Tony Cummings quizzed San Antonio's CHRIS TAYLOR about his 21 years of music making
Texas-based singer/songwriter Chris Taylor epitomizes the cult following artist. He was a dedicated clique of fans who applaud his winning ways with an apposite lyric and a rock hook and down the years he's worked with the fondly remembered alt rock band Love Coma, released a series of breathtaking solo albums and has even written a song with Dave Stewart of the Eurhythmics. He is currently receiving airplay on Cross Rhythms for the idiosyncratic rocker "Stay Wild" (from his 2008 'Rock 'n' Roll Heart' album) and has just released a new set, 'Frame The Light'. Clearly, an interview with this hugely talented songsmith was long overdue.
Chris was born in San Antonio, Texas and by 1991 had formed the Love Coma, consisting of Chris Taylor (vocals, guitar), Jeff Duncan (bass, vocals), Matt Slocum (guitar) and Chris Dodds (drums). There were originally called The Windows but went on to become what the Encyclopedia Of Contemporary Christian Music have called "one of the finest alternative Christian rock groups in the land." In 1992 Etcetera Records released the 'Soul Rash' album. It was originally intended as a demo and its songs were promising but undeveloped but caught the ear of True Tunes magazine who raved about 'Soul Rash', comparing Love Coma to Echo And The Bunnymen and The Church. Chris told Cross Rhythms, "I still can't believe we got as far along as we did! Looking back on it, it was the perfect story. I discovered True Tunes magazine and started getting it in the mail. Reading up on bands like Adam Again, the 77s, The Choir, etc and I knew I wanted to get my music reviewed there. But we were worlds apart, being in Texas and True Tunes located near Chicago. I sent off a tape and weeks later, there were the reviews and a little buzz and then we were playing festivals, etc. Pretty soon record labels were interested and things just took off from there. It was like all my childhood dreams were coming true. Until a few years later - I was depressed, feeling alone and stuck with no cash on Myrtle Beach [South Carolina] feeling a long way from home. That was around 1996."
The album Love Coma recorded with R.E.X. Records, 'Language Of Fools', is considered a classic by the Christian rock cognoscente. Matt Slocum had left the band to form Sixpence None The Richer but with replacement Matt Mattingly and producer Mike Roe of the 77s the band produced an exceptional and eclectic set of songs which took in influences from U2 to Bob Dylan.
Love Coma opened for the 77s and played major festivals around the US. However, R.E.X. Records were plunging into bankruptcy and the band disintegrated. After getting his spiritual bearings back, he signed with the small Christian independent Rhythm House Records as a soloist. In 1998 the label released Chris' debut album 'Down Goes The Day'. He commented, "This was my first record under my name. Some would call it a solo record but I had some of Nashville's best session players on that recording so it was in no way a solo record. I was very intimidated with all those players around every day. Working with a producer I didn't know. It took me a few days before I realised the record was being made without me! I knew I had to speak up and make sure it was my record and not a Nashville project with my name on it. It ended up very much my record. One of the highlights was getting to have Riki Michele of Adam Again to sing on it. I'd have her on every song if I could. Beautiful voice. I'm proud of that album."
It was 2000 with the release of 'Worthless Pursuit Of Things On The Earth' that Chris came to the attention of the still growing Christian marketplace. With tongue somewhat in cheek Chris referred to 'Worthless Pursuit. . .' as "the big Nashville follow up!" It was produced by Rick Elias and Mark Robertson, both of A Ragamuffin Band, the act which with singer/songwriter Rich Mullins were to produce some of the most memorable Christian music ever. With Ragamuffin Jimmy Abegg on guitar and the 77s' Aaron Smith on drums, Chris had a house band of supreme quality. Chris remembered the sessions fondly. "I was locked in with the amazing Ragamuffin Band. I actually recorded demos and wanted to write songs with catchy riffs and choruses that you couldn't get out of your head. Mark and Rick produced it and they achieved that. They loved my music and brought the best out of me and my songs. I still love that record to this day."
So did the critics. CCM magazine wrote that the album's "The Secret Of The Universe" was "as memorable as hit songs get," while the gospel rave up with Kevin Max, "Higher Ground", and the slow blues stomp "Bleeding Hearts Club" were also much praised. 'Worthless Pursuit. . .' was even nominated for a Dove Award. But it didn't win and with Rhythm House running into financial difficulties and Chris' marriage beginning to fall apart, CCM stardom eluded the songsmith. Cross Rhythms asked Chris whether he thinks his life would have changed if he had indeed won a Dove Award and started being talked about as the new Steven Curtis Chapman. He laughed, "Who knows what would have happened? I may have hated myself more. Seeing my face on some billboard advertising for a radio station I would never actually listen to. . . People looking up to me like I'm some good little Christian boy with God on his side. . . Blachhhh! I'm a messed up, messy guy haunted by things I've done, things I've said - and those things don't sell well in a so-called Christian industry. Thank God! I wouldn't mind having a larger fan base that could sustain me to have a small roof over my head, but that wasn't meant to be. And I'm okay with that - most of the time."
Leaving the world of the Nashville suits, in 2001 Chris released two home studio independent albums, 'Brand New Ache' and 'The Lo-Fi Project'. He spoke candidly about them: "I recorded both these records at the same time. Healing and therapy are the real reasons I write music and create songs. Been doing it too long to worry about album sales, etc. Both these records were about me going through a divorce and separation and all the things that come along with it."
