MAYBE, I’D RISK IT ALL (Some Thoughts On Bob Dylan)

MAYBE, I’D RISK IT ALL (Some Thoughts On Bob Dylan)
by: bill mallonee

(This is a brief essay serving as liner notes on the release of a new album of mine called “New York State of Mind”)

I wrote these songs recently with the grandest city of them all in mind, and that of course is New York City. Songwriters are drawn to the places that inspire. Places that offer solace. Places that offer diversity, even incongruity. And sometimes, because cities can be so harsh, they serve to throw such things as love & beauty & acts of kindness you find there into sharper relief. I saw it on the road quite often.
And, as a songwriter, I can never think about the City of Cities without thinking of Bob Dylan.

There will never be another, you know?
Dylan. The most golden of our national treasures.
Not that he needs them or that they do any good, but I find myself praying for Dylan.
I’m not even sure why.

Words fail. They fall impotent to the dusty ground when trying to describe the impact of Dylan on modern music…
I feel that way about even attempting to name the impact on my own spirit as a songwriter.
We all walk in his shadow.
Greenwich Village 1961.
Here we are 55 years later.

Why has he been the guiding star for so many of us?
That ever “moving target?” That pop culture icon of immense proportions; that infuriating, seemingly feckless artist, who played for no crowd or trend, and never “adjusted” his art to please a critic nor ever kissed their feet?

There is quite likely, given the magnitude of his work and personality, no one who could ever answer that question exhaustively.

I can only answer for myself:
He made rock & roll smart. Intelligent. Lyrically transcendent.
It called to deeper truths.
He was the first to discern and then promulgate through rock & roll the basic truth of life: That behind all the world’s issues, even in it’s most obvious manifestations of power, war, greed and betrayals (and even deeper within our individual selves) that there is a void filled only by something larger, something spiritual and something lasting.

His “predecessors” look more like the Hebrew prophets he no doubt read from as a young man.

But, he was also crafty in his tact.
Flash your card, but never completely show it.
Tip your hat, but never shake hands.
He’s spent his whole life infuriating & confusing every group, or sect, or trend that wanted to “own” him.
I absolutely love that about Bob Dylan.

That and the fact that he rarely, if at all, ever spoke in code.
His art is filled with a sobriety and substance that is generous, direct, immediate.
He delivered the goods with dignity and a touch of humor.
Again, just like the Hebrew prophets.

The young man shows up in to New York town in Jan. of 1961. He visits Woody Guthrie, the greatest American troubadour of conscience who is dying of Huntington’s disease at Greystone State Park hospital.
Dylan meets Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, too. In February ’61 he blows into Greenwich Village. Sleeping here, sleeping there, bumming gigs and food, and hitting open mics. His sound and approach subtly began to change. He “finds his voice.”
And he senses his audience. Very important for any performer.

Gradually, he transforms himself into a different kind of “folkie.”
He soaks up every bookish thing he can read the back cover of, digests it, references it, internalizes it, integrates it and radiates it in this new music. Enter John Hammond & Columbia records. Enter manager-shark Albert Grossman.
The vineyard is fresh. The earth, the nation itself, is warm with possibilities.
The fruit just beginning to show. All is pregnant with expectancy.
The sun is just rising…It’s a new world.

And it’s learning how to listen for the first time.
…and Bob Dylan is there, poised and ready.

He “upped-the-ante” for rock & roll; set the cross-bar higher. I’m not sure it’s ever been touched since then, really. If Kerouac taught exploded words, feelings & images on the page, then Bob Dylan did the same over the air-waves of America.

Even then? There was no straight, consistent line to stardom, even less when it came to discerning his popularity. He played a few songs for the voter registrars, crooned a few more for the peace-freaks and then moved on; he got the hell out of Woodstock when the hippies showed up for the fest.

Dug on Jesus for a few records…and then distanced himself from what he perceived as a narrow, shallow, even apostate Church…
Retreating back into solitude & mystery.
Ever the prophet. Ever “cat & mouse.”

None of it. None of the getting from “A” to “B” and then moving through the paces of these 50 past years could have been easy.
His is a well that seemingly never runs dry…
There will never be another.

Maybe that’s why I pray for him…
That’s just a little bit of a window into this record.

No, I’ve never met him.
But, there’s hardly a time when i don’t pick up a guitar and think:
“This is what Bob gave us all the “right” to do and how to do it.”

There are those who have to play by the rules and those who make them. Bob Dylan made the rules…and makes them still.
The man is a remarkable human, Giant and Genius in a genre that boasts very few of those.

New York City.
It was Dylan’s “nursery;” His “proving ground.”
The City that more than any other embraced his genius and his art…and still does…

The art he made, the way he delivered it, the boundaries he broke to say what he wanted to say the way he wanted to say it…
Every singer-songwriter owes him their life in some way.

No. I’ve never met him and he’s likely never heard of me.
I’d like to speak with him, of course.
It’d would all be stumbling and stammering on my part.
And, sure, he’s heard it all before.
But, perhaps he’d be benevolent and surrender a minute of his time.

And what I’d want to say is this:
“Thank you. Thank you so very much for your songs; for your journey, for who you are.
It couldn’t have been easy, I’m sure…
But, it has all meant so very, very much to me…
And “Thank You” for giving me “permission” to do what I do.”

And maybe, if no one was within earshot, I’d risk it all.
I’d smile and say: “Hey, man, I pray for you.”
And maybe, he’d return the smile.

And I’d hope he’d understand…

bill mallonee
New York State of Mind/Feb. 2016

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IN TEARS & IN TENDERNESS (Some thoughts on the verse, “Jesus wept.”)

In Tears & TendernessJesus Wept 2

by: bill mallonee

Ever since I was very young, maybe 5-6 years old, I have been obsessed with death. I sensed “it” early on. The notion of the cessation of Life and one’s personality was repulsive, cauterizing and harrowing. I don’t know how I “internalized” so much of it in my thoughts, impressions and nightmare-ish images, but I did.
Life was supposed to be Saturdays, no school…and freedom

Let’s face it: You get older, Health diminishes. Love seems to fail. Life sputters out, sometimes in horrific ways; It all adds to the helpless-ness and fear. Mortality, finitude, lack of permanence. Whatever one chooses to describe it with, one most days, it all seems bleak & relentless.
“Every thing dies, baby, that’s a fact…” ~ “Atlantic City”/Bruce Springsteen

I know the religious narratives, Biblical and otherwise. The stories we have, whether based in history or myth, are typically ones of beauty with beautiful endings.
Yes. They help one “stare it down.” For fleeting moments they bring some joy and assurance. But (on most days) my faith is weak if there at all. I still shudder at the prospect of death.
…but maybe a little less.
And here’s why…

“Jesus wept.” John 11: 35
It’s the shortest verse in the Bible.
I remember an Easter week story in the Bible. (I have Dr. Francis Schaeffer to thank for this insight.) The scene is the one where Jesus is brought word that his good friend Lazarus is very, very sick. Interestingly, even oddly, He waits a few days before heading out to visit Lazarus. He even informs his disciple/friends that Lazarus has died. But, he also tells them to have some faith. “Wait,” he basically says. “The ‘Last word’ on the subject hasn’t been spoken yet.”

