MC Taylor, the frontman of the folk music band Hiss Golden Messenger, spoke with WTBU DJ Morgan Lee to discuss what inspires him and what is to come from his band in the coming months. Hiss Golden Messenger is set to perform on the last day of the highly-anticipated music festival Boston Calling.
Morgan Lee: What drew you into the music world?
MC Taylor: I don’t know why, I’ve just always loved music ever since I was a little kid. My dad plays music. I was just drawn to music, and I don’t know why.
ML: Whose music style would you parallel your own to? Are there any artists that have inspired your own music?
MC Taylor: I’m not sure; that’s more for you to say. I like a lot of stuff from the past. There are a lot of bands that exist today that I really like a lot, but generally speaking there are not a lot of people that are my same age that you know—I’m off doing my own thing. There are a lot of bands that I’m friends with now that I really like, but I’m generally drawing inspiration from older stuff. Oh boy, I can go as far back to artists that appeared on the Anthology of American Folk music, which is a compilation of music that came out in the 1950’s. That to me is almost biblical in terms of how old it is and the sort of bedrock or foundation that it offers to so much American music. I really like old time music, which is pre-bluegrass, string band music. I like certain types of bluegrass, I like country and western, blues; I am definitely an American artist, and I don’t try to hide that in my music. I live in the sound, and my music draws on a lot of southern vernacular music. But at the same time, I think of American music as a pretty big tent, so I’m always going to include artists like John and Alice Coltrane in the way that I think about American music and the art ensemble of Chicago; that is American music too. I’m not very conservative in the way that I define American music. I certainly like to think of American musical tradition as deep and rich—it includes a lot of stuff.
ML: How did your latest album Heart Like a Levee get written?
MC Taylor: Well, like a lot of my records, I just sat down and started writing. I generally am collecting melodies over the course of 9 months, or maybe a year, and I’ll go back and see what I have, and see if there are any words that I feel like could fit rhythmically to the melodies that I have, and go from there. It’s almost like birds flying south in the winter; there’s usually just a time where I will sit down and start writing, and it’s almost instinctual. I don’t really say in a month I’ll sit down and write a record. It’s usually just something in my blood that makes me start writing. I’m writing until there seems like a critical mass of material, and then I step back from it and try to discern what the themes are, because usually they’re thematically connected even if at the time of writing they seem so unalike. Usually there’s a lot of emotional similarities.
ML: What would you say is the theme of Heart Like a Levee?
MC Taylor: I don’t know; what do you think the theme is?
ML: There seems to be a lot of references to faith, so do you think that your faith or lack of faith played a role in your writing?
MC Taylor: A big part of my journey has been trying to understand the place that spirituality plays in my life. I’m not a church-going person, and I don’t subscribe to a Christian faith, but those things play an important part in American culture, and I’m always curious about whether I have a relationship with those things. My music has a lot of questions in it. It doesn’t have a lot of answers, but it has a lot of questions.
ML: To shift things to a lighter topic, what was your favorite song from the album?
MC Taylor: It changes all the time. The title song seems to be one that people connected to. In our live shows, that’s one that people are singing along to, so that makes me feel good.
ML: Speaking of live performances, I know that on March 30 you are going back on tour. What is your favorite thing about being on the road?
MC Taylor: I like traveling around this country a lot. There something about traveling through small towns in America that still feels very romantic to me. I think that I’ve been thinking about this a lot because it was Jack Kerouac’s birthday a couple of days ago. But when I read “On the Road” for the first time, that was a life changing book for me, and it really hit me in the right time in my life. I was maybe 16 or 17 years old and I felt like I recognized that type of wanderlust that Jack Kerouac talked so much about in that book. As it turns out, my life has been a wandering one. I have wandered around a lot all over the place playing music, and it’s funny how that works out. Traveling through the United States is a really thrilling thing for me still. I love going to the big cities, and I love going through the tiny town. Travelling through the Mississippi Delta in the springtime, that’s a really special thing that I get to do that not too many people get to do.
ML: I actually had to read “On the Road” for my writing class last semester.
MC Taylor: [Laughter] It’s a funny thing, I have tried to pick up Jack Kerouac books since then; it’s been so many years since I first read him, and he doesn’t really hit me in the same way that he did when I was a teenager. But that’s ok; that’s totally cool. I still am so thankful that he wrote the work that he did, because it touched me in such a profound way.
ML: What is the craziest experience that you have had while on the road?
MC Taylor: There’s not really one that sticks out. I have so many stories from tour, but there’s not one that sticks out that I can tell you in a few sentences. This whole life has been really funny. It’s funny to have lived and still to be living this life, of traveling around and meeting different people every night. I’m really thankful for it.
ML: Is there something that you always do before a live performance?
MC Taylor: I will warm up. Everyone in the band would take like 30 seconds to a minute sort of hugging before we go onstage. It might sound a little bit corny, but it’s really helpful for what we do. When you come out on stage, I feel like the most compelling type of musical performance that you can see by a band is when you can tell that everybody on stage has a unique connection, a unique, emotional connection. And I definitely feel that with the people in my band. We’re all very close to each other, and it’s nice to be able to show that.
ML: What can we expect from your set at Boston Calling?
MC Taylor: I don’t know. I’m not sure yet. That feels like a long time from now. I’m excited; it seems really cool. The lineup is really great.
ML: Excluding your own band, are there any artists that you are excited to see at Boston Calling?
MC Taylor: I’m always excited to see Chance. I think he’s awesome. Bon Iver, those guys are really good friends of ours, and I always like to see them. I don’t know; I think that the atmosphere of a music festival is a really sweet one, because usually I’m getting to connect with people that I really only get to see on tour. It’s a funny, weird little meet up, usually in a town that none of us live in, but we’re all catching up, hanging out, talking about our families, showing each other pictures of our kids, playing each other new songs, and stuff like that. There’s a whole universe of stuff going on backstage that people going to the festival never see.
ML: Will your performance feature things from your latest album, or should we expect more of your older tracks?
MC Taylor: Honestly, there is probably going to be a lot of new stuff, because we’re going to be making a new record really soon, so my head is pretty much in new music zone.
ML: You mentioned a new record, is there any information you could give us about that?
MC Taylor: I haven’t totally wrapped my head around it yet. I just know that I have a bunch of songs that I’m really excited about.
ML: Are there any artists currently that you are really into?
MC Taylor: I would have to look through my records. I’m a fan of Real Estate. They just put a new record out today that I’m excited to listen to. There’s an artist from Toronto called the Weather Station whose music I just love; I think they’re great. There’s a guy named Brent Cobb that I really like. He put a record out last year that is one of my favorites. He’s great too.
Catch Hiss Golden Messenger at Boston Calling on May 28!