After playing in bands that played everything from indie rock to blues, Americana, and jazz on their own, The Taproots was founded by Tom Walters and Nicole Cassingham with a focus on original music. As they started to appear frequently at concerts, wineries, and other venues, songwriting and vocal harmonies took center stage.
The duo set out for the recording studios with a growing collection of well-liked songs, cutting their first four tracks at Jay Ferguson’s The Green Orb in Santa Barbara. Several outstanding studio musicians, including Grammy Award-winning guitarist Clif Magness and bassist Steve Nelson (Michael McDonald, Jim Messina), joined drummer and co-producer Michael C. Mason for these sessions. The project was then expanded by Mason and The Taproots, who recorded 11 more tracks at Momboe Productions in Woodland Hills with seasoned producer Ross Pallone of Rossaround Studios, who also mixed and engineered all of them. More musicians joined the fray, including bassist Mick Mahan of Pat Benatar and guitar whiz Jon Woodhead (Leon Russell, Maria Muldaur), keyboardist David Adelstein (Bob Welch, Rick Springfield). Check out their album ‘Tales of Wonderland’ and the exclusive interview below:
1. Can you tell us a bit about where you come from and how you got started?
THE TAPROOTS: Nicole Cassingham and I (Tom Walters) are both from California. We met ten years ago when I was working part-time in mental health and she was a music therapist at a local hospital. We started performing 7 years ago and it just kept evolving as we developed more and more original material.
2. Did you have any formal training or are you self-taught?
THE TAPROOTS: Nicole studied voice and jazz in college and had some musical theatre training as well. I am mostly self-taught on guitar and mandolin, with some piano lessons in my younger years.
3. Who were your first and strongest musical influences and why the name ‘THE TAPROOTS’?
THE TAPROOTS: I was fortunate to be raised on jazz and classical music as a child and then became a big fan of the classic rock music of the 60s and 70s. Later on I explored folk, Americana and modern jazz . Nicole was influenced by music teachers early on and then by a love for musical theatre, jazz, indie rock, blues, and other genres.
We chose the name THE TAPROOTS because we felt that it evoked an image of connecting with the earth and tapping into deeper things.
4. What do you feel are the key elements in your music that should resonate with listeners, and how would you personally describe your sound?
THE TAPROOTS: I think what resonates most with listeners are the lyrics themselves and the vocal harmonies. Beyond human storytelling, we explore social and spiritual themes in our music. There’s also a range of instrumental textures and combinations in our songs, like electric and acoustic guitars, pedal steel, ukulele, various drums etc.
Americana Rock of Folk Rock seems the be the labels that stick around when people attempt to define us..
6. What’s your view on the role and function of music as political, cultural, spiritual, and/or social vehicles – and do you try and affront any of these themes in your work, or are you purely interested in music as an expression of technical artistry, personal narrative and entertainment?
That’s a great question. Music is transformable in so many ways, in how it makes people feel and how they reflect on various aspect of their lives. Music can be an alternate, impactful method of getting a worthy message or story across. It’s not uncommon for themes in our music to drift into social, spiritual and political subject matter, though we try not to be heavy handed or preachy about it. Art can simply be a good mirror of society.
7. Do you feel that your music is giving you back just as much fulfillment as the amount of work you are putting into it, or are you expecting something more, or different in the future?
Perfecting and evolving music takes long hours of work, though at the same time we feel a sense of gratitude for the opportunity to simply do this. We find that music in itself is quite fulfilling, whether it’s performing or recording.
8. Could you describe your creative processes? How do usually start, and go about shaping ideas into a completed song? Do you usually start with a tune, a beat, or a narrative in your head? And do you collaborate with others in this process?
My creative process in songwriting usually starts with a musical progression, melody and vibe. The words for the first draft gradually emerge from free-form word salad . This somehow turns into a theme, the theme turns into a story, and that story becomes a song. I am not very deliberate when I write. To me, it usually comes out of some undefinable space that other songwriters often talk about. It’s a bit of a mystery, which makes it feel magical at times.
9. What has been the most difficult thing you’ve had to endure in your life or music career so far?
THE TAPROOTS: As with so many artists in today’s digital world, the biggest challenge is getting your music noticed by larger audiences and then being actually compensated for your work. We’re hoping that even more doors will open now that our debut album is out and getting good reviews.
10. On the contrary, what would you consider a successful, proud or significant point in your life or music career so far?
THE TAPROOTS: Having some L.A. producers take an interest in our music over the past few years. This resulted in the recording of 14 new songs with some world class musicians backing us up! What’s also gratifying is seeing the positive audience response to our original music, both live and through the recordings. To engage and inspire an audience though your own words and musical storytelling is a great joy.
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Photo credits: Simo Nylander, Brittany App