Jesus arrives at the tomb. Lazarus has been dead for 4 days. He stares at the stone sealed over the entrance as was the practice in ancient times. He is oblivious to the murmurings and goading of his detractors who are also there. He is lost in memory, the loving memories of his friend.
Now, here’s the curious thing:
The Greek text says something that have been translated as “Jesus groaned in spirit,” that He was “troubled.”
But the explanation (exegesis) that I have heard says that He was angry.
Jesus.
Angry.
It is a moment that draws one up short.
Jesus.
Groaning with anger.
Angry at death,
Angry at loss,
Angry at grief,
and all that it is robbed from his friend, from us.

Angry at all that is absurd.

To me, it was and still is, explosive.
Think about it: The Son of God. (Or whatever name you wish to ascribe to Him)…is angry.
Angry at death.
Angry at a universe that is brutish, cruel and without explanation

There is more to come here:
If all the claims about Him are true, what follows is the most pure, loving, & transparent gesture ever made by a human being on this earth.

The Bible says: “Jesus wept.”

The shortest verse.
And the one with loudest bombshell of Grace.

Got it? Has it registered?
The weeping Christ feels the same way about death…as you do.
No dressing it up.
No “dumbing it down.”
No minimizing the horror or futility of it.
This is something to weep bitter, angry tears over.
“Jesus wept.”
It is an overwhelming display of tenderness.

What does this mean?
What does it mean to have the Son of God weep at your graveside, at my graveside?

It, at the very least, means this:
You are not alone. You are not alone in your anger at death;
Not alone in your fear of death;
Not alone in your anger of all that goes lost, unfulfilled, unfinished when death shows up;
Not alone in your anger even at God for “allowing” such an atrocity/interruption/tragedy to happen.

“Maybe one day, baby, everything comes back…” ~ B. Springsteen

There is no glossing it over or prettifying this life.
Sermonize it, eulogize it, Oprah-ize it…
We all, one way or another, “leave the party” too soon.

Holy Week.
Is it symbolic for all of this journey we call Life?
If, so, here’s what you can bet on:
Take up your cross, so to speak. That cross of your human existence.
You can count on be your heart being broken…a million times.
You can count of your dreams being dashed;
You can count on your best intentions being ignored or, worse, misunderstood.
You can count on losing those who are nearest & dearest.
You can count on knowing loneliness on a first name basis.

But count on this as well:
You are not alone.
Something always seems to be “lurking” at the edges of our days, even the darkest of them.
A “last word,” perhaps?
I find this sort of “incongruity” a quiet witness to the truth of the faith.
The bad news comes first, before the “good news” makes sense.

The human-ness of Jesus.
So utterly perfect that He can grieve perfectly the loss of his dear friend, be angry about it…and still be Lord, God, Savior.
He doesn’t offer explanations as to why evil exists.
In tears and tenderness He just weeps at Lazarus’tomb.
And I suspect He weeps at every tomb.

So, how does this affect you and me in the here and now?
Easter is often offered to us in a sanitized, neutered version. Complete with bonnets, new dresses, colored eggs and bunnies. Nature rejoices. There’s a lot to be said and celebrated about the energy of God’s Love within the life force.
Still, I think, we are lulled into missing the point.

Easter, as the Bible tells it, is the grittiest of the Church’s remembrances.
The events of Holy Week are a crystallization & distillation of all that can “go wrong” in the world…and within our lives.

Holy Week’s pages are filled with accounts of friends who “pledge allegiance.”
Loud, self-inflated boasters who say they’ll follow a friend even unto death.
And then they don’t.
And when given their chance to be courageous arrives?
Their cowardice manifests itself from every word & deed…

Holy Week’s pages are peppered with feckless & conniving “climbers” who will sell a friend out just to save their own skin and possibly get ahead.

Easter’s sad pages are also filled with folks of good heart;
They haul bodies off of bloody instruments of torture and death. They try and bestow what little honor is left on a Body so disfigured by human hatred & violence that It’s hardly recognizable.

Good folks (or at least aspiring to be so) who heard the most astonishing words ever spoken to humankind.
Just like we do every Sunday morning.

In Scripture, Easter week is filled with “Good-Hearted,” “Nodding-In-Agreement,” “I’ll-never-sell-you-short, Jesus,” people who cut and run at the first sign of confrontation or challenge.

We do it all the time. It’s a big club.
We’ve made it an art form.
And so, one of Easter Week’s lessons is simply this:
Be not deceived.
You are not made of such stern stuff.

And because of that, Jesus wept, as well.

He has reason to weep.
He is weeping still.
Weeping at all of the vain glories we chase after.
Weeping at the 2 bit, cheap idols we “buy” and cling to.
Weeping at all the betrayals we’ll no doubt tally up as we live out our days.
Weeping anew at the war machines we create and surround with rhetoric like “patriotism,” “national interests,” and “Glory.”

All in the name of concepts that annihilate Life.

He’s weeping still at the harsh words, judgements and criticisms we thoughtless cut each other to pieces with, often in the name of His religion.
Weeping at the love & kindness & compassion we withhold from one another.

Jesus. Weeping. Endlessly weeping. Perpetually weeping

He weeps at every tomb, even now,
I suspect, in some way, He is weeping at our own tombs.
The ones we will one day enter.

The Lord of Life, The Son of God.
Closer than a Brother.
You, dear lost, lonely, sinful, scared traveler…are never alone.

Limitless in His mercy, grace and consolation.
Tears are one of those things, He has never run out of.

You will hear His voice, just as Lazarus did.
You’ll shake off the shroud of death, and perhaps, with stumbling steps, move into the light & towards that Voice.
New skin. Radiant as a new-born baby.
And, falling into His arms, you will recognize that voice of Tenderness & of Love Itself.

And you may find some of His blessed tears on your new suit of clothes, as well.

“On Getting Outta Dodge…and Arriving Someplace Else”

04DDABILL11_3(Bill Mallonee photo by: Chip Fox/Philadelphia Enquirer)

So, about 5 years ago, Muriah & I moved to the State of New Mexico. 

You grow your hair long. You buy a hat.
 You blend in…
Everyone’s got a story out here and time to tell it.
Best learn to listen…

It’s a State of extremes, really. Extreme beauty, what with the high desert Rockies and Sangre de Cristos range, and the low desert with it’s barren-ness and stark beauty. 
It’s beauty and cultural diversity have attracted artists from all over; There is a primitive-ness in everything from the art to the architecture that is enthralling, compelling and humbling. 
It all speaks of things unseen, substantial, immovable; Spirit emanating across ages and time. 



