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?

In retrospect, the Daisy would have been better served by taking some time off. They had been on the road almost nonstop for five years, and they were coming close to burn-out. "This band was completely fried and about ready to call it quits," DeLaughter says. "We just wore ourselves out."

"Tim just felt we weren't growing in the areas we needed to be growing in," says Pirro. "I felt that a little bit at times too. I always feel there's something more out there, something better. And I didn't think we had reached our full potential."

In February 1996, they parted ways with drummer Bryan Wakeland. It was a mutual separation: Wakeland, a Neil Young fan, and DeLaughter, a '70s pop-culture fanatic who would re-record the title tune from Sigmund and the Sea Monsters for a cartoon tribute album, felt they were moving in different musical directions. Mitch Marine, a longtime member of Brave Combo, was hired on as his replacement; in time, theirs would prove to be an even worse partnership.

"We had just been on the road for so long, and then came the Def Leppard tour," Berggren says. "Fifty-seven shows with Def Leppard in an arena...I mean, it was cool. I know a few of us, like Tim and I, were just huge Def Leppard fans when we were kids. They were awesome. But we were burned out before that tour came along."

By then, the Daisy had become a "gear in the machine," as DeLaughter likes to say--they were not only caught up in the business of selling records, but they were making decisions based solely on commerce instead of art. They had taken ill-advised tours in the past--sharing bills with labelmates Tracy Bonham and Local H at the insistence of Island Records, even though the Daisy received no money from Island for tour support. And the Leppard tour did have its advantages: better food, dressing rooms stocked with beer, a posh touring bus instead of a rickety van. But after years of inviting bands like UFOFU to open for them, exposing wonderful but unknown Dallas bands to larger national audiences, the Daisy suddenly found itself opening for a dinosaur that was long past extinction.

In the end, audiences were receptive enough, even when Tripping Daisy stopped playing songs off Firecracker. The band had become tired of hearing them, sick of playing them--and began improvising on stage. Crowds usually booed at first, then came around by the end, especially after hearing "I Got a Girl" and recognizing it from the radio--after all, the song for a time was as inescapable as air, and audiences love hearing songs they know, even if they hate the band playing them.

Only one audience was openly hostile: In Sacramento, the Daisy was forced to go on before hometown zeroes Tesla, a long-forgotten boogie-metal band that hasn't released a record since 1991. The crowd wanted no part of Daisy's light-show-and-wigs extravaganza.

"After hearing us, they were like, 'Booooooo! You suck!'" Berggren recalls. "They were chucking pennies and quarters at us."

"This one guy wanted to fight us," Pirro says, either laughing or wincing at the memory. "It was a really, really chaotic scene."

"Tim told the crowd we were a bunch of homos," Berggren adds. "He said, 'What's the matter, you don't like gay people?' I was so nervous, man. Bottles were flying."

Nobody in the band will say they regret the tour; if nothing else, it gave them a glimpse of what it was like to play in the arenas after years in the clubs. And maybe they made a few converts along the way. But emotionally, the strain of being a band together for five years--almost every day, it seemed--was becoming too much, and so they parted ways for a while, unsure of whether the Def Leppard tour was their final one.

It was during that period that DeLaughter first hooked up with Philip Karnats, who was then playing with Comet's Josh Garza, Bedhead's Chris Wheat, and rubberbullet's Richard Paul in the band 1919 Summit. Karnats, who had also spent time in Bobgoblin, was working on his own music when he and DeLaughter connected a little more than a year ago--DeLaughter was looking for inspiration in a new collaborator, while Karnats was just looking for something to do.

"I was playing a lot of my own songs, working a lot, recording my own shit, really," Karnats says. "Tim and I just started playing. He was kinda bummed out. In the attic of our house, there's a studio, this one room that always has drums and amps, and we just started playing. We just clicked."

Over time, Berggren joined their on-the-side project, called the Platinum Experience, playing keyboards, with Karnats on guitar and DeLaughter on drums. Eventually, all three were playing guitar, and Karnats was initially invited to join the Daisy for a tour. Last June, he joined the band for good.

"It was perfect, perfect for me," says Berggren. "I played keyboards, and that opened up a whole new sound for me. I don't play the keyboards all the time, but we just bounced off each other really well."

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