Terry S. Taylor
The HRS INTERVIEW 1991
by Brian Quincy Newcomb
In 1981 one of the most important and successful bands in Christian music was Daniel Amos. Ten years later, the band Terry Taylor started with Ed McTaggert is still important to many who have been influenced by DA's willingness to lay itself on the line - to play edgy, aggressive music about life, love and faith with intelligence and wit, while not bowing to some external standards of what is acceptable and appropriate. Da, as we now know them, is back with a new album due this summer, Kalhoun, on Brainstorm Artists. All the early indicators from rough mixes of four new songs, suggests that Taylor & Co., are still able to produce serious life - changing rock 'n' roll. If they want to. We updated our interview to include this new release. We return to our interview, now in progress...
HRS: When you got around to making your solo records, Knowledge & innocence ('86) and A Briefing For The Ascent ('87), you began addressing the issues of death and loss, and the struggle of faith in the face of doubts and disappointments. These subjects were, to say the least, uncommon in the ccm marketplace.
Terry: I received two letters after those albums. One from a family that had lost a father, and the whole family wrote to tell me what those records meant to them in their time of grief. And what it had meant even to their father before he had passed on.
Another one came fairly recently from a fellow who had cancer and a real possibility that it was terminal, and he and his wife were going through a horrid time. They had heard these records and wrote to say that God had spoken to them and had given them peace in that situation. I can't think of anything greater than that, as far as a response from something that I've written. It's sobering, it's overwhelming. And it's sad too, that it would take a record to do, probably, what we in the body of Christ ought to be doing in the church every day. A guy shouldn't have to hunt out A Briefing For The Ascent in some obscure bookstore in some podunk town to have something that would comfort him.
HRS: Moving on... DA had left country music behind, but at some point you went back into the studio as Cowboy Billy McBride and the Ghost Writers to record "Happily Married Man", which along with "Ain't Gonna Fight It", has re-appeared on the CD reissue of your first LP, Daniel Amos.
Taylor: I think, it was actually Tommy Coomes at Maranatha! Music who suggested the name change. I thought it sounded kind of fun.
HRS: When you guys did that tune live Jerry (Chamberlain) always threw in a gritty rock solo, and said something like "I hate country."
Taylor: Well, again we had people expecting us to be the old band, and we had to distance ourselves from it a bit. But the country thing has surfaced from time to time, like on "Sudden Heaven", and even on parts of Alarma. But I always wanted to have Johnny Cash do "Happily Married Man'. I think it would have been great.
I'm real glad they put "Ain't Gonna Fight It" on there, it's like the first song that Daniel Amos recorded together. I do wish it had gotten mentioned somewhere on the packaging that that is so, but at least it's out there.
HRS: As far as the public is aware, the Cowboy Billy was your first real opportunity to perform under a pseudonym. By the time you got around to becoming The Rap'Sures you must have been an old pro at assuming alternate personalities.
Taylor: Well, it's all acting. You assume another name, you get to be someone else. I've found I can do that pretty well.
HRS: It's kind of strange, the guy behind the founding father of Christian bands, becomes the first Christian rap artist to make a nationally distributed record.
Taylor: Well, there wasn't any on the Christian labels. We do a kids thing, we see it as appealing to 7 and 9 year olds. No one was doing it. We just brainstormed a little bit, Rob (Watson) and Doug (Doyle) and I, we were just looking for something to do, something to work on, we did it and then didn't that much about it, and it was successful. Don't ask me why.
HRS: Were you at all familiar with rap?
Taylor: No. We thought, no one will take this seriously, we're just doing it for kids, a little Bible story kind of thing. Megamouth was kind of the same thing. We looked at it that way.
HRS: You've done two of the Megamouth adventures, are you working on a third?
Taylor: No, they didn't do well.
HRS: Really that's hard to believe. My kids ate it up.
Taylor: What's great about Megamouth is that kids will eat it up, once kids know about it. My kid will come in and say I just say this new Nintendo game on t. v. that I want really bad. But in the Christian market it doesn't work that way. Mom or Grandma comes into the bookstore looking for something to get the tykes. So if it's syrupy and sweet, that'll be the thing they'll bring home. They'll be satisfied if the kid listens to ten minutes of it before running away, because they're getting the Word of God.
But the phenomenon of Megamouth is that kids listen to it. I know that once the kids have it they listen to it, they absorb it and it'll do them some good. There's so much bad stuff out there. Everybody thinks they can do a kids record, and in a way anybody can. You can go in and do little voices, and cliche ridden dialog and put it out there, and you might even sell it. But I wanted to do something that really hit the kids at the place that Saturday morning cartoons hits them.
