Hiss Golden Messenger Opens Up: M.C. Taylor Talks Reggae, Family & New LP ‘Quietly Blowing It’

A songwriter’s songwriter: Hiss Golden Messenger is armed with a voice to permeate the fabric of existence, a quiver soft and subtle, directed into a radiant ovation of happenstance and aural spirituality. M.C. Taylor is a heavy-hitting tunesmith from North Carolina with a tactile approach to songcraft and spacious arrangement, who on his ninth studio album, Quietly Blowing It, again invites us into his sphere of raw and emotionally unveiled capturing. Joined by a cast of friends, including co-writes with Anais Mitchell and Gregory Alan Isakov, “Quietly Blowing It” is yet another puzzle piece in the magnificent catalog of an artist on an exploratory mission through this realm. A man with a steady pulse and job to do. 

I love the new record. Can you shed some light on the recording process? You had quite the cast of players. 

We were all in the same room together, which was a little tricky last year. Everyone got tested and we were as safe as we could be. I was really craving the sound of a group of people in a room together and I felt that if I was going to put the labor in to make a record, I wanted to be able to hear the instruments interacting with each other in the air. A lot of people made records remotely though personally I find that to feel sometimes a little unsatisfying. So… everyone tested negative and we went into the studio for a week, recorded the majority of the tracks and then I had some people add stuff remotely. That was less to do with COVID and more to do with the fact that they lived far from where we were tracking. People like Buddy Miller and Stuart Bogie, a horn player in NY. Most of it was done all together in the same space

Do you find singing with the energy in the room, especially with a rhythm section, translates into your vocal performance?

Yeah, I think there is something to that. To be able to create the sound together, I definitely feel I would have sung differently if I hadn’t been with everyone.

“Glory Strums” – do you remember the conception of that song? 

Yeah. I wanted to have a song with a really steady drum groove, something that almost felt like a Fleetwood Mac groove. There is a guitar loop – that was on both the demo version and the finished version –  that does a lot of emotional heavy lifting. Even though it is a very simple guitar loop, If I were to take it out the song would feel a lot different. There was something really affecting about the drum groove and this guitar loop. 

I wrote down “Van Morrion meets Sade feel.”

(HGM laughs) That’s cool. I like both of those people.

I sense a stream of consciousness in your writing. Does that resonate with you? Do you have a “go-to” songwriting process? 

I don’t necessarily have a way that I want my writing to work. I find that the songs of mine that work the best are songs that tow this weird, hazy line between abstract imagery and actual narrative. There generally isn’t a strict storyline in most of my songs, but then again there is, you know what I mean? I know what the narrative means to me but I’m not going to tell anyone what that is. People can connect their own dots. 

I spoke with Brad Barr and we talked about something very similar. We talked about Paul Simon, and how Paul had some great quotes touching on that exact subject.  

“Part of what makes a song really good is that people take in different meanings, and they apply them, and they might be more powerful than the ones I’m thinking.” – Paul Simon

You want it to make sense to the listener, though as the writer, I often find that when I write something that makes complete sense to me, I fall out of love with it pretty quickly. The songs that I am most unsatisfied with because they don’t feel finished are often the ones I forge the deepest relationships with over time. Part of it is trying to figure out what the song is saying to me. I relate to this idea of unfinishedness though at times it is a challenging concept to live with. It feels very important to me for a piece of art to feel like it’s a living thing. 

Are you looking forward to getting back on the road?

I’m having mixed feelings about it. I’ve had a lot of time home with my family. Being able to be home and be part of the day-to-day fabric of my family has been a huge silver lining. To think about leaving, I have mixed feelings for sure. We’ll see. I’m definitely looking forward to playing music for people and I’m looking forward to the regularity of the road that I was used to. I mean… the road can be a real grind, though for those of us who do this for a living there is a regularity to it that gives structure to our days. I haven’t really felt that structure since we closed down. 

You co-wrote “Painting Houses” with Gregory Alan Isakov. Can you tell us about that song?

The last trip that I took before the shutdown was to his place right outside of Denver. I stayed there for a few days and we wrote a bunch of songs. It’s a song about work. The types of work we commit ourselves to. Which is something both Gregory and I really relate to. I’ve had a lot of weird jobs in my life. I love the way that song came out. I felt melodically it was really strong. 

What’s the weirdest job you’ve ever had?

I was a P.E. teacher for a little while, which for anyone that knows me, knows that’s an extremely strange job for me to have. I sold woman’s bathing suits over the telephone. I didn’t last very long at that job. 

Loaded question: Where do you draw inspiration from? 

I listen to a lot of music that was made in the 60’s and 70’s. Not exclusively, but a lot of my record collection is devoted to that time period across all genres. I think there is something tonally about how those records sound that really appeals to me and the people that I am often working with. There is a lot of gear that people were using in that time period that is still really highly regarded; mics, preamps, compressors, and mixing boards. I guess part of it is just the sheer type of gear I use to record. Also, I love the way that drummers from that time period articulated their groove. My music tends to be swinging, even if it’s slow it has a pulse that is in the pocket. Maybe I look to records from that time period to try and understand how a rhythm section can swing a song. I’m not really pulling out records in the recording studio to reference, I think a lot of that stuff is just subconscious at this point. 

What’s in your tapedeck?

For the past couple years I’ve been almost exclusively listening to reggae that was made between 1970-1985. That takes up most of my listening time, just digging as deep as I can into that universe. It’s pretty endless. I find a lot of inspiration in that music. 

Dub reggae? 

All kinds. I really love roots reggae which is kind of devotional or Rastafarian. Spirituality is really at the forefront of music. Bob Marley was a massive superstar but I would still consider his music roots reggae. People like Yabby You, Prince Far I, Prince Alla, Lee Scratch, The Mighty Diamonds, The Mighty Two, The Silvertones, there are so many. I listen to a lot of dub as well which is definitely connected to the artist I’m talking about. It’s a fun musical puzzle to try and understand the relationships between these people. Most of them knew each other. There were half a dozen rhythm sections that played on every record. It’s fun to try and figure out which drummer it was that played on this Burning Spear record. There is something from a musicological point of view that is really fun. It’s deep music. It’s profound lyrically and rhythmically. 

Top photo by Andy Tennille

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