Ann Arbor, Michigan's Taproot rose in the late '90s from the ashes of area bands like Cymonic Drive and Skumbag. One day these bands played a gig together and they both took an interest in each others' band. After a few conversations, the four members dissolved their current bands and got together to form the first incarnation of a band we now know as Taproot.
"Our original drummer, Jarrod (Montgomery), and I went to college together," Taproot bassist Phil Lipscomb said. "Our singer, Steve (Richards), and guitarist, Mike (DeWolf), went to high school together. We went to college also with our singers' cousin. That's how we met Mike, hanging out at parties and things. The group was playing at places like house parties and college houses but when they formed a new band, they asked us to play. 1997 is when it started."
In those early days, the group did most of their shows out of town because they really didn't have a following. They often found themselves playing tiny bars at late hours.
"We eventually built up a following with friends coming out to see our shows," Lipscomb said. "Once we started filling up the places we were playing, it was the most random assortment of people. Our parents were bringing their friends. The college kids were bringing their friends, the dropouts brought their friends. So, you had this random group of people you wouldn't expect all in one place creating a really cool vibe at our shows.
"Our first major label release was with Atlantic Records and it came about after we got in contact with the band management company Velvet Hammer and they have a street team called Streetwise," Lipscomb said. "They were one of the first to turn the street team thing into a profitable business. We sent them a demo and that got us teamed up to open for System of a Down. At the time, their first album had just come out but we were already big fans. So we were like, 'Hell yeah, let's do it.' We opened for them in Grand Rapids, starting the process of showcases to labels."
The band released its debut album, "Gift," in 2000. The album's lead single "Again & Again" gained heavy exposure through MTV2. Ozzy Osbourne's son, Jack, took notice and soon, Taproot landed a spot on the second stage of the 2000 and 2001 Ozzfest tour.
"After signing with Atlantic, we went on Ozzfest the next two years," Lipscomb said. "Ozzfest was fun but by the second year we were burnt out. The first year was exciting. It was like summer camp for bands with a full day [lasting from] 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. You might play 20 minutes at 11:30, 12:45 or whenever and then you have all day to do nothing. It was fun hanging out, meeting all the bands, watching them on the main stage whenever you want. That actually was really cool.
"At the same time, however, you have two, maybe three days between shows, so, in addition to the downtime after your performance, you have those off days as well," Lipscomb said. "It's a lot of downtime and the scenery doesn't change because you're playing pretty much in the middle of a parking lot everyday. Same bands, same people. But it was a good time. We made a lot of great friends during those two years on Ozzfest."
Taproot released its second album, "Welcome," in 2002. A more melodic effort, the disc debuted at No. 17 on the Billboard 200. The album's first single, "Poem" took off, hitting No. 5 on the Mainstream Rock charts. The album's second single, "Mine," followed with more moderate success. "Welcome" is Taproot's most successful album to date, almost achieving gold status, with approximately 475,000 copies sold.
As is often the case with bands, Taproot's follow up, 2005's softer, somewhat experimental "Blue-Sky Research" didn't fare as well despite fellow Midwesterner Smashing Pumpkins Billy Corgan assisting in the songwriting. In 2006, the band and Atlantic parted ways.
"People talk down about the music industry," Lipscomb said. "But it's not all bad. I've heard horror stories from bands talking about how their label would tell them they had to do a song in the style of Powerman 5000 or Linkin Park - bands that were big at the time - and basically, in that mindset, you're trying to catch up to the curve, not ahead of it. That's just a dumb way of thinking."
"But for us we've always been lucky because our label was always hands-off telling us, 'You guys do your thing'," Lipscomb said. "Write what you write. We're not a death metal band trying to write a radio song. We create songs that have melodies, some harmony - those are things we like in songs."
After releasing 2008's "Our Long Road Home" independently, Taproot signed with Victory Records (Otep, A Day To Remember) and released "Plead the Fifth" in 2010. The popularity of both the album and single, "Fractured (Everything I Said Was True)," demonstrate Taproot's staying power in an industry that has changed dramatically over the decade-plus of its career.
"With the decline of airplay possibilities on commercial radio, there's YouTube or the Internet," Lipscomb said. "That's a way for people to hear the music, even though it's this crappy quality version of what you spent thousands of dollars on to record. That's what kills me. You try to get the music out there anyway you can. It's still oversaturated but there are still bands out there and everyone loves music - that's the saving grace.
"We've always been able to experiment with our songs," Lipscomb said. "You don't hear the same record every time or one that sounds like everyone else. Every record sounds like us and yet doesn't at the same time. There's always a new take on what we do. I'd say also that over the years, we've definitely become better songwriters."
Over the years, the band has played with bands like Staind, Disturbed and Chevelle, building a reputation as a live band.
"Onstage, we have a ton of energy and songs that you thought were on the lighter side are much heavier live," Lipscomb said. "That's pretty much what we do. Taproot has always been a heavier band. We've always liked that heavier vibe and sounding show."
"We're looking forward to Taproot's Williamsport debut," Eric Winters of Synergy said. "It's exciting to bring new sounds to town. We really want to be a place where people from all over can hear great music. It's a main reason why we stopped our 16 + nights. Synergy wants to be synonymous with music here in Williamsport."
Taproot will headline the show featuring Absolution and Arise The Titan Jan. 22 at Synergy Nightclub 416 W. Third St. The show is for music lovers who are age 21 and older. Tickets are $10 pre-show and $15 at the door. The doors open at 6 p.m. Tickets are available at www.ticketweb.com.
More information about Taproot may be found at www.taprootmusic.com.
For more information about Synergy, visit www.synergywilliamsport.com.