Holed up in a blue-painted, small attic room with exposed plumbing pipes and bricks, is where we met up with Taproot’s vocalist Stephen Richards before the band played their set at the 12 Days of Xmas Tour show held in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. We stood just inches apart so Richards could be heard over the blaring music as one of the opening bands played right below. Different than anything they’ve ever done before with their music, Richards walked us through the meaning of the band’s newest album, The Episodes, which released on April 10th, 2012 through Victory Records. He also shared vivid details of how his year has somewhat mirrored the story told in the band’s new album.
Surrealism, the element of surprise and unexpected abstract concepts, influenced the newest record, which was originally written in 2006. But as Richards explains, “We did it [the newest record] when our 4th record came out. We were wanting to do this one instead. We did a commercial attempt at another record that flopped horribly. So once we got the chance to do what we wanted to do, we took it.” The record is essentially the idea of making a movie through music, with the lyrics written first. “We approached it song by song. We did the lyrics first. Scored it. Figured out where it would go story-wise. We just had a vague idea of what the story overall would be.”
About the writing process, Richards says, “Mike [DeWolf] wanted to get a little bit of involvement with writing the lyrics. Up until that point we’d write our own stuff, come together, make it work. He wanted to help tell the story. I came up with the concept. He came up with a lot of the lyrical lines. Then I would figure out how to make the soundtrack fit with what is going on in the story. I wanted to tell a story that is kinda eerie if you get it right.”
The Episodes comprises three characters all waking up and experiencing an episode in their life. Each episode represents choices, good or bad, and how they affect the road your life takes. Richards pre-recorded real sounds from life with his phone to lay over the music. Any natural noise that would tie into the story was on the list to record — kids at a park playing, the subway station, trains, vending machines, air conditioners and hotel TV static are just a few he named.
Currently videos are out for the songs No Surrender and The Everlasting, but because they could not invest the time or money into doing a video for each song, most of the “movie” material is combined into three videos, with the final video unreleased as of now.
Richards sums up The Episodes album as this: “The first four songs are about the older male in the No Surrender video waking up in the hotel. That’s how the record starts. So the first four songs are about him getting up on a Sunday morning for about two or three hours of his morning. The next group of four songs is the kid waking up during the same time frame as the older guy just in a different area of town. The last two songs are the mother waking up and going through the same hours. So it’s all just over like two or three hours on a Sunday morning. All of them having their Sunday morning. Interpreting it different ways. But actually the male character, who is older in No Surrender, is just the older version of the kid. Young, innocent, happier songs are supposed to surround the kid. ’Cause he’s innocent and all the bad shit is happening outside in the real world. And the dude waking up, he’s in hell and trying to get the fuck out of the hotel because that’s where he died and he’s trying to get to his happy place, which is the park. So it’s the kid waking up going to the park, the guy waking up going to the park, mom getting up going to the park. It’s just the culmination of here’s the anniversary or the remembrance. The man version and the child version coming together trying to find each other so they can meet the mom and be with her when she goes to the gravesite.”
In the video for the song The Everlasting the mother switches between being a happy young mother to the boy, and to being an older woman, obviously distraught because her son has died by this point in her life. As Richards tells us it’s “meant for you to see it whenever you do see the kid in the room, it’s the younger version of the mom. And whenever it’s the older one the kid is not there. Or it’s because the kid sees his mom as her inner beauty, her younger self. She’s actually old and he’s not really there anyways. So it’s more like the mom is going in cause she hears the alarm clock going off as if he was there. It’s more like reliving the anniversary of his departure.”
Watch the video for The Everlasting:
No Surrender introduces the older male version of the child, who wakes up in a crazy hotel room, who’s not sure what happened, and he’s trying to find a safe haven.
Watch the video for No Surrender:
Symbolism is used heavily throughout both videos. The kid is looking for the man so he sees a “wanted man” on the TV. The older guy sees a “child missing” sign on the train because he’s looking for the child. They’re trying to find each other. They both know to go to the park because that’s where they would always be and that’s where they are buried. When Taproot does the third video, they plan to explain the story more, and it’s probably going to include the man’s funeral.
Life imitated art a bit earlier this year, when, like the guy in the video No Surrender, Richards woke up not knowing where he was or what was going on. His journey to that point started in early February when he was home alone watching his son who was about 1 ½ at the time. He was found by his roommate half-naked in his bed with blood all over him, where he’d lain for five hours, while his son was luckily locked in the room with him. But at the time of the incident no one was sure what had happened and he goes on to explain, “Literally, as goofy as it sounds, I wondered if a ghost beat the shit out of me. We were already wondering if that house was haunted as fuck anyways. My wife, my roommate, me. But nothing was missing. But it literally felt like I got hit over the head with a baseball bat. Blood all over. It looked like a crime scene.”
So life went on as usual with no explanation of why those events occurred until April, on the day The Episodes record was released, and his day ended in a surreal event that closely mimicked the experience of the man waking up as he does in their music video. He was hanging out with his mom, waiting for his bandmates to pick him up, and his mom watched him have four grand mal seizures, hitting his head on the counter as he went down and seizing all the way from the kitchen out to the foyer. He recounts, “Fucking trip. Woke up in the hospital. I hadn’t got to see my parents together since I was a fucking kid, maybe once. So I’m like ‘am I in heaven or hell? Because if this is heaven my dad wouldn’t be here.’ ”
Richards explains more about what they now know happened in the first incident back in February, “I had a grand mal seizure. I ripped the toilet seat off. There was blood all over the floor. The reason I was naked is I think I wet myself.”
Once the doctors knew they were dealing with seizures several tests were performed on Richards and he was placed on medication. F our months went by before he experienced a milder seizure in August, they think because his medications were not the right dosage. Since then the medication has been adjusted and so far he’s been fine.
The physicians don’t know why Richards is having seizures, although he does have an extensive concussion history due to his time spent as a major competitive hockey player. Doctors orders are for Richards to not drink or tour, and he says “at least I’m not drinking.”
But the seizures have presented more problems for Richards. “My eyes are fucked up. I have a slight wandering eye. The first one in February, the first thing I hit was my left eye on the corner. That’s what was bleeding at first. Those caused more concussions, which I have an extensive past with.”
While Richards’ seizures may change the way Taproot tours, he has no plans to let it stop him. The band tours until December 22 on the 12 Days of Xmas Tour with 12 Stones, Digital Summer, Gone for Days, Prospect Hill and others. Then they plan to be back on tour in February.