The Many Faces Of Terry Scott Taylor

NoteBoard Jan./Apr. 1991

The Many Faces Of Terry Scott Taylor

NoteBoard Jan./Apr. 1991

by Paul Fiorilla

"If nothing else, I'm honest," the 40-year-old Californian said in a recent telephone interview. "Honest about my problems life, my problems with God, and my relationship with the church."

Although acknowledging that honesty isn't the best policy when it comes to sales, Taylor said his reward comes in a different way. "One reward of being honest is that it touches people at the core of their lives, where they have fear," he said. "When they hear somebody writing about it they say, 'This is a real person, not just somebody writing a song. Somebody who feels like I feel.' It gives me faith to act in life."

The downside, Taylor notes, is dismal sales. For example, Darn Floor - Big Bite, a 1987 compilation of introspective spiritual struggles and parables, sold only 6000 copies The typical DA/Swirling Eddies recording has sold about 20,000, which is no competition for Sandi Patti. Taylor, who has been married for 17 years and has two children (ages 10 and 6), doesn't make a living selling records, as the preceding sentences indicate. To supplement his "rock star" proceeds, he produces other bands (he has worked with, among resulted others, Altar Boys, Jacob's Trouble and Scaterd-few) and does free-lance work like video editing and producing special projects for children. "I'm smart enough to realize what sells and what makes a Christian hit, and what Christian radio will accept," Taylor said. "But I made a decision not to allow that to affect me. I wasn't going to sell out or be dishonest."

No matter what one's opinion may be of Taylor's songs, one has to concede his boldness and honesty. Taylor has lacked virtually every aspect of contemporary American Christianity. If one could identify a theme in his songs, it may be that Christians are most foolish when they think they have God all figured out. Taylor takes modern evangelical Christianity to task for its emphasis on the personal aspects of Christianity. Taylor decries the way we turn our backs on the needy and forsake justice and humility while we fixate on money, power and quick-fix spirituality.

In Taylor's songs, Christians turn their back on the starving so they can study the Bible in the comforts of their rooms. We are fascinated with machines, weapons, shiny new facilities, and TV preachers, but we never seem to get it right when it come to relationships. "No space men up above, and we're so far from love," Taylor writes on "It's The Eighties (So Where's Our Rocket Packs)," from 1984's Vox Humana.

Taylor says there is a trend among Christians in Southern California's Orange County to want to create a mini-kingdom where Christians would never need to come in contact with the outside world. "Our tendency is to create a Christian gas station as an answer to secular gas stations. The idea is to build God's kingdom here, and just attend Christian functions," he said. "You see how small and narrow our lives become and we become prejudiced and narrow-minded. I have to look over that "Orange Curtain." There's a whole world out there."

Of course, in social commentary there is a fine line between being perceptive -- like Mark Heard or Bruce Cockburn -- or just being arrogant -- like those who refer to the righteous as "I" and the transgressors as "they." "I'm often criticized for taking cynicism too far," Taylor said. "I think when being cynical, it often comes from my own life. I'm pointing out my failings or shortcomings. I'm not just pointing the finger. I'm saying it's our problem. I have my own moments of hypocrisy, my own failures. The accusatory should be tempered with sweetness. Christian music is sweetness for the most part. I'm the voice of gloom."

Taylor's own style of satire emanates from his personality, which is similar to his song-writing persona. "I look at the world that way. I'm sure it comes from my life experiences and upbringing and personality quirks. I tend to be pessimistic. That comes out as dark satire in the songs I write."
The changes in Daniel Amos/DA/Eddies over the years reflects Taylor's own growth as a Christian. His early songs reflect a more conventional view of God. "He loves you... You can't hide from the hound of heaven... You're coming back to make my dreams come true," are a with few lines from 1980's Horrendous Disc.

By the late '80s and Darn Floor - Big Bite, the answers had turned to questions. "I'll be so bold to ask, can I wear your name now?... My writing is immense amazement/should you really reveal anything/when I just misunderstand it?/...My questions now don't need all the answers/just please don't ever stop loving me," Taylor writes in "The Unattainable Earth."

Taylor says his life dramatically changed following the death of his grandfather several years ago. His grandparents raised him very closely after his father died when he was young [GA note-The writer of the article somehow got his facts mixed up, as of this writing Terry's parents are still living]. Taylor said his grandfather's death was "a devastating blow" that caused him to re-evaluate his life and faith. "Everything was torn down," he says. "I had to rebuild it."

His inner search in a switch from a conservative, fundamentalist church to an Eastern Orthodox church. "What I've learned is that the church is much bigger than people want to believe. That changes your point of view. What once was a narrow, self-righteous view of what was acceptable has broadened. I am restless in my spirituality. I hope that is what is sensed when people listen to our songs. The changes as a band parallel our growth as individuals in spiritual life. We're not a country rock band anymore. The diversity of art is an indication of the spiritual openness we have as individuals."

"I used to think that Jesus was coming back at a certain point. If you wanted to know my position, I would have said to read Hal Lindsey," Taylor says. "I've matured in my life as a Christian. I'm not afraid to say that God is a mystery. Some people are too insecure in their Christianity to say that and still have a functioning life."

Like most quality Christian bands, the question of "going secular" comes up with DA/Eddies. "Every band with talent goes through it. It's kind of a dream we all have. We'd like to see what we could do out there in the real world -- not so much to convert people, but as an artist. It's fulfilling being appreciated by a large . number of people." Taylor cites that the band has received sporadic attention from the music industry, but one problem with going secular is that many of the band's lyrics are targeted at Christians.

For example, "Hide The Beer, The Pastor's Here," from the Outdoor Elvis CD, is dead-on accurate of its depiction of growth-retarding rules at many Christian colleges, but its message would probably be lost on a secular audience. Taylor attended a Bible college for a week, then dropped out. The song was written through his initial reaction to the campus. "The colleges encourage righteousness on the outside... while inside we're committing sin in our heart," he said. Unable to realize either the point of the songs or understand the satire, Taylor says, "some people go off the deep end. It's amusing to me to get the reactions we get."

Getting strong reactions are part and parcel of writing songs with the type of challenging lyrics used by Taylor and the band, although Taylor admits he "undoubtedly has gone over the edge on occasion." Another negative to using satire is that it can be taken too lightly. "Some people take more serious things more seriously. They look at satire as frivolous. I want to have fun."

If nothing else, the DA/Eddies creations have always sounded like they're having fun. Taylor says that's because they are. "I'm fortunate to be in a group so in-tune with my style. We're so close as friends and as artists that they become a reference for the songs I write."

Taylor says he never has a problem coming up with new ideas for songs. "I've been blessed with the ability to write a lot of songs. When it comes album time... a certain inspiration comes my way."

Overall, taylor says today's music industry is somewhat disappointing. "Buying a record isn't exciting as it used to be. Music used to be more eclectic. When you bought a record you were surprised or intrigued. So much of what I buy today, I like a few songs and the rest goes by the wayside."

It's obvious that music without a purpose, much like unfocused Christianity, is distressing to Taylor. And although there's not much he can do to change the world, the music scene, or even the opinion of those who turn their noses at his songs, one can be certain that we will continue to be challenged by Terry Scott Taylor for years to come.