HRS: let's talk about the Alarma Chronicles, the four album set. Clearly you were intending to move beyond C. S. Lewis and Norman's LP trilogy. Were you satisfied with the results as a whole, when all was said and done?
Taylor: Well I'm not sure how actually connected they are. I've never really gotten them out in order and played them. I don't know if it works.
HRS: Did you map it out from the beginning?
Taylor: No, we just took it as it came. It's very loose. A very, very loose series.
HRS: It looks like Volume One, Alarma!, started with a lot of intentionality, but by the time you get to Four. Fearful Symmetry, it's like "Huh?" But, then each album stands up on musically on it's own merits.
Taylor: We came to each recording and I would base some of the writings on what had gone before. I think the series hangs more together with the first one which raises all the questions, and the capper, Fearful Symmetry, because I tried to go to heaven with that one. Some may consider that the least successful, but it was an attempt to describe in earthly terms - I didn't want to get into pearly gates and streets of gold...
HRS: Well, to some extent you had done that with Shotgun Angel.
Taylor: Exactly. So we wanted to try and express the heavenly image, and I think that was probably the most conscious of the four, that we needed to cap the series off, that we needed to end on an up-swing. This record really hangs on what has gone on before in the series. It's not what I would normally do, it's very artsy, very orchestrated. That's why you have Darn Floor Big Bite coming after it. We stripped it down and got back to the rock 'n' roll thing with the guitars. It's somewhat a response to Fearful Symmetry, which was orchestrated and had a lot of sampling and choir voices. I think I sighed a sigh of relief just getting the series behind me. I loved doing the record, I knew it was good, but was just glad the obligation was over.
HRS: Will we ever see the four CD box set of the Alarma Chronicles, we've heard rumored may be released?
Taylor: I'm confident that it'll happen. We're working to make that a reality, we have access to most of it. We can do it, it's going to take some money, but...
HRS: Is there a big enough market to make the release of that large a venture commercially viable?
Taylor: I don't know anything about whether something is commercially viable or not.
HRS: Of course you don't, you're in Da, I don't know why I asked you that. (Big Laughs)
Taylor: They asked (David) Bowie the other day how to write a hit, and he just said "I'll tell you the truth, I have no idea. I couldn't write you one." And that's the way I feel, I don't know how to write a hit. I don't know much about all that. I don't know if it would sell well or not. Darn Floor Big Bite sold something like 7000 records...
HRS: That's unbelievable. To my ears, here in 1991, that's the consummate Da record.
Taylor: That's the record. I'm in agreement with you. It's possible that in my life time that album will be understood and appreciated for what it is, but I'm not going to hold my breath. I think it's a great record. And, I'm far enough from it now that I can be somewhat objective. But when Iook back on all my records I think I'm proudest of that record.
HRS: It seems paradoxical to me that a record like this would bomb commercially, then you turn around and do Let's Spin, kind of a toss off as the Swirling Eddies, which I understand sold pretty well, too. On the one hand, this artistically gratifying statement, on the other hand this comedic record, with silly pseudonyms, I don't get it.
Taylor: What can I say... The name Daniel Amos come with a lot of luggage. I think people see the name and don't bother to give the music a chance. Maybe the people who did buy Darn Floor gave cassette copies to all their friends, I don't know. But enough new people bought into the Swirling Eddies that perhaps wouldn't have touched a Da record that it made a difference.
HRS: Maybe silliness works. It's like, I have seen the future and it is silly.
Taylor: I don't know... we've always been zany, there's a touch of that in everything we do, maybe not as much as in the Eddies thing, but it's always there. But I'm not comfortable being in that role constantly. Of course, some might accuse me of doing it just because I knew it would sell more, but I wouldn't do that. It was just the thing to do at the time. It was time to do a record, I didn't want to do another Da record, I didn't want to do a solo album, I wanted to do a band record and work with some of my friends, and that's what we did.
HRS: I understand from what others have told me that you write almost on demand, very spontaneously. Writing for so many different projects must push different buttons. Do you have to become Camarillo Eddy to write for Swirling Eddies?
Taylor: I think so. Over the years I've come to rely more and more on the band. In the Eddies the band came up with the music and I wrote the lyric, that's different than it used to be. By and large Darn Floor was that way, it leaned heavily on the band, I'd get together with Ed (McTaggert), Tim (Chandler), and Greg (Flesch) and we'd come up with musical ideas and snippets of melody and I'd take home a cassette and write from that.
