Terry Taylor: He Won't Go Away
Harvest Rock Syndicate 1994
by Dan Macintosh
I ask you, my fellow DA heads: Has there ever been a better time to be a Terry Taylor fan? If he isn't producing fine up-and-coming bands like Poor Old Lu or great hall-of-famers like Randy Stonehill, then he's contibuting to the folk-rock stylings of the Lost Dogs, or releasing simultaneous recordings by Daniel Amos (Bibleland
) and the Swirling Eddies (Zoom Daddy
Thankfully, he's the man that won't go away.
Surprisingly, although Taylor is asked to pour so much of his creativity into so many projects in such a short span of time, his well of ideas rarely runs dry. Taylor approaches his calling with the discipline of someone who takes his work seriously, not as some kind of mystic waiting for songs to drop down out of the heavens.
"For me, writing is a job," states Taylor matter-of-factly, "so when I'm hired to do the job, then I begin to sort of center in. So far, I haven't had a problem of writer's block. I may start a song, and then set it aside for a while, and then come back to it. But for some reason I've been blessed with the ability to kick it in gear when it's time to kick it in gear."
Along with the skill of getting his creative motor running, Taylor must also be adept at changing gears for each project. You could say Taylor takes the thespian approach. "I think it's kind of like being an actor. You're hired for a particular picture, to play a particular role. You get done with that, then you read the script for another movie that you're gonna do, and then you become that character. And like any actor, I try to bring something different to the particular project I'm doing."
For a while, it seemed like Taylor used Daniel Amos as a vehicle for his more serious statements, and let The Swirling Eddies bring out his lighter side. Lately, though, the Eddies have evolved into something a little more substantial. "Swirling Eddies is a little looser," admits Taylor, "and in the beginning I looked at it as satirical. I think there's been a big change with the new record, more serious, and really more of a band thing with a band signature. I think it sounds consistent. And we achieved that, basically, by having myself and [drummer] Dave Raven and [bassist] Tim Chandler record the basic tracks. We went into the studio, and basically made up songs as we went along. Then I took those tracks, put them on a cassette, took them home, and put lyrics to them."
Taylor talks about Zoom Daddy
as a "daddy" who is proud of this, his third Swirling Eddy child. And just like a proud father carries. his newborn out of a delivery room, he just can't hide his satisfaction.
"I think this record is really The Eddies as they should be," beams Taylor. "I think lyrically, it's probably some of the best I've ever written."
One imagines Taylor as being secluded in a writer's monastery poring over these lyrics for months, sometimes late into the night, in order to get these songs just right. But Taylor says it's much different than that. "We would record a song," recalls Taylor, and "someone, like Tim or Dave, would suggest a title, just in passing. And I would write it down on the track sheet. For instance, with 'I Had A Bad Experience With The CIA And Now I'm Going To Show You My Feminine Side,' when we had completed the basic track for that song, Tim was laughing about the song, he said, 'That's a very bizarre tune. It reminds'me of something like 'I had a bad experience with the CIA,' and for some reason I said, 'and now I'm gonna show you my feminine side.' So we all laughed about that, and I jotted it down the track sheet. So at the end of the sessions, I had all these bizarre titles. So it became a challenge for me to take these song titles - as far out as they were - and make something out of them. !t was a challenge and hard work, but I was determined to do it. Especially, because I wanted to see Tim's face. I don't think he thought I would make a song out of something like 'I Had A Bad Experience With The CIA And Now I'm Gonna Show You My Feminine Side.' It was a real blast to see him react to that."
The Daniel Amos album Bibleland
may lack the bizarre song titles of Zoom Daddy
, yet even such an apparently dull song title like "Bakersfield" contains wonderful lyrics, and is sung with a real intensity by Taylor. "I don't know much about Bakersfield," says Taylor. "Part of the song is based on my own personal experience-- that was the death of my grandfather. Bakersfield was where we had to go and see him in'the hospital. That song was written out of the experience of going to that particular city; my feelings towards the town were definitely colored by that sense of impending death. It could have really been any city. I'm not really knocking the city. I'm sort of creating the'sense of inner turmoil."
The album's title did not come from a new chain of Bible bookstores the Daniel Amos guys plan to plant across this great country of ours. "Bibleland
is actually based on a place that's supposed to be located out on the way to Palm Springs," explains Taylor. "Someone built a place up there called Bibleland
. And we had originally intended to go there and take pictures for the cover, and we heard that it was closed, or that it was seasonal, so we basically nixed that idea. I'm really attempting to put myself in the mind of the person that built Bibleland
. I think he probably had really good intentions, and a desire to share the Gospel and to share God's Word with as many people as he could. So the intent is sort of sweet, even though Bibleland
is probably a pretty shabby place. Nevertheless, behind it is a truth. It's sort of a bad icon. Maybe a bad representation of something that's true."
Following on the heels of Motor Cycle
, which had sort of a magical feel with its everything- but-the-kitchen-sink musical approach, many have picked up a much different vibe from Bibleland
. "A lot of people have felt that it's probably darker than the last record. I think it is. But that was never intended. I mean, you put these things together, and they become what they are. You kind of stand back and say, 'oh, that's interesting. It is a little dark. It is a little rainy out.' The clouds are covering the sun on this one, where with Motor Cycle
it was sort of bright and shiny."
Daniel Amos has taken away some of that shine, and gotten back to some rock 'n' roll basics. "With Bibleland
, we went for the band thing again. You know, it's basically a live record." To get that live feeling, Daniel Amos simply let loose in the studio, and aimed more for the feel, rather than for perfection. "We're not going to turn to Tim and say, 'you know, you missed that one note.' We let those things go, I think more than ever on Bibleland
. We wanted the mistakes; we felt the mistakes were part of the charm. You're basically hearing what we recorded. I don't think there's a second take on that whole record."
But Taylor wouldn't be able to feel this kind of looseness in the studio, if he did not feel comfortable and confident with songs he brought in to work with.
"I think I've experienced a certain spiritual liberation," explains Taylor. "As I've matured as a writer, I have more tools to work with, and more ways to express myself. I think part of the writer's craft is to be hard on yourself, and I don't think I've ever been harder on myself than in the last couple of years. And it's paid off dividends ... the Songs I'm writing now express with more clarity that position in life of seeing -- in the midst of your humanity, and in the midst of the mundane -- Christ peeking through the cracks.
And I think that finding the mystery and the heart of God in the mundane is an ongoing mission for me as a human beingsand as a writer. To me, that's a bottomless well. It's the theme of my life and I don't see it ever ending."