HISS GOLDEN MESSENGER at Tenue de Nîmes
We had the chance to talk to M.C. Taylor of Hiss Golden Messenger on his last visit in Amsterdam during his solo tour. His records have been a solid part of the shops' playlist for the last ten years. Not to mention a soothing soundtrack on our trips when we fly across the world in search for new brands and inspiration. Many memories come to mind when I hear M.C. Taylor's masterpieces and therefor it was a huge honour to fit him into a pair of Tenue. Pablo jeans and ask him some questions during his time in our store. I hope you enjoy these words and please check out his music in our playlist. - Rudy
Your last few records seem to be driven by love and devotion. They have a gospel-like feel and bring hope for better times. Do you feel compelled to deliver this kind of message?
Love and devotion are themes that exist in my music because I think they're important to the world. I feel an imperative to try to express my confusion about the questions that exist in my world as genuinely as possible. I think that might be what people find compelling about my music. I'm thankful that people listen, but I'm writing these songs without thinking about an audience.
You wrote a song for your daughter “Happy Birthday Baby” How does having a family and watching your children grow up affect as you a songwriter?
Having children changed my world profoundly. In fact, I would say that we wouldn't be talking, and I wouldn't be traveling the world playing music, if I hadn't become a father. There's something chemical about it. It gave me perspective I didn't have before. But of course, it's become a double-edged sword: I travel a lot because of these songs that I've written, at least in part, about my family, and sometimes I feel like I'm not around enough.
You address some problematic topics, like public education, in your songs. What made you write these lyrics?
I'm not a protest songwriter, but the way the world feels manifests in my music. I can only take an artist seriously whose work captures a world in a genuine and poetic way. It's our job as artists to make something of the universe: not answer questions, but at least understand that the universe is a series of questions. If public educators in the US find a value in my music for bettering their own conditions, I'm all for that.
You have a degree in Folklore and often quote famous poets. How did this come about?
The rhythm and phrasing of poetry has been a big part of how I've learned as a songwriter. Wendell Berry, Rimbaud, Verlaine, William Blake, Mary Oliver and many more have been a huge influence. How else do we learn, than by spending time with those that we feel have mastered the expression of emotions?
Musically, I'm American, and American music—much of it with roots in the South—is one long-winding river. I always wanted to be a part of that river, so I have worked to figure out how to use my favourite parts in a way that feels genuine to me. There is a lot of soul, gospel and R&B in my music, too.
When it comes to live performance and personal style, you have a very natural presence and a defined look. I see vintage army shirts and lots of denim in your wardrobe. Where do you draw your inspiration from?
I like things to feel clear and uncomplicated. I often buy multiple articles of clothing that are identical so that the way I look is the same from night to night. I like things that are well made, hand made.
Do you have your favourite spots for music, books and clothing? Where do you go to get inspired?
When I arrive in a new town, I look for the best used book and record stores. You can tell a lot about a place by looking at what books and records people have there. Looking at books and records is a very solitary and peaceful activity to me: almost like meditation. There's a store called ‘Flesch' in Amsterdam that I like very much. The owner sells fruit up front, and has a relatively small selection of vinyl for sale in the back, and I believe we have the same musical interests.
You moved from California to North Carolina. Did this change you and your spirit?
Yes, deeply. I had to live in the South to have any kind of contextual understanding of the place. It is a complicated and progressive area.
You perform as a solo artist and as a front man of a rock live band. How do these feel different to you?
Well, I love both, of course. Each format requires a different energy. Playing with a band is a little like an elaborate improvisational dance; when everybody is in tune with each other, it's like floating on air, really beautiful and moving. Playing alone is very condensed and almost mystical: a very pure representation of my songs. Sometimes I feel like there isn't a more powerful representation of my music than playing alone, but it takes me to a very vulnerable place every night, and it requires a lot from both me and the audience. We all have to work together to make it as powerful as it needs to be.
After traveling around the world so much, what are your most pleasant memories of cities or places?
I have to say that people are the same everywhere. They want to be loved and respected. They want something to believe in, and they want to be hopeful. They want their kids to be happy and healthy. They want to laugh and cry and not feel shame. They want to live without fear. Those are qualities of being human. And sure, everywhere is also different: varying traditions, sets of beliefs and food—but these are things to be celebrated, not be afraid of. If I could re-order the universe, I would make it possible for everyone to spend an entire year traveling and seeing the way other people live. It would help the world a lot, I think. Call be naive, but hey—I'm the one that travels all the time. I've seen how it works.
I’m honoured to have had you over in the shop, we love your music and it creates a home-like feel.
M.C. Taylor: Thank you so much. I was honoured to come visit.
Words by Rudy Ross
Photography by Keng Pereira