There's kind of this mood, it's an illusive thing that's hard to talk about, but you say we're going to do a Swirling Eddies record, and we're going to come up with our own individual names. And you have to write music for that, you're compelled, there's a certain direction that you have to go. I don't think I became Camarillo Eddy, but certainly thought different about writing. It's like writing a song that this guy over there is going to sing.
HRS: And the guy is wearing a cowboy hat and a dress. So, Let's Spin becomes a success, did you say let's take it further, let's take it to it's logical conclusion for Outdoor Elvis?
Taylor: I played it fast and loose for that record. We got busy, just writing songs, and it's a cosmic thing, what can I tell you. Tim Chandler had this idea that there were these sightings of Outdoor Elvis. And the band just loves to play with these funny ideas. It's like, okay, Outdoor Elvis has been spotted fishing, but he's still got the gold cape on... and it goes on and on. So it's time to do a Swirling Eddies record and this guy Outdoor Elvis is in my head, so that's what I write about.
HRS: I laughed for twenty minutes at the lines that go "I bet he's really looking great/you can pretty much tell he's been losing weight/from the depth of his footprint... /It's nice to know he's still got his stuff/hasn't lost the accent."
Taylor: To tell you the truth, Quincy, I don't know where some of that stuff comes from. (Laughs) You just put your mind in that kind of frame and see what comes. But there's serious songs too.
HRS: Sure, I think "Hold Back The Wind, Donna", "Blowing Smoke", and "Mystery Babylon" are some of the best pop song-like things you've written in years. Did anybody at the company tell you about last year at Cornerstone? I was wondering around between 77's and Vector and I came across this group of like 15 kids playing acoustic guitar and singing this catchy pop thing that was so familiar. And I'm thinking is it Elvis Costello? No. Beatles? No. So I start singing along, 'cause the words and melody are so familiar, and sure enough it's "Mystery Babylon". I thought this is just wonderful; that was an amazing compliment to your songwriting.
Taylor: It's funny we just got a list from Benson (this interview was before Da left for Brainstorm and before Frontline began it's own distribution network) of all the songs in it's catalog. You get to the H's and it says "Holy Art Thou Oh God", and "How I Need Jesus", and right there it says "Hide The Beer, The Pastor's Here". (Big Laughs) Oh,... It's a beautiful moment.
HRS: Now it doesn't take a genius to figure out that that song is about external Christianity and internal beliefs...
Taylor: Well, maybe it does, because everybody asks me what that song is about. I always feel stupid having to explain it. We got a lot of knee jerk reaction...
HRS: Which explains the song of the same name on the next album.
Taylor: Exactly. But we had a couple of Christian colleges threatened Frontline with law suits before they even heard the song, because they just assume that it was a let's party down college student song. I think their fears were alleviated somewhat when they actually heard the song.
HRS: I was just annoyed that you missed Houghton, the Christian liberal arts college that I managed to survive.
Taylor: Well, that's the most controversial thing about that song, I think. There are a number of disappointed people, whose school we didn't include. Really, it was just a last minute thing, and all I did was pick up a college catalog and start shouting them off. So I didn't intentionally include or ignore anybody.
HRS: Over the year's you've been in a position to mentor younger bands, and have produced a number of artists. scaterd few and Jacob's Trouble come to mind. Do you have a sense of relationship, what's it like to be around long enough to have a deep influence on new artists.
Taylor: It feels good to know that I had a hand in opening things up a bit. At the same time, I don't want to end up like a dinosaur who sits in the corner and goes, those are my boys out there. I'm more interested in making a difference today, contributing something, hanging on to the idea that we can continue to progress in this thing. But sure, to know that I had a hand in a band like The Choir, that makes me feel good, because that's a good viable band...
HRS: You gave Derri (Daugherty) a job for a while, he did sound for you guys for what seems like a long time.
Taylor: I also gave them the name Youth Choir, but they were a little afraid of going the way of the Beach Boys so they dropped the Youth thing. And scaterd few; that makes me proud and excited to be a part of what they have to offer. Certainly I've been through the school of hard knocks, and made it a little easier for bands that really have some artistic integrity and are trying to be creative and do something different, and could make it in any market, not just the market we find ourselves in. That to me is a good thing.
HRS: Early press releases on the new record suggested that Da would go back to it's original name, Daniel Amos, and that Jerry Chamberlain would be rejoining yourself, Ed McTaggert, Tim Chandler, and Greg Flesch. Now I understand it's just you, Ed, Tim, and Greg, and that you're going to continue using Da.
Taylor: With the move to Brainstorm, there's the potential of distribution through Word in their Epic deal. We felt it would be better to stick with Da, we do have a history there, and the fans don't care one way or the other.
Jerry is not back. I like having Jerry involved and I see him Getting more involved as time goes on, not less involved. This time it just kind of worked out financially and all the way around to keep it to basically four people. Right now, I don't conceive of DA playing without Jerry, and I see him becoming more of the recording and writing process, if indeed that is what he wants.
HRS: You've changed labels for the first time since your mid-80s joining with Frontline. What's behind the move?
Taylor: Well, we got a lot of support from Frontline, both financially and musically, and still do, I might add, get a lot of support from Mike MacLane and those guys over at Frontline. We know them well, and continue to have good friendships. But, I think what happened amidst the growth of that company was, we slipped in Darn Floor Big Bite and that was before Tony Shore came to work there and their radio and marketing was all in place the way it is now, and nothing really happened with the record. It was frustrating for us and it was frustrating for the company, because they knew it was a great record. So we did the Swirling Eddies and had some moderate success with that, but that wasn't really where we were at with Da records. So everybody was actually frightened of going back and getting back into the same pattern. And, I didn't want to be in the position to saying to Frontline, we know we aren't going to sell any records but why don't you give us a recording budget anyway.
HRS: Do you really feel you can't sell any records at this point in your career. Is it over for Da as a commercial entity?
Taylor: No I don't think that will happen again, nor do I think it would happen at Frontline. A lot of changes have happened there. But I think the Word distribution system gives us a little better chance of selling more records. And part of the attraction is that we might get a new opportunity in the relationship with Epic. Of course, I respect Joey (Taylor, no relation) and Gene (Eugene), and Gene and I have worked together a lot, but it boils down to timing. At the time when I was ready to make a band record, there wasn't a lot of interest at Frontline, so it worked out this way.
HRS: We've heard about several projects that may or may not be happening; will there be a new Terry S. Taylor solo project?
Taylor: Oh, I'm going to do one, but there's no contract with a company or a time table. The last two were records I had to make, and I'm freer now, I want to make a rock 'n' roll record, and break out of that, but I don't know where or when I'm going to do it.
HRS: Will there ever be another Swirling Eddies record?
Taylor: Absolutely, but what we're talking about is opening the Eddies up to even more artists, sort of make the Eddies this conglomerate of different people that I've always wanted to work with, and have a lot of song-writing teams involved and different lead singers. Just make it this mass of people, that sort of fluctuates and changes.
HRS: You've released DA Live Bootleg - '82 on Stunt Records, the same mail order label that Adam Again has used to re-release In A New World Of Time. Will there be more Stunt releases? Or was that the entire catalog?
Taylor: There will be other releases, but we don't have anything definite in mind. We go from day to day, and it's just whenever Tom Gulotta and I put our heads together and say we can do this for cheap. (Laughs)
HRS: I love a company with standards. Are there more live recordings? Might we hear another bootleg from another tour?
Taylor: Yeah there are tapes, we are currently looking at some tapes of the Doppleganger tour and others. We just don't know what we have yet.
HRS: Let's talk about Kalhoun.
Taylor: Well, the song's a fairly dark satire, I guess, somewhat related to "The Beat Menace". It's its distant cousin. There are a lot of concepts on the record and a few love songs, "If You Want To", is one that I'm really happy with. It's been a really fun record to do, it's been a long time since I've done a DA record, so it's a different frame of mind, song-writing wise than any of the Swirling Eddies things. There are greater pressures that come with a DA record, I find I have to be a little more disciplined. Also, Tim and Greg are writing music that works, so that's another challenge.
The "Kalhoun" thing is probably the closest thing to a satire. The subtitle of this album is "Songs For A New West", and we kind of got the idea that America was beginning to flex it's muscles in the world, with the recent war going so successfully in such a short time. "Kalhoun" sort of came out of how this national pride kind of turns into a religious fervor. We kind of wanted to talk a little bit about the Kingdom of God vs. this New World Order we're hearing a lot about. It's a funny song, but it's got this dark side to it.
HRS: As you look at Kalhoun, any idea where this one falls within the Taylor/Da/Eddies legacy?
Taylor: It's probably just a little bit early to say. Just today we've started mixing the first two songs, and it's going to take some time to step back and see where it falls in the scheme of things. Right now, I'm too wrapped up with the technical things, like how loud does the vocal need to be, and does the snare need to be re-EQ'd, so those kinds of things need to be sorted out.
HRS: Brainstorm is planning to debut the record at Cornerstone, and you're not playing but you plan to be there for the listening party to promote the record. I know your many fans will be delighted to see you.