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Chris Taylor
Interviewed by Ken Mueller 
 
Chris Taylor is at a crossroads of sorts. He began his musical career in Texas alterna-rocker Love Coma with Sixpence None the Richer's Matt Slocum, then began a solo career that included two fine albums for Rhythm House Records, Down Goes the Day and Worthless Pursuit of Things on the Earth. Last year was a very difficult one in his personal life which lead to two independent releases: The Lo-Fi Project and Brand New Ache. He is also the musical director of his church in Cibolo Creek, Texas. This interview was conducted via e-mail, one question at a time, over a two-week period in January and February 2002. What I discovered is that the Chris Taylor who writes very personal lyrics straight from his heart, is much the same in his correspondence. 
 
Tollbooth: What's in the CD player right now? What are you digging musically? 
 
Taylor: what am I listening to these days... I'm liking Ryan Adams latest, Gold as well as the Waterboys' Too Close to Heaven, Ruben V's latest CD called Lucky Day was produced by Clay Meyers (Augie Meyer's son- Augie played on the last couple of Dylan albums). I've always been a U2 fan and their latest is no exception. Coldplay, Travis and Starsailor. All this European stuff... can't get enough of it! 

I'm also really enjoying going to see live music lately... local stuff. My friends in Lady Jane Grey are great to watch, and I get to play with Ruben V every Thursday at a local pub called Gus and Woodrows- that's so fun and I can learn a lot from him. 

Tollbooth: You mention playing in a pub. You are one of an ever-growing number of artists who have been hovering around the edges of the CCM scene, and a lot of Christians would probably be uncomfortable with the whole pub "thing". In the context of your musical career, what are your feelings on the CCM industry? You're first two albums were on Rhythm House, a smaller CCM label, with distribution through Diamante, which handles a truck load of CCM distribution...but now you seem to be headed the indie route. Is that a reflection of your feelings on the "CCM scene"? 

Taylor: I never meant to just "hover!" (laughs) I tried to write powerful songs that radio could play...they didn't stick. When I was younger, I would have gone off on CCM and all that... but here's my deal; I knowingly got into it, signed a record deal and all that- I wanted to make the music that I heard in my head... I wanted to stretch and do creative stuff and say things that most Christians don't talk about in public. Rhythm House gave me an opportunity to do that... That was where I started from, anyway... I was troubled by the kind of "behind the scenes" peak I got of CCM and at the same time... I found there to be some incredible people too. Real genuine folks who didn't serve themselves. I've always gone into bars and clubs 'cos that's where the music was. It was also in the churches but funny enough, the Spirit was quenched (in most cases). I just wanted to play my tunes for people who loved music- it never affected the type of lyrics I chose to write or was inspired to write... people don't expect God to show up in a song when you're at a bar. But people do listen and they do hear and they do take things to heart. I don't think all Christian artists should be out doing that, but for me, it's a natural thing. I don't judge people 'cos they don't know God or don't know His freedom or grace in our lives. 

As far as the indie thing... I love the spirit of that too. I'm not officially off of Rhythm House yet, although due to some personal blows in my life last year, I did ask to be released. It's not a fault issue, or a blame game- Rhythm House worked their butts off for me and I worked mine off for them too. It's just not working and I felt it was time to put out some music that my friends and fans would enjoy and I could get some stuff out of my system at the same time. I'm not shopping any secret deals, I'm not trying to use these songs as demos- this is just about making art with me in the driver's seat for once. Home grown and all... ya gotta love that! 

Tollbooth: You have two new albums out that you put together independently, and they are very different sorts of albums. Tell me a little bit about each of them, and why you decided to do two at the same time. Are there different themes, different messages? 

Taylor: I started work in a friend's home studio here in San Antonio. I just kept bringing in songs that were just written... some I pulled from stuff that I wrote years ago, but never got released. The stuff was very personal, confessional almost. Some of it was just too tough to sing more than once- so we kept the first take. It started with the more experimental "Lo-Fi Project" which was just short for "low-finance"- (laughs) It was me being arty and inviting my friends in to sing and play my own songs. Dave and Sarah from Lady Jane Grey, Ruben V, my touring band Shane Kyle (drums) and Justin Graves (bass). Doing all sorts of stuff labels can't have you do for one reason or another. Really beautiful little tunes came out of it like "Courage to Crawl" and "Trouble for the World," and I just kept going. At night I would go home and write more tunes and bring 'em in the next day. 

