Nü-metal Ann Arbor, Michigan, outfit Taproot set the charts ablaze with its pioneering 2002 hit "Poem." The track hypnotized audiences with its mix of thunderous heavy-metal riffs over lead singer Stephen Richards' shifty, rumble-to-pristine-clean vocals and a melodic hook with colossal appeal. Taproot presented the world with hard rock that both headbangers and preps could cozy up to.
The band's career kept steamrolling after that, and a collaboration with Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan followed in 2005. Matters began to fizzle shortly thereafter, however. The album Blue-Sky Research bombed commercially, and the alt-metal craze began to wane.
By 2006, Taproot found itself without a record deal, and it seemed it'd become an afterthought in rock history. But the four guys from Taproot are as durable as the Energizer Bunny. In 2010, its raw, grinding, fifth studio album, Plead the Fifth (clever title for a fifth album, eh?), demonstrated a return to form for the group.
The Episodes, the band's sixth release, which dropped this past April, is an epic, conceptual affair melding elements of heavy metal and prog rock with darker, more melodic slow burners. Critics have praised it as the best record of the band's career. The Taproot crew is also set to embark on a nationwide headlining tour with like-minded aggro-rockers Hurt this summer. Leads one to wonder, what's the secret behind Taproot's perseverance?
"We don't do it for the money or fame; we perform because we love doing what we do," said Taproot founding member and bassist Phil Lipscomb. New Times fortunately snagged a few minutes with the musician after he finished sound check with his band at Pittsburgh rock venue the Altar Bar.
For Lipscomb, the secret is the band members' hearts are fully committed to their music. He admits that there were times in their career when they played shows in front of 12 people in places like Tulsa, Oklahoma. "There is no light at the end of the tunnel; if your heart is not in it and you hate what you are doing, that's going to be a huge issue when you play that occasional show with 20 people."
The key for Taproot has been its ability to roll with the punches. "This industry is full of ups and downs. You really never know what's around the corner." The band's grit, determination, and flat-out love for music kept it squeaking by during the trying years.
Another aspect of its longevity is its experimentation with sounds, according to Lipscomb. "We never repeat ourselves. Our main thing is to never make the same album twice." About The Episodes, the most expansive and experimental effort of Taproot's career, Lipscomb says, "It's a record that takes listeners on a journey." He feels that the album will appeal to longtime Taproot fans too, because it has, he notes, a "cool vibe" and "hits the full musical spectrum, not just aims at being heavy."
Ending matters on a classy note, Lipscomb talked about the act's last trip to Fort Lauderdale two years ago, when touring with Sevendust. "We got so trashed. They kept feeding us free drinks at the bar all night; then we took the party to Solid Gold afterwards. I don't remember the end of the night."
Lipscomb looks forward to more good times on the road this summer.
Taproot performs with Hurt, Otherwise, City of Treason, and Lavola at 6 p.m. Sunday, June 10, at Culture Room, 3045 N. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost $15 via ticketmaster.com.
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