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?

But in June 1994, he retracted his words after Island's rerelease of Bill failed to capitalize on its hometown adoration. "Tripping Daisy appears to be a major disappointment so far," he wrote, this time in the Morning News. But Corcoran related the handful of excuses spun by the Daisy and Island: The band insisted it wanted to build its fan base slowly, carefully; they said that having a hit too quickly meant having an audience identify them with only one particular song, and hit songs come and go; the label said it would be patient--like the band, it was in it for the long haul, not the immediate gratification.

"The success of Bill left more room to grow, so to speak." Pirro says now. "Things would have turned out differently if that record had gone gold or platinum. It got what it deserved. It did what it did because of what it was--a band's first record. I was pleased with how it came out."

For a while, Tripping Daisy believed Island would, in fact, be patient--more to the point, they believed in Island's Chris Blackwell, with whom they had become friends. According to one source at the label, shortly after the Daisy had signed with Island, they traveled to Jamaica with Blackwell for two weeks, which he seldom did with other groups. But over time, DeLaughter says, he came to understand that all labels are the same--"every one of them," he sneers. "It ultimately turns into a big disaster."

The problems with Island, he claims, began with the release of a live five-song EP in 1994, taken from a summer 1993 show at Trees. It was a mistake: The quality of the disc is poor, and even DeLaughter concedes now, "It wasn't exactly the best show to do it on." Problems were compounded with the recording of I Am An Elastic Firecracker. DeLaughter says Noone and Dowdall were always looking over the band's shoulders, trying to get DeLaughter to write a hit single or two.

Tripping Daisy had brought in revered producer Ted Nicely, best known for his work with indie stalwarts Fugazi, to produce the record. But DeLaughter says Nicely was too easily manipulated by Noone and Dowdall, quick to give in to the label's demands when what the band really wanted was a producer who would let them experiment with various sounds. "We were all innocent at the time," DeLaughter says, "but we were sucked in. Before we knew it, we were marching to their beat and not our own."

The result was a scattered, schizophrenic disc by a band torn between making art and making the charts. For every song like "Prick," which was noisy and frenetic and revealed so much growth from Bill, there were two like "I Got a Girl," which was just insistent and sing-song silly ("I got a girl who wears cool shoes/I got a girl who wears them in the nude"). "Girl" was hardly representative of the band, yet Island picked it as the album's first single and video (the band wanted "Rocketpop"). In time, it topped the Billboard modern-rock charts and landed in constant rotation on MTV, where several times daily audiences were driven insane through repetition. In the end, even the band grew sick to death of it.

"You were dealing with a record company that wanted to break this band big time," DeLaughter says. "They wanted to get on there and go to the moon, and that was their number-one focus. There was talk of selling a million records, and before you know it, you're starting to think like them and believe them and not really like...I dunno. You kinda got fogged by the whole idea. There was no consistency on Firecracker. The only thing consistent was the label going, 'This has to be perfect.'"

The second single, "Piranha," drowned before it ever hit radio, and sales of Firecracker stalled at 250,000 copies--damned respectable numbers, to be sure, but a far cry from what the label imagined. Noone says she can't offer any reasons why "Piranha" didn't chart with the success of "I Got a Girl." She does offer that she's happy with the way Firecracker came out; she mentions often in the course of a 10-minute interview how it sounds good, how the production is "amazing." Noone also insists that the decision to release "I Got a Girl" as the first single was a mutual one.

But Noone, who has long since left Island for Epic Records, doesn't want to talk about her relationship with the band. When asked what she and Dowdall contributed, artistically speaking, to the making of I Am An Elastic Firecracker, she offers only a curt, "This is getting too serious for me" before slamming down the phone.

In the summer of 1996, just as Noone and Dowdall were leaving Island, the band was invited to open for Def Leppard, which was like asking Bill Clinton to speak at a monastery. The Daisy's psychedelic prog-alternapop wasn't much of a fit with Def Leppard's antiquated metal-lite; the pairing--which was Def Leppard's idea, since the English band was by then desperately in need of a little credibility--made no sense at all.

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