Folks who make the pilgrimage, leaving the security of their city/metro/suburb life, to these wilder territories may find their interior compass thrown out of whack…or they may find in such territories something of a long-lost friend. Again, the extreme responses. 
Nature is a beauty out here, overwhelming, immense. The play of light (long a favorite variable of visual artists) against the desert topography, is a constant menagerie of colors, tones and textures…



But, in the long run, the desert surrenders no explanation. Such a land owes you nothing. You either find your place in it’s hallowed-ness with a certain reverence; Or, failing such an epiphany, head back perhaps to the more familiar cadences of metro life.
 I suspect, whether you stay or leave, you will always be changed. Humble-hearted but with spirit enlarged.



Other extremes? Well, those are darker ones. The vestiges of poverty are evident everywhere. (When we first moved here, we found multi-million dollar homes being sold by Sothebys parked right next to hovels along the Canyon Road District in Santa Fe, one of the most noted art districts in the world…)

We’ve never seen so many roadside crosses. Brightly and lovingly decorated monuments to loved who died in automobile wrecks. I’m pretty sure NM leads the nation in alcohol related traffic fatalities.


It’s only been officially a State just over 100 years, but in many ways it’s a land that time and opportunity has continued to pass by. (Our current silly governor has recently extended ridiculous rights to mining companies, an ecologically destructive act and equally short-view solution to NM’s un-employment);



The long, & often sullied histories of multi-cultural forces fighting for dominance are evidenced everywhere, as well….and folk’s remember. Whether it’s Native Americans, old guard Spanish, Latino, courageous Mexican migrants seeking work or the hippie artist influx of the 70’s, there’s a certain “learning to live together and make the best of it” that we’ve found profoundly encouraging. Today, the “new agrarians,” the organic farmers and free-range ranchers are making their presence known.
 Slowly but surely. 



Life is risk. My favorite author, Frederick Buecher, likens it to “whistling in the dark.”
I get that…
Still, I’m lucky in many ways.
I get to pick up a guitar and see where the next set of chord progressions will lead.
I’ve always written songs as a way of making sense of the journey.
They were a way of “saving myself.”
So far, so good…

Resources? There are very few now. The resources of labels, managers and booking agents have long since vanished for me. 
But, after 60 plus albums, I’m still here.
(You learn that you never needed “their permission” to be who you are, anyway.)
God’s Mercy & Love is the only explanation I can muster to account for such a schooling, for such a ride.



I spent a few years deciding whether or not to leave the illusionary industry called “the record business.” We band (Vigilantes of Love) had some success, I suppose. It all feels like a freak-show in retrospect; an attempt to make “fools” happy. Most of the folks I met there were tin-eared, thinly-veiled capitalists who would have been more adept at selling used cars. 

This all took place shortly after said former band imploded amidst all the great ink spilled on us. Critics darlings. We made 15 albums over a decade and notched 180-200 shows a year during that same span. It’ll change you like nothing else I’ve ever encountered, for good and ill.
But our point of contact with “the biz?” It was all a ruse.
In the end, we were broke, shell-shocked, abandoned and disowned by so may entities it was funny anymore. An album called Audible Sigh attempted to romanticize the pain. It was followed by a trippy, jangle-y guitar album called “Summershine.” 

All for nothing. Nothing for all. 

You cherish the memories. You drink too much. You celebrate the heroism of your talented bandmate/friends )
…and then get out.


It was easy to walk away from the superstructure that was supposedly there to aid our stability.


Sometimes one really does have to “get the hell out of Dodge.”
So, i did…



But, them my departure became something of a quest.

A quest for a kinder, more truthful, authentic art; 

Less artifice, more truth-telling.
In the first 2 years, “post departure,” i wrote & released 130 original songs recorded on a 1 track DAT player. (It was the only recording device I had)

But, my “departure,” included another component: It was also a fleeing the artistic snobbery of hipster-ism. 
I am willing to admit that my perceptions here may be wrong. I can only say what it seemed like.

Sure, there are poseurs everywhere. (Every artist would admit they started that way, if they were candid.)
 But, the self-aggrandizing, dynamic of “scenes,” driven by their journalistic oracles with their navel-gazing mentalities often confuse artistic truth with “that next-big-thing,” or the weird, or the avant-garde.

Honestly: i want to be fair. I want to be humble.
So, in my case, allow me to at least say it “felt” like such self-appointed “inner-circles,” “gatekeepers” and “powers-that-be” were an obstacle that was insurmountable.
And, more importantly, they had little to do with true art.
Let’s forget all of that: Let’s just say i’m wary of the mob-mentalities.



So, where am i now?
Now, that I’m figuratively a million miles “outta Dodge?”
The high desert of northern New Mexico. Such a different world.
Sometimes you have to retreat, to fall back to find a truer self.
At least that’s been my journey, thus far…

The hair? Still long, but the beard is greying.
The hat? Good and broken in.

We’re poor & broke, most of the time. But, we’re happy.
Sure, we push back a lot of a lot anxiety, but who doesn’t?
I think we might well be in a new dark age.
But, we’re all in this one together.

Making the songs & the albums, the art continues to bring joy.
If the work isn’t it’s own reward then, I don’t know what is….
The necks & fretboards of both my 1969 Gibson J-50 and my Gibson 1947 ES-125 are wore done, the finish gone.
Like some old museum pieces or burial mound artifact, they call to me when I walk into the old casita that houses our small studio.
I raise the blinds, let the morning sunlight cascading off the Sangre de Cristo mountains fill the room…Inspiring. Coffee’s hot.
Here we go…

Just one more thing before I close out here:

It’s funny. There are so many voices that tell you how you could have/should have done it differently. 
But, I usually doubt such voices.

Given our all-too-human perspectives, how we were formed and nurtured, it seems unlikely (to me anyway) that different outcomes are possible;
Given the variables that are present within us and without, I’m not sure things aren’t “just the way they were gonna be.”

Like Ma Joad tells her daughter Rosa Sharon in John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath:

”A million things could happen, but only one thing ever does…”



And so, to my mind anyway, all that might be left to do is to find something to rejoice over.
 Something to praise God for.
Go tell someone precious to you that you love them;

I also think that means wrestling with God (like Jacob) and being able to “take Him to task,” (like Job) for an explanation, an answer when all hell is breaking loose…



The songs? the music?
They continue to come forth.
Like some kind of dam breaking. 

