Terry S. Taylor
The HRS INTERVIEW
by Brian Quincy Newcomb
We're back with Terry Taylor, the founding father of alternative Christian music's veteran precursor, DA (a.k.a. Daniel Amos and Da, and closely related to the Swirling Eddies through radio-active transmutation), the band that opened the doors and paved the way for a plethora of Christian alternative acts of today. Earlier this year Terry became the rev. dr. Edward Daniel Taylor and put together The Miracle Faith Telethon, a comical look back at many aspects of his career. Also, a fabulous live disc has surfaced from DA's brilliant 1982 tour, which reminded us just how great a contribution this band has made to the alternative Christian music scene. We just figured it'd all fit in one issue. It didn't.
HRS: Were you satisfied with Horrendous Disc when it finally got out?
Taylor: Yeah, I'm very satisfied with it. But it came out in the middle of a very frustrating, sad time.
HRS: Frustrating? You mean all the delays in the record's release, difficulties between you and Norman at Solid Rock or all the hype that accompanied the prerelease?
Taylor: For us, it was only the delays. It didn't have anything to do, for me, with feelings toward Larry (Norman), on a personal level.
HRS: Many fans may have assumed that the Solid Rock artists were like a family. There was a perception out there - because the record jackets had everybody playing on everybody else's records - that the whole thing was like this Christian community, that you hung out together and were intimately involved in each others lives. Did you even have a personal relationship with Norman, or was it strictly business?
Taylor: Well, he's an enigma. He's a very tough person to know. Larry's a very complex guy. He's a genius. And he's a frustrating person to know, because in many ways at one moment he's accessible, and at another he's inaccessible. But that's okay, I understand that. The whole thing for us was the delays. We wanted our record out, we've recorded it, why isn't it out? And it went on and on.
Yeah, it was very different from that perception. We still had the hangover from the Maranatha! days, and we didn't know what to make of the whole scene. These were new relationships, new friends, and we didn't know what was going on. So, we'd go out (to play concerts), and the rumors would precede us. People would think that we were doing everything from divorcing our wives to using cocaine, and I don't know what else. Because once there's a sense of controversy here (in the Christian music world), the rumors just fly. But it was just a very simple problem that we had: this record being delayed, and being delayed, and so on. We were out playing the songs from (Horrendous Disc), and it was not out there.
HRS: Have you ever been satisfied about the nature of the delays?
Taylor: Larry kind of said, it's for our own good, to build controversy or whatever. I really don't know why it was delayed. I don't know why any of the Solid Rock records were delayed as long as they were. Why people had to be so frustrated and angered about it. I really don't know. To this day it remains a mystery to me.
HRS: I know you remain friends with Stonehill, and many of the others from that period, but I sense that your relationship with Norman is no longer warm.
Taylor: That would be an understatement. I don't have a relationship with Larry. The last time I spoke with Larry it was not a good thing. He actually spoke to me..., it was not a great moment for me...
HRS: I know there's a lot interest out there among fans of DA and Norman about this. Is it just some personal thing that's between you all and none of our business or what?
Taylor: I will tell you this. I really have gotten past all the anger, and the bitterness, a long time ago. I really did get past it, and we just wanted to go on with our lives. We wanted to put it behind us. We figured it was a bad episode , not good for anybody, but let's move on. We've got new paths to go down, new records to do. We still have our friends, we still have our families, let's put it behind us and forget it.
That's all I ever really wanted to do. I didn't want to talk about it, I didn't want to put Larry down, or try to build myself up, or rationalize, because I knew that that was futile. We had spent so much time trying to put our point across, and whether that was sabotaged or whatever, is for somebody else to know. We tried to go to the press and it was just our word against his, that sort of thing, and it was just futile. I knew the only thing to do was to get on with our lives.
What does pain me, I have to say, is that Larry keeps dredging it up, Larry keeps rehashing it in the press and in his newsletter. Larry keeps trying to justify his actions, trying to cast everyone else in a bad light. That sickens me, it turns my stomach, when I hear that he continues to belabor this whole thing. To me it's just so simple, let's get on with it. I don't want to talk about Larry, really. But, I will be honest, when he has continued to dredge it up, seemingly in an attempt to hurt people.
HRS: So, was your last encounter with him an attempt at peacemaking?
Taylor: My attempt was to avoid the situation, at the time. I was just trying to collect myself and get through it, and not really think about it. Now, I think , it could have all led to a renewed relationship - not on a business level, but in a personal way, had things been allowed to just lay there, and we'd just gone on with our lives. You know, just bury the hatchet, and with God as my witness, that was my desire.
But Larry approached me one year at Cornerstone, and made an accusation right out of the blue, and I thought, 'Gee, it's not over. It's going to continue.' My heart just sank. I was angry, but I was sad at the same time. I thought, he will just not let go of this. It must consume him, that time (back in the late 70's, early 80's), because he continues to make an issue of it. I still hold out the hope that we can go on with our lives, and that there can be a restoration of friendship. If I don't believe that, I wouldn't be able to say that I believe in God and that God can accomplish miracles.
HRS: You moved on to record Alarma! then, before Disc was even available?
Taylor: That was complicated too, because we were in a contract with Larry. Basically our hands were tied. Here's this creative band chomping at the bit, ready to keep going, to make records and tour, to keep writing songs, and Horrendous Disc was just holding it all up. It was so frustrating it could bring tears to your eyes.
HRS: How did you continue making a living?
Taylor: Well we were doing the Amos and Randy thing for a while, and that was good. But, we were struggling financially. It was a very, very tough time. And most record companies didn't want to deal with us, because we still had this cloud over us of these contracts with Norman, but still an unreleased album.
Finally, the Benson Company took a chance. They said we'll just do it in good faith, and let the chips fall where they may. We appreciated the people there for that. So we went in and did the record, and the two albums came out within two weeks of each other, something like that.
HRS: These two, very different albums, coming out so close together must have added to the confusion about what this strange DA bird was, in the public perceptions. There was a shift in sound and perspective, and you went from six players to four. How did all this transpire?
Taylor: Well, there were casualties. Some people couldn't hang with us, it became too much. We felt beat up, we really did. Some of us have a little thicker skin, or the pain threshold is a little higher... We still love those guys, and continue to have relationships; I saw mark a few years ago, he's a pastor in Virginia, and I still do projects for Alex at Maranatha! Music. We're still friends, but I knew the band was not going to stay the same. I saw the band as going on and on, and it did, but along the way we've gained some new friends, some new people that become part of the family.
HRS: Standing back from the records, Alarma was a real shift stylistically - with a Talking Heads '77-era tone and Elvis Costello-like songwriting making more of an impact in DA music than previous Beatle-esque or country directions.
Taylor: Well, there are those influences, but again, I think it's connected. Again, it's the melody, the connection to pop rock. It was just time to do a new thing. I perceived each of our albums as going in a different direction, and that all went back to the 60s thing. You know, 'What are these guys going to do next?' And we're going, let's blow their minds. There are a lot of music fans who like to get their minds blown. So, we went with it. We still made it our own, it was still DA, still Daniel Amos.
In terms of impact, I think Alarma probably is a pivotal record, probably much more important than Fearful Symmetry. But I listen to it now and I think it's a funny little record. It's so stripped down...
HRS: And the high end, oh...
Taylor: Yeah, you can hardly take it. It was recorded at Whitesfield, Which is not a great studio. We tried to tweak it around and make it something, make the studio do what we wanted, and we couldn't really do it. We were there, we had to do our record and we did it there, but it lent a certain something to that record (laughs). You either really like it, or really hate it, but I think it's a good record.
HRS: As DA grew artistically and became more daring you found yourselves playing to a smaller and smaller audience. I remember the Amos and Randy dates as being massive, but by the time you came around with the Alarma! tour in '82 and '83, must have been clear that you were losing some of that larger audience.
