Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Taproot - Welcome


This is the second portion of our "What If...?" game with the Ann Arbor, MI rock band Taproot. Please click here if you missed the first part.

Welcome is Taproot's second major label album. It is the band's best selling album and its only gold record (as of Feb. 2014). Welcome contains the band's breakout hit "Poem" as well as the moderate radio hit "Mine." In fact, "Poem" was such a smash that it finished fifth on the Bllboard 2002 Mainstream Rock Singles chart. A third single, "Art" was scheduled for a video shoot and a CD/7" release but the project was curiously scrapped at the last minute by Atlantic Records; echoing fan and media speculation that the label was holding the band back.

This is a further extension of Taproot's record company problems that I voiced last week. Gift was rushed to retail in order meet an arbitrary corporate deadline. The promotion of Welcome was mismanaged. I'll explore the mismanagement of Taproot next week when I combine Gift and Welcome into a single LP. I intend to prove that, had Atlantic Records not put the screws to Taproot, a hypothetical single LP would have been a massive hit instead of the two existing LPs being moderate hits.

In the meantime, let's find out why signing with major labels is bad news. Unsigned musicians out there reading this: you need to pay close attention.

It all started with a guy named David Benveniste. He founded (and still owns) the Velvet Hammer Music and Management Group. The company was founded in 1997 so that Benveniste could focus his energies on getting his first client SYSTEM OF A DOWN signed to Columbia Records. Velvet Hammer entered into a joint venture with both Atlantic and Columbia which would funnel Velvet Hammer clients into major label record deals. During the period of 1997-2004, Velvet Hammer guided not only System of a Down but MUDVAYNE, THE DEFTONES, ONE REPBUBLIC, POISON THE WELL, GRATITUDE, and TAPROOT to stardom. It was that final signing that proved to be the sticky wicket.

The year before Benveniste and Velvet Hammer crossed paths with Taproot in 1999, Fred Durst and Flip Records had already offered them a deal. Now remember, this is 1998 and Taproot formed in 1997. You'd think that an unsigned band that's only been around for a year would jump at pretty much anything offered to them but Taproot dragged its feet. What gives?

What gives is that Taproot spent a sizeable portion of 1998 opening for System of a Down around the Midwest. Through System of a Down, Benveniste signed Taproot to Velvet Hammer and, through Velvet Hammer, Atlantic snaked Taproot right from under the noses of Flip Records. This enraged Durst to the point of leaving a hateful voicemail for Taproot vocalist Stephen Richards. The voicemail trashed Taproot, Benveniste, and Atlantic Records while Durst threatens to sabotage Taproot's career.

Hell, why am I typing this? The internet exists. Here's the actual voicemail:

While this makes for great "behind the scenes" stories, the harsh reality is that Taproot was a victim of its manager's success. During the years when the band was firing all cylinders (not that Taproot sucks now, they don't, but the band was in such a groove during the early 2000s that it could do no wrong), Taproot didn't score as big of a hit as its fellow Velvet Hammer clients. Taproot went gold when everyone else went platinum and the band got lost in the shuffle.

The band would release one more album on Atlantic before moving on to Victory Records. It's worth noting that Taproot regained its prominence in the modern rock world after switching to a smaller label that was emotionally invested in the band as well as financially.

So, that's the story of Taproot's wild ride in Hollywood. Tune in next week when we conclude the Taproot series. Please enjoy the promo video for "Poem" followed by the full album stream of Welcome.


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