’s been great and we’re very lucky to have found him.
CT: You had an abundance of material for this new album. What’s going to happen to the songs that didn’t make the cut?
Steve: They’ll probably sit on our home computers until we’re absolutely broke then we’ll try to sell them or something.
CT: What does the title Blue-Sky Research mean?
Mike: I found it in a book. I don’t even know what it was in.
Mike: A book of idioms.
CT: Thesaurus? [Taproot derived their name from a thesaurus] Not this time right?
Steve: Same publisher.
Mike: Yeah, same publisher. It basically means… large companies would have these groups to sit in a room and just think about things. It wasn’t necessarily driven to think about a product or anything it was just to think of ideas. That is kind of what I felt like we were doing at the time, just sitting in a room with no windows, all day every day and trying to come up with stuff. It was fitting.
CT: Do you think the internet played a role in your success?
Steve: And our downfall! We drew so much attention to ourselves back when the internet was like… it was already big but we were like the whores that knew how to get into the different web sites and shamelessly promote ourselves. We made it a job. We’d spend pretty much twenty hours a day all of us doing different things. Going to web sites. We’d go into chat rooms and be like, “I love Korn, Deftones, Taproot in the middle and then another one at the end.” So it’s just thrown in like, “Who’s Taproot?”, “Oh you didn’t know?” That kind of stuff. We sold close to ten thousand independent demos that we were doing from home and that drew interest from elsewhere. So we brought the people to us thanks to the internet.
CT: You actually took over a fan’s web site and made it the official Taproot site?
Mike: Wow. Yeah. I didn’t even think of that. I just talked to him two nights ago. He was a fan slash friend of ours. He was like, “Hey! Check this out. I made a site for you.” I never even knew about the internet really. I went over and I was like, “So wait a minute. How does this work?” I figured it all out and it was like, “Oh my God! This is our chance. We can do anything.” Instead of posting a flyer on a tree or on a phone pole, you can post a flyer on the internet and reach across the whole world. So it was a great moment.
CT: I found Die Offizielle Homepage Von Taproot (taproot.de) on the internet. Are you big in Germany? Have you toured there?
Steve: [Looking curiously puzzled] I don’t know. It’s been a while since we’ve been over there. We’ve been there and we’ve had good shows over there.
CT: Are the German audiences different from American audiences?
Steve: They don’t speak English as well as we do. In Europe in general it’s a little bit cooler feeling when you get to talk to the kids. There a little bit more grateful that someone’s over there because they don’t get to see bands they like all the time. They say cooler compliments. They’re not like, “You guys rock dude.” It’s, “You guys are brilliant” or whatever they’d say in their native tongue.
CT: Thank you for speaking with Caustic Truths today.
Steve: Thank you.