Mike Rimmer spoke to TRAVIS TAYLOR, a California-based worship leader with an exceptional Dwayne Larring-produced album.
An organic, full-on rock album, 'You Have Loved', but one brimming over with powerful, tender-hearted worship is what has just been delivered by "new" name on the scene, Travis Taylor. Except, of course, as is so often the case Travis, from Houston, Texas isn't a gauche newcomer at all but a seasoned musicianary with a life steeped in music ministry.
He recalls, "I grew up going to church pretty much every Sunday. Twice on Sundays most Sundays! I had a great family. My father and mother did an awesome job raising three boys. I'm the middle of three boys. My younger brother is a musician. In fact we're all musicians. We've kind of played in bands together. Not together growing up our whole lives but it was an interesting time down in Houston because God was doing a lot of stuff in our church. Going through quite a bit of a revival. I think that's what catapulted me into ministry, at least in music during my senior year in high school in Houston."
Taylor's parents had a Southern gospel band called The Glory Band. He explains, "Probably until I was about third grade we travelled just around the nearby state of Texas and played every weekend. I remember sitting on pews watching them. I loved it. It was awesome. Even though I'm not a huge Southern gospel guy anymore!" The young Travis was occasionally brought onto stage to sing a song as part of a performance. He doesn't seem to have been too scarred by the experience. "My parents taught us kids a song called 'He's Still Workin' On Me', something like that. I don't even remember the right words. I remember I sang something about a monkey.and that was the wrong words! And I only realised later that I sang the wrong words for two years." He laughs, "It was one of those where I got up on stage and sung to a soundtrack with my two brothers. It was pretty embarrassing!"
The first time he did that was in third grade and it seems appropriate that these days music ministry is the focus of his life. Was it always clear that music would be the thing that he would do? "It didn't become clear until college," Travis confesses. "I was really involved in sports growing up. We just had instruments lying around the house so it was the perfect environment for us to grow up as musicians. But I remember taking piano lessons and quitting after my first recital when I had to play 'Go Tell It On The Mountain'. I hated it! So I quit and never took another piano lesson and veered away from music for a long time. This was when I was really young."
Travis continues, "Then in high school I got involved in sports and ended up going to school to play football and in university and was really focussed on that for a long time. Then it kind of found me again in college. I had a little band in high school. It wasn't a big deal, we were just playing around and I had picked up the guitar along the way. I guess it was my youth pastor who needed me to fill in for him one Sunday and actually lead worship instead of just backing him up on the guitar. So he threw me out there and I landed on my feet and just started realising that I got a lot out of leading worship. Probably more than I put into it, you know? It was really rewarding for me. I found that I just really loved being used in that way. That's where it really started taking off probably, my freshman year at college. I didn't really even sing until then. I played guitar through high school but I just started singing in college."
Somehow along the way Travis didn't turn into a world class football player. "I wasn't going to go pro," he admits. "I mean I had a scholarship but it got to a point where I started a college ministry in this little town called Wichita Falls, where I was going to school at Midwestern State University. They kind of dubbed me, during summer vacation, as 'college pastor' while I was away so I came back and they were like, 'Hey, you're gonna be college pastor this year.' So I said, 'Okaaay.!' I wasn't very qualified for it. I was scrambling every week trying to come up with something good to talk about or to do that week in the little college group that we started. It grew though and eventually the church hired me on staff and I was leading worship at a couple of different things as well - different college ministries in town. Eventually the weight of ministry was heavier than even practising and playing football. The coaches were really understanding believe it or not. I think because from the beginning, playing football, I was pretty committed to the church and to ministry and so it got to a point where I decided to talk to my coaches in my junior year and say, 'This is the direction I want to go.' Believe it or not I never would have guessed that would have happened but I ended up quitting football and was college pastor for a couple more years and was leading worship. That's kind of how it started I guess."
Growing up as part of his parents' ministry taught Taylor some good lessons which meant that he didn't always travel down the expected routes. "The advice that I got from my dad was to not go to Seminary!" He elaborates, "He wanted me to go and just have a regular education first and if I still wanted to be in the ministry, that door is always going to be open. And what I found was that going out into the real world and having a ministry in the real world was probably some of the best ministry education that I could have received. And that's what happened. I went to go and play football and to go to the secular university and I found myself surrounded in ministry and leading ministries and writing music and all kinds of stuff. It wasn't really a direction towards ministry, it was a direction kind of away from it. I guess my dad wanted me to go for the right reasons. At the time I think I had a lot of friends that were taking off to go to seminaries, to ministry college, and that's probably what he didn't want me to do. He didn't want me to go there and get a decent education and then decide that I didn't want to go into fulltime ministry. He probably would rather me go and get a better education and then decide I want to go into fulltime ministry."
Prior to working as a solo artist, Travis had formed a band while he was still living in Texas. He explains, "Tenthousand Flying was the band that I started right out of college. We had a couple of releases with that band. The first one was called 'Some Will Rise'. It did fairly well independently. I think we sold close to around to around 10,000 records out of Texas. We sold them at shows. We didn't sell any through stores or hardly anything online at that time because it was so hard to move a record over the internet. It was myself, my little brother Jeff and Mark McDuffie (who ended up joining the army). He played lead guitar. We were the core. We kind of rotated the bass player spot in and out a few times. It was just an awesome time. I think we were definitely inspired by Delirious? and what we called the 'British worship movement'. I don't know if that's the term over there or not but whenever we were getting into this, there was just a lot of great songs, great worship music, coming out of there. I think that's what inspired us and we just started writing worship songs. It was mainly me doing the writing and the band giving them life, you know, as songs? We ended up travelling 220 dates one year. I mean, it was crazy! We travelled fulltime for about two and a half years. So a minimum of a hundred dates a year to one year being over two hundred-and-something."
Reflecting on his time in the band, Travis knew that it was just a season. "It was crazy and we weren't married. We were all single. It was in a van, ping-ponging around the country. Got a lot done. It was a really fun time. But we ended up going in different directions because like I said, our guitarist felt that he had to join the army. It was something that was just eating him away from the inside out and eventually he just had to go do it. So he took off and my brother and I talked about the possibility of continuing on with the band. My brother - he's an awesome songwriter - I really wanted him to go and pursue his own thing because I felt like he was being held back because I was the main writer in this band most of the time. I tried to keep it open but I just felt this band, Tenthousand Flying, may be holding him back from doing what he could really do. So we parted ways and right around that same time I got an offer to come out to California and lead worship at the church that I'm at now. That's kind of what brought me out here."
"Out here" is the Calvary Church of Pacific Palisades. Travis is not the main worship leader at the church. He explains, "We have a traditional service and we have what we call a modern service. Which is basically just modern music so the difference between the two services is strictly music. So we have a worship leader that leads worship for the traditional service which is like the early morning 8:30 am service and then our 10:30 am is the modern service and I'm the worship leader for that. I'm fulltime at the church. I guess I do consider that I am the main worship leader for the modern service. But I also help out with the youth. We have a school at the church as well. It's a 500-student school that I help out in during the week in chapel services when I'm around for that too."
The album has been very influenced by the British worship scene. "I just like the songwriting that comes from over there most of the time." He says simply, "Tim Hughes, Matt Redman. I've just always been drawn to the songwriting that's been coming from over there. Delirious?'s stuff, Matt Redman's stuff, Tim's written a lot of great songs. To me, I guess what I call a great worship song is something that I would love to play and lead with. Something that I would love to use but that lends itself to be creative musically and captures the heart of the people that you're leading worship with. And that's a hard thing to do. I don't think that you can create it. I think it happens. I think God just blesses whenever there's something going on anywhere. If there's a movement of God and a writer is trying to capture that, every once in a while God just touches the song and makes it bigger than it ever could be on its own."
