Hailed by Rolling Stone as "the next contenders for the new-metal crown," TapRoot make their eagerly awaited return with the blistering "WELCOME." The 12-track collection finds the Ann Arbor-based quartet in a more reflective but no less aggressive frame of mind. Produced by Toby Wright (Alice In Chains, Korn, Metallica) and mixed by Andy Wallace (Nirvana, Foo Fighters), the album captures TapRoot's extraordinary artistic growth on songs such as the provocative first single, "Poem," and the intricate "Mine," which jumpstarts the proceedings by introducing a trip-hop-inspired beat and three-part harmonies into the band's already unique sonic attack.
Since their 1997 foundation, TapRoot have earned a passionate and faithful following among discerning hard rock loyalists via searing live performances as well as 2000's Velvet Hammer/ Atlantic debut, "GIFT." The album which features the Active Rock rad io hits "Again and Again" and "I" drew national acclaim from a variety of high-profile publications, including Rolling Stone, which praised the collection as "a short, sharp shock forty-three-and-a-half minutes of pure heartland heavy-rock rage."
"'GIFT' was the result of four years of writing songs and trying to get people on our side," says singer/guitarist Stephen Richards. "'WELCOME' represents the first time that we've had to opportunity to go into the studio and experiment, to explore our so ngwriting and really create something that was uniquely TapRoot."
TapRoot set out for Los Angeles' Cherokee Studios in November 2001, armed with close to 30 songs penned since the completion of "GIFT." But after a few weeks of pre-production, Wright judged the band to be too controlled, too studied in their approach. Th e producer suggested they return home to Michigan for Christmas and take the time in order to try and unleash their true artistic selves.
"Toby saw how much fun we had goofing around the studio," Richards says, "so he wanted us to relax and allow more of our true selves into the songs. At first our jaws hit the floor, because we thought we were ready to go, but it really sparked us to step outside ourselves and write music that was more honest and more fun to play.
"When we came back and played the new songs to Toby, he was floored. 'I knew you had it in you,' he told us. The record would not be the same if he hadn't pushed us the way he did. He deserves props for making us search for the best music we had inside us."
Driven by Wright's request, the band made a concerted effort to push the boundaries of modern hard rock by tapping into their diverse spectrum of inspirations from Deftones to David Bowie to Depeche Mode. Richards had the revelation that melodic strength was the ingredient by which those artists were able to create magic and was determined to bring a similar musical vision into his songwriting.
"I wanted to write songs that would last a long time," Richards says. "songs that would get stuck in people's heads."
The songs on "WELCOME" offer a glimpse into Richards' most private thoughts, an often painful, always provocative expression of his demons and his doubts. That said, the singer is loathe to try and explain his introspective lyrics he'd rather let the so ngs speak for themselves.
"I'm just writing about the things we all feel inside," he says. "Music is my creative outlet, so it's the place where I get to vent and deal with the things that haunt me. If I need to get something off my chest, I can do it through the music, and only good can come from that."
"But there's no getting around the fact that the songs are very personal," Richards adds with a laugh. "I actually came up with a new drinking game when you listen to a TapRoot song, you have to drink every time I say 'me,' 'myself' or 'I.' You'll get l oaded just a few bars into the song!"
Song such as the grinding "Myself" and the more subtly textured "Like" are powerful expressions of isolation and inner turmoil, expressed through a detailed and richly layered blend of Lipscomb and Montague's volatile rhythms and De Wolf's inventive guita r work, which veers from disorienting riffs to brooding ambience.
But as the inviting title suggests, there is more than tales from the darkside to be discovered on "WELCOME." Adorned with orchestral flourishes, "Art" is a remarkable articulation of strength and endurance and perhaps the most uplifting track in the Tap Root canon. Upon playback, the song drew an intense emotional response from Wright.
"Toby told me that he broke down and cried when he heard the song," Richards recalls. "It reminded him of a friend that he lost in the last year, a friend that shall remain nameless."
While the majority of "WELCOME" was written during the band's holiday hiatus, the album's defiant first single, "Poem," was penned just after the conclusion of the "GIFT" sessions. Richards was sure the song was a keeper based upon the rapturous response it received on the band's many national tours (which include Ozzfests 2000 and 2001, as well with support slots alongside Papa Roach, Linkin Park, Incubus, and the Deftones).
"I knew when I wrote 'Poem' that it was something special," Richards says. "Every time we played it live it got more of a reaction from the kids than any other song. That was the one the kids were jumping to."
"WELCOME" was finally completed in May 2001 seven long months after TapRoot first arrived in Los Angeles. The process was unquestionably arduous, both cathartic and joyful, but for TapRoot, the journey was well worth it.
"'GIFT' took us seven weeks, from pre-production to completed recording," Richards says. "We took ten times as long to make 'WELCOME' and I think the hard works shows.
"The first time out we were just naive kids, making a record in a hurry so we could go out on Ozzfest. This time, it just seems like all the pieces have come together in the most beautiful way imaginable. When we sat back and listened to the finished alb um, I was just so moved. I'm so proud of this band. I'm so proud of this music."