After five records and touring until the wheels fall off, Michigan’s Taproot has remained resilient and vibrant contributors to the global rock platform. Frontman Stephen Richards, bassist Phil Lipscomb, guitarist Mike DeWolf and latest fixture drummer Nick Fredell have assembled an ambitiously raucus landscape filled with tunneling melodies, crater deep grooves and soul baring poetics for Victory Records. Plead The Fifth exhibits the band’s seasoned chops with a healthy dose of awe of the musical process itself and knowing what their fans expect of them.
Phil summarized the current atmosphere within Taproot. “The people at Victory have re-inspired me, the guys in the band have re-inspired me. We have a really good team of people and the communication has never been better within the band. I am acting manager right now, and everyone has been stepping up and doing their part. I work hard for the band, and they work hard for me.” The Aquarian Weekly spoke to both Phil and Stephen, who confessed that bloodletting for his passions is just par for the course.
Let’s start with the drummer switch: Jarrod Montague what happened there? Has it been a big adjustment for you, especially being the bassist?
Phil Lipscomb: We’re still really good friends. He got married, and within a few years, he just started popping out kids. Two-and-a-half kids later, he really couldn’t do it anymore. He got a really good job while we were working on Our Long Road Home, and right after that album was done, he was like, ‘I just can’t do it anymore.’ By then his third kid was born. We understood, so we got a lot a long-term friend, a guy who had actually drum teched for Jarrod before, Nick Fredell. He’s been in a bunch of local bands and he’s been great.
I wasn’t in any other bands. I started playing bass with Jarrod on drums. He lived in the same house as me when I started playing bass. He was the only drummer I ever really played with, but Nick is a fine drummer so it’s not that big a deal.
Was Nick involved in the writing process?
PL: Yeah, but Steve and Mike do a majority of the songwriting. It’s always been that way, they get the meat of it done and then we fill our flavors, but Nick did step up. He toured with us, and he paid his dues, and if he didn’t workout, we were going to have Steve play on the record.
Stephen Richards: Yeah, actually I played a little bit of drums on this record. I’ve played drums since I was four-years-old, it was drums and hockey my whole life. I was the drummer in a different version of Taproot, when it was just Mike and I. Then we lost our singer, and I have that slight don’t-mind-humiliating-myself aspect to my personality. That’s my true passion about music is playing drums and I got to do a little bit of it on this record. Especially when it comes to writing, Mike and I, it’s nice to have an actual drummer when we’re mocking up music.
Lyrically, is there more of a spiritual tone this time around?
SR: Yeah, I mean a little bit, I think there’s always been that underling tone to find the positive, spiritual—I think there’s the negative things that happen in the world and I think the energy and the heaviness in the music kind of makes that emotion come out. A lot of it is dealing with the current state of the economy as well, and people trying to save themselves and continue their way of life—finding the answers and the meaning of life. So that’s definitely an underlying part of a lot of the lyrics.
‘Left Behind,’ is that based on the book series Left Behind?
SR: No, I actually don’t know the book series Left Behind. I hope I don’t get them knocking down my door. I think at the end of the day, for us it’s a really deep record. All of our music is, but I think this time around, we were under the gun, and we were like, ‘Okay, cool. We’ve only got three months to record it and write it, oh God!’ We kind of had to hammer it out. I think it’s got more of that older, first record Gift feel. The hectic way that we went about it added to that as well as the deep meaningful stuff, too. By default, it was kind of a cool experience this time around. We went into the studio, and hit record. It was a change for us, because we unfortunately got accustomed to having a-year-and-half to two years between records, and we didn’t want to do that this time around.
PL: Yeah, I was like, ‘Why did we always take so long on in the past?’ November is when we signed with Victory, we were done in April, so it took six months from even thinking about the record to when it’s supposed to come out. One of the first songs written for this record, ‘Fractured (Everything I Said Was True),’ was actually resurrected from something we wrote in 2005, that I have been pushing for. Steve redid it and it became our single. It was cool that we got to record it finally.
That one is immediately striking and ‘Game Over’ has a good aggressive feel.
SR: Basically that’s a good energetic song to play live that sounds like Taproot, I just busted out a good old school type of riff and the lyrics to that one are a pretty good summary of the position we were in at that point. We spent a good 10 years working with management, and different labels, the whole show business side of things, and now we are trying to do everything ourselves for the most part. We signed a contract with Victory Records, but that song lyrically is expressing that all we need is ourselves. We’re back, and we have the power back that we did when we were first starting out as a band. We just went into the studio and our producer Tim [Patalan] helped out quite a bit, making things go as quickly as possible. We didn’t have to worry about writing a single, we had a record deal and we had to write everything by this date. That song expresses that we are back in charge of our career again, so that’s what that song is about.
You’re so in charge that Phil is managing you guys right now. How is that going?
SR: It’s actually kind of cool this way; he is doing very well. He’s a very busy guy. Before he left, Jarrod was kind of the business guy. He left the band, and was like, ‘Alright, you’re going to have to take over.’ Mike and I do a lot of the other stuff. Mike does all the artwork, and they both do a lot of the online stuff, and I just kind of do more of the interviews and writing stuff. We all do our fair share, I think that what’s makes it so cool. Before we found Nick, the three of us are just hard working Mid-Western kids making music and getting a chance to meet the fans. So we are self-sufficient, we enjoy it, but I think once the new record comes out—things might get a little more hectic. We might have to get more people in place to help with the internet and have a manager find new avenues of helping us out. I think we are open to options, but so far, Phil has done a great job.
Your previous album titles that had double meanings like Gift and Welcome, what’s the significance in calling this album Plead The Fifth?
PL: Well, we did want to have a play on words since it is our fifth album—we were thinking of The Perfect Fifth, which is a musical term, but that’s way too cocky and arrogant, and we’ve never been that kind of a band. Long story short, I sent an email to Steve, Mike and Nick about album titles, and me and Mike argued for about two days over about what to call it, and then Steve finally chimes in with, ‘What about Plead The Fifth?’ I was like, ‘You could have said that two days ago and saved me and Mike the trouble.’
SR: Jarrod used to tell people that I was always two steps ahead, and I like to make jokes that mean more than one thing, like reverse psychology and double entendres. So obviously it is our fifth record, and it means the right not to incriminate yourself, and at one point during this interview, I would desire to say, ‘I would like to plead the fifth.’ So that’s really not that clever at the end of the day, but I think even our fans didn’t realize that we released a record in 2008. I think our first two records combined accounted for 750,000 of our 900,000 sold records and the other two were a little bit of bummers on paper, commercially. So I think Plead The Fifth is us pleading for people to realize that we are still around, and that we still rock. It’s more like us pleading our fifth record to them.