They fill my heart…
No, it ain’t much of a future.
But, right now, it’s enough.
~ bill mallonee

Christmas, What I Really Wanna Say Is…

Dear readers, fans, friends & the just plain curious: I’m pretty old-school as an artist. I’ve written, recorded and released over 65 albums in 25 years…I know, I know. It’s more like a neurosis than a profession. So be it. As a kid, I always loved it when favorite Where the Love Light Gleams Cover 2artists would “hold forth” a bit on the ideas, concepts and inspirations behind the album they’d made. And so, over the years, I’ve attempted to do just that with my own works. Some such “ramblings” are posted here, but most of them accompany my albums that are all at: Bill Mallonee Music

These liner notes are from the recently released Christmas-themed download record, “Where the Love Light Gleams.” The album, of 11 original songs, “wrestles” with the implications of the ” ancient truths” of this hallowed season…

What I Really Wanna Say Is…
by: bill mallonee

People ask me about Jesus sometimes: “How do you know? How do you know He’s real? How do you know He’s really there?”
Most of the answers we give people seem to border on something like an intellectual insult or some form of academic pontificating from some higher moral ground. I’ve learned to discount those responses, even when i find myself resorting to them…

“Well,” I say, “I think we all have a kind of faith. Child-like faith seems to be most commended in the Bible. For me, Faith tries to see & grasp the big picture; it doesn’t lose itself in hair-splitting theological details.  And, since we’re more than just intellect, I think it means leaning to that side of our spirits that recognize things like joy, even emptiness and such things like yearning within ourselves.”
“Sure, sure,” they say, “but how do you know?”
“Well, it’s something like a discovery. But, one that’s ongoing; One you could never fully exhaust. Something very much akin to meeting a new and interesting person. You learn to know someone by sharing what’s under your skin…and by listening in return.
You talk to Him.
Just like a Friend.
Ask Him to reveal His heart to you.
Ask Him the hard questions like: “Why is the world is such a broken place?”
Ask Him: “Why are we so broken within ourselves?”
And, why you’re at it, ask Him why everything & everyone hurts.
And then,as I said, you have to learn to listen.
But, it’s “listening” in a different way.
Me? I think this is how Jesus “shows up.”

Christmas. Most of mankind’s grandest hopes are wrapped up in flesh & blood of Him who they call Jesus, the Savior of the world. He came at a time when the ancient world was starving for love. Caste systems were inviolable and military might “made right.”
Into that world appears Christ. With a Sermon on some Mountain guaranteed to blow your mind.

People tend to forget just how “disowned” he was. Right off the top. We forget that He was disowned by the authorities both political & religious. God “scandalizes” us by deciding to “appear” among the meek, the lowly, the poor, the marginalized. He “scandalizes” our sensibilities still to this day.

As a kid I knew at an early age all the joys and expectations of the Advent & Christmas narratives (whether they are history or memories nuanced with touches of zealous imagination); They somehow seeped into this small child’s imagination and have been inspiring him ever since.

Jesus. The Mystery we are compelled to love.
It often happens that the people who are supposed to “represent” Him here do the worst and bloodiest damage throughout mankind’s dismal history, I have all sympathy with those for feel they must “turn away” from such representations of Christ, the man of Peace.
Christ seems to “take us where we’re at.”

I’m convinced He’s more concerned about each of us ‘learning His heart.” And then trying to live it out, however stumbling we may be in our “first steps.” We begin, by accepting our acceptance. We begin by recognizing our deep need and broken-ness. An empty cup he seems to be all-too-ready to fill.

But, yes: You learn to listen in a different sort of way. For He will speak.
Then the simple exchanges of just talking to Him daily & listening become a way of transformation from within and into the world in which we live. We get use to our own skin.

And then, by God’s Grace, we learn to love the spirits of our fellow travelers. Our brothers & sisters.
Even our enemies…
The world is starving for such manifestations of that Love.
That’s some of what these songs are about….
Merry, Holy, Happy Christmas…and Joy & courage on your journey,
bill mallonee
Advent/Christmas 2015
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Album notes:
I have this very old nondescript nylon string Spanish guitar. It figured deeply and beautifully in the writing of these songs. (I paid maybe $60 at a pawn shop in Athens, Ga years ago.) It has a neck on it like a baseball bat. Meaning it’s just so THICK and unwieldy to grasp that there are just some chords I can’t play on it.
You have to wrestle the hell out of it to make music on it.
Call it a friendly “skirmish.”
BUT, it is without a doubt, a oddly inspiring instrument. I have used it on numerous recordings. The guitar possesses a wonderful,” throaty” tone. Good guitars are mysterious and this one truly is.

Nope, not much on beauty, but it’s character” bids a closer look.
It’s natural ‘voice,” to my ears anyway, seems to have a sort of acoustic “wisdom” in it. Songwriters live for these sorts of “finds.”
It sounds “authentic,” worn and humble….
Like it came with the “stories” & songs waiting to be un-packed.

Where the Love Light Gleams was released December 18, 2015

Adam Klein/Speaking of songs, songwriting & his new album “Archer’s Arrow”

Adam-Klein bw 1

http://www.adam-klein.com

I’m sitting down with Athens, Ga. singer-songwriter Adam Klein to talk about his new album, Archer’s Arrow. It’s a fine album, a great ride. There is an unstudied quality about it, a loose-ness that is endearing.

Adam wears many hats being not only a touring troubadour, but also the founder of Cowboy Angel Music and co-founder and co-organizer of Athens Americana music festival.

Bill: Adam, by my count Archer’s Arrow is album #6 for yes? I think it’s your best yet, by the way. There’s a maturing in the writing and themes, and economy in the way your deliver the songs on this one. The more reflective songs on the album have a transparency and wistful-ness that are the starting places of a great song.
Of course there’s a danger is to become grandiose, but you don’t seen to fall prey to that.
As I said, there’s a confidence on Archer’s Arrow that surfaces with a new effortless-ness.

There’s a lot of “love & loss” kinda of songs, or songs that bespeak a certain confusion about “where do I stand with you?” Good wells to draw from.

Am I hearing this right? Do you find the songs here gleaned from the razor edges of your own experiences or are you a writer who is vicariously creating your characters? What attracts you to these themes?

Adam: I think you are right, and both producer Bronson Tew and Bruce Watson, owner of Dial Back Sound studio in Water Valley, MS, where some of the recording happened and where the record was mixed and mastered, commented on that. The lyrics are a bit more raw here, a bit darker than some of my other albums. There are relationship songs here, songs with big questions about myself and others. It’s a kind of writing I want to do, but not for every song or project. But I read an interview with Lucinda Williams in which she speaks about the importance of sharing yourself fully in your music- making yourself vulnerable, putting it all out there in its ragged glory, as Neil Young would say. A number of songs on my previous albums flirt with that type of vulnerability- they express something real about myself, share a heartfelt emotion of the present or past, a longing and nostalgia- but I don’t think my songs have generally shone a light into my innermost thoughts or feelings and shown a darkness. It’s in each of us, I’d imagine. The part(s) of ourselves with which we struggle, the aspects of our character of which we’re not proud, the ways we fall short, the questioning. I tend to be guarded when it comes to such things, but they seeped out in some of these songs. Songwriting is, to a certain degree, where I wrestle with and confront myself. And the next collection of songs I plan on recording go deeper in. Things are laid bare. But I think there are also moments of hope, warmth, and light on Archer’s Arrow as well as on the next album.

Milan Kundera writes that his characters are the unexplored possibilities of himself. I like that a lot, and think there’s an element of that in many of the songs I write. Not every word is true, not every “I” is me, but the songs are extensions of a feeling, a longing, a drive, aspects of my life. And because they are my writings and contain an initial, if not full, spark from my life, I’m satisfied that it’s authentic and real. So essentially, a song can be or stem from a pure expression but also explore a character and an “unlived” possibility of myself.

