Since the 1970s, musician and producer Terry Scott Taylor has been making music. Sometimes with bands like Daniel Amos, The Swirling Eddies, and The Lost Dogs, sometimes solo, but in all cases, Taylor presented stories of hope, faith, love, mercy, anger, doubt, accordion (the longtimers will get it).

But the old systems of record labels, A&R men, genre drama, and more are pretty much done. What’s a prolific creator to do in this new media landscape? To start with, create a Patreon page where you continue to make music, let your fans in on it for a small monthly charge, and then start working on a brand new album. Thus, Taylor is now determining which songs he will cut with old friend (and talented musician in his own right) Rob Watson.

It’s a little bittersweet. The initial idea was to pull together both Watson and his former 3D Studios compatriot Doug Doyle for the project, but Doyle recently succumbed to cancer. Further, close collaborator and bassist extraordinaire Tim Chandler will not be on the record either, having passed in 2018. Nonetheless, Taylor hopes to bring in a host of compatriots past and present to ring these new songs to life beyond their bedroom demos.

MusicTAP jumped at the opportunity to speak with Taylor about making music, navigating new media, celebrating literary figures in song, wondering what the heck happened to pop music, and much more.

For more about Terry’s Patreon, you can find it here: https://www.patreon.com/terryscotttaylor

And if you missed out on the Kickstarter, you can also get in on the stuff in Terry’s BackerKit for the project: https://new-terry-scott-taylor-and-friends-studio-project.backerkit.com/hosted_preorders/194145

The material that will comprise the new album was workshopped through your Patreon “Bedroom Demos” series. While I imagine you’ve done a similar process throughout your career, this would (I assume) be the first time your process was so open to your listeners before actual recording in a studio. Did that change how you approached the songwriting process?

The “process” you’re referring to is the end result of a good amount of stops and starts before it reaches the end game and I have a presentable demo to offer my Patreon followers. In other words, my supporters aren’t privy to the entire process of trial and error that takes place before they hear a particular song.

One of my favorite authors, Anne Lamott, when talking to aspiring writers often says that they should never be afraid to begin writing because no one will ever see their first drafts, (or, for that matter, their second, third, fourth, and so on) aside from themselves. I’m paraphrasing her here, but she says she would be mortified if anyone got a hold of a first draft of any of her books; she admits that they are embarrassingly bad.

In the same way, when a song idea comes to me, it may take me several attempts to mold it into some sort of cohesive shape, the initial attempts being somewhat like Lamott’s “first drafts” i.e. embarrassingly third rate. There are times when trying to get it right becomes such a slog that I either abandon the idea or set it aside for a later run at it.

While Patreon has not affected my process when it comes to writing songs, it has however had an effect on how I present my demos to my supporters. Up until Patreon, my “demo” listeners weren’t the public; they were my bandmates; I would play them the song on a guitar and then we’d go from there in learning and arranging it. I always had a number of ideas already percolating in my head about stuff I thought would be good to hear in the band arrangement, among them would be things like a particular guitar or keyboard riff, the tempo of the song, the starts and stops, and so forth. I might even have other things, like the background vocals or a string section melody, partially arranged in my head. Sometimes these things were modified or replaced by different and better ideas from the other guys, but mostly what I heard in my head, from almost the moment I began writing a particular tune, usually made it to the record in some form or another.

What the Patreon folks get to hear is not the initial acoustic guitar and vocal I would have played for my band, but a more fully realized arrangement closer in spirit to what the guys in Daniel Amos, or the Swirling Eddies, might have eventually recorded in the studio. I say “in spirit” to emphasize that my demos on Patreon are only reasonable facsimiles of what the guys might have played, which is far and above anything I can possibly accomplish at home.

I will say that doing all the instrumentation myself on these demos has had the benefit of making me a better, more rounded player. I hardly touched a bass prior to my Patreon stint, and while I’ll never be a Tim Chandler (who could be?), at least I’ve gotten to the point of adequacy in which I’m no longer embarrassing myself.          

