By Micheal Powell
JULY 6, 1998: "I have a lyric on a song that kind of explains the whole thing," Tripping Daisy's Tim DeLaughter says gleefully, momentarily pausing before quoting from his new song "Bandaids for Hire."
" 'Take the time to fix yourself all up. Taking time helps with your luck.' And we needed that luck. This band was destined for luck."
The friend of fools and small children, luck, combined with timing, talent and a healthy dose of ambition has favored the Dallas-based band from their meteoric rise from obscurity to the completion of their new album, Jesus Hits Like the Atom Bomb, which arrives on shelves Tuesday.
Formed in late '91, the psychedelic-tinged, power-pop guitar quartet (now a quintet including vocalist DeLaughter, guitarist/keyboardist Wes Berggren, bassist Mark Pirro joined by newcomers Philip Karnats and former UFOFU drummer Ben Curtis) gained a massive local following overnight. "We were huge in three weeks, " recalls DeLaughter. "We had an instant following going on and it just exploded." Sold-out shows at big clubs like Trees happened immediately. When the group released their first album, Bill (Dragon Street) in '92 , their growing legions of young fans, who were drawn by the energetic, special effects-intensive live shows, knew the band was destined for bigger things.
This was the time of the great "find the next big scene" fiasco that ensued in the wake of the Seattle grunge phenomenon, and Dallas, at least to its residents, seemed as good a place as any to receive the mantle. While boosterism flourished with reckless abandon between fans, promoters, record companies and those with a vested interest in selling "the scene" concept, local critics were quick to write off Tripping Daisy as posing, power-chord pretty boys more concerned with hooks and looks than substance - a bantamweight Nirvana with Jane's Addiction-esque vocal stylings and a penchant for performance excess. After all, this was Texas, damnit - if you weren't psychobilly, punk or grungy you had about as much credibility as Billy Ray Cyrus at a Bob Dylan songwriting seminar. In hindsight, it was a hypocritical perspective to be sure, with some of the musical super-weenies that this area has produced over the years. (The Deep Blue Something/Jackopierce/Grand Street Cryers axis immediately comes to mind.) But admittedly, "Brown-eyed Pickle Boy" was a mind-numbingly ridiculous song and chock-full of syntax error: "We are the brown-eyed pickle boy?"
"We've always taken shots (from critics)," DeLaughter reflects. "It did hurt my feelings back then. ... No one likes to have shit thrown on them when they're in a band just trying to do what they do."
Nevertheless, the big labels descended upon our fair metropolis and signed just about everyone making the Deep Ellum rounds. Chances are if you had a pulse and a gut bucket you got a deal. Tripping Daisy was no exception; in fact they were the most heavily courted of the lot and eventually opted to go with Island Records - then home to a bunch of nobodies like U2. Everyone was excited for them, for us, for the scene. Even the band's most condemning antagonists saw a spark of possibility within the group and felt a sense of hope that the boys could actually put us on the musical map. And they did, sort of.
Bill was subsequently re-released in '93, followed by a live ep the next year entitled Get It On. The band toured, concerts still sold out, fans went crazy and the critics were debunked.
In 1995 the full-length i am an Elastic Firecracker was produced, and Tripping Daisy seemed poised for the big enchilada. Firecracker sold 300,000 units in the U.S. alone - a respectable number, but far from the platinum dreams of Tripping Daisy's public. Still, the group took other local acts on the road with them and even plugged Big DFW on MTV's "120 Minutes" when they guest hosted. Verily, not since the waxing of Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians in the mid-'80s has a local band encompassed the hopes and promise of a musical community like Tripping Daisy did.
All seemed well to the casual observer - clearly, here was a young band on its way - but cracks were beginning to form in the veneer. Feeling the pressure of a constant self-imposed touring regimen and dissatisfaction with Firecracker's finished product, Tripping Daisy decided to take an extended break. What onlookers did not know was that it was close to being a permanent condition.
"We were almost finished as a band," Delaughter says. "We were on the road for 6 1/2 years, constantly grinding, and before we knew it we were tapped. But some forces stronger than us were saying, 'No, it can't happen. Cope. We took time off, regrouped and it made all the difference in the world."
The difference is obvious on the 15-song Atom Bomb, which comes three years after Tripping Daisy's last studio project (a collection of b-sides, deep cuts and other embarrassments, Time Capsule, was released last year), not only moves the band into new professional territory but finds them in an entirely different dimension. Gone are the contrived, radio-ready-sure-to-be-hits and instead comes a singularly good album complete with intricate melodies, experimentation, textured tones, well-placed keyboards, interjecting horns and thoughtful and occasionally cryptic lyrics all on a table of solid pop construction. Even the obvious love songs, like "Sonic Bloom," have an anything-goes feel and demonstrating that the band still retains its sense of whimsy, which made them so engaging in the first place. Clearly Tripping Daisy is no longer holding back and, more importantly, seems to be willing to take chances.
"If it came out like Firecracker, I think we would have to blow a big, wide hole in Tripping Daisy with a shotgun," Delaughter says. "Fortunately for us, growth happened. I hate saying that we have matured as a band, but I don't know any other way to explain it."
Tripping Daisy's future as Dallas' latest and greatest is uncertain. Will their die-hard fans embrace their new material with the same rabid enthusiasm of years past? Now that grunge's star has fallen and all things pop are sacrosanct, it may not matter. For Delaughter the point is moot. "It's the most spirited record we've made. I think it shines a lot more than anything else we have done. I feel more secure with myself and this record and am as happy as I have ever been with this band. So, nothing else really matters."
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