Getting the business

With the new Jesus Hits Like The Atom Bomb, Tripping Daisy has made the best record of its seven-year career. So what took so long?

True to the myth, the Daisy didn't break out nationally into the platinum-selling chart-buster Island executives thought they had on their hands. After its first two albums, the band grew frustrated, wondering why they never got into Rolling Stone or Spin; they blamed the label, of course, became convinced some Island execs didn't understand their vision or support their art. Then they burned themselves out, touring too much, complaining too often, getting ground in the gears of the rock-business machinery till they became part of it. Time seemed to crawl: Berggren likes to say two human years equal one band year. For a while, they contemplated breaking up.

But unlike the myth, the Daisy has managed to survive: In the three years since the release of Elastic Firecracker, the band has fired two drummers and hired a third, in addition to a third guitarist (Karnats), turning the Daisy into a five-piece. Island has undergone dramatic changes, including the departure of founder Chris Blackwell and its recent purchase by the liquor giant Seagram Co.; James Dowdall and Rose Noone, the Island A&R execs who signed the Daisy and oversaw the making of Elastic Firecracker, have also left.

Unlike the myth, Island then let Tripping Daisy make the record they wanted--no time constraints, no pressure, no interference. "We've always had people from the label in our shit while we're trying to record, always with other things on their minds rather than allowing you to have a clear head to do what you want," DeLaughter says. "It was taxing, and it wasn't a good position to be in...But we made this whole record without one interruption from the label--not a phone call, nothing. It's the only way to do it, and maybe they don't understand that now, but later on they will."

And unlike the myth, it's now the future of Island records that remains uncertain--due, in part, to the merger mania that has overtaken Seagram's and is causing it to consolidate its various holdings. In a strange twist of fate, Tripping Daisy is being looked at as the savior of the label: If Jesus does hit like an atom bomb, the company may be spared from bottom-liners who seek to merge it out of existence. If the buying public doesn't do just that, the Daisy may forever find themselves back where they started: in their pod on Lower Greenville.

The story of Tripping Daisy is a tale about a band that came from nowhere and became, in an instant, stars in their own back yard. They were born like most bands, in that lucky moment when desire and desperation collide: Tim DeLaughter says he was looking for musicians who could "fulfill this need I had," while Wes Berggren and Mark Pirro were just looking, college students killing time in bands they cared nothing about.

DeLaughter, a classmate of New Bohemians' guitarist Kenny Withrow at Lakewood Elementary School, had tried everything, playing in metal bands and jamming with hippie musicians whose idea of a good time was taking mushrooms and riding the high all night long. But nothing was fulfilling until girlfriend Doyle introduced him to her classmate at North Texas, Berggren, who came over one afternoon, holed up with DeLaughter in his backyard shack, and discovered they were musically compatible. Pirro joined later, then came drummer Jeff Bouck, who was, in a short time, replaced by former Fever in the Funkhouse drummer Bryan Wakeland.

After one gig at Club Dada, all hell broke loose, or so the story goes: They became an oasis in a barren music scene (which wasn't, really, given that the Toadies and Funland and Bedhead and so many other fine bands were around), and fans started coming by the dozens and the hundreds and the thousands. Their audience was the ultimate cross-section, geeks and Greeks, all drawn to the dazzling slide-show of images flashing behind (and on) the band and DeLaughter's cartoon-character persona. His voice was all Johnny Rotten and helium; his hair, braided and dyed purple or orange. And the band was tight, a mixture of funk-rock, boho psychedelia, and prog-pop, even if the songs occasionally were not.

"We would come home at night and just freak out on it," DeLaughter recalls of the early, fanatical response. "It was totally about going and doing what we did." DeLaughter believed that the Deep Ellum scene hadn't been meeting the needs of its audience. "It was, to me, a very stagnant situation, very flat, not stimulating, and we had visuals going on and this total concept happening. It just went from there." It became, within nine months, a one-album deal with David Dennard and Patrick Keel's Dragon Street Records; the release of Bill in 1992; the appearance on local radio of the singles "Lost and Found" and "One Through Four," nice write-ups in Billboard magazine--an astonishing feat for a homegrown band. By March 1993, the band was signed to Island Records, home to Bob Marley, U2, and Tom Waits.

"A friend of mine in Dallas told me about them," says then Island A&R exec Rose Noone, who, along with James Dowdall, helped sign the band to Island after a short bidding war with a handful of other labels. "We drove down and went to see them at an in-store and thought the energy was so fantastic. Then we went to see them at the Agora and thought they were great musicians. We decided to try to sign them. But I remember all these other people wanted them too. I remember seeing all these other A&R people at the Agora and wondering, 'What are all these people doing here?'" By late 1993, then-Morning News music critic Michael Corcoran wrote in Request magazine that Tripping Daisy was "going to be huge. HUGE."

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