Your albums typically had a specific theme or context running through them, excepting John Wayne, which felt most like a collection of songs with the varied subject matter. When picking from the material you developed through Bedroom Demos, did you go into it looking for a common idea that bound songs together, did that jump out at you naturally, or are you making your choices more freely (being conscious of the songs more than any way they might link together thematically)?

At some point, I visualized a future recording in which I would delve deeper into the literary authors who have inspired me over the years. I wanted to insert people like G.K. Chesterton, Flannery O’Connor, George MacDonald, and modern writers as well, into the various narratives of the songs, along with some references to places, characters, and plot points found in these authors works.

In one of my song-stories I have Neil Gaiman and Stephen King join forces with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Edgar Allen Poe’s detective August Dupin to solve an existential mystery. In another, Chesterton is joined by St. Francis in giving advice to a young man who has set out on a spiritual pilgrimage. Obviously, prior to this I’ve frequently made reference to, or been inspired by, many authors who have impacted me in my life, but I wanted to make this much more explicit and thematic this time around. I wrote several songs in this vein, which I consider some of my best work, but then other ideas began to crowd into my thought process, so I modified my original vision to possibly include these on the record as well.

I eventually made the decision not to be encumbered by a strict concept where the inclusion of a song I feel strongly about is sacrificed for the sake of some kind of thematic consistency. Right now, the plan is to use the literary-themed songs to start the record off, followed by a variety of subject matter and styles throughout the rest of the record. Of course, all of this is still in flux, so other changes may still be in order. 

This is your first record to emerge from your move to the Pacific Northwest. While it never was a dominating factor, California still had a hand in previous work, several DA songs, and aspects of John Wayne and Avocado Faultline. How have new surroundings affected your writing (or has it not)?

Fortunately, my connection to my life in the Golden State is still strong and the memories of life there remain compelling to this day. So there still seems to be a seemingly inexhaustible and rich treasure chest of memory and metaphor left to explore related to a place I both love and loathe.

Obviously, the question of what one will write is a matter of inspiration, and right now I’m in a contemplative mood, not only because I’m a much older man, but because I now live in an environment more conducive to solitude and quiet introspection. It’s especially a great place for finding a quiet spot and doing some reading, which in turn has fueled my current desire to write more extensively about my literary heroes.

Being, in a sense, both an L.A. guy and now a Pacific Northwest resident, there is a kind of inner duality at work in me and in my work which is often reflective of both places. The Pacific Northwest is a contemplative walk down a quiet mountain path; Los Angeles is a bass-thumping Mazda 3 next to you on a traffic-choked freeway. Obviously both places are much more than this; you get the bad along with the good in whatever neck of the woods you find yourself, so as to how moving here has impacted me, I paraphrase Donnie and Marie Osmond: “I’m a little bit L.A. and a little bit PNW,” and this has made for some interesting songwriting.    

How many songs do you plan to record for the album?

The number of songs I have to choose from is almost overwhelming. Since I believe a good number of them are very strong, I’m having real difficulty narrowing them down to a few. The Patreon people have their favorites, so I’m bound to make some of them unhappy with my final choices. I can only tell them what I tell myself: God willing, this is not the last record and all of the best tunes will eventually find a home. Then again, who knows? Maybe I’ll pull a Mr. Buechner’s Dream and record all of them!

You’re working again with Rob Watson who is not only your longtime friend but also was in DA during Vox Humana as well as with Knowledge and Innocence and Little, Big. What prompted your decision to have him kind of shepherd this thing as your co-producer?

Not only is Rob a gifted collaborator, but I’m also attracted to the idea of things coming full circle. Certainly, my age has a lot to do with it. I have a lot of “I wish I could do that again” stuff in my life now, like “I would love to go back to England one more time,” or “I would love to take the whole family on a cross country trip down Route 66” or “I’d love to one day visit sweet old Aunt Nell out there in Pennsylvania.” These aren’t impossible dreams, but given how circumstances change, commitments at home and work press in, financial considerations are involved, and so forth, the odds of their realization grow exponentially dimmer with each passing year.