Three years later Chris released the 'Under The Sun' album. The Cross Rhythms reviewer wrote, "There's the bouncy rock of 'God's Telephone Number' (admit it, it's a great song title!) which sounds like it could have been plucked from one of his cool kids' albums. Then at the other extreme there's the slow mellow acoustic 'Sick & Tired Of Sick & Tired' where he vents a few frustrations without getting maudlin. . . Chris Taylor stands out from the crowd and he's waiting for you to discover just how incredible he is!" Chris added his own comment about 'Under The Sun', "It was a big monster double album I made with a bunch of friends who never heard the songs until we got into the studio! Yes. Crazy. We just used the first or second take of everything. It was fun, uncool, spiritual, silly, broken hearted. And completely on the fly. I was like a ringmaster in charge of colourful chaos."
It was to be four years before Chris released another project. Cross Rhythms reviewer Tim Holden described 2008's 'Rock 'n' Roll Heart' as "paired back acoustic rock'n'roll delivered with passion and bag loads of charisma" with lyrics that covered "a huge amount of ground including celebrity culture, moral living and how theology touches reality." It also produced a surprise Cross Rhythms turntable hit in "Stay Wild". Commented Chris, "I'm quite surprised to hear 'Stay Wild' has some life on the radio. But I believe in that song as much as anything else I have written."
In 2009 Chris released 'Twilight Sunrise'. Said Chris, "That was my first record where I was learning how to create drum loops, playing keyboards instead of guitars. I was tired of my predictable musical process and wanted to grow and reinvent myself. Nothing I do is about getting on the radio, or selling lots of records. It was about keeping myself interested in what I was doing creatively."
Around this time Chris entered a songwriting contest organised by one-time member of the multi-million selling band Eurhythmics, Dave Stewart. On his website Stewart had placed a backing track and invited musicians from around the world to provide a vocal and lyrics. Chris Taylor won the competition and his and Stewart's song "Here And Gone (But Everlasting)" was duly recorded and put on the internet. Cross Rhythms asked Chris what happened next. "Absolutely nothing!" he laughed. "Having said that, 'Here And Gone' did create a friendship with me and the genius known as Dave Stewart. If that's all it ever did, it was worthwhile. I went from local San Antonio guy to being on his radar, on his map. Dave told me he played the song for the Edge (of U2) and Edge loved it. So if that isn't the highest honour I don't know what is! But I'm no rich and famous rock star because of that song. It feels like the rest of the world just passed it by."
Wanting to make a more intimate acoustic record with just a few friends in a room together, earlier this year Chris released the 'Blue' album. He commented, "I wrote the songs very quickly and recorded them the same day live. No click track, no drums, just the energy of people singing and playing together."
Two weeks ago the prolific songsmith put out a new release to Joe Public. "On 'Frame The Light' I wrote and played all the instruments myself. I'm very proud of this record. It's only available in digital format through my bandcamp website right now. I love this record!"
So what is it that keeps the San Antonio musician writing and recording? "Life," he responded. "The fact that I need to get thoughts and feelings out of my head on into a melody to just keep myself going. That's really the only reason I keep writing and recording. It's never been about album sales or fame. None of those things have really happened for me. So it must be about the beauty of creative process and what it does to me on the inside."
Cross Rhythms asked Chris what he thought about the secular/sacred divide which seems to permeate most of the record industry. "I just ignore it. I ignore it all. If you are a musician and you are asked to sing songs in a church then you should find out what that particular church's culture is and try and write songs that speak into that culture. Or sing songs those folks are already drawn to. That's a no brainier for me. You don't have to change the course of a body of people, you know. People who are moved by hymns shouldn't have to be subjected to sing Jesus meets Radiohead kind of songs. But, in the big business of selling music the idea is to sell as many records as possible and by almost any means possible. I wish people would just leave God out of this business plan idea. The lyrics don't make it secular or sacred. The heart behind the lyrics may be a more accurate portrait. But who really knows a man's heart? We can't really tell by what people say or don't say, especially in a song. Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Mike Roe, Joseph Arthur - who really knows these people? Who CAN possibly know them? Their songs move me beyond description and sometimes I can't say why. I feel like they know me more than I know them. That is the ultimate beauty of a song. And that can't be bought or sold. . . or labelled."
These days Chris only occasionally plays a local gig. He said, "I'm not interested in touring or traveling at the moment. There is no need for it. I'm no longer on a label or with a booking agent or manager, so I keep it pretty simple and close to home." When asked if he was happy in his own skin he responded, "Not these days. I'm really not. But I can say this - I'm exactly where God wants me. And I'm wired up to be just the way I am. Nothing else really matters. If I'm uncomfortable I just use that energy to create art or write songs. . . So it doesn't get wasted. I've learned that every single person is a mess. Every single person isn't worthy of grace or forgiveness. But those are our gifts that we've been given. And sometimes I have to convince myself to walk in those gifts. Lots of people wear masks and I can be one of them from time to time. I'm learning to live without the mask. And if that means losing people in my life, I'm fine with that. Even though I may be getting an interview on a cool website I'm no one special, or any more special than anyone who may be reading this. We ALL have something to offer this world. I just happen to offer it though music, artwork and whatever else I can offer. Just be true to yourself."The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.