Mike Rimmer investigated one of Christendom's most underrated talents, CHRIS TAYLOR
Alongside Chris Taylor's "Christian rock musician" entry in Wikipedia you'll find entries for a staggering 18 other Chris Taylors including cricketers, journalists, comedians, engineers and American freestyle wrestlers. Even in the Christian music field there is a Worcester-based singer/songwriter, a Southampton-based producer and an American worship leader baring the CT name. But with the greatest respect to these worthy gentlemen, it is the singer/songwriter, producer and visual artist Chris Taylor from San Antonio, Texas who's held the attention of Cross Rhythms for so many years since he first emerged fronting the fondly remembered one-album rock band Love Coma. CR once suggested that Taylor epitomised the cult following artist and certainly his steady surge of albums down the years have found a small but loyal band of followers who appreciate his passionate, organic and on occasions daringly inventive approach to music making. As Cross Rhythms last quizzed the veteran songsmith in 2012 we felt that an update on his tireless music making was due and began with his 2012 album 'Strange Clothes'.
He explains, "That came about because it was such an old song, 'Strangers Clothes', that had never been recorded properly. So I did my best to try and do just that and build an intimate album around that song."
The song was around during his Love Coma days in the early '90s. And recording the song was part of his education process which would stand him in good stead as he increasingly started recording albums in his own home studio. He explains, "During 2012 I was still getting used to recording and producing my own music. This album was an exercise to get better at doing just that. There wasn't an overall theme to the 'Stranger's Clothes' album. . . but I did want to keep most of it acoustic-based sound-wise."
Next came 2013's 'Postcards From The End Of Time' and Chris recalls, "I felt like I was moving in a sweet musical direction. Learning to sing my own harmonies for the first time. 'Melt Into Morning' is a great example of that. 'What Love Looks Like' is still filled with potential as a big song. But here it is in its humble beginnings!"
Earlier in his career Chris would visit other people's studios. When I first met him in the late '80s he had been recording in Nashville with some of the city's top session players yet even then making music that was a million miles away from the generic offerings of many on the pop rock scene. I wonder whether home recording was simply a financial necessity for him to continue to be able to make music? "It started off as a financial decision," he confesses. "It's one thing to have a record label drop thousands of dollars for me to go in and record with a killer session band in another state. . . But by 2012 I didn't have a record label, a manager, a guitar tech, a road crew. . . it was just me and my songs. I knew what I sounded like when other people produced me but I started to hear myself and my music in my head much differently. So I had to start from square one."
Anyone who has ever worked as an independent artist knows how hard it is to balance the creative with the monetary. He says, "My life was about to change drastically. I was in uncharted territory. I lost my job and I lost myself in the process. For me, I was walking the tight rope between humility and humiliation. I wasn't sure of anything within or without. So the only thing that made sense was to pick up my guitar and write songs."
The experience sounds traumatic. I presume his memory of making the album isn't happy. He confirms, "There was no joy in it at all while making it. But sometimes you have to do the only thing you know how to do just to survive. None of my albums really make me any money, so it was more therapeutic for me than anything else. And again, it was more of a technical exercise so I can continue to get better at recording myself. I got better at microphone placement, singing harmonies and that side of things as well as trying to write a decent song."
A more positive experience was recording 'Never Ending Now' in 2016. He remembers, "Now that was when I hit full stride! I was writing and recording like there was no tomorrow. I had musical friends in and out of my house every day for weeks. I had four different guitars all tuned differently, and songs were just flowing each and every day. Mitchell Connell, who plays lead guitar on that record and in my live shows. . . we really came into our own while making this album. Songs like 'Electric Mind', 'Black Swan', 'Medicine' and 'Let Yourself Move On', in fact that last one is one of my favourite pieces of music I've ever recorded."
Taylor was in such a fertile frame of mind that when it came to putting this music on an album, he had to make it a double! "Yes," he says, "it's tough enough to get people to buy one record, let alone two, but I couldn't think about that kind of thing while trying to dream up something epic and beautiful. At the end of the day, the people that will listen and connect with it will understand why it's a double album. I can't worry about whether or not it will be a success or if it will be ignored."
I wonder why it took three years between that album and the previous one? "I recorded an album called 'Travelers Hotel' in December 2013 that I thought would be the last album I ever made. I was in a severe depression. Self-sabotage had drained me of my joy. I had no direction in my life until I saw that small hotel sign while I was on a walk. 'Travelers Hotel." I took a picture of that sign and by the time I got back to the car, my imagination was firing on all cylinders! It was the first album I played and sang everything myself. When I was finished with it I got a call from Michael Roe asking if I wanted to go on tour!"
