After two years off the rock radar, Taproot has set a Sept. 16 release date for its fourth national release, "Our Long Road Home," which also marks the quartet's debut for Velvet Hammer after three pr

After a couple of years off the rock radar, Taproot has set a Sept. 16 release date for its fourth national release, "Our Long Road Home," which also marks the Michigan quartet's debut for Velvet Hammer after three previous releases on Atlantic.

"It was somewhat mutual," frontman Stephen Richards tells Billboard.com. "At the end of the day it was their decision to let us go. But our whole last album [2005's 'Blue-Sky Research'] our management was pretty unhappy with Atlantic. We were a pretty successful band, and we kinda felt that was kind of our doing. It was the hard work of touring, and even though we had a radio department at Atlantic we always had to go outside and get our own people to help push us. So we were more than happy to find something new."

Although discouraged -- "Blue-Sky Research" sold less than 200,000 copies after its predecessor, 2002's "Welcome," went gold -- Richards says he and his bandmates "knew we weren't going to stop." He and guitarist Mike DeWolf began working on new material during the last half of 2006 and made things "more collaborative" with bassist Phil Lipscomb and drummer Jarrod Montague. DeWolf rather than Richards wrote lyrics for one track, "As One," while a local female singer guests on "It's Natural." And Richards, who started out playing drums, hits the skins on "Hand That Holds True."

"It's pretty diverse," Richards reports. "We were kind of done almost a year ago and had 10 good songs, but we didn't cover our tracks as much as we'd like, so we went back in to make sure we could have at least a full-length album with 12 tracks, and we wanted to have another song or do just for live shows and our die-hard fans who really want us to...rock."

"Our Long Road Home" was produced by Tim Patalin (Sponge, the Myriad) and recorded at his studio in a converted barn in Saline, Mich. The first single will be "Wherever I Stand," while Taproot is streaming "You're Not Home Tonight" on its site.

Richards says Taproot will play "some random shows" during the summer before the album's release but will hit the road in earnest once it's out. "Strategically you don't want to drop off the face of the Earth for two years," he acknowledges. "But I've noticed at the shows we've been doing that it's really cool to get back out, like a new start, kind of. Each time it's been like, 'Wow, I missed doing that.'

"So while it's a shame we had to be off the map so long, it makes it really, really new and fun again."