Ann Arbor, Michigan’s Taproot, now entering their 16th year of existence (!), were recently out for a short run of tour dates, and the quartet will found themselves in a few East Coast cities, including a stop in Syracuse, NY on June 27th. Most widely recognized for their 2002 smash hit, “Poem,” Taproot have continued to put out quality modern rock releases, both independently and on major labels, and have remained relevant while so many of their contemporaries have stagnated and faded into obscurity.
The group performed their debut release, Gift, in its entirety at Quaker Steak and Lube in Syracuse, NY on June 27th, and I met up with bassist Phil Lipscomb to talk about the group’s lengthy history, upcoming projects, and what it’s like performing and reflecting on Gift so many years after its initial release.
G- Hello and thank you for taking the time to speak with Live High Five! How’s everything going, man?
P- Things are going good, man. It’s been a long 16 years. We’re on our 3rd drummer, actually… That’s an exclusive! We haven’t announced Dave as our drummer, but Nick quit right before this tour. Life on the road is tough and not for everybody, so Nick isn’t with us. Nick was #2, and now Dave is #3.
G- Ok so how long did it take you to find somebody who wanted to play drums for Taproot? (laughing)
P- Well, we had a lot of people that called up and we have a lot of friends, but with that short a time it was just finding someone to do the tour with us because there are a lot of people waiting for us to come out, and if we don’t come out, they’re not gonna… We don’t like to cancel shows.
So, we started to call people. We called Mark from Prospect Hill, a good friend of ours and great drummer, and just said ‘Hey man, you’re off right now… Can you make it out?’ He started practicing and said ‘I got this.’ Then, we got a couple of recommendations from some guys back home, closer to home is the better option really for rehearsal’s sake, and I called Mark up and said ‘Hey man, thank you for helping out, but we got a guy out here,’ and he was totally cool with it.
But yeah we love those guys and plan on touring with them again sometime in the future, but now we just needed a drummer close to home. So we tried out a couple of guys, had a few auditions, and Dave fit the bill. He had 6 rehearsals and then boom, time to step up and play!
G- So you guys are jelling pretty good right now?
P- Yeah it’s going good.
So, you had a 2012 release on Victory Records called The Episodes, right?
G- That was a concept record for you guys, and concept records are tough. What was your inspiration behind the concept, and how do you feel about those songs?
P- I love it! I’m very happy with the record. We had a guy come up to us yesterday and was just like ‘Dude, I listen to that album all the time and I have so many questions.’ I just said ‘Man, ask Steve,’ because Steve and Mike were the ones that wrote it. That’s their story. That’s their baby. I was just the bass player on that one.
I mean, I contributed my part and said ‘I like this’ or ‘I don’t like that,’ but Steve and Mike wrote that just by themselves back in 2006.
G- Oh shit really?
P- Yeah. It was right before we ended up doing Our Long Road Home, but we ended up doing that one instead. They wanted to approach it a totally different way. They wrote the story first, then we essentially wrote the soundtrack for the story. It was, like, boom… 10 songs in 10 days. Everyday I was like ‘My God, guys… You’re ridiculous!’
G- That is a quick write.
P- So, we had that demoed out, not really fleshed out, and it was ‘Do we do this for our first independent release?’ A concept record (laughs.) So, we wrote “Our Long Road Home.”
G- Dig it. Now, let’s talk about Gift, because this is your 13th anniversary of the record…
P- Yessir… To the day!
G- We’re talking a lot of time here, and the record still holds true. After all this time, how does it feel to be playing these songs not only in sequence, but just your reflections on the tracks.
P- It was a little weird at first because at least 2 of the tracks I’m not sure if we’ve ever played live since the comeback.
P- The other ones, songs like “Drag Down” and stuff, a lot of those we’ve never went back and done. We still do “I,” “Smile,” “Again and Again” and those, but a lot of those songs we haven’t done in forever… So, going back to that and listening, we’re like like ‘Wow!’ (laughs)
G- Yeah you were just old enough to start buying beer when that record came out.
P- Yeah, you know… Young 20’s and stuff. Looking back, though, as far as being a bass player, I’ve learned a lot. When we recorded Gift, I was maybe playing for like 4 years, so I’ve grown a lot, and going back and playing those old songs I’m like ‘Man, there’s something I would’ve done differently.’ But, staying true to those songs, I want people to hear it like it was back in the day… That’s what people fell in love with, so I’m not going to mess with it too much.
G- Dig it.
So, as a band that has been around for a decade and a half, what would you say is the most difficult thing about being in a band, or what do you tell yourself when you are in doubt about your music/band mates/future as a performer? Any insight?
P- Honestly, you can’t have doubts. At least not for me. Even though I’ve been broke on the road and living with friends off the road on couches, for me, I feel like if I had that other option, get some job where I’m doing ok and making a little bit of money, I don’t want that way. I want to be on the road. I want this to be my only option, and it is my only option.
I know I can probably find another job… I’m a smart guy. But when it comes down to it, I don’t want it. I haven’t had a job since 1999, and before that I had one job where I worked at a convenience store. So, I don’t have another option, and for me, that is the way to do it, because if you don’t have another option, you’re going to make it work.
G- Life of a touring musician is always tough, and you have your ups and downs, and if you’re not 100% balls deep in it, then you’re probably going to fail, and after this much time to still be making it, that’s what we like. That’s good!
As a heavier band, one of the issues that has come up recently involves crowd safety and band security. You’ve had some pretty wild shows and crowds in your day, but have you ever had to deal with any altercations with fans or security, and what do you guys do when there is an issue with the crowd/security?
P- Steve will usually stop the crowd, or if someone falls, he’ll yell pick them up. If someone is starting shit or getting too violent, we’ll call security over. But for the most part, if some security guard is trying to kick somebody out that we don’t feel necessary, we’ll tell him ‘Hey bring him back up here.’ It’s bullshit when they grab somebody just for moshing… It’s not an excuse to kick somebody out. It’s the dumbest thing. You can’t be mad at someone for that.
G- For sure, man.
Now, as an international touring musician, how would you compare your stateside performances with your performances abroad, both in terms of how you play and the audience reaction? Are their any parts of the world where you would like to perform that you haven’t yet?
P- Well, I’ll answer the last question first: That’s Australia and South America. Those are 2 of my bucket-list kind of things. We’ve never played there, and I really want to go. But we have to go back to Europe. We haven’t been there since around 2003 I think, and the same thing with Japan. We haven’t been there in a long time.
The most notable difference is going to Japan. It’s weird, but it’s the most awesome place to be because you’re playing to these fans that don’t speak the language, but they’re singing your songs. They can’t communicate with you, but they’re waiting in line, no pushing, no spending too much time talking to you, because they know people are waiting. They’ll come up, get an autograph, try to talk to you, then move back and let someone else in. It’s the most organized thing… They’re all connected and all understand what everyone needs… There are so many people in such a small area (Tokyo,) that they’re used to being near each other, but used to it. They’re not assholes over there.
I think in America, we take things for granted, and I think people should travel to other countries and see what it’s like in other places, because you learn a lot that way.
G- For sure.
Now, you have your hits, obviously, but do you have a favorite song you have ever written or that is most fun to perform with Taproot? Or, if you could give only 1 song to someone who’d never heard of Taproot before, to make a new fan, what track would you offer them and why?
P- My favorite song to play live is “Stolage” off our 5th record. When we play it, it’s right around that ¾ mark of the set when you’re starting to get a little tired, and it always invigorates me! It’s got such energy and so much fun to play, so many neat things in it. So that one is always fun.
As far as something for someone else? That’s tough… I guess “Poem.” That’s the one people seem to love.
G- Well yeah! Great song is why.
So, you’ve shared stages and headlined over lots of bands and with many notable acts in the modern rock genre, but are there any bands or artists that you hope to share a bill with in the future? If you could put together a feasible 3-band dream lineup for Taproot to be a part of, who would you select and why?
P- Man, I would love to go back out with Deftones again! Deftones is definitely on my list.
G- Awesome choice!
P- And, let’s see. Tool. Tool, Deftones, and Taproot. Well, do I get 3 choices?
G- Yeah I’ll give you another one. You’re the bass player!
P- Alright. Well, since I’m the bass player, I’ll say Red Hot Chili Peppers!
G- Nice! Dude, that’s a frickin’ awesome lineup! Can we make that happen?
P- I’ll do it! Give them a call. I’ll say ‘Hey, do you guys want to headline over us?’
G- Yo Chino! Maynard! Anthony! Let’s do this thing!
So, one question left, man. 16 years as a band, so kudos for that. A lot of bands don’t make it out of the garage, but the music dream isn’t gonna die and a lot of kids want to play guitar, bass, drums, go on the road, tour, and record.
You’ve been doing this for a long time, so you’ve seen firsthand a lot of the ins and outs, ups and downs of the biz… What advice can you give some of the young, up and coming bands everywhere who want to try to do what Taproot has done and go out on tour, make albums, and rock crowds?
P- Two things: 1) Do it for the love, not the money. Money, chances are, won’t be there, but the love is always there. If you’re doing good music from the heart, the fans will be there.
The second thing is it’s business, not just a party. You’ve gotta treat it as a business, because if you do it otherwise, you’ll probably fuck it all up.
G- Right on. Well look, this has been great and I appreciate you taking the time to speak with Live High Five today! Travel safe on the rest of the tour, rock hard, and I can’t wait for the show tonight!
P- Alright brother!