Tuesday, April 2, 2013

MC Taylor of Hiss Golden Messeneger on "Haw" and Golden Gunn

Hiss Golden Messenger have returned with a stellar, new length-album called Haw (Paradise of Bachelors). It is HGM's first set of new material since their much celebrated Poor Moon (Tompkins Square), not including Lord, I Love The Rain, which was composed of some of MC Taylor's unearthed home recordings, previously unreleased tunes, and covers. You can read more about these records by checking out my two previous interviews with MC Taylor on Poor Moon here and Lord, I Love The Rain here.

In addition to Hiss Golden Messenger's Haw, MC Taylor has another exciting release to offer us. It is a collaboration with Steve Gunn, called Golden Gunn (Three Lobed). I recently had the pleasure of speaking with MC Taylor again, this time digging into the making of Haw and Golden Gunn.

"Haw" is a river in Piedmont, NC, but is also an expression a muleskinner calls, and even a way of describing a laugh. Can you talk about the album's title, and what it represents to you?

MC Taylor: The album title works in different ways, depending on where you are situated. I wanted a title that felt simple: one word, one syllable, three letters. I wanted a title that marked the place where I live. And I appreciate its dark comedy. I think Haw is generally an emotionally dark record, and it felt good to name it after laughter.

Coming off of your last full-length, Poor Moon (Tompkins Square), and the collection Lord, I Love The Rain (Paradise of Bachelors), can you talk about what kind of record you wanted Haw to be when you began working up the material?

MC: I just wanted it to feel honest. Otherwise, I didn’t care how we made it. I had a batch of songs that we winnowed down to what appears on Haw, and they were the ones that felt the most like a family.

How has your recent writing, recording, and touring influenced you as you began to work on new material?

MC: I sit and write, and I am generally working towards something that feels impulsive and emotional and real. I might have a million fancy ideas, but at this point in time the one that feels the most direct is likely going to come to the fore. The hard part is cutting through the second-guessing and self-doubt.

Was there a song(s) that set the course for the new record?

MC: There were some songs that felt like anchors on the record: “Sufferer (Love My Conqueror)", “I’ve Got a Name for the Newborn Child", and later “Red Rose Nantahala”. We built the house around songs like those.

There is another song called “Brother, Do You Know the Road?” that didn’t get used for the album and won’t even be on this upcoming additional EP we’re putting out. I’m saving it for something really special, though I don’t know what that will be. I’ll know it when I think of it.

Which tunes came first and how did they set the course for the record?

MC: “Sufferer (Love My Conqueror)” wasn’t written first, but it set the lyrical mood for the record. Once it had been demoed, I did a bit of reshuffling in order to deeper explore that theme.

Who were your collaborators on the album?

MC: Scott Hirsch and I have been working together for 20 years. I love him, he’s my brother. I consider Scott (who plays bass on HGM recordings) and Terry Lonergan, who plays drums with us, to be one of the most crucial rhythm sections working right now. I take pride in the players I work with, just like Waylon Jennings did.

Phil Cook, William Tyler, and Nathan Bowles played really critical roles in the making of Haw as well, spiritually and emotionally. And musically, of course, they’re all respective geniuses of their instruments.

What were you listening to during your writing and recording of Haw?

MC: Reno & Smiley, Ann Peebles, Niney the Observer.

What were some of your non-musical sources of inspiration?

MC: Food, folks, fun.

What would you say are the biggest similarities, as well as the biggest differences, between Haw with your previous records?

MC: The similarities would be that there are the same players and same good vibes. Phil and Brad Cook from Megafaun were around a lot. Those guys are great friends and they’re kind of the spiritual advisors of this set of tunes.

The biggest difference would be that Haw is darker. I was spiraling, emotionally.

You also have a new collaboration with Steve Gunn coming out on the heels of Haw called Golden Gunn (via Three Lobed). How and when did you discover Gunn's work?

MC: Harvest Records, Asheville, 2007. They were playing his album Sundowner. I seem to recall him doing a version of John Martyn’s “Over the Hill". Then I realized it was the dude from GHQ. I love Steve’s music, and I think he’s an incredible songwriter. Very blue.

How and when did you guys connect and decide to work together?

MC: Cory Rayborn from Three Lobed suggested it to us as a collaboration. We were all game.

What came first: the idea to make a record together, or just get together and see what happens?

MC: The idea to get to Hammy’s wedding on time. That’s what really got it rolling. A long car ride.

Can you talk about your songwriting process together?

MC: The main songwriter on that record is actually Scott Hirsch. He wrote and recorded most of the music. Steve and I were basically working for Scott on that one. Then he stitched it all together in a cohesive way, and I had absolutely no idea how he was going to do that. But he did. Pretty brilliantly, I think. It goes out there. It was a lark. Though one I would be glad to revisit.

What are your plans for 2013?

MC: Touring the UK with William Tyler in May, and we’ll see what else comes up.

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