Feature on Terry Scott Taylor
The Phantom Tollbooth 5/10/2003
by Tony LaFianza
The Lost Dogs flew into Evanston, Illinois, right after the release of their latest CD on BEC records, Nazarene Crying Towel. The super-group played a great set, and all members were in a good mood, despite a sparse crowd and a cool, misty night. After the show, CCM legend Terry Taylor agreed to an interview, so we found a couch and started the tape recorder. Here's what followed.
Tollbooth: How would you describe the new record, Nazarene Crying Towel?
Taylor: In some sense, our most introspective, and the closest to scripture that we've ever gone before. Not because we've had an aversion to doing that, but because we were each going through some tough times, various circumstances that we found ourselves in. We wanted to do something very simple, something very acoustic that really captured the three of us. With Real Men Cry, we were wearing the same hat that we'd been wearing with Gene [Eugene, deceased], sort of carrying on that legacy, but obviously, without Gene. Crying Towel was to be a break from that.
We had a limited amount of time in which to do the record, which sort of worked in our favor because what we were going to do shook down to simple, heartfelt songs that were inspired by particularly the Psalms, that were real expressions of our inward struggles. There was a cathartic time together sharing some of our pains and our sorrows, some of our heartbreak, as well as the good things. It was the chance for the three of us to do something pretty intimate.
Tollbooth: It's very worship-themed throughout.
Taylor: I think it's worshipful in the way that the Psalms are worshipful. The Psalms are really, in a sense, prayers, and one of the things people do is extract this more positive stuff that's in the Psalms and skip over some of the anger, some of the aspects of the dark night of the soul. That's why I think the Psalms are great prayers because it's very real, very human. You find David in these horrendous circumstances he is going through, yet, as I like to say, with trembling hands and parched lips, he still said, "Thank you, God. You are good to me." That's sort of where we were at the time, with some heavy stuff coming down. I'm not going to say we don't get angry at God at times, or we don't question why, but in the process, what we want to have are thankful hearts.
Tollbooth: Were the decisions to make this record acoustic and worshipful artistic decisions, or marketing decisions, or what?
Taylor: We're obviously not driven by market decisions because we just don't sell that many records. There's a blessing and a curse in all that. The curse is of course we'd like to have more people buy our records. But the blessing is that we can pretty much go where our hearts lead us. We're not constrained by people saying, "We need three more rockers on this, or we need this kind of music for this radio format," so we can follow our hearts. From the outset, the idea was, let's go acoustic, keep it very simple, straightforward, although we went off the path a little bit a few times. We introduced some extra things and some of the songs are off the beaten path a little bit but by and large, we wanted this just really simple thing. Like Johnny Cash's latest stuff, maybe a guitar and one other instrument and singing, to bring people into the word with us.
Tollbooth: Every Lost Dogs project has to have its controversy, often unplanned. What has developed so far with this record?
Taylor: I don't think there's been any controversy. I'm sure that as with every album that you ever release, some people are going to prefer some of our past records to this one. This record is pretty introspective and pretty laid back, but the reviews have been tremendously positive.
We had one review say it doesn't have quite the approach the other ones did; there's nothing on there that really rocks. This is a person that likes that particular direction for us. It's not that we won't take that direction again, but it would not have been appropriate for this record.
We would sit there and go, we're not going to do rock, we're going to do something very particular. The color palette that we're using is definitely adapted to that.
It's different in that we didn't go in with the big band sound. There are no real effects on it; maybe a little reverb here and there, but we it set up so that you are hearing a band on stage where the audience is in a small room. Come on in and we'll play you some songs.
I often play it in the morning because it helps me turn my thoughts to God's sovereignty and his actions in my life; it goes with your day. It has a sort of morning feel to it. I've got a few CD's that I picture myself dragging through the desert wanting to replay while all the stars are out, but I do not see this as that kind of CD.
Tollbooth: Let me ask you about one song, "Cry Out Loud," it's Mike Roe's bluesy-rockabilly song... Has the imagery of "Cry Out Loud" been problematic for you at all?
Taylor: Hmmmm. It would be problematic for me if it was problematic for somebody else, and I would want to know why it is problematic. I think, again, it is a song that deals with circumstances. There are quite a number of songs on this record that deal with the dark situations that we often face.
Probably what you are referring to is that there is a sense of a certain sexuality there, and it is very bluesy and when you do something bluesy like that, there is a certain sensual-ness to it and perhaps that is what some people are picking up on, but I'm perfectly fine with the lyrics.
Tollbooth: Mike [Roe] and Derri [Daugherty] were more involved this time with the writing. Please comment on that.
Taylor: Yeah, Mike was principal writer of a couple of things and everybody contributed musically. There were some things that I had music only to that Mike came up with some lyrics so we doubled up on; a lot of different variations.