Taylor: The reason for becoming a four piece were not ultimately financial, there were a few band's around at the time that gave us the courage to do that, go with the stripped down sound. It was either that or disco, and the Costello thing, and the T Heads gave us the courage to go with it.
But what was happening,... I could measure what I'm about to say by the kinds of letters I was getting in the mail. It was a mixed bag of love/hate letters. We were beginning to see a drop off, we were beginning to frustrate or alienate a portion of our audience, those coming to our concerts or buying our records that expected to hear Shotgun Angel. They weren't hearing it, and they were either angry about it or they just saw it was time to move on to something else. So some letters were angry, some were supportive. Some were from long time fans who continued to travel with us, they caught the vision. They went, I love the country records, but I like Alarma, too.
As the angry letters began to drop off, I began getting more and more letters that I could really respond to, letters that were more supportive. It was the same with the concerts - there's a blessing and a curse here. We were going out and doing concerts that were getting great response from the audience, people singing along with the lyrics, the whole bit. The drop off were basically people that couldn't stay with us. It dropped off, and dropped off, and then kind of dropped off some more. Then it kind of dove up a little, and it's kind of plateaued, it's predictable (laughs).
HRS: So predictable that you guys can't afford to tour anymore...
Taylor: Well, financially we just can't do it. We have to wait for Cornerstone once a year, where some people drive a thousand miles and stay over night to see the band. Those are the kinds of fans that follow DA. That's a wonderful thing to see, an incredible thing; the loyalty that's there. We look forward to that one concert. We try to do fly in things, but it's hard to fit those in when you have to make other commitments to maintain an income. There once was a time when we used to say, it doesn't matter that we're losing money, those were the early days...
HRS: You can do that until baby needs a new pair of red Reeboks.
Taylor: Exactly, the kids start needing things like shoes. We went through a period of bickering with concert sponsors so that they would put up enough money for us to be able to afford to play, but you just can't keep that up. We're not kids, we all have families, we just can't go out in and sleep in our van to make that happen, it's tougher to get us to come out and play.
HRS: It may seem inconceivable to some of our readers who tuned into that alternative music scene late, but there was a time when DA was one of the most popular artists in contemporary Christian music - don't you just love what the word contemporary has come to mean in the Christian industry? I remember when Petra, Sweet Comfort Band, Rez Band, and Daniel Amos were mentioned in the same breath. Kids who have only heard the Eddies records or seen DA at Cornerstone, may not realize that there was a time when this band was really popular, that you didn't always have just a cult following. Does that feel like ages ago?
Taylor: Well we were the band, really. That followed us around for a while, you know, this may be the number one band in Christian music. I think it was that pause, which did it; the delays. The momentum came to a standstill, and by the time the audience heard us again - three years later, we'd been through all these undocumented changes.
We were really confused ourselves. What do you do with a band with a record that's been in the can that long, but needs to survive by going on, and creating and leaving the past behind. How do we live with that, how do we continue. And it's just that it had to confuse people.
HRS: In your songs you've always struggled with your role as an artist, your work and it's impact. "Through The Speakers", "Hit Them With Love", "I Love You #19", "Rubber Sky", "Knee Jerk" and "I'm On Your Team" all seem to offer up some explanation, if not actually a defense, for why it is you do what you do. You've really tried to help people understand, you have really tried to help them come along with you for the ride.
Taylor: Realistically, we are in the contemporary Christian music business, we play to that crowd. And we haven't landed a secular deal. We don't have that approach or mind set. If we were recording for Warner Bros. it might impact and influence what we might say on a record, it might impact us musically, who knows. So, realistically, in this business, you have to, from time to time, answer the question why? You have to walk people through it. I remember a time when we were still going into churches to play, and we were a six piece band playing Horrendous Disc. These places invited us out to play, but I don't think they knew what they were in for. We'd set Alex up on a little percussion thing, and we'd try to tone it down. I would literally walk through these songs and explain the meaning for every song, in an attempt to not lose or alienate that crowd. To help them see that we were legitimate, that we really loved the Lord, that we wanted to say something that would touch their hearts.