Then there are the physical limitations brought on by age and the issues concerning health. With the mad rush of time added into the mix, before you know it the fulfillment of these hopes and wishes, while not impossible, are both somewhat impractical and, more than likely, improbable. Still, there are many things I can still do today that I did in my younger days which continue to bring me great joy and fulfillment. One of them is making music with my friends.   

When I thought of the team I wanted to assemble for the making of this new solo record, my first thought was to reassemble the old 3D studio team of Rob Watson (co-producer) and Doug Doyle (engineer) because I considered the times I worked with them some of the most creative and enjoyable times of my life. I’d worked with Rob on many occasions before and after the making of Knowledge and Innocence, and with Doug Doyle as well, but Doug had moved out of state many decades ago and for various reasons, I had little contact with him over the years. I’d begun a couple of years back to entertain the idea of getting back together with Doug and Rob to do a record, but at that point, it was only a kind of vague plan.

During the course of one particular day however, I had the reoccurring thought that I needed to call Doug. At that point, I thought I would broach this idea for a creative reunion, but before I could make the call, my wife received a text from Doug’s ex-wife saying that he had been diagnosed with cancer. The prognosis was not good, but we were told that Doug refused to be anything but hopeful. I was stunned. I made the call; old memories were explored, tears were shed, and we talked about the cancer prognosis and Doug, with passion and conviction, told me he felt that God had much more for him to do and that he was going to fight this thing aggressively.

During the course of our conversation, he said he was still heavily involved in engineering and producing records out of his home studio in Idaho. That’s when I told him about my idea to assemble the old team again and do a solo record, just as we had with Knowledge and Innocence, and A Briefing For The Ascent. Doug was ecstatic. As the weeks passed, I would call or text him and ask him to listen to certain records that I found sonically interesting which might inspire our approach to the new record. Doug was growing more and more excited with each passing day about the prospect of working again with his old friends.

Then one day I got the news that he’d taken a turn for the worst, and soon afterward the news came: Doug had passed away. I do deeply regret that I couldn’t get the ball rolling soon enough to make all of this happen, not just for Doug’s sake, but for my own. I take solace in knowing that Doug is no longer in pain and that he is living now in the presence of the one he called Lord and Savior throughout much of his life. I also believe that Doug will be with us in some way throughout the entirety of this project.      

There have also been hints dropped about other players who will be involved with the album. Who is on the roster?

Other than Rob Watson, Derri Daugherty, Dave Raven, and Paul Averitt, I don’t want to mention any other names at this point. I have my wish list, but we aren’t at the point of locking anyone else in.

Like your last album, being Dig Here, Said The Angel with DA, this was funded through Kickstarter. What has that done for your ability to make records, especially since over the course of your career, you’ve experienced virtually all the ways one could go about that?

I consider Kickstarter a God-send. The new independent paradigm is perfect for the indie artist, especially an older one like myself; I can go directly to the fan base and get this amazing support, whereas no big label is ever going to sign me; which, by the way, is just fine with me. In every sense of the term, not just creatively, I have complete artistic autonomy now. I’ll never have to deal with a “suit” or an unfair contract again. It’s beautiful.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fw2rg1_CO_Q

Dig Here was 2013, about five years ago now. For someone who has been known for being prolific for so long, was there any feeling of restlessness during such a gap, or was the “life-stuff” more than enough to focus on?