The band didn't know what they'd be doing until two minutes before the record button was pressed. We kept 1st and 2nd takes of everything. Then "Brand New Ache" was born from a separation with my wife of 10 years... so all the tunes really have a sadness about them. They're coming from a different kind of place all together. No easy answers to be found here. I was doing a few dates with Bill [Mallonee] and the Vigilantes of Love and there was a lyric that jumped out at me and I asked him if I could use it for the title of my record and he actually said "sure..." so there ya go. 

Some of the songs sound more hopeful than even I expected. "Underneath the Tree of Stars" is down right romantic, "Here's to the Losers... Bless Them All" has more God inspired hope than I did during that time- even now... and "Supreme" is just one of the catchiest things I've ever written- I'm just not expecting airplay this time around! It's funny how God uses you when you don't even realize it. 

Tollbooth: You talk about the recent separation and the ensuing sadness, and I think that is certainly one of the things that separates your music from a lot of what is out there. A lot of Christian music that is part of the whole Nashville scene is very up and you sometimes get the impression that once you become a Christian everything is all rosy and you always smile. But it seems as though there are more artists out there now, like yourself, who are willing to be more open and vulnerable and admit that even Christians have problems and go through rough times. And I think it is that sort of openness that makes God's grace so much more real to the world at large. Even your earlier albums seem to have that kind of feel. When you're out playing, whether it be at a church or in a bar, how do your listeners connect to your music? 

Taylor: First of all, thank you for saying that... connections happen in so many ways. Some people just like the tunes. They like the way they sound or the cool guitar solo from Ruben or my voice or whatever. Others really listen and relate to the words. There was a lady that came up to me during a break last Thursday, beer in one hand, tear in her eye telling me how much that the song "Thirty-Three" meant to her. How she hadn't heard anything like that before and the power of the lyric moved her. Funny thing about that was the fact that I was rather tired of the song (being a couple of years old- from my Worthless Pursuit album) and I did it 'cos I know Ruben has an amazing solo in there. Now, I know the words are powerful and tell a story but sometimes it becomes like breathing- you just don't think about it when you're doing it. 

So God used Ruben and me in spite of ourselves- and her talking to me convicted me to be ready- more prepared to speak to folks who do get touched by the tunes. People say songs can't change the world- sometimes I disagree. 

If I couldn't be honest and let my fears, worries, all that stuff be known, I would be petrified of leaving my house. People thinking I was some kind of hypocrite or something. I don't want to fake anyone out or make 'em think I'm a tower of strength. The only time I ever have been strong it's because the Holy Spirit rose up inside me and God's grace rained down. The rest is just me fumbling through life. CCM wants to create airbrushed role models and hide the imperfections- I just can't go that rout. I've got too many! 
 
Tollbooth: It is interesting that you mention a listener in a bar connecting to "Thirty-Three" which really is one of the songs of yours that is certainly very explicit in terms of being "Christian." I know that Bill Mallonee and others have spoken about how when a club or bar-owner somehow affixes the name "Christian" to you, they start thinking, "Gee, this guys a Christian, and well, Christians don't drink a lot of beer and probably don't go to bars often, so maybe we shouldn't book this guy..." Has that ever been a problem for you? 

Taylor: Oh, yeah.... "Chris, we love your tunes but none of your fans are getting any drinks- we make our money from the bar sales..." It's my job to create other fans that may not be believers or church goers or uptight Christians who don't have an occasional beer. In most cases they really are understanding and invite me back and give me the chance to build an audience. I hope my music can relate to folks who don't believe in God. Not all of them are angry with God... it's just that some have never given Him the open door to their heart. So, I gotta stop looking at it like me vs. them vs. God- it's just being a light to the world. "this little light of mine... I'm gonna let it shine!" It's that simple but that profound. 
 
Tollbooth: I guess this is as good a time as any to talk about this as it sort of applies. Interesting quote in the liner notes of Worthless Pursuit of Things of the Earth. In there you write "You don't get most people's attention until you get famous or you're important enough to be listened to. I'm just not into competing. It's not my fault if people don't hear what I'm saying or they miss the point or they don't catch the soul of the song." Care to elaborate? 

Taylor: Well that comes from a bit of frustration in playