Friday, November 16, 2012

MC Taylor of Hiss Golden Messenger on "Lord I Love The Rain"

The last time I spoke with MC Taylor of Hiss Golden Messenger for an interview was around the time that the recent reissue of Poor Moon came out (via the Tompkins Square label). Following a recently issued split 7" with Elephant Micah, Hiss Golden Messenger is releasing an interesting mix of material bundled together under the title Lord I Love The Rain. The new album is composed of home recordings, previously unreleased gems, and cover tunes. In addition to these releases, Hiss Golden Messenger has wrapped up a new album, called Haw, that is set to be released next spring.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with MC Taylor about Lord I Love The Rain, working with Elephant Micah and Nathan Salsburg, and some details regarding the making of next year's Haw.

Lord I Love The Rain was originally released as an EP. Can you discuss the writing and recording of the original EP?

Lord I Love the Rain is something of an odds and sods collection, and there was little methodology. Side A was recorded at my kitchen table in Pittsboro, NC, during the making of Bad Debt, in an empty room in Durham where I sometimes write, and in a motel room in Burgaw, NC. Side B was recorded at a converted farmhouse in Chapel Hill, and in a different house in Oxford, NC.

What were the original tracks on the EP? How did these inform/ serve as a basis for the longer version?

MC: For the refurbished album we subtracted a cover of Mike & Lal Waterson's "Bright Phoebus" because it didn't in any way do justice to the original version and added a bunch more music from the Bad Debt era, plus a few covers that we had knocked out during recording sessions that weren't committed to any other projects.

What was your approach to expanding the EP to a full length?

MC: A full-length release seemed more substantive and fun, and the folks at Jellyfant happened to get in touch and ask if we'd be interested in doing something. Their approach hit me right and it was sort of a risk-free proposition. They were good about working with me to get the design and packaging right. 

Please discuss some of the additional material. How did it all come together? 

MC: It was leftover material we have in the HGM archives. We were trying to pick the songs that would serve to make each side flow. There is a significant disparity between sides A and B in terms of fidelity, so we were looking for material that had a consistent tone running throughout. 

Poor Moon was a much more produced album throughout, whereas Lord I Love The Rain sounds raw and immediate during the first half, while the second half sounds more refined. Please discuss your intentions sonically/ production-wise, and what you're going for on this one.

MC: Side A is raw because it was all recorded on a cassette recorder, voice and guitar at once. I like that approach, the immediacy can be frightening. Side B is something of an indulgence for us.  We included a couple of covers, and some music that is almost incidental in scope.

HGM has never been secret about our love of groups like Can and NEU!, and some of those instrumental cuts are our attempt to exercise, or exorcise, some of those key inspirations in a way that we didn't feel we would be able to otherwise. 

Can you discuss the inclusion of Michael Hurley's "The Revenant" and Ronnie Lane's "Tell Everyone"?

MC: Michael Hurley has long been a touchstone for me. He is an iconoclastic man and a brilliant songwriter whose heart beats in a different way. I was his chauffeur up and down the East Coast several times on tours around 2007-2008. I got the skinny. Ronnie Lane is a hero of mine, a spiritual guru, a gentle soul. His music I would play to a newborn baby, or at a funeral. I have played Ronnie Lane's songs at two weddings in the past couple years: my brother Graham's (a superb orchestral musician who has done a lot of arranging for HGM) and Brendan Greaves, one of the owners of Paradise of Bachelors and a longtime friend and conspirator.

How do these tunes fit with, compliment, and/ or expand upon your own work?

MC: I don't know if they do. But I hope they do. We are just bowing at the altars of song. Being geeks. We're pretending that we're making music at Ronnie Lane's Fishpool in Wales, or whatever re-purposed schoolhouse in Point Reyes that Michael Hurley recorded with the Youngbloods back in the day. But the place we work is just as good, in its way. It is a small southern town far from many distractions. Best not to get too tangled up in mythology and just make the music and have fun.

Lord I Love The Rain will be distributed by the German Jellyfant label in an edition of 600 hand-numbered LPs in Folkways-style paste-on jackets designed by Brendan Greaves, with liner notes by folklorist, curator and guitarist Nathan Salsburg. 

Can you discuss the packaging of the album in greater detail and dig into your own philosophy into hand-made-printed artwork and packaging?

MC: The handmade aesthetic is borne of necessity. We have to do things ourselves because we can't afford to pay someone else to do them. But there is something very powerful about laying hands on each and ever copy of a record. I appreciate it, and there is a small pool of people, many of whom I know by name now, that I know appreciate it.

I would like to keep participating in the process of assembling the records for as long as I can. This is not about exclusivity, but more about me being someone that needs to have creative control, or at least cede some of that control to someone that I trust, like Scott Hirsch or the Paradise of Bachelors. It's a much smaller crew of us putting all this stuff together than you would think, probably. 

Please talk about working with guitarist, archivist, and record collector Nathan Salsburg. 

MC: Nathan is brilliant and I'm really lucky to know him. He's a deep thinker with an encyclopedic knowledge of vernacular music and beer. He's a kind and easygoing man. He's also the best, and I say this without hyperbole, fingerstyle guitarist I've ever met. His playing is on a completely otherworldly level, and he's so humble about it. When I first met him, I didn't even know that he played guitar. We have very similar pasts in music, so we can talk about Ray Fisher's The Bonny Birdy and we can talk about Tonie Joy's guitar playing in Moss Icon. 

You recently released a split 7" single with Elephant Micah. Can you discuss your friendship and musical connection to Joseph O'Connell (Elephant Micah)?

MC: Scott Hirsch and I used to play with a group called The Court & Spark. On our first swing through Louisville (this would have been in 1998 or 1999), Joe opened up for us. He was very young then, maybe 17. His music made a serious impression on me. When I connected with Nathan Salsburg a few years ago, he told me that he knew Joe, and that Joe had continued to make incredible music.

So I reconnected with Joe and came to understand that he was making some of the most powerful records that I could hope for. So it was my profound honor to participate in that project with him. I hope he's OK with how the HGM version of his song, "My Cousin's King," turned out. Joe's latest record, Louder Than Thou, is a masterpiece. 

Let's talk a little bit about about Haw, the new Hiss Golden Messenger record that will be coming out next year. First, can you tell us about the title?

MC: The Haw is a river that passes through our part of the North Carolina Piedmont. As Brendan says, it's half a laugh. Which is funny, because the record is dark.

Did you have a preconceived vision for the album?

MC: These songs just needed to all hang together. 

When and how did you begin working on the new material?

MC: We recorded the material in a house in Oxford, NC mostly in June. Did some overdubs at our friend Brian Haran's studio in Graham, NC, and some in Durham. 

Who did you bring in and collaborate with on Haw?

MC: Phil and Brad Cook from Megafaun offered me a ton of spiritual guidance and support after Poor Moon came out. They are Durham heroes for good reason, and they really took a shine to Poor Moon and introduced themselves. Thank God, really. I was lucky to meet them, they have been so encouraging to me . They both played on sessions for Haw. Phil actually plays on most of the songs, I think.

The core HGM trio of myself, Scott Hirsch and Terry Lonergan. Phil Cook plays piano and keys. William Tyler plays some Telecaster. Nathan Bowles plays some banjo. Brad Cook sang some. Sonia Turner sang a bit. Bobby Crowe plays horns. There are probably others I'm not remembering.

Who will be releasing Haw and when will it be released?

MC: Paradise of Bachelors will be putting it out in March, 2013. 

Will you be touring nationally for the record?

MC: Not sure. It would be nice.

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