Tollbooth: How did recording somewhere other than the Green Room Studios feel?
Taylor: It was fine. I miss the Green Room, but it was so much a part of Gene [Eugene} and really was not the same there without him. So in a way, it was like getting a burden off the shoulder.
When I found out that the studio was sold, I thought "okay, it's fine, it's gone," and [the owners] hung on for probably a lot longer than they should have, after Gene's passing; more for sentimental reasons than anything else. Business-wise, it wasn't doing all that well, and it was relatively valuable property in that area.
Getting away from that environment and doing Crying Towel somewhere else is probably a good thing for me. You get into certain habits. I did a lot of recording there; it seemed like my recording home-away-from-home. It was nice to mix it up a little bit, especially as we try and do something really different. It was a nice break. It forced me to explore other possibilities.
Tollbooth: Let me ask you about Andy's Angels project. What is it and how did you get involved?
Taylor: Quite a while a back, I got a call one day from a person, the secretary of a church in Seattle, I believe it was, saying, "There is a Theo Obrastoff who is trying to get a hold of you. He had me call because he doesn't want to bother you. I got your number from so-and-so. His son Andy is in a children's hospital in Seattle and he is dying of cystic fibrosis. He's had a couple of lung transplants through his short life, and he's been in the hospital many times, but this is it and he wants to see you before he dies.'
I was flabbergasted by that, so arrangements were made and I flew up and I saw him, and sang some songs for him. After Andy passed away, his father Theo called me and said, "What if we did some sort of project to get the word out about cystic fibrosis?"
I thought it was a great idea. Some money was raised to put together a project, 18 songs on it, release date is probably at Cornerstone this year, and it is called Come as a Child or not at All, which is the little boy's sort of paraphrase of Christ's words. Its sub-title is "A Celebration of the Children." It's songs about children. Not for them, but about them, from a mature parenting perspective.
Tollbooth: Did you write all 18 songs?
Taylor: No. I wrote some of them. There are a lot of different participants on it. There are a few songs that are re-releases re-mastered. The Lost Dogs are on there, of course, and Rikki Michelle from Adam Again, among others.
Tollbooth: Is there going to be a big version of Big? So far all we have is a Little Big.
Taylor: There will be. I don't know when. Not right now, but there is going to be one. We're planning it, but we're just not ready to announce a date.
Tollbooth: Is there anything else coming up in 2003?
Taylor: There's likely to be some kind of new Neverhood music, and a couple of other things I'd rather not talk about right now. What happens is then, a year later people say, "Well, where are those records?" Yeah, we've got things planned.
Tollbooth: What are the Lost Dogs' immediate plans, from now until Christmas?
Taylor: There are a lot of things sort of floating around. We want to keep up the touring, which is all good... Just more involved in it. We're all committed to making it happen, making it work. We love touring together; so we want to keep it going, see where it leads.
Tollbooth: Let me ask you about Cornerstone. Are there any special surprises planned for your time on the Gallery Stage this year?
We are doing a band thing this year. We're really chomping at the bit to get the band thing up. We've been doing a lot of these acoustic dates, we've really grown comfortable with it long-term, it's a different kind of thing; people really seem to enjoy themselves. For Cornerstone, I think we might move to extended jams.
Tollbooth: What are your thoughts on this being Cornerstone's 20th Birthday Bash?
Taylor: It's great, and I'm just hoping they give out presents, for whatever reason. [laughs]
Tollbooth: Let me ask you some questions about the open letter to fans on Daniel Amos.com. ] What is the actual controversy you were trying to address?
Taylor: It wasn't so much a controversy. Well. I take that back. A certain group of people were downloading stuff, making copies, giving it other people. I don't want to get into the whole controversy, but I just wanted people to know that we're not Madonna. We're not raking in the money. It's funny, I've had this discussion with Mike [Roe], "Terry, you would be surprised at how many people think that you guys are living the life of Riley somewhere overlooking the Caribbean." He said, "You and I obviously know that that's not true, you and I obviously know we're working Joes. We're out there beating the street to play in order to support ourselves."
I just wanted people that were doing that [sharing music files] to at least think twice about it before they do it. We have a very small fan base, and if everybody started doing it... really, what we bring in at the web site by and large just goes right back into creating other projects. It's not like we are reaping a big benefit for personal gain. Usually, it's just turning right around. For instance, what the fans spent on the website financed Little, Big. It allowed me to go in and create that.
We'd like it if that fan base got larger and larger and larger. I would love to be able to make a living off it, but it doesn't even come close. We just turn it around and make more product.
I'm just trying to encourage people that they are not supporting a large organization. What I said in my letter was, it's not your money for nothing. It does several things. It helps support what we are doing, keeps us doing what we are doing, helps us finance more projects, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, please spend generously, and try to avoid doing stuff which the only benefactor is you, personally.
