by Luke Baumgarten and Alan Sculley & r & Taproot has been called many things. (Not really.) They've mostly been called nu-metal or rapcore, labels they garnered while being on the Ozzfest tour. For their new album, Blue Sky Research, the band tried to work past that. Spending a week in Chicago with producer Billy Corgan (formerly of the Smashing Pumpkins) helped them explore new directions with their music and sound. That's an unlikely match, Corgan and Taproot -- but, from speaking with bass player Phil Lipscomb, the band thinks it was exactly the right one.
So what bands have inspired your sound? Who do you look to for inspiration?
Our roots are based in metal like Metallica, Pantera and Slayer, stuff like that. But these days, we all listen to very different music. I've been listening to more pop music lately just for a different pace. Our guitarist likes to listen to bands that only l percent of the population have heard of, our singer has been listening to the band Avenged Sevenfold a lot. Our drummer... yeah, he's got a taste for everything, from Kelly Clarkson to the heaviest metal.
Taproot has been labeled as nu-metal. Do you think that's a fair assessment?
Not even close, not anymore.
Is that just something that I read in an old article?
Well, when we first started, we were involved in the whole "rapcore/nu-metal" scene. By the time we got a label deal, we were already getting away from that sound. But we couldn't just write a bunch of new songs -- we had to record what we had, because that's what the label liked about us to begin with. When we released our first record, all those songs were fairly old, but we got pigeonholed with Ozzfest and the whole 'nu-metal' scene. On our second record, we expanded somewhat. But with this record I think we are so far beyond that, that if anyone calls us nu-metal, I want to say to them "Did you even listen to the new record?"
Let's talk about working with Billy Corgan. What was it like?
We were having writer's block so to speak, and were just in a weird place, and wanted to try something new. So we flew out to Chicago and worked with him for about a week in February. He was amazing to work with. He just loved to throw out ideas to us. He worked best when we would just throw out a basic riff or melody and he'd expand on that. It was great, seeing him in action, because he's such a fast worker -- you play him something once and he's like "all right, here's what you do" and "try this" and "don't think about it -- just go!" -- you know, just really cool. He had a lot of ideas and just re-inspired us to finish the album.
Yeah, songs like "Promise" have a very distinct Billy Corgan stamp on them. Just wondering: How you think this will play out to your audience?
Do you think it might gain you a wider audience or do you think it might alienate some fans?
A little of both. That song was a big risk for us -- it's a song that Billy just pushed us on. We had always thought of it as being a heavy song, but Corgan had this drumbeat in mind that he and Jarrod our drummer came up with, and I thought it was really funny but also really cool. So we just pushed on through and put together what I think is a pretty amazing song.
So it's pretty fair to say that it's hard to gauge what that song is going to do for the band.
Yeah, but it's on the album, and [pauses] you know, I've got some people saying to me "Dude, I love the album, but I don't get 'Promise'." But it's weird, because I've read a good amount of reviews -- and I try not to read them anymore because they keep pissing me off -- but I keep hearing, "love the album, hate Promise'" or "love 'Promise,' hate the album." But it just seems so strange to me that someone would like one without the other.
Right, but Billy Corgan didn't write the song or play on the album, he just had a major influence on the direction of the song.
Yeah, exactly, and people are saying, "Dude, Billy Corgan ruined Taproot!" I say to those people, "We were there for a week, and were home for a year, and I hardly call that..."
I just think every song we came up with him was great. "Violent Seas," "Promise" and "Lost in the Woods" are all great songs. He did write "Lost in the Woods," but we came up with the basic idea, and we wrote almost all the lyrics and made it a heavier song. I haven't heard anything from him, but I hope he's happy with what we ended up doing with it.
Appropriately Named & r & If Agony Scene drummer Brent Masters seems to be especially pleased about touring behind the band's new CD, The Darkest Red, it's with good reason. After the last time he went out on tour, Masters didn't even know if he was still going to be in Agony Scene or, for that matter, if the band would even exist.
The Tulsa-based group, which was started by Masters, singer Mike Williams and guitarist Chris Emmons, released their self-titled debut in 2003 on Solid State Records. The band hits the Big Easy next Thursday, Oct. 6.
But as touring continued, tensions and the busy schedule began to wear on the band. During a stint on the Vans Off The Wall tour, the group canceled all future touring and returned to Tulsa.
"I think we just really lost our enthusiasm for our playing and our live show and everything just because it seemed like such a chore," Masters says. "It felt like everyone was pushing us so much to get things done. You get to a certain point, where if you're not careful, your management and everyone who's not in your band is going to be pushing your band to a point where they don't care where you are mentally. They just want you to be out there performing every night to get as much exposure as possible. I think really what happened is ultimately we just wore ourselves out."
For a time, Williams was the only band member left standing. Guitarist Johnny Lloyd and bassist Matthew Shannon were out of the lineup. Even Emmons and Masters thought they were leaving the Agony Scene when the band pulled the plug on touring.
"It was really getting to the point where we wanted to do anything but [the band]," Masters says. "What happened was Chris ended up going to the band saying he was quitting. And at that point in time, we just said we don't want to finish the tour. So we dropped off of the Vans tour at that point in time and headed home. And no one really asked me whether I was staying in the band or not. So we got home and it was just kind of like they found out after we got home that I didn't want to do the band anymore either. It was kind of a weird situation in that way."
For the next six months, Masters' life was in limbo. He took on a day job and did some musical projects with friends and some songwriters he knew in Tulsa. At the same time, he was working to overcome a drug habit that had started to take hold while on tour.
Eventually, though, Masters started to miss the Agony Scene, and he got in touch with Emmons to talk things out. They decided to contact Williams to see what he thought about regrouping.
"We called up Mike and basically [said] we want to get together and talk this over and be real cautious, and just talk and see what everyone wants to do and see if we want to keep this thing going and do it right or not," Masters says. "So we sat down and talked, and things just kind of worked themselves out."
Of course, there was also incentive from Roadrunner Records, which contacted Agony Scene's manager to express interest in signing them.
"It was definitely a big motivator," Masters says of Roadrunner's interest. "In an odd way, I don't even think that they even knew we were broken up at the time. I think our manager really kept that [quiet] because nobody is going to want to sign a band when there's [only] one person who really wants to be in it."
With a renewed sense of purpose and fresh enthusiasm (and the prospect of getting signed), the Agony Scene recruited a new guitarist, Steven Kaye, and a bassist, Brian Hodges, and threw themselves into The Darkest Red project headfirst.
The Darkest Red, Masters says, may cause fans to rethink their perceptions of the Agony Scene sound.
"When our first album came out we just got these constant interviews about so what does it feel like to be the next American European metal band," he says. "There was just so much concentration on the fact that we were American kids playing metal that was mostly influenced by European metal gods and pioneers. And really I just wanted people to know our thing is not that we can sound like bands from Europe or their style. We don't want to be a band that just takes European style and influence." --Alan Sculley
The Agony Scene plays the Big Easy on Thursday, Oct. 6, with Danzig, Doyle, Chimaira, Behemoth, Himsa and Mortiis. Doors at 5 pm. Tickets: $29.50. Visit www.ticketswest.com or call 325-SEAT.