Bill: You’ve mapped out a quota of particular types of songs here, yes?
Adam: I think there’s a place for everything. So my records tend to have a number of meaningful, nostalgic type songs but will also have a couple fun numbers. My friend Paul Ford, who now plays with Jonathan Byrd as part of his crack band The Pickup Cowboys, just shared an idea with me recently and said he finds this in my albums. The notion of 30/30/30 (this is not a baseball metaphor)- that an album (or a live show) can have about a third of its songs be songs that make you think (story songs, topical songs, or those touching on a history), another third songs that make you feel, and another third songs that are just plain fun. I remember I wrote “Say You Don’t Love Me” while in Mali and thought the words were so early-Beatles-esque and just too sappy to actually record. But I came across the typed page with those lyrics years later and thought they fit the vibe and feel of what I anticipated the album being, so I brought it in and we turned it into a really catchy, cool tune. It’s not a serious song that says anything real about me. It’s not “true”, so to speak, but who cares? “Radar Man” is similar- weird lyric and a rocking tune that’s not born from “my voice”. But that one actually is particularly special because I adapted the lyrics from a poem my grandfather wrote while serving as a radar repair tech in Philippines in World War II. My family found the poem, and other writings, while cleaning up my grandparents’ place, and I turned it into a song and sang it for him at his 90th birthday party. Pretty cool. And I love the song, it’s just another neat rocker.

I’m sure I’ll do more story-songs a la “Naduah”, “Nomie Wise”, “Dead Cow Hill” (from 2008’s Western Tales & Trails), and “Of Pirates & Vagabonds” (from 2010’s Wounded Electric Youth), and I have a collection of songs now that’s building that touches upon West Virginia lore and Georgia history, actually. But my current writing zone is mainly focused on “facing myself” and trying to create songs that are very real, vulnerable, and possess personal truths. If the songs can translate, I think listeners may find a lot that they can connect with and perhaps be moved by.

As far as these themes of love and loss, well, I think it’s a rich well to go to, as you mention. When you break it down, it’s what we have and what we share. (Did you see the viral video recently of Bob Dylan speaking to the IBM Watson “machine”? The machine tells Dylan it listened to all his lyrics and its analysis is that Dylan’s major themes are that time passes and love fades. Dylan’s response? “Well that sounds about right.”) Again, I’d like to think my songs tend to come from feelings and experiences that must be lived to access. It’s good to write about who you are and what you know, what you’ve seen. Some of my songs take place in a different age or a place I’ve never been, but through my travels or reading I allow myself to try to access another time or land and explore that.

Bill: The album possesses a band dynamic that seems very attuned to your approach with writing and recording. You bring the songs fleshed out on acoustic, it sounds like and letting the band “have it’s say.” It’s good chemistry & playing by the core members with just the right embellishment to the songs. It all seems to take the songs on Archer’s Arrow to a good place and one that was arrived at very naturally. I like that. Was the projected outcome something you were conscious of or was it something more like an evolution…?

Adam: That was definitely the approach for this album. I like to bring in players whom I respect and want them to go at it, find their voice, and bring themselves into the songs. I’ll have various melodic ideas I’d like to have in there, and I may or may not know which instrument should carry the melody that’s in my head, but I don’t think I’m heavy-handed in the process.

But this album did have quite the evolution. It was initially recorded with a great group of guys outside Athens and after laying down the basic tracks (we played live- acoustic guitar, vocal, electric guitar, drums and bass) and getting a quick mix, I felt it needed some sonic attention and assistance. There was bleed between instruments, my vocals needed to be considered scratch vocals, the acoustic guitar sound was a problem. So I shelved it for a while until I could get Bronson Tew, my friend and producer/engineer, to come to Athens to work on the tracks. I redid acoustic guitar and vocals and he worked his engineering wizardy on the material- EQ, compression, phase relationship, and whatever else. He cleaned up the bleed and the electric, added some more electric guitar, and it began to be transformed into a really great sounding record. He took it back to Dial Back Sound and brought in some players to add to it. He built three of the songs out there (“Boybutante Dreams”, “Wild Goose Chase”, and “Heartbreak Airplane”). I’d played and sang these songs solo acoustic and he and some of the Jimbo Mathus guys in Water Valley added parts. Bronson played drums and demanded that the bass and drums be recorded together to capture a performance and “feel”, and keys were added, guitars, etc. That tells you how much trust I have in Bronson. As he says, “You set ‘em up, I’ll knock ‘em down”. He’s a great friend and unbelievable musician and engineer. So what we hear, ultimately, is a testament to his ear and work. He deserves to be acknowledged for his production- wouldn’t have been the same or as great a record without him. And I think he took a real liking and interest to this album in particular because the circumstances were so unique. He was bound by the initial live recording which had a real loose feeling, as you mentioned. Almost like the song could collapse at any time. And that’s because the guys were just hearing the song for the first few times and trying to work their way through. So Bronson had to work within the framework of the drums, bass, and guitar already laid down (except for the three tracks he built out in MS), and turn it into a quality sonic record. To me, and most everyone who’s commented, its sounds kick ass.

Bill: Tell me about how you assembled the group. There is an unstudied quality about the way these songs are delivered, a loose-ness that is endearing. Were these close friends who were familiar with your work?

Adam: The guys who played on it were the remnants of Athens pop-rock band Nutria. Now most of them play in The Eskimos and a few other projects. I liked the fact that they brought this really cool pop sensibility and that the songs would likely have a certain edge, a thickness to the electric guitar. And that rhythm section is so locked in- especially for songs they didn’t really know. It’s crazy. Jason Eshelman on drums is so steady and locked in, Andy Pope on bass was also totally spot on, and Dave Weiglein on electric guitar was just jamming and played such great parts and lines on songs “unheard”. I showed them a song, we played it two or three times, and then started recording. It was definitely unstudied and loose, and I’m really happy with the feel. But I wouldn’t say they were necessarily familiar with my work, and the style they brought was a real departure from previous recordings, so I’m grateful to them for being so locked in. I knew it had something to it even after taking away the mixes and hearing the sonic deficiencies. But they gave it a feel at its core that Bronson could later build upon and accentuate.

Bill: Athens, Ga. Great town. Simply a wonderful community with a vital music scene.
No “scene” can be separated from the individuals who are a part of it. It’s a very non-static thing, liquid, always changing, sometimes for the worse, sometimes for the better. And no one scene is for everybody or every genre of music. Given your long-relationship with the town, and you approach to Americana music, has you experience of the scene there been a good one?

