By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
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Tim DeLaughter, Tripping Daisy frontman and newly anointed father, is one of the most optimistic people ever to have been dropped from a major label. Sure, he's done his share of bad-mouthing Island Records, the label that signed the local outfit in 1993, promised the moon and stars, then last September, amidst corporate turmoil, decided not to renew the its contract. And DeLaughter still expresses his disdain for "big business" and the corruption of the music industry. But now, as he and Julie Doyle, the band's co-manager and DeLaughter's companion of 16 years, sit in the tidy, bohemian kitchen of their Lower Greenville home, there's hardly a whiff of sour grapes in the air. The bitterness that might be expected is replaced by happiness, hope, and excitement--no, pure childlike awe--about future prospects.
Instead of shopping for another major-label deal, the five-piece has re-embraced the DIY spirit that was almost stamped out in the major-label shuffle. Just after the release of the band's final full-length for Island, last year's Jesus Hits Like the Atom Bomb, Island's parent company, PolyGram Music, was swallowed whole by Canadian liquor giant Seagrams. To finance Seagrams' PolyGram purchase (which also included A&M, Motown, and Mercury), more than 3,000 workers were laid off, and a plethora of bands, including Tripping Daisy, were released from their contracts.
DeLaughter sees this merger as another example of the "birth and death of capitalism," where "something new, that's wonderful, is born out of something that's basically destructive itself." He laments the industry that "whores out the talent of hard-working artists"; he is irate about inflated profit margins and the greed that permeates the whole industry. Yet he still doesn't doubt that Island once, a long time ago, had good intentions for the band and even for the last record.
"When we brought this record in to them, they were completely flabbergasted--floored!" DeLaughter insists, recounting his meeting with Davitt Sigerson, Island's CEO. "We played it for him, for Davitt, and he was like, 'My God! We had no idea you were doing this.' It seemed their enthusiasm rang true. Today, I believe that. But we're talking about a guy who makes three to four million a year and has to run a multimillion-dollar company."
But with Seagrams' buyout of PolyGram imminent, DeLaughter realized that a staff most concerned with the likely loss of their jobs was in no position to promote the album. Despite the messy end with Island, the nasty rumors, the anticlimactic release of Atom Bomb (by far the band's most honest and sonically developed album), DeLaughter remains positive about the band's ability not just to stay above water, but to ride the waves.
"Everything has always worked out for us the best," DeLaughter relates, "We've always stuck to our guns about certain things, and it may not look so great at the time, but it always turns out to be the best thing that ever happened. Not only do I get to spend time with my wife and my baby--if the record had been a hit, it would have been difficult to work both of them--but number two, it was like, 'Hey, we're at the beginning all over again.'"
Tripping Daisy parted with Island about the same time Doyle gave birth to Stella Blue. As DeLaughter waxes poetic about his 4-month-old child ("She's a constant reminder of happiness and love and something more important than anything else around me, like life!"), he also relishes the birth of Tripping Daisy's own label, Good Records. Doyle and DeLaughter intend to run the label--and its subsidiaries Good Booking, Good Film, and Good Management--through the Internet.
The Tops Off Our Head, the label's first release, is also the band's first EP since the split with Island. Tops is the product of a band doing exactly what it wants, with no one looking over its shoulder clamoring for a radio-friendly single or a quick buck. It's essentially a single 22-minute sort-of-improvised song divided into seven "sections," one of which is an affectionately straight-faced reading of The Association's 1967 hit "Never My Love."
"I think it's ironic that our first release is something that showcases what this band has done from day one that no one's ever known about," DeLaughter says. "And they get to see it the one time we're out on our own. It's almost romantic."
Good Records was created primarily to release Tripping Daisy albums, but is also poised to facilitate the release of local music that might otherwise never make it out of the garage or the bedroom. From the beginning, Tripping Daisy considered going the indie-label route, even if it meant selling their records through infomercials. Now the band has its own Web-cast station at www.daisyradio.com, which features music from local luminaries (Captain Audio) and others (Stereolab, Built to Spill) that may never be embraced by the mainstream.
DeLaughter's five years of experience with Island was also part of the catalyst for the formation of Good Records. In fact, the band's termination from Island is the reason this label can exist. With no legalities in the way, the band is free to record and produce whatever it wants. Eventually, running an indie label just seemed the most obvious thing to do.