Yes, the life-stuff has kept me pretty busy. I’m a grandfather twice over now, and along with this, of course, is Patreon. I work many hours each and every day writing songs, doing videos, and generally contributing to making my Patreon site a place where my supporters can really enjoy themselves, interact with me by expressing their thoughts and life experiences, and hopefully, get some genuine inspiration from the work I do there. Let me say that I get as much, if not more, from my supporters than they do from me. These people are the most kind and gracious people one is ever likely to encounter. Words can’t express how dear they are to me. It’s been a privilege and a pleasure to record brand new songs on Patreon that my supporters get to hear before anyone else, and I do reinterpretations of the older songs from my song catalog as well.

We’re also planning a podcast for the site, and are going to increase the number of videos we do. We’ll also be posting a whole bunch of pics and videos of the upcoming studio sessions, so my supporters will get an exclusive look behind the scenes, which I think they will find very insightful and entertaining. I hope anyone reading this, if you haven’t already, please come join us on Patreon. It’s easy, it’s cheap, and I think you’ll find it well worth your time.  

What are some of the songs planned for the new record which currently stand out to you, the moments that for one reason or another caused you to include them?

As I mentioned, there was a time a couple of years back when I was greatly inspired to write songs based on literary figures, along with some of the characters and plot points in their books that had a particular impact on me. I’ve written songs in the past based on my love of books, but what delineated this new writing from former efforts was the relational intensity and flow of new ideas that began to pour out of me onto the printed page once I had determined the direction I wanted to take. I had never quite experienced anything quite like it. There are approximately five or six such songs that came out of this period of intense inspiration, among them being “August Dupin,” “The Everlasting Man,” and “Flannery’s Eyes.” These are the core songs around which the rest of the album will revolve.  

Your solo records, more than the DA or Swirling Eddies records, tend to be much more personal. Is that a fair assessment, and if so, is there something about writing for “a unit” that causes you to think more broadly about the subject(s)?

A certain degree of introspection is going to be evident in all of my records, but I think the death of my grandfather, who was a real hero to me, inspired what I believe is the first of my most intensely personal lyrics, those being the ones I wrote for my first solo album, Knowledge and Innocence. If I had not gone through the experience and the heart-crushing grief of losing this man, which was the first death in the family involving someone I was intensely close to, the album would have no doubt been a quite different one.

A few years later, I was already planning a second solo project and writing songs for it when my Grandmother passed, and that turned the direction of my songwriting toward expressing my grief and my thoughts related to it. If these deaths hadn’t occurred when they did, I might have done something closer in spirit to my third solo album, John Wayne which, while personal in many respects, is less intensely so. I do always write for the particular entity I will be working with in the studio; for the Lost Dogs, I go into Lost Dog mode, for Daniel Amos, DA mode, and so forth. The lines get blurred a little at times, but not much.

Probably where the lines are blurriest is with the later Swirling Eddies records, many of which could have passed as Daniel Amos recordings, even though I feel there are some very real but subtle differences. Solo records seem to me to be the most fitting place to express more intensely personal thoughts and ideas. There’s a degree of intimacy you can allow yourself and your listener there that somehow doesn’t seem appropriate elsewhere.      

Are there any songs that you recorded in the past that, in retrospect, you listen to and think, “Oh, I gave away too much there. If I had the chance, I’d have pulled back…”

Not any that I can recall. Keep in mind that not every song which may have the appearance of being autobiographical is, in fact, about me. I’ve inhabited the hearts and minds of a number of narrators, and sometimes this gets confused in the minds of my listeners. It’s a risk I’ve been willing to take in order to broaden my inspirational palate. Remember, John Lennon said that HE was the walrus. Later he said it was Paul. I rest my case!

For myself – as a commentator on and critic of music – I’ve been surprised by how it seems to have changed, in every way. Structurally, the new, most popular music has a sameness to everything that appears to bother only me. The act of purchasing music also seems like a weirdly antiquated notion in the era of Spotify and its diminishing revenue returns. Part of me realizes that I am growing older and I am merely following the cycles that generations before me have, where all the new stuff is “crap” and inferior to the music from my day. Even so, I also feel like the art form has been streamlined so much that the act of differentiation between popular songs might be viewed as a strategic failure…I was curious about your thoughts on these.

