"This is kind of interesting," he chatters from a tour bus cruising the highways somewhere in America. "See, when I was in second grade, I lived in this apartment, and I was an only child--it was just me and my mom. And I don't know if you're familiar with apartment life, but when your mom is gone until six o'clock each day, you're pretty much on your own in the afternoons. And that's when you get into all sorts of things.
"Well," he continues, following a strategic pause, "there was this older lady who lived in our building, and she would invite me and one of my friends in to watch H.R. Pufnstuf and have a couple Popsicles. And in exchange, she would have us...do things to her at her request. Now, since I'd never really experienced that kind of thing before, I'm like, `Whatever. This is dorky, but at least I'm getting Popsicles and H.R. Pufnstuf.' But now that I'm older, I realize that, man, she was a sick bitch. That kind of thing kind of stays with you forever, you know?"
Yeah, it probably does. But in spite of the trauma such an encounter would no doubt cause, "Rocket Pop" isn't a tune dripping with repressed agony. In fact, it's downright catchy in a riff-rock-meets-post-punk kind of way. And while at one point DeLaughter yelps the lines "You've taken all that you can get/You've left me feeling sick," the majority of the lyrics are much more ambiguous, sometimes almost celebratory. "Lying here with you," DeLaughter sings, "is like pleasure in the sun in the Seventies."
Welcome to the amusing, confusing, contradictory world of Tripping Daisy. As those who already own the group's latest CD, the entertaining Island Records offering I Am an Elastic Firecracker, realize, DeLaughter and his cohorts (guitarist Wes Berggren, bassist Mark Pirro and drummer Bryan Wakeland) are tough nuts to crack. Their music ranges from pure pop to Captain Beefheart-inspired oddities, and the lyrics penned by DeLaughter alternate between light and dark so regularly that it's often difficult to figure out where the irony ends and the sincerity begins.
In trying to clarify the situation, DeLaughter tends to further muddy the water. "Not everything's that serious, but when it needs to be, it is," he says. "People who listen to our music are able to get all the different emotions--which is the whole reason we named the record I Am an Elastic Firecracker. If a regular firecracker blew up, it'd blow up one time and that'd be it. But if it was elastic, it could blow up and you would experience all the colors and the rage and the energy, and then it would contract back to where it started again. Humans do the same thing; we get angry and we exude all this energy and color, and then--boom!--we calm down and contract. That's the way we are, and that's what the record does."
Tripping Daisy has been spreading its own brand of logic since 1991. The act subsequently landed an early track, "Lost and Found," on a compilation disc issued by a Dallas radio station. The acclaim generated by the track and by the growing number of Texans seeing the act in person convinced a smallish independent label, Dragon Street, to put out the quartet's debut long-player, Bill, in 1992. Impressed by the platter, Island rereleased it the following year on a subsidiary, Island Red (the same imprint distributed Get It On, a five-song live EP, circa 1994). Unfortunately, these recordings went unheard by practically everyone other than those fans who were already on the bandwagon. This middling response would have left most combos feeling pressured to come through with a blockbuster on their next project, but DeLaughter denies feeling uptight about making Firecracker.
"There wasn't a lot of thought put into it," he insists. "Because, you know, there's always something new coming out, and we didn't know where we were going to fit into the whole scheme of things--or whether we were going to fit in at all. All we knew was that it had been three years since we'd gone into the studio, and we were extremely excited about it. There was really no intimidation there, because we didn't know any better."
The Daisies' relaxed attitude infused Firecracker, which moves blithely from style to style yet never seems scattershot. Tunes as disparate as "Bang," "Piranha," "Trip Along" and "Prick" aren't cut from the same cloth, but they retain an identifiable Tripping Daisy voice. So, too, does "I Got a Girl," a bouncy, deadpan charmer that (surprise, surprise) has broken the band on modern-rock radio even though it sounds unlike anything else on it. Still, the humorous tone that sets "Girl" apart carries a risk--that Tripping Daisy will be seen by some as a novelty.
"It did kind of scare me at first," DeLaughter concedes. "But it seems to me that most people have taken it as a song and haven't seen it as just quirky, like I thought they would. To me, it's a great pop song that translates really well on the radio. But we have other songs, too, and when people hear them, I think they recognize what we're all about."
Certainly listeners in Dallas have picked up on Tripping Daisy's vibe. The act deserves much of the credit for turning a scene that once seemed like nothing more than a shadow of Austin's into something that looks a lot like an industry hotbed. Although his group seems ready to graduate to the big time, DeLaughter remains an energetic promoter of all things Dallas. "We've had six bands signed in the last year and a half," he notes, "and two of them--us and the Toadies--are doing really well. The Reverend Horton Heat is from Dallas, and so are the Nixons, and Hagfish and Brutal Juice. And the Deep Blue Something was just signed by Interscope, and even though they're not my cup of tea, they're a band that's found an audience.
"To me, Dallas has the most versatile scene in America, and one of the reasons is because all of the bands are completely different from each other. I don't know why or how that happened, but it happened. And now, on Dallas radio, which used to only play bands from other cities, other states, they're playing mostly Dallas bands. And a couple of weeks ago I put together this show there that had us, the Reverend, the Toadies, Funland, UFOFU and this band from Seattle, Green Apple Quick Step, and 8,000 people came. So I think it's really starting to happen now."
Of course, the members of Tripping Daisy aren't content merely to reign as kings of their hometown. Since early in its existence, the outfit has toured tirelessly, building a legion of followers throughout the South and Southwest. According to DeLaughter, roadwork helps keep the players from becoming too wrapped up in their sudden rise in fortune. "We would wilt and blow away if we weren't able to tour," DeLaughter says. "And even though the record's doing fine, I'm more focused on the live thing, because that's in our control. It's something we deal with seven days a week, whereas all the other stuff is on the outside of the bubble. And it doesn't really leak in unless I hear it from the outside. People will say, `Hey, you guys are doing this on the modern-rock chart,' and I'm like, `Okay,' and then they'll go, `You're doing this on the Heatseekers chart,' and I say, `All right, well, I'm late for a sound check. Gotta go.'"
So the Tripping Daisy bus rolls on, headed for nowhere and everywhere at the same time. But DeLaughter doesn't spend the hours between gigs carefully considering what words he'll use to fill future songs. When it comes time to compose, he just dips into his memory, scoops out an image or two (say, H.R. Pufnstuf and child molestation) and starts running with it. "Whatever comes off the top of my head does the trick," he says as he watches the yellow lines of an interstate disappear behind him. "To me, it makes all kinds of sense. But somebody else may think, `What the fuck is he talking about?'"
Tripping Daisy, with Green Apple Quick Step and UFOFU. 8 p.m. Wednesday, August 23, Fox Theatre, 1135 13th Street, Boulder, $9, 830-