Adam: Well put. Yes, I still love Athens and its music scene, and I’d say it’s been a good experience playing there and being part of it. It’s my hometown. If you cull through my songs, including songs on Archer’s Arrow, you’ll hear clear references to Athens. “Heartbreak Airplane” name checks the Taco Stand and R.E.M.. Some of my nostalgic songs take place there and I’ll keep going back in my mind and my writings, I’m sure. Americana’s got a following in Athens. Bands like Drive-By Truckers, Packway Handle, Lera Lynn, and acts that Americana likes to claim like Hardy Morris or The Whigs or Futurebirds- they do well. When Gillian Welch, Lucinda Williams, Steve Earle, or a Dawes come to town, there’s great energy and a packed house. And we’ve seen great, passionate turnouts to our local festival event, Athens Americana. No shortage of solid bands and activity there. You’ll note that short list is all acts with a following which appeal to a crossover of the young, collegiate crowd and an “older” audience. Many lesser known yet top notch Americana and folk singer/songwriters or acts, though, may have trouble making waves in Athens. I’m glad someone like Jonathan Byrd has built such a great following there. But many others who deserve to play for a large audience there don’t get the support they need to come to town. If Townes van Zandt had played Athens in his later years, I’d guess he would’ve had a small to medium-sized crowd. Greg Brown might not have a big crowd. Slaid Cleaves may not have the audience he deserves in Athens. So it’s clear that there are certain tastes that are more prominent in Athens- either the flavor-of-the-month indie “it” thing amongst the college and young adult crowd, or the longstanding Athens favorites like an Of Montreal and Drivin N’ Cryin’. And they all deserve it. Kevn Kinney? He’s one of my musical heroes. As an Athenian I’m really proud of our heritage of bands. But it’s a challenging place to make a living off song-based, nuanced, folk and americana music. I think it’s easier to see that with some distance.

But every scene, as you mention, is unique, shifts, and has certain sweet spots musically. Athens is full of great people, great musicians young, old, and in between, and it’s a special, supportive scene with a lot of camaraderie and accessibility. Music lives there. It’s a testing ground- a good and fulfilling scene for the casual music player and a number of tight, talented bands are constantly emerging from the hundreds messing around in town. Plus as far as lifestyle goes it’s really a great place to be based and tour from. I’m proud to have Athens players on most of my records and want to keep working with my friends there. I came of age watching some of these guys play. I’m living in Atlanta now, and I do miss the people and these unique aspects that make the Athens music and arts community so strong. It’s influenced me and is my musical home, so I consider it a positive experience to be part of the scene and make music there. I try to get back and be at least peripherally involved as much as I can. Now if only we could pack out Hendershot’s for a David Olney or Bill Mallonee we’d be a folk powerhouse in addition to a college rock mecca.

Bill: Adam, is there anything else about the new album you want to elaborate on, tell us about?

Adam: Bill, it’s a pleasure and an honor to chat music with you, and I appreciate you listening to the record and asking these thoughtful questions. I’ll be on the lookout for the next sets of albums you churn out. Will you print this if I say you’re an American treasure, a brilliant artist, and one of my favorite songwriters? (I guess I’ll find out..)

Bill: Thanks very much for doing this interview. I wish you all the best and much success on the new album, Adam. Well done!

Archers_Arrow_cover_FINAL copy 1

“We Are Nighttime Travelers” An Interview w/Singer-Songwriter Jason Slatton

WE ARE NIGHTTIME TRAVELERS_JASON SLATTONHe’s fronted Athens, Ga’s guitar-pop darlings, The Lures. He’s written songs (some covered by Bonnie Raitt) with deep South/tried and true artists like Randall Bramblett.
Now, he’s embarked on a solo career, with the release of “We Are Nighttime Travelers.” These days Slatton makes Birmingham, AL his home. Inspired and nurtured by his wife, daughter and a growing community of friends, Mr. Slatton has written, recorded and released one 2015’s stellar recordings. I’ve known Jason for many years. He is a humble, insightful conversationalist who is thoroughly in love with rock and roll. I was lucky enough to steal some time with this literate, articulate songwriter and talk about his new album.

First: Congratulations on the release of “We Are Nighttime Travelers.” It’s a beautiful and deeply rooted album. These songs strike me as snapshots where the characters in transition, often upheaval; trying to make sense of the moment or of the place where things have fallen for them. They typically seem a bit adrift. Agree? Disagree? Care to comment or elaborate?

I think that pretty much crystallizes the whole record. I gave three copies to three different listeners while we were just post-mixing and thinking about sequence, and one of those listeners came back with a very apt summation. They thought the line from “And She Goes On” about “dismantling and then beginning” was the best summation for all the different avenues the album goes down thematically, and I couldn’t agree more. Transition, flux, a kind of chaos, periods of calm laced with moments of overwhelming restlessness: that’s been my experience in both looking at the past year of my life (with the birth of my daughter) and, really, the past ten or so years when I haven’t been nearly as active in the music world as I once was. You know, the idea that all the things you used to be are completely gone—you’ve moved away (figuratively and literally) from everything you once knew. Well, what are you now? Now that all the things you used to have to define yourself are gone, what’s left? I’ve thought about that a lot since I moved from Athens, and sometimes still do. I was adrift for a while. To some degree, in keeping with the metaphor, I’ve found some anchors. Great ones, actually: my wife and my child. But I’m attracted to characters like that, whether in fiction or song, etc., because more than anything, I’ve been those characters.

So these kinds of voices and personas show up in the songs. Often, they’re not characters. They’re me. Even “Chet Baker,” which was very pointedly written to be both in first-person, and then in the last verse, third-person, is in places really just me (and probably, to some degree, Randall, since he co-wrote that one with me). Springsteen’s Tunnel Of Love album is a great example of this, too. There are many characters in the songs that make up that record, (and that record is all about the promise and responsibility of love and relationships), but there’s an air of unease—his eye is always on the door. It turns out that all those different personas on the album are just different versions of him.

2. Totally compelling. The stuff of a great song. Also, I love the way the catalyst to your character’s “enlightenment” is not fully disclosed. “Journalistic type” songwriters (I think anyway) often expect sheer fact of time, place and events to carry a song. They don’t lean enough on mystery. You’re the opposite. Your approach seems to be one of letting the more universalistic range of emotions, the ones we all share, to step upfront. I think it makes for a more powerful song. Is this something you’re aware of as you write or is it something that falls to you naturally?

I think I’m inherently drawn to writers that can move, at times, away from the specifics and more fully explore the more “universalistic” emotions. Every time. I think Springsteen, again, is really good at playing both sides of the field, but even his specific narratives access universal emotions and themes: loss, loss of self and individuality, healing, pain, redemption, transcendence, etc. Some of the songs on …Nighttime Travelers are markedly specific. “Bloom,” for example, is absolutely my experience (and my wife’s), and I even use some verbal idiosyncrasies that are only ours, but I hope that it also communicates some ideas that we all can understand and experience. “Chet Baker,” very much that idea. “Ghosts,” too. Not to embarrass you, but your song “Certain Slant Of Light” has always struck me that way. Likewise with “Fight Song.” Though I’ve never been a boxer, I connect with that person speaking in that song, line for line. I think I’m aware of it more so in the editing process than in the moment of creation. I’ll write pages and pages of lyrics that at times are me more “emptying the barrel” than anything else. When I’m sifting through those pages looking for ideas that interest me, I think I become more aware of what I’m doing and how I’m editing. I’m on a massive Neil Finn kick right now where I’m listening to all of his solo work, and his Crowded House-era writing. He’s a master of getting oddly specific and then letting those specifics reach higher into the “we can all relate” type of song. God, he’s so, so good. And, in a narrative sense, I like songs that are at times more obfuscated and less didactic. I’ve listened to entire Vic Chesnutt albums with little idea what he’s talking/writing about specifically, but…there’s something at work there, what he might call “the tingle of euphoria / of total animation and of wonder.” That’s where the real magic happens, I think. Circling back, I ultimately don’t care if “Bloom” is understood by everyone or not. It’s for me, my wife, and one day, my daughter. That being said, if someone feels a bit of recognition or familiarity with it, then…great.