Have you considered the idea that what you call the “sameness” of much of today’s modern music is reflective of the fact that there is a sameness in much of today’s modern music?! Believe me, it doesn’t bother only you. We should have the courage of our convictions and call a spade a spade, even if we risk coming off as stodgy and out of touch, “Crap” as you call it may actually be just that…. crap, and in my opinion many of these kids are more stodgy and out of touch than their own grandparents when it comes to musical taste.

There were horrible, soulless songs around when I was a kid too, and I’d like to think I knew the difference then and the difference now between the good, the bad, and the butt-ugly. What gives me the right to sneer at and reject most modern Pop music? Well, I believe I earned the right because, being a baby boomer who grew up in the golden age of incredible musical creativity, I know infinitely more about a broader spectrum of music and it’s history than the average young listener today. All manner of style and creative energy seemed to merge around that time, and we were fortunate enough to be around when it happened.

I know a lot of exceptional young people who say they envy my generation because of the richness of the music scene during that era. Of course, one’s view about today’s music all depends on where one is looking. If your attention is only on the litter box of modern, so-called Pop music, then you already know what you’re likely to find in there. Don’t forget there is still plenty of really good, creative stuff going on outside the litter box, and maybe even a couple of anomalies inside of it. As long as you’ve got the likes of Wilco, St. Vincent, Grizzly Bear, Sufjan Stevens, Flaming Lips, and any number of artists and bands in the world making great music right now, there’s still hope. That’s not to mention the old guys like Neil Young and Paul Simon who are still making great, relevant music.

And there’s still hope when young people, like my son, are becoming avid vinyl collectors who are blessed with very eclectic tastes in music. They actually listen to and cherish a variety of styles, and are acquainted not only with a number of artists’ complete bodies of work but also with their personal histories. These young people aren’t interested in some soulless, mechanized, and endlessly repetitious junk-food “hit.” In fact, they hate the stuff as much as their dads and moms hate it. Many young people actually know who George, Paul, Ringo, and John are, and they love them. I know the drive for people my age is often toward trying to be cool and relevant in the eyes of younger generations, and not wanting to come off sounding, God forbid, like our stuffy parents condemning Elvis or the Beatles or whoever and for whatever reason.

The thing is, I may have been a youngster, but no one had to tell me back in the early sixties that Fabian’s voice sucked or, later, that Paul Anka’s “Having My Baby” was a really bad and embarrassing song, and that disco was pure…well, you get the picture. As I said, I grew up in the golden age of music, and radio back then played every style you could possibly imagine. We heard the likes of Roy Orbison, the Stones, The Beach Boys, and Motown, right alongside the songs of Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong, Nat King Cole, and others of that ilk. We were being educated in the vast variety of music from folk, to blues, to rock, to jazz, and we mostly enjoyed or at least appreciated and respected them all in some way. My grandparents grew up listening to recording artists like the Mills Brothers, The Andrew Sisters, Kate Starr, and The Sons of the Pioneers, and as a kid I may or may not have heard the entirety of these people’s musical output, but I certainly knew some of it, and I knew something of their history along with the history and music of the artists that came before them.

In other words, most of our generation had at least a rudimentary idea of who our musical forbears were and where they came from, whether they were our cup of tea or not. We weren’t music scholars, just laypeople who dug music and enjoyed listening to all kinds of it.

Most young people today, as mind-blowing as it seems to us, either don’t know or have a vague idea of who a group like the Beatles were. Are you going to trust them to have any real credibility when it comes to what they consider good music? I think, for the first time in our history, it’s the older parents and grandparents of these musical novices who are actually more knowledgeable, more tuned in, and cooler in their musical tastes and appreciation than their own kids or grandkids.    

