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Taylor Made Production

by Bruce A. Brown

CCM 1992

In Christian music, as in every other art form, there are innovators and imitators. Terry Taylor definitely belongs in the former category. As the principal songwriter and conceptual designer for Daniel Amos, Taylor virtually defined the alternative Christian rock genre in the early '80s. By the mid-'80s Taylor had become a respected producer as well, guiding Randy Stonehill through the critically-acclaimed Equator and Between the Glory and the Flame albums. Taylor has also been involved in a number of side projects, including recording two solo albums, forming an ersatz rap/comedy group called The Rap'sures and helping organize the artfully absurd Swirling Eddies and a roots rock consortium called Lost Dogs. But producing occupies most of Taylor's time these days. We asked CCM contributing editor (and long-time DA fanatic) Bruce A. Brown to quiz Terry on his thoughts about production.

Did Daniel Amos start out determined to be in charge in the studio?

No, because we didn't know anything about production and very little about recording. I remember the first time we entered a major studio, when we went in to record "Ain't Gonna Fight It," we were just a 3-piece acoustic band in this huge studio. We gathered around this one microphone, and I felt like I stood about three inches tall.

When did you become more involved in production, or feel like you had some input?

We broke out with Shotgun Angel, then we really began to soar with Horrendous Disc, which we did with Mike Stone, who was a producer/engineer. It still was a team effort, but the band really gave me the confidence to step out and say "Hey, I think we can handle this." I think Randy's records, The Glory and the Flame and Equator were the first albums I was billed as "producer;" they were a major step for me.

What exactly is a producer's role in the record making process?

One of them is liaison with the record company, another is handling a budget, another being a sort of "matriarchal" figure there with the artist. I try and be as flexible with an artist and as encouraging as I can, but I have to be honest or I'm just a babysitter. Your production work has usually involved people approaching you, so there's already the aspect of the artist wanting to work with you. I always have to ask the question "why do you want to work with me?" You may get a notion in pre-production or sitting down with the band over coffee and finding out who they are and trying to assess what they want to accomplish and what they expect from me.

You've taken some knocks from critics--especially with Jacob's Trouble--saying you were just "cloning" a "Terry Taylor sound."

I think what often happens with artists-- especially artists recording for the first time--is you have a band that has a core of professional attributes, but also a certain degree of amateurism as well. So I step in and try to infuse them, but I've never been belligerent about what I think an artist ought to be doing. What I've always wanted to do with some of the critics who've said "This has Terry's stamp on it," is send them a cassette of the first tape I received from certain bands, and show you the metamorphosis, the evolution of that band.

What's surprised a lot of people is the tremendous variety of musical styles represented by the artists you've produced--from metal with Deliverance to techno/industrial with Mortal, to the '60s rock of Jacob's Trouble to Stonehill.

Deliverance was the first real head-turner for me. When Frontline said Jimmy Brown wanted to talk to me about producing the band, I couldn't imagine the common ground. Mortal was the same way. They were already a very exceptional band with a distinct identity. They write intelligent lyrics--God knows, that's a total blessing in this industry.

Do you feel you have to be be a part of the artist's songwriting process, or do you only come in at the "fine tuning" stage?

When I do get involved I'll cautiously say, "this is a song that could use some work" or "maybe you could say this a little better, because it's important to me that as artist and producer, we feel proud of what we've done."

Would you say that Randy Stonehill's Wonderama album was the peak of productions you've done so far?

As a producer, I'd say that was one of my most rewarding experiences, if not the most. We went for a variety of sounds and textures because we had a vision and we didn't want to cheapen it or take the easy way out. I think it's one of the great albums in contemporary Christian music history. It still hasn't been recognized in the way it should.

If you receive an unsolicited demo from a band that hasn't gone through a major label to reach you, and you're impressed with the tape, would you pursue them on your own?

Absolutely, but I have to say it's rare. There are already a lot of people making records that shouldn't be, so it's rare to get a great demo. I recently received a tape from a band called Poor Old Lu out of Seattle, and I was really impressed. They're super young guys--a couple of them look like they're only 16--but they're very smart. I'd like to try and give a band like that every break I can. Because it's tough today; the whole industry is really suffering and alternative music is really a tough place to be.

What's the most important element you can offer as a producer?

The greatest thing that I can bring to a project is instilling confidence in the artist that we're going to make something good and lasting and not "oh, it's just a throw-away first album; they'll do better the next time." You go in and say "We're going to make a great record." And if they're with me and I'm with them and the material and the artistry is there, there's no reason we can't do great things.