3. The playing on the record is great, the parts and arrangements never “get in the way” of the narrative. Kudos to producer Jason Hamric for excellent work. Was it easy, challenging or both to bring the songs to a band arrangement that offered more embellishment?

I’ve had the good fortune to work with some amazing producers/engineers: Andy LeMaster, Andy Baker, David Barbe, John Keane, Micheal Rhodes, Dave Sinko, Glenn Cannon, Russ Hallauer, etc., but I can honestly say this was one of the easiest and productive experiences I’ve ever had in a studio. I have definitely been guilty of keeping too tight a grip on something I’ve written, and, alternately, I’ve also given up too easily when I might have been defending or selling an idea about a song, too. I think Jason and I somehow very quickly found the perfect balance—to the point where we initially were second-guessing ourselves: “Why is this so easy? Are we forgetting something?” Every song on the album was built from the ground up. Jason Hamric was amazing at taking what was essentially a demo (vox and guitar to a click track) and seeing only infinite possibility; we’d export the basic track to Les Nuby to add drums to (and, sometimes, bass) and once we got them back, we’d start building. He was instrumental (no pun intended) in both creating an enormous amount of trust, support and creativity all at once. A song like “And She Goes On” was, in my mind, going to ultimately sound like how it was written: hushed, fragile, meditative (i.e. it was written while my daughter was asleep roughly five feet away only days after we’d come home from the hospital). After sitting with it, Jason heard an entirely different direction, and pulled me along to his way of hearing it. I’m really glad he did—pretty much everyone who’s heard the album thus far has mentioned the song. That being said, he was also great at hearing an idea I had, and playing both cheerleader and editor at the same time—he’d let me indulge an idea, more often than not. There’s a terrific and powerful dynamic to recording live “off the floor,” and I’ve had a great time in the past doing that, but from the offset Jason and I both wanted to make a “headphone” record, which required more of a clinical approach to what was embellished and what wasn’t. There are a lot of little ambient details that are very much buried in the songs, things that definitely aren’t evident on the surface, but that are essential, I think. I know most people don’t listen that way these days, but for those who choose to, I think there’s a lot to hear, and, in a sense, “see.”

First, I can totally identify with the “letting go” aspect of walking into a studio and letting the songs be deconstructed or moved in another direction. On these last few “desert records,” I may walk in with a collection of ideas and hopes for each song, but almost always I’m surprised at “where they end up.”  I never really know how a record will turn out. They seem to take on a life of their own, which I’ve come to enjoy. 

I think the results on We Are The Night-Time Travelers are stupendous. Perfect ingredients: Great songs. Great band chemistry; Lots of variability, lots of emotional range.
Q: Do you see recording in that manner in the future? By that I mean: Could you see yourself walking into a room with say 10 half-finished ideas and seeing where a band of your choosing would take them?

Unequivocally: yes. That would be really interesting. I think the people who play on this record, who essentially comprise “the band” (Jason Hamric, Les Nuby, Janet Simpson-Templin) each brought very much their own “thing” to the recording(s), and what they brought in almost every single instance expanded and or completely altered my vision, and, going back to Hamric, he was terrific at knowing when to encourage that, and knowing when to step back a little. There’s a danger to recording elaborate demos and then thinking that you have to stay married to them. That happened quite a bit when I was actively writing/playing with Randall Bramblett. We’d work on demos, at times, almost with the same kind of focus that you might apply to a finished recording, i.e. one that you were aiming to release. It’s a little myopic, at least, I feel that way now. I know he does too, because when we write together these days, the results demo-wise are normally very spartan versions of the songs: chord changes, lyrics, melody, but with little more than an acoustic guitar to chart the song. On my own, I do that quite a bit now—meaning, if an idea arrives to me, I’ll very quickly record it with whatever’s available. Usually, this means my voice memo function on my phone—quite a far cry from the old days when I would actually fumble around with a Dictaphone, or if needed, I’d call my answering machine and sing into it. But, circling back to the answer/question: I think releasing yourself from your vision, particularly if you’re the “author,” is really, really smart. And it serves the song, ultimately, much more than it serves the ego. And that’s more important. I’d love to work with the same team again once I have enough songs to make up another record.

2. I can totally appreciate the notion of (to quote you) “ambient details” having an essential role in song craft. In my recordings, post-band, I realized that crafting a song was beginning to become more like a painting that didn’t give itself up on first viewing. There was no space or sonic “brush-stroke” that was un-important anymore. 

You mentioned Neil Finn, his solo and Crowded House work. as you said, he is amazing. 
I get the impression that, like him, you could lock yourself up in a studio once or twice a year, write and record a couple of records. An “emptying the barrel,” as you said above. 
Jason, you’ve cited the transition from solo/Athens music scene bandleader to married life with children in another town. In my experience, I think sometimes a “town-driven” scene floats on things unreal. It’s typically awaiting “the next big thing,” and often missing the tried and true, the growth an artist makes.
So, in what ways do you feel transition for yours has deepened and expanded your “vocabulary” musically & thematically as an artist, as a human? Songs like Octobering come to mind.

Obviously, for me, the scope of what I do has changed dramatically. I don’t have a bigger label anymore handling press, tour support, radio, etc. and, as you mentioned, my focus has changed—my career now is teaching literature (which I love), I have a family, a mortgage, responsibilities, etc. that I didn’t have before. That doesn’t mean that I’ve left behind the part of myself that loves creating things, like writing songs and recording them, and even at times performing them. I remember one of the very first songs I wrote completely by myself, with no input from anyone, and my only tools were a guitar, a notebook, and my imagination. Finishing that song, which was far from great, gave me such a sense of purpose, of identity, of self. It’s that old idea (and I think I got it from you, or at least read you articulating it in this way) about going up to your room as a kid with just some glitter, glue and construction paper, and seeing what you can make of it. The tools for writing/songwriting are so basic, and so simplistic…I love the idea that even though I’m not checking CMJ or Gavin anymore to see where my song is charting, or worrying over a tour, or playing some big room somewhere…I love that the thing that’s always made me happy (creating) is still there. That’s why it’s been so cool to see bands like Five-Eight, for example, still making great records and playing shows, even though the focus is no longer “making it.” Why not do it because…you’re driven to? Reward be damned? I set the goal for myself to try and make a solo record mainly because I just felt like it was time to stick my neck out and do it. Hopefully, I’ll have the opportunity to make more. To more directly answer your question, I think I’m not so worried about how a song might be perceived anymore, or how I’m going to move up another rung on the ladder. I couldn’t care less. If I’ve generated some lyrical ideas that are maybe about my daughter, or nothing more consequential than watching her as she sleeps, for example, I’ll follow that lead. Maybe more than ever, I’m making the art for me. I really did, at one point, think in part about the audience. I think that, at times, Athens could be given over to flash, and not so much substance. As such, I think I’m even more focused on making myself happy with the material. The stakes are high on a personal level, but…I’m not in a scene anymore that’s given over to worrying about things like that. It’s very freeing. I might not have been able to write a song like “Octobering” back then, or “Ghosts,” because they’re quieter, and require a little more from the listener. Honestly, I’ve always had this line from Jawbreaker/Jets To Brazil frontman/songwriter Blake Schwartzenbach in my head, particularly in the past few years: “It’s not what you sell, it’s what you make.” With regard to any creativity, I don’t think an artist needs to know anything else.”

