Hiss Golden Messenger's M.C. Taylor on His New Work and Creston Guitars | Live Culture

Hiss Golden Messenger's M.C. Taylor on His New Work and Creston Guitars

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M.C. Taylor - ANDY TENILLE
  • Andy Tenille
  • M.C. Taylor
On Heart Like a Levee, the new album from North Carolina's Hiss Golden Messenger, songwriter M.C. Taylor attempts to reconcile the two seemingly at-odds aspects of his being: that of a touring musician and a dedicated family man. The record unfolds with quiet southern charm. It's both playful and brooding, with subtly dynamic rhythmic ideas couched in dusty folk rock.

In the middle of it all is Taylor, his reedy voice giving life to poignant thoughts on love, art and family with a novelist's eye for detail. The work is profoundly stirring and ultimately affirming.

Touring in support of that record — and an accompanying bonus album called Vestapol — Hiss Golden Messenger play on Friday, November 11, at the Higher Ground Ballroom in South Burlington. Seven Days recently spoke with Taylor by phone to discuss the albums, his fascination with southern culture and his affinity for the guitars of Burlington luthier Creston Lea.

SEVEN DAYS: In the press material for the new album, you wrote about how you had briefly forgotten that, for you, music and family cannot exist without each other. What did you mean by that?

M.C. TAYLOR: My music is most successful when it's addressing themes of family and what our obligations become as we grow up. When I'm in that thematic zone is when I'm writing in my most compelling way.

SD: You've been doing music for a long time. But you weren't always a family man. At what point did that revelation occur?

MT: I made a record called Bad Debt in 2010 and it was right after my son was born. I found myself in a different headspace, as most people do when they have their first child.

SD: I've heard that happens.

MT: I'm definitely not unique in that way. But it just so happens that I'm also a songwriter. Being a parent is very joyful, but there is also a lot of anxiety that comes with it. And it felt like channeling those emotions into song was a good way to articulate what I'm feeling.

SD: Interestingly, you chose to devote yourself to music full time after becoming a parent, a time when many people would be looking for more stability or financial security than the music industry is known for. What was the reaction from your friends and family to that choice?

MT: They were very supportive. They were happy. And so was I. I feel like I've been given the opportunity to do the thing that I've been put on this Earth to do, which is to play music for people. I love what I do. And my kids get to see that, which is a unique thing.

SD: I gather you're a fan of Creston Electric guitars.

MT: I have a couple of Creston's guitars, in fact. He made me one last year that I've been using a lot. I have it with me on this tour.

What's crazy is, I've never actually met him. I've been talking pretty regularly [with him] since probably 2006 or 2007. But somehow we've never met.

SD: I'm pretty sure there's an unwritten rule that you can't be an electric guitarist in Burlington without owning at least one Creston.

MT: [Laughs] Is that true? I have no idea what his reputation is there.

SD: We love him and his guitars.

MT: I love his guitars. I think he's done incredible work.

SD: Did you know he's an author?

MT: I did! I think we've talked more about writers than we've talked about anything else. 

SD: You essentially released two albums at once. So I guess you didn't get the memo that albums are dead?

MT: [Laughs] No, I guess not. I'm always recording and grouping songs into little families. I still believe in the album as a very succinct mode of  artistic expression. They're the perfect length. I love a 38-minute album.

SD: You've said that you spent 20 years trying to make a record that sounds like Heart Like a Levee. Now that you have, what do you now?

MT: That's a good question. I think just keep working that vein. I've always wanted to make a record that felt confident and un-self-conscious, which is a very hard thing to do. And I feel like I'm getting to a point where I can do that.

SD: Your music is heavily rooted in southern musical culture. But I was surprised to learn you're actually from southern California. Where does your fascination with the South come from?

MT: I don't really know. But a lot of my favorite stuff seems to come from the South or has roots in the South. American music writ large, certainly there is a serious argument to be made that it comes from the South.

I like southern literature, too. It is  far and away not the only thing I read. But there is an inventiveness of language from the American South that is very unique to that place. It's regional. And the idea of regionalism is appealing to me, because it's something that is disappearing as we become more and more connected.

So, the idea of a place having its own unique personality is appealing. And there are so many different versions of the South that it really fascinates me.

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