There were some other misunderstandings that I addressed. "...How come I can buy Coldplay at Tower Records for $15 but I've got spend $20 for the Daniel Amos record?" I explained in that letter why that is. It's because we don't manufacture thousands and thousands of records, which would keep the costs down.
It's almost like going to buy a rare book at the rare bookstore. You can buy John Grisham for $6.99, but you go and you want Graham Greene's The Power and the Glory, it's going to cost you $12.99. There is a reason for that; there are fewer of his books; they don't print as many, they aren't bought by the masses.
Tollbooth: After you put the letter out on the website, what were the reactions?
Taylor: I don't really know. By and large, the feedback that I got back was pretty positive. I got a couple of emails from people who said, "Well said," and, "It's good you got that out." Now, as far as any negative reaction, I'm not really privy to it. I'm sure it's there.
I don't know why anybody would object. I don't know what possibly could be the problem with what I'm saying. It's a very honest thing. I'm not telling them you are cheating. I'm saying, hey, we are all in this together. Help out a little bit. We're trying to make an honest living here. We exist because of income from people that purchase products. That's it. If people don't purchase those products, that's it, we go out. Done.
Tollbooth: I was wondering if the sales went up on the website as a result of the open letter?
Taylor: I don't know exactly. I know we are starting to move into getting some things out that we've wanted to get out for some time, so I imagine that's probably why. It was helpful.
Money for Terry
Tollbooth: I know that several fans held side auctions to raise money on your behalf. Did you get that money?
Taylor: Side auction. You mean having a collectable, an Ebay kind of thing?
Tollbooth: Exactly. And then they were going to give you most the money, or half of the money.
Taylor: I don't know anything about that. That's quite possible; I don't know the timeframe here, or anything else. Now I offered some Ebay things myself. I don't know if we are talking about the same thing.
Tollbooth: No, I'm talking about fans auctions. One guy had something up, and just said, "I'm putting this up for auction. I'm taking $25 and anything over that goes right to Terry."
Taylor: I don't know anything about that.
Tollbooth: There was a little bit of discussion about sending donations to you through the web site, just donations. What's your reaction to that?
Taylor: It's an awfully sweet gesture. My feeling is I would love to be able to offer people something; if I had non-profit status, where people could do something and write it off their taxes and that would be helpful. Maybe that's something I will explore.
I think that there is a sense in the DA fan group of family camaraderie. I've noticed some of the posting there over the years from certain people that really seem to have really generous hearts that were sort of hinting at that, saying, "How can we better support what's going on here?" I think some people may not have that deep a feeling about it, or an emotion about it, or whatever that is, and that's fine. Anytime you give to anybody, and that includes myself or somebody else at some level, you become part of their life. I certainly wouldn't say, "Oh, that's a great gesture, but don't do that." Again, the stuff that comes in goes into making projects.
By and large the stuff that comes in is just turned right around. So, send it! Fantastic! I'll take it.
Typical Fan vs. Terry
Tollbooth: You addressed the "Terry Scott Taylor fan" in your letter. Who is the typical Terry Scott Taylor fan?
Taylor: I don't know. I just got a letter from a 15-year-old. When you come to our concerts you look out at the crowd, you've got kids out there. I've seen crowds that run the full gamut from little kids that like to hear the joke song, "Bad Indigestion," to the elderly that like to hear, "Golden Dream," or something like that. We are tapping into almost a family sort of thing. I think people enjoy the fun of it; that who they are seeing are who we are, the transparency in that. It's not just all frivolity; it's not just all smoking and joking. There is some real substance to it. It has appeal pretty much across the board. That's part of our frustration, part of the reason we want to tour as much as we do. We want to get out there, get people exposed to what we are doing.
Some people would assume, "Oh, yeah, Mike Roe, the 77s, so it's going to be this kind of thing. Terry Taylor, that alternative, weird, punk, new wave stuff, so it's going to be this kind of thing." People, when you finally get them through the door, are surprised, or they think they are not going to like it because it's folkie. But once you get them through the door, it's a very appealing sort of presentation.
I've got a lot of people who come up to me and say, "I had no idea what you guys were going to sound like." I like that grandma likes it. I like that little Johnny likes it, and I like that everyone in between likes it. Typical? I wouldn't be sure about that.
Tollbooth: You said that you and Mike were talking about how "Most fans think you are living a high rolling rock lifestyle."
Taylor: "Most" was not the way to say it. I'm sure it's "some." I don't know that I said "most." If I did, I should not have said "most." I don't believe that, by the way. The average fans are aware, if they are smart, so if I said that, then I apologize. I do have an element, and I was told that there were certain peoples who grumble about paying more for a record than at Tower Records, and the pirating, and stuff like that.