It remains to be seen whether his own worship album contains songs that will stretch across the USA and beyond. It's early days yet. What I love about 'You Have Loved' is that it works as a performance album as well as a worship project. There's a reason for that. He explains, "In the Christian music industry, let's call it that, there's restrictions, right? And I guess when you say 'it doesn't sound like worship', that's already a restriction because worship to me is just so much more than a song first of all. But whenever you worship through a song it doesn't have to stick to a sound. I hope it doesn't. Obviously worship songs today sound nothing like they sounded 30 years ago and I hope worship songs two years from now have a little bit of a different taste and life to them than they do right now. So this is just an attempt at being musically honest and also spiritually honest at the same time. And what happened with this record was, we wrote and we produced to create great music with what I was creating. And what I create most of the time is worship; worship songs."
He continues, "So Dwayne Larring, my producer, does a great job at capturing an organic, raw rock feel, you know? That matched really well I think with some of the songs that we were recording. It just came out to sound like an organic rock album with a lot of vertically-driven melodies and lyrics. And that's what it is. Whenever we play live it sounds just like the record. Out here it sounds like worship. I hope people accept it as that. I know a lot of record labels are confused, 'confounded' we'll call it, because there's a couple of tracks that are not worship tracks. They're just love songs. There's probably two or three of those on the record. But really this is a collection of songs with me just spewing out what God's been doing in my life and that's what it is. I didn't really want to write a record for the 'worship' box. I wanted to write a record based on what God was doing in my life and that happens to be a lot of worship stuff."
When it comes to making groundbreaking worship albums, I guess that producer Dwayne Larring is a good choice. As well as being the original guitarist in Sonicflood, he's also produced albums by Matt Redman and Tim Hughes. Although the pair had crossed paths when Travis was fronting Tenthousand Flying, it wasn't until he moved to LA where Larring is based that the friendship really grew. Shares Travis, "Dwayne started coming out to the church I was leading worship at and eventually started playing and getting involved up there. When it came time to do this record I knew that he would be a great candidate to produce and I talked to him about it and he was totally open to it. Doing the record was amazing. Dwayne takes his time. It's not going to be a quick job. We'll spend two days on a guitar part if we have to, to get it right. He's a bit of a perfectionist but in the midst of it all he's just got a great attitude. What makes a great producer is not just their musical skills and their ability to capture stuff on a record but the process. If they can handle and manage attitudes and keep everyone happy and make it interesting all at the same time then they're really good. Dwayne's definitely good at that.
One relationship led to another as Travis then worked with guitarist Erick Cole, best known as Kevin Max's regular guitarist. Then, Kevin himself got involved. "Kevin ended up coming out to the church. Kind of the same story, through just hanging around," says Travis. Additionally Sergio Andrade who was the original bass player in Lifehouse is currently in Taylor's band. He explains, "When I got out here Sergio was still part of Lifehouse and they were about to release their third major album. Sergio was really on the fence about staying with the band or not. So he started playing and getting involved in what we were doing. I don't think my involvement had anything to do with him leaving Lifehouse but it worked out basically that he ended up leaving Lifehouse and it left him completely available to become my fulltime bass player. So ever since then we've been playing together."
At the moment, 'You Have Loved' is only released as an independent and Travis is looking for national and international distribution to give it a wider exposure. He had been having serious talks with a Nashville based record company but towards the end of eight months of negotiations, Taylor recognised that the deal wasn't going to work. "It wasn't a complete win-win situation so we backed out." Interestingly he adds, "I've had a couple of offers by investors to approach the whole idea and do a funded indie label and work with a national distributor and do some of our own stuff. So I'm flirting with that idea. Honestly, I would much rather just partner with a label that's set up and that's doing well on its own just because it seems like a lot of work to do my own thing. And being a fulltime worship leader here and wanting to continue to do that, as long as I can, doing my own label just sounds like something that's going to be hard to manage. So I'm still looking. Still talking to people."
Listening to the album, you imagine that it won't be long until one of the majors comes to their senses and picks it up for distribution. In the meantime, if you like the sound of what he's doing, it's exclusively available in Europe from Cross Rhythms Direct.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.