You can order hardcopy CDs at: http://www.jasonslatton.com/
or download a copy of the album at: Jason Slatton/We Are Nighttime Travelers

An Interview with Singer/Songwriter Chris Taylor about his new album, “Creatio Ex Nihilo”

Chris Taylor

An Interview with singer-songwriter Chris Taylor about his new venture, “Creatio   Ex Nihilo.” by: Bill Mallonee

1. Chris let’s talk about the new album. It’s ambitious and a significant departure sonically. I’ve known you for years. The “old Chris Taylor I knew” delivered Folk, Pop and Rock with a heart-on-the-sleeve stance. Those are your wonderful “signature” sounds. (You can agree or disagree, btw!)
For those of us familiar with your past work, how would you characterize Creatio Ex Nihilo’s palate?

CT: I do agree! I come from a sort of unlearned, self taught, rag tag, rock and roll vibe through the years of my music. I think skill level on your instrument, mixed with the players you have available to you at the time, help dictate your musical style to others. As far as dreaming up Creatio Ex Nihilo, I was reaching for sounds I heard in my head like daydreams or distant sounds always out of my reach, in my own mind. So I felt it was time to strive for that, sonically speaking… and I knew that I had a few musicians who could help me achieve it.

2. Creatio Ex Nihilo has sonic textures and aural landscapes that sound like someone entering a different world. There’s a dream-i-ness there. It’s understated, lush and pensive. Pop superstructures & like arrangements are discarded. New layers of sound are explored. Is this an experimental record for you?

CT: I’m in a position of being able to do whatever I want to do. Musicians can do that in the beginning of their career and if they because very successful and sustain a massive career… they could do that again. Many years ago, I felt like a hit a ceiling where I was just stuck on Groundhog’s Day, career-wise. All the gigs felt small and similar to each other. I didn’t sell very many records… I wasn’t advancing or moving up… I was just being consistent and willing to play and keep recording. I’ve dreamt of making this album for many years. I did it for me, more so than for anyone else. It was as if my soul needed it as much as my body needs a shower.

3. Another question for you, Chris,
Upon first listen, I sensed that there was very little framework surrounding the songs; They were more like musical explorations. I heard things like that in a few of 70’s sorta of art-prog bands and even in Pink Floyd.  Even though much of that music came out of the so-called drug culture, I think ultimately it was a search for peace & transcendence. I sense that on Creatio, as well.
There is a noted leaning on the sonic textures of guitars and keys and as you said, less dependency on the lyrics and song structure. The musicians take their time forging an idea and getting it from “A” to “B.”
So: Is there an “average Chris Taylor fan,” and if so, how would you prepare him/her to receive” Creatio?

CT: Great insight and a very good question! To tell you the truth, I’ve no idea if there is an average fan of mine… I’ve been in a creative bubble for years… not selling many records and starting to not worry so much about selling records… just making music I love. Some things about the business of music fade away and the creative aspect comes to the forefront. So if you’re a casual fan of mine… or a die-hard fan… If you’re going to take a listen to Creatio… It’s like entering one of my dreams I’m having just before the sunlight rises through the windows of my room. There’s no hits, no catchy jingles… just moods, meditations & melodies, tapestries & textures… and my soul laid bare under it all.

4. I first heard music akin to “Creatio” back when touring the UK in the late 90’s. “Chill” music was the very term. I was attracted to it’s subtle textures and the mix arrangements were fantastic. Lyrics were typically downplayed, but your lyrics are one of the many strengths you’re known for:
On Creatio, given the different approach, did you find you wrote a different type of lyric and, if so, could you be more specific about that. Did the approach make it easier/harder to convey your themes?

CT: Because I only play rhythm and percussive type guitars & keyboards, I really focus on getting a lyric that is coming from a place that is genuine and has got some soul to it. I’m not going to dazzle anyone with my solo’s or fretwork, so the songs become all about the lyric, arrangement and dynamic feel. They’ve got to stand up in a solo live setting… and if I have a band, I can morph them into something else all together. With the songs on Creatio, I started humming musical ideas I heard in my head and capturing them on tape. They were lead parts for whatever instrumentation I would later choose… So a guitar or saxophone would replace my vocal. And the few lyrics that are on the album were never actually written! They were sung live on the microphone as I made them up… like some sort of subconscious thing coming out of me. I kept the bits that I felt weren’t a nuisance to what was already happening within the songs. The first song on the album “Look Me In The Eyes” this lyric just came out like a blast of a gun. I’m scat-singing and all of the sudden I sing “look me in the eyes when you tell me, I want you to see, my heart break.” And I remember this moment in my life that line could pertain to – and it was the saddest lyric I’ve ever written. But if I had a pen and paper… it would never have been. Funny thing, that lyric is surrounded by this joyful chord progression and sung with this beautiful melody with harmonies… so it doesn’t seem sad at all. I love how music works like that sometimes.

5. Chris, did you find that in writing the lyrics for Creatio that you were pushed to “conjure” a different set of images, different word play & phrasing than on your more acoustic/pop recordings? I ask because, in my own writing, I’ve always tried to make the tenor of the words and delivery fit the vibe of a song. The two things, music and lyric, should be married, and (ideally) should re-inforce the over-all mood of a song. You seem to have ably accommodated your lyric gift to the new approach I find on Creatio. Care to discuss?

CT: Yes! Lyrics are always flying through my head, scattered, in and out of focus. The music helps them form and take shape. On Creatio… I really wanted the music to do the talking so I knew if I was going to write any kind of lyric… The less I said the more powerful each line would become. It’s kind of like when you’re watching an intense drama… Great actors can say so much without saying anything. They could give a look or a movement that could explain so much to the viewer. My job on this record was to take layers and layers of sound and texture and weave them into sonic tapestries that revealed a side of my spirit that I’ve never put out into the world. Any lyrical or poetic statements were just signposts to give people a bit of direction but they are very much open to their own personal interpretations.

Brilliant. Chris, thanks so much for your time, your thoughtful answers and of course your great work! All the best to you and the new album!  ~ bill mallonee

You can listen to (and purchase!) Mr. Taylor’s new album at:
https://christaylor.bandcamp.com/album/chris-taylor-presents-creatio-ex-nihilo