I have noticed that he's played with an older generation of Christian alt rockers. Have they adopted him as a mascot? He laughs, "Who knows what in the world I am to them!? In my mind, they all stay the same age because I'm listening to their music every day. But yes, everyone is getting older and time is flying right by. I am so grateful to have been given the chance to play with some of my musical heroes. Most musicians want big stages with tons of people at their shows. I want meaningful and memorable gigs that move myself as well as the people in the room, be it 40 or 400."
Next came 'Re:Imag:ine' and Chris remembers, "This was a lot of fun because I was learning how to create my own drum loops and playing a lot of keyboards. I brought my old friend, and former touring bass player for Love Coma, Curtis Saunier, to do some remixes of older songs and tie them together with brand new songs. There were no rules for this album!" I wonder if it was a challenge tying old and new songs together thematically? But Chris is firm when he says, "No, for this project the only theme was to re-imagine what music could sound like. Older songs that were played with the band now sound like trip hop dance music. I'm predominately a singer/songwriter with an acoustic guitar and harmonica. . . but here I am now creating grooves in strong rhythms to propel these new songs. Bringing female singers in to sing the voice of my conscience. It was all about letting our imaginations run free!
The creative juices flowed once again on 'Electroacoustic ep 1' and Taylor's collaboration with guitarist Mitchell Connell. Taylor explains, "I love Mitchell so much and since we do lots of shows with him on the electric guitar and myself on an acoustic guitar I thought it would be great to make a record with just he and I. No frills. Nothing fancy. It sounds just like the show. 'USBlues' came out in October 2016 just after the election here in the United States. Having never been political in nature, I could not help but see and feel the turning tide in our country. And since I don't belong to any political parties I wanted to make a record from the point of view of a Troubadour, passing through, seeing what I see, documenting what I feel."
How does he feel about life in a Trump America? "Don't get me started," he responds. "I will just say, I never liked Donald Trump when he was a game show/reality star and he has not changed. But I refuse to see America as Democrats and Republicans. I just see people with beating hearts and passions for different issues. We treat our politics like we treat our sporting events. I will not play a part in all of that. The minute we lose focus on each other. . . we've already lost that 'United' part of our country's name."
Chris Taylor's latest album is a collection of Bob Dylan covers called 'Down A Dead End Street' and he explains, "For many years, I have been playing his songs during my sets. Sometimes I would just show up at the venue and play an entire three hour set of nothing but Bob Dylan songs. I would just do these kinds of things on a whim to see if anyone noticed or cared. Not to mention, they were amazing songs to sing and play when I was completely bored with my own! So I started to record them just as a way of documenting my versions but I didn't plan on releasing it until about midway through the making of 'Down A Dead End Street'. I figured I had nothing to lose, so I went for it."
It seems an apt time to release the album since Dylan himself has just released the Bootleg Series box set covering his gospel years. Has Taylor heard any of 'Trouble No More"? "Only a few select songs!" he laughs. "I think I have to play several gigs to buy that album!" Are these his favourite Dylan songs to sing? "They were my first nine favourites! For every one song that I recorded there were at least five more that I wished I recorded!"
I ask Chris why he thinks he is so prolific? "That's a great question," he responds. "I've actually been thinking a lot about it. I think I create all of the time because the creative process is a life force. It has nothing to do with the music business or selling records or anything other than the healing life force of creating something, be it a piece of music or a piece of visual art. If someone has a normal job, they get up every day and go to work without a single question. When the alarm goes off they get in their routine and every day is just like the last day."
He continues, "I think an artist should get up in the morning and create each and every day! It doesn't have to be for any other reason than just to do it. They don't have to release their creations into the world. They can do it for themselves as an exercise or for therapeutic reasons. I could sit around the house and watch TV all day but ultimately it doesn't bring me any joy or give me any focus or creative drive. I don't lose myself in melancholy or depression or stress when I am creating and these are the kinds of things I have to fight against all the time."
In Nashville in the early noughties Taylor was showcasing at Gospel Music Week with a small band. He had an album nominated for a Dove Award and there was a bit of a buzz about him. Fans from his Love Coma days mixed with those who were just discovering him as a solo artist and for a small period of time it looked like everything was possible for Chris. However, critical acclaim didn't convert into any kind of momentum and his record label closed down and he was left adrift, ploughing his own highly creative furrow. These days he's a local artist in San Antonio. Does it make things more manageable, I ask? He reflects, "I'm surprised and grateful that I get as many opportunities to perform and create art here in Texas. It's not much of a town that supports the arts, or the artists. But somehow I survive. Each month feels like I'm starting all over again, literally, financially. I'm always just barely hanging on. But I tell you this - it beats being bored and miserable."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.