I was told about it, and the request was made, if you have something to say about it, if you feel you can say something about it, if you are comfortable with that... I thought about it a long time. I didn't want to just throw up on the page and send it out. I'd given it a lot of thought. I didn't want to really step on anyone's toes, but I wanted to be very specific and out front about it.
Tollbooth: If you are not living an opulent lifestyle, are you living above, on, or below the level of your typical fan?
Taylor: Since I would have to do a survey to find out where the typical fan is financially, it would be hard to answer that. What I will say, and Mike's got a similar situation, we all do, we have some really, really tough times. It's the industry; it's all sorts of things.
You have times where you are fairly secure financially, pay your bills for a couple of months or whatever, but then we may be plunged back into a down time, a bad time. The past couple of years have been pretty rough. It's been real tough for all of us. So I don't want anyone to think that my family is out begging on the street, but at the same time, the industry's been hit. People are not spending money across the board. Americans are a little more stingy right now. That makes sense. So we have to ride these things out, but life is never opulent, it's never excessive. My goal every month is to pay my basic bills. That's it.
Tollbooth: Not to put anything in savings?
Taylor: Well, we try, but that's a very rare month.
Tollbooth: Do you have a retirement plan?
Tollbooth: Do you have health insurance?
Taylor: We have health insurance through my wife, she teaches preschool. So it is a bit of a struggle. But let me say, I am privileged to be in that struggle. I feel blessed beyond measure. Like all of us... I have a brother-in-law who lives in Silicon Valley. He's about my age, he was laid off two years ago and he still hasn't been able to find work. So there are people in worse situations than I.
I will say this; I feel I had a calling on my life years and years ago, and I've tried to stay true to that, and I'm at an age now where this is what I do, this is my life. I'm not going to switch gears and go do brain surgery. This is what I do. I'm hopeful that the fans understand that and they'll be supportive of it.
Tollbooth: The open letter again. It centers on file sharing. Does this concern relate at all to the special auction of Mr. Buechner's Dream studio tapes that you recently had?
Taylor: Sure. Part of it is that my son came in and said, "I've been doing some Ebay stuff." It isn't as if I haven't been doing this over the years. We did at one time, as a matter of fact, have some masks that were made for the Doppelganger live show. We weren't doing that show anymore, and those masks were sitting around. We decided, and this was before Ebay, to let the fans know that we had them, and if they wanted to bid on them, cool, it is a collectable. It's not like it is unprecedented.
I tend to be a packrat, I was going through a lot of stuff, ‘Gee, this stuff is going to just sit over in a corner. Oh, I didn't know I still had this!' I'm looking through stuff, ‘Oh, look at this! It's an original lyric! Wow, that's interesting, that song, that line wasn't even close to what it was on...' It's always very interesting stuff, but again, I thought, ‘Well, fans would think this is pretty cool.' I think it's cool. ‘Well, gee, I'll hang onto that, I'll just put it back over there in the corner.' It was just one of these things where I'm going through this stuff and I'm thinking, ‘Well, maybe it would be cool, since Ebay is around,' and that's when my son said, "Yeah, you ought to do that. People would like the original lyrics to, say, "Pray Where You Are," where you had six or seven different lines, ...an interesting little artifact. That's really what I had in mind. It's not a bad thing, either, in terms of wanting to make a little money.
Tollbooth: So the auction went pretty well. Are there any more planned?
Taylor: I've only auctioned the one thing. I've got some other things people might be interested in, so we'll make them available sometime.
Tollbooth: If the people who win these auctions shouldn't make tapes or copies of these things; how can you address the frustrations of other fans who want access to this material?
Taylor: A possibility, and I'm just talking off the top of my head, would be that people that got these tapes, where we can make some kind of an arrangement with them, and get it to people in some form or another. We're all frustrated over different things. [laughs] These tapes could have just sat over in a corner somewhere gathering dust, which is exactly what they were doing. I don't want to frustrate the fans, but maybe there is some way, some format, that we can get that would acknowledge those who purchased the original tapes and still satisfy the other fans.
Tollbooth: For kicks I'm going to ask you 10 questions, which originally came from a French series, Bouillon de Culture hosted by Bernard Pivot. It is probably more familiar to many as the questions James Lipton asks at the end of Inside the Actor's Studio.
01. What is your favorite word?
Taylor: Hmmm. I know this is supposed to be a fast thing but I can't.... uhm... love.
02. What is your least favorite word?
03. What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?
Taylor: Good music.
04. What turns you off?
Taylor: Bad music
05. What is your favorite curse word?
Taylor: Ha! You're not going to get me into that! ... Kaka... [laughs]
06. What sound or noise do you love?
Taylor: A baby laughing.
07. What sound or noise do you hate?
Taylor: Nails on a chalkboard.
08. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
09. What profession would you not like to do?
Taylor: Sewage treatment.
10. If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?
Taylor: Thou good and faithful servant, enter into the glory of the Lord.