We weren't indifferent - and I think a lot of people thought that we were being indifferent to what the audience wanted, what the church wanted, that we could care less, that we were going to do our thing no matter who got hurt. That was not the truth. And it continues to not be true. We continue to try and communicate what we are all about, what we are trying to say.
HRS: I'm always fascinated by Christians who read C. S. Lewis, G. K. Chesterton, Flannery O'Connor, or J. R. R. Tolkein, and see it as valuable, who accept the value of a metaphor in literature, who would then turn on a DA record and say "I don't understand it." "Why aren't your lyrics more clear?" "Why don't you say Jesus' name more often?"
Taylor: It's like "they can do all the weird stuff they want, but where's that one song right at the end that says "If you want to meet Jesus, please stand." Or, "I see that hand."
HRS: Now that'd make an innovative song title, "I See That Hand."
Taylor: I was really effected by what Lewis did in the Chronicles of Narnia for instance, where it wasn't necessary in the final chapter to say "Oh, by the way, Aslan is Jesus, and kids it's time to bow down by your desk and repeat this simple prayer." It worked on a different level.
I'm constantly astonished by anyone reacting to DA music in a confused manner. In fact I just got a letter from a record company person about something I'm involved in and they say simply "I don't get it." Well, I don't get that attitude. It's really funny, Quincy, it never fails to happen. A person will come up to me and go "You know that one song," whatever it may be, "I don't think I got what it means, could you tell me?" I always say, you tell me what you think it means. I've never had anybody miss the mark. I will admit that it's multi-dimensional, and they may miss a certain tension that motivates me, but they'll always grab the main point, and sometimes they'll enlighten me. They'll say "I think it means this..." and I'll end up saying, you know that's true too.
HRS: How is it then that you perceive your role in the body of Christ?
Taylor: To be an artist. That's it.
HRS: Bbbbbut, isn't there something more, aren't you supposed to change the world, correct theological wrongs, preach convicting sermons and lead political movements?
Taylor: Well, I almost get tired of trotting out my response... But, if you're a tailor and you're a Christian, you make great suits. I don't know how else to say it... If you're a ditch digger, dig a great ditch. I'm a Christian, and I'm an artist. I want to be a good artist. That's a testimony in and of itself. Everything else is what I have to answer to God for, so don't worry about it.
HRS: There are a number of Christian artists who are really comfortable putting on the hat of the evangelist, or the Bible-teacher. Do you think that makes some people think that that's the only right way to do it, that you need to validate your art by one of these "legitimate" ministries?
Taylor: We've all been let down by people that have a good P. R. department. We have certain views of them and suddenly we see them as human and they come crashing down. So, I could dress up in a suit, write middle of the road songs, and have a successful album, and probably convince most people that I was right on with the Lord merely from outward appearance, but what I say on the record and what I am at home with people may be two entirely different things. That's one thing that maybe we suffer a little bit for, and that's the honesty.
HRS: You mean, your humanity is showing.
Taylor: That's it. If you want to get down to it, when people want to know "What's your ministry?" I think that's it. The letters I get from people, are always really appreciative of the fact that we seem to be transparent people. The person can identify, they say, "There are flaws in my faith, I have these doubts, I have these problems, I have these joys and these sorrows, the full spectrum of humanity and you're the band that I can identify with because you tell me I'm not alone. Here I am nursing these thoughts and feeling that I'm really failing, everyone around me seems to be right on with God and having this joyful relationship, with things always on an upswing all the time. When I'm with them I put on a good front, but when I'm home at night and feel miserable and I don't know what to do about it. I heard your album and I can relate to it and I can't get enough. It touches my life, it does something to me." Those are the little things that you don't read about in a magazine, or see on t. v. Those are the real lives of people who are struggling with their faith, and with their humanity. And I think there need to be more voices that can say something to people that are really struggling.