This is probably the wrong venue in which to converse about this, but it ties into the personal nature of your solo work. Knowledge and Innocence and A Briefing For The Ascent centered around the passing of loved ones, and songs on Avocado Faultline and Little, Big did as well. Dig Here was, in many ways, a concept album that investigated one’s own maturation and mortality. I am presently dealing with my dad in hospice, and each day I know I am a little bit closer to that moment where I will not see him alive again. When someone uses that dread or grief in their art, what is the hope of the artist from it – is it catharsis? Is it a way of sharing with others who might be similarly burdened? Is it that the feeling at that moment of writing is so strong that there’s no good way of writing anything but that?

First, let me say I’m so sorry about your father. I’ve dealt with this myself so I know the heartache you’re feeling right now. My heart and my prayers go out to you and your family.

Because I’m the age I am, I’m going to experience these losses much more frequently now, and since this has become my reality, naturally I’m going to write from this perspective. I don’t really have a choice in the matter and because I always want to write what I know, I’m determined to do so with as much candor and compassion as I am able. Most aging rock stars aren’t going to call attention to the fact that they ain’t what they use to be physically and mentally; Mick Jagger works hard to maintain the illusion before the public that, on just about every level, he’s still “got it.” Calling attention to his elderliness is not exactly a priority for some aging member of a hair band who’s got grey hair and a beer belly, but is still singing about making’ it with the chicks. To me, it’s more than just a little pathetic.

I decided a number of years back to get real in my lyrics about the process of growing older and even about death itself. The challenge for me on something like Daniel Amos’s Dig Here Said The Angel, which I fully intended as an exploration of what it is to be in the twilight of one’s life, was to be real and vulnerable, but not to get so morose and morbid that the listener was turned off. I was determined to also keep in mind that sentimental slop about death and the afterlife always rings hollow and that it should be avoided like the plague. I have a real aversion to writing anything even bordering on Hallmark card-style poetry, and this is especially true when it comes to the subject of death and dying.

When you first get woken to the fact that you probably have fewer years ahead of you than are behind you, it’s quite sobering and a little frightening. I’ve reached the age now however in which I am becoming more at peace with this reality, and the promises of Christ concerning life beyond the dark gate are more precious and real to me than ever before, which has grown with the ever-deepening conviction that Christ’s resurrection was a historical fact whose refutation is weak and unconvincing.

My hope in sharing these things with my listeners, especially those of my generation, is that they will feel a real connection; a kindred spirit who is able to capture their inner thoughts and put them into words and give them musical expression. It is always helpful and comforting to know that we are all in this boat together, so I believe this is therapeutic for both myself and my audience.     

For those who are unfamiliar with your work, they might get the impression from my fixation in some of these questions that you only write death dirges. You are also well known for your soundtracks for the Neverhood video games, the Veggie Tales revival, the Swirling Eddies with its frequently bent sense of humor, and so on. Can we expect to get some of that from the new album, or is that a side that may not be right for this project?

“Death Dirges R Us,” eh? God forbid that anyone should get that impression! I would say that my songwriting explores a fairly extensive variety of subject matter, and anyone at all familiar with my discography will tell you this is true. The new solo record will be no different.

What’s the timetable for recording and, hopefully, for having this record out to the world?

We begin recording in early October. I don’t feel comfortable in announcing a deadline for any releases, so let me say only that, Lord willing and barring any unforeseen circumstances, we’ll get the record out in a timely manner.  

Feel like teasing what the record’s title will be?

 Here’s the best “tease” I can give you right now: I don’t know yet. Stay tuned.

MusicTAP thanks Terry Scott Taylor for taking the time to speak with us. Special thanks to Tom Gulotta for facilitating this conversation.

For more about Terry’s Patreon, you can find it here: https://www.patreon.com/terryscotttaylor

And if you missed out on the Kickstarter, you can also get in on the stuff in Terry’s BackerKit for the project: https://new-terry-scott-taylor-and-friends-studio-project.backerkit.com/hosted_preorders/194145

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