Stephen Richards of Taproot Discusses ‘Gift,’ Offers Update on His Health + More
With s several albums under their belt, Taproot have kept going no matter what punches are thrown their way. They recently wrapped up a headlining trek to celebrate their first record ‘Gift’ and now they are embarking on a fall tour with Righteous Vendetta.
We had the privilege of sitting down with Taproot frontman Stephen Richards before the band’s headlining show at New York City’s Webster Hall. Richards has had his share of health issues and he spoke candidly about his current condition. He also shared early memories of recording ‘Gift’ and why he feels that he isn’t the most “confident” vocalist,
Last time we spoke, it was a lot about your seizures and you had some unanswered questions. How are you doing now and have you found any answers to those unanswered questions?
No, there are lots of good hypotheses. It was three months since my last one, I made it five months at one point. The meds they first put me on were kind of making me irritable and all the nasty stuff I was seeing on TV was taking me to a dark place I didn’t want to be at. They’re weeding me off the bad ones onto some good ones. I have definitely had my share of concussions in my life, growing up and playing hockey or jumping off of balconies at shows, cutting my lip open on a monitor. I definitely think it’s a lot of stress.
How have you been coping since the trek started?
I’ve been coping with it well, it’s just that beast looking over your shoulder and you’re like “Up yours buddy, I’m not paying attention to you right now.” I’m not supposed to be performing until I go six months without one. I’m not supposed to do anything strenuous but we got to pay the bills and feed my kids.
We’re here to celebrate ‘Gift.’
The first record, 13 years later.
What does this album mean to you looking back on it?
For me it just means everything because ever since I was three I started playing hockey and then playing drums at four. Once I had both of those in my life I was done, it was like, “You got to get good grades” and I’m like, “No I don’t. I’ve got hockey and music.” I was done developing any talents after that and I was trying to naturally be good at both and not have to learn anything because that’s not my strong suit.
I’ve just stuck to what I’m good at, when we finally got signed it was almost like, “Oh s— there’s my first two check offs on my bucket lists.” My bucket list was music and hockey, check, check. The first record, it’s cool to get back out and play it. A lot of our fans like the older, heavier stuff and it’s definitely a walk down memory lane. It’s kind of difficult to play the heavier stuff now but I enjoy it because that’s how we used to write and a lot of that record is my influence.
What made you make the transition from drummer to vocalist?
Well I started playing drums at four, started playing guitar at 12 or 13 – I never cared for singing, I still don’t really. It’s way easier to find a mediocre drummer than it is to find a mediocre singer especially from where we’re from. I kind of just got stuck doing it, I much rather be behind drums – I still play on the records a little bit.
Actually when we first started Taproot, I was the drummer and we had a different bassist and singer. The singer bailed on us to go to L.A. to make it and that didn’t work out for him. Since we didn’t know anyone back home I was like, “Okay I’ll get up here and do some Bone, Thugs N-Harmony stuff.”
It’s fun but I’m definitely not the most confident singer. You know how you hate hearing your own voice on a voicemail? I get stuck hearing that all the time like, “God I sound horrible, you should fire me.” I can play any of the other instruments no problem but my voice is annoying.
Can you share what you remember about the writing and recording process of ‘Gift’?
We knew we were getting signed in late ’99 with Atlantic but fiscally it made more sense to wait until 2000. Honestly we wrote maybe two songs for that record because all the other songs were demos that we played locally for years. For us, it was just going into the studio and having trust and belief that just because someone is a producer from L.A. that they had any idea what they were doing.
At the end of the day, I think we were happier with our demos back home in a small studio than we were with most of the record. There was a whole bunch of politics with all that stuff but Ulrich Wild, who we worked with, was great. It was just one of those things that was kind of surreal and kind of not.
How do you recapture something that you’ve already done but still make it new to other people? So yeah we just went with it and quoted a lot of lines from the movie ‘Freddy Got Fingered’ and made out way through the recording process. [Laughs]
From the release of ‘Gift’ to the latest record ‘The Episodes,’ how have you grown as an artist and person?
Well I’ve gotten heavier, then skinnier, then heavier and skinnier numerous times. [Laughs] Honestly I just do what I do naturally – it’s not something I focus on. The only thing I really focused on was writing ‘Poem’ and that was intentionally just to see — I literally took the dumbest thing to prove that all you have to do to make it is just write something hooky that means nothing.
The verses literally have nothing – it’s just me complaining about having anxiety. All you need is that one tag line for people to catch on, put a scream in there and then done. As far as growing I’m still a really immature f—ing idiot. [Laughs] I’m almost 36 and I act like I’m 16 all the time, it never goes away. It’s great if you could naturally become bigger and better but if it’s not you, then it’s not you.
For you what is the major difference between ‘Gift’ and your latest album ‘The Episodes’?
Mike [DeWolf] and I remained songwriters so when we wrote ‘Gift’ that was what we wanted to do and ‘Episodes’ is just him and I again. The music is definitely very different but it was also a conscious choice to come up with a concept and different type of record. We wrote the story first and then accompanied the music almost like a film score.
We actually wanted to release it back in 2007, we’d already written ‘Episodes’ and had the demos done but ended up having ‘Our Long Road Home’ and ‘Plead the Fifth.’ It was nice to get it off our chest because if not ‘Episodes’ would have been shelved and we wanted to get it out.
Do you realize anything about Taproot that you didn’t realize when you first began?
Just more and more when we play with local bands or even national acts you can see and start hearing influences. When you meet some of the guys in other bands and they’re like “That’s where I got the idea for this.” It’s really cool to see bigger bands that now pay homage to you because it’s been years since we’ve been that big of a deal. It’s nice to get those compliments and obviously talking to fans who say “This saved my life or this is so relative.” Meeting people, that’s what it’s about.
Any gears turning towards new material?
Yeah, we’re definitely thinking about it. We definitely need to keep playing shows to keep money coming in. We can’t take five months off to work on a record and survive off nothing but a new record is definitely a goal. We just have to figure out when, how and where.