TAPROOT – The Everlasting
Ann Arbor, Michigan-based outfit Taproot penned the compositions for April 2011 opus The Episodes – their sixth studio full-length overall – in the middle of writing September 2008’s Our Long Road Home (studio album four). Taking a break from writing that effort, the quartet devised an idea for a concept album. The method was to author the story, break it into ten episodes, and then subsequently compose music to the actual lyrics. Roughly 15 days were devoted to this cause, and following this Our Long Road Home was completed and released through Velvet Hammer.
“We felt like we weren’t ready to come out with a concept album at the time,” chuckles Mike DeWolf, guitarist and co-founder of Taproot. “It just felt right at this point though. We’ve had this album sitting with us for a couple of years. We all loved it, and have always anticipated working on it. It then came time for album number six, and we went straight for that.”
In christening the affair The Episodes, Taproot were thinking of TV series’ where installments arrive in the form of episodes. “That’s how we broke it down,” the axeman agrees. “It just stuck. The character wakes up, and he’s going through an episode in life.”
Mike feels that the The Episodes is an ambitious album. “It’s totally different than anything we’ve ever done,” he reckons. “As far as how it came together, it came easily. We usually write all the music, and then comes the lyrics and what not. This was completely backwards, and a new way of writing for us. Writing the opposite way was a whole lot easier, for one (laughs). Usually the music comes fairly naturally for us, and then the lyrics take a bit more work and time. That’s always the harder part. Stephen and I sat down together, wrote out the story, and broke it into ten parts, so the hard work was pretty much done beforehand. It was pretty easy after that.
“Doing it in the way that we did with all the lyrics first and then wrapping the music around that, it was no longer about coming up with a cool riff, or a cool beat. It was more what’s gonna fit this type of mood and this vibe. It just opened so many doors up for us musically. It was totally exciting for us to do things this way and a whole lot of fun as well, which I think shows on the album.”
The Episodes is a growing up, coming of age type saga. “It’s about the choices a person makes in life, and how it affects them one way or the other,” the Taproot co-founder divulges. “It has three main characters, and it just follows this life journey. The choices that we make in life are… choose your own kind of adventure outlook. You make one good or bad decision and that’ll take you down a certain road, and another decision will take you down another road. It’s stepping back out of the story, and looking at as well as listening to choices. The story is probably autobiographical, to some extent. When we are writing we put a little bit of ourselves in everything to some degree I would say for sure, but not to the extreme of the story I guess. The lyrics are fairly direct, but it’s hard to say when you just helped write the story. It has one meaning to me, and a different meaning to Steve who also helped write the story.
“It helps me look at my own life and the choices that I make though, and try to be the best person that I can be I guess. It’s kind of left open to the imagination overall, and to interpretation. We’re hoping that everyone can take their own meaning from it.”
The Episodes is the third Taproot album to be produced by Tim Patalan, the others being Our Long Road Home and Plead The Fifth (May 2010) respectively. “Tim is awesome, and we’re extremely lucky to have him,” Mike enthuses. “He’s 20 minutes down the road in Saline, Michigan out on a farm. It’s a beautiful setting. It’s pretty much a dream come true to have someone like that so close to home. Tim is a madman (laughs), and crazy to work with. We kind of pick away at the songs; instead of focusing on one thing and finishing it, we go back and forth. We’re just always thinking of little ways to get to where we wanna be. He puts a whole lot of thought into every little aspect of things, so if we get stuck on something we’ll just move on for a little while and come back to it. That’s kind of a crazy way to work, but that allows for things to always be evolving up to the last minute. We have learned how to work with that, so we love Tim. He’s awesome.
“He’s also highly educated musically, so that’s a major help. Working with someone who doesn’t have that musical experience is a whole lot more pressure on the band I guess (laughs), because the producer can have ideas but they can’t demonstrate for you or what not. Having Tim is just awesome. If he’s not really into what we’re doing, he can show us in a way that we understand. He plays pretty much every instrument; he has great equipment, and knowledge. Whenever we have any kind of problem, he’s always got a solution. I’m pretty sure he’s one of the only producers we’ve worked with that has this amount of musical capability especially. Each person brings their own kind of thing though, and we’ve been blessed to work with a few really great producers.”
‘No Surrender’ was selected to be the inaugural single from The Episodes, a music video being helmed by director Eric Richter. “‘No Surrender’ is track number two on the album,” the songwriter notes. “In episode one (‘Good Morning’), the main character wakes up in a really bad place in his life and decides he’s gotta get the hell out of there, and run away and find something better. This is that little chapter of the story. We finished filming a music video for the song, and it’s pretty cool I think. It has a little bit of performance, but it’s mostly about the main character’s journey and it kind of flashes back a little and forward a little. You see some other aspects of the story.
“We’re hoping and planning on doing hopefully at least three more, but the idea from the start was always to film the entire piece. We’re trying to work to make that happen. We’ve been really lucky with our record label Victory Records; they’ve been really supportive of the idea and the concept. The video guy there helped us create the first video, and he was way into it. He’s really cool. Hopefully it’ll happen, but I’m not sure. We’re gonna do as much as we can with it.”
Mike designed the cover artwork for The Episodes, featuring a woman crying. Whether those tears are ones of joy or pain is open to debate. “She’s a mother, and there’s a son and a man,” he comments. “She’s an important part of the story. The album cover is open to interpretation, as is the story. I wanted someone to look at it and go ‘What the hell is going on here? I wanna find out.’”
In cutting the record, Taproot mainly used the equipment they perform live with. “We pretty much had everything written,” the guitarist explains. “With Tim our producer in the studio though we just found appropriate equipment and whatever we needed to find the sounds. Another cool aspect to the story is we have a lot of sounds from the themes, so some of the themes will take place in a park and some are in a subway. We got some actual sounds from life, the outside, which were pre-recorded. That was really fun to experiment with as well.”
On both sides of the spectrum, Mike feels The Episodes features musical extremity. “The parts that are heavy are pretty ridiculously heavy, and I think we’ve matured a bit with the softer end of things,” he surmises. “Overall I think it’s put together pretty well. My guitar work was hectic, frantic, and exciting, for example. I think people will be able to enjoy what they’re looking for because in my opinion, it’s probably the best thing we’ve ever done and possibly ever will. I’m really excited about the whole thing. That’s coming from me, a band member (laughs).”
As to whether Taproot will pen music or lyrics first in making future albums, the axeman is unsure. “We usually never know what’s gonna happen until we start,” he clarifies. “I would think though that we could use some aspects from this. Even if not entirely another concept album or what have you, we’ll definitely use some of the elements that we’ve learnt and taken from this.”
The Episodes was released on April 10th, 2012 through Victory Records.
Interview published in April 2012.
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