Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

San Francisco boy heeds call of South and finds his voice

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M.C. Taylor of Hiss Golden Messenger draws on American folklore for his songs.

WINNIPEG FOLK FESTIVAL PHOTO Enlarge Image

M.C. Taylor of Hiss Golden Messenger draws on American folklore for his songs.

The Winnipeg Folk Festival is all about discovery. Every Tuesday from now until the festival, we are digging into the lineup and profiling the artists we think should be on your radar.

This week: Hiss Golden Messenger

 

The year 2014 will see Hiss Golden Messenger -- the folk project led by singer-songwriter M.C. Taylor -- close a chapter and begin a new one. In January, HGM's first high-profile release, Bad Debt, was reissued. And in September, the band will release Lateness of Dancers -- its fifth full-length album and debut for indie heavyweight Merge.

Taylor, 38, isn't usually precious about records -- he's already gunning to record the followup to an album that's not even out yet -- but Bad Debt, which was recorded on a portable cassette player in his North Carolina kitchen, holds a special place in his heart.

"That record is a really important one for me," he says in his languid Durham-via-San Francisco drawl. "When I made that record in 2009, I had been making recordings for 15 years already. But that was the record on which I felt I'd found my voice."

The reissue is something of a do-over. In 2010, it received a limited run of 100 on vinyl, released via Taylor's own imprint, Heaven & Earth Magic Recording Company. It sold out quickly. Taylor then connected with U.K. label Black Maps, which would distribute the album on CD to a wider audience.

But shortly after Bad Debt's release on CD, in August 2011, riots broke out in London, leaving five dead and numerous people injured. Several buildings were destroyed by fire, including a Sony distribution warehouse in North London. Bad Debt was among the many stock holdings that went up in smoke along with it.

"I moved on -- I was working on other records," Taylor says.

Still, Bad Debt had laid some groundwork despite its limited release; the albums that followed, Poor Moon (2011) and Haw (2013), were met with positive reviews. Taylor's immediate, affecting songs about everything from navigating life as a bleary-eyed new dad or a fraught relationship with faith were resonating with people.

He's now dad to a five-year-old boy and a one-year-old girl, a family he and his wife started when they relocated from California to North Carolina. Settling down wasn't his only motive for moving across the country.

"I was at a bit of a loss with what I was supposed to be doing," he says. "I played in a band for quite a while, but it was at the end of the road."

As a songwriter, Taylor was interested in American folklore. "I wanted to figure out how to draw inspiration from traditional music without sounding like a civil war re-enactor," he says with a laugh.

He enrolled in the University of North Carolina's folklore program, working as a folklorist with the state for several years upon graduation. The move focused him and his music; Hiss Golden Messenger's sound is undeniably indebted to the music of the American South. "I felt it was incumbent on me to actually be there to have a better understanding of it."

A constant in Taylor's life throughout has been Scott Hirsch, his musical co-conspirator of 20 years.

"We've known each other for so long, it's hard for me to articulate what it is that allows us to work together so well," Taylor says. "We're not as physically close (Hirsch moved to Brooklyn when Taylor moved to Durham), but we've made more music as Hiss Golden Messenger than we have in any other band."

jen.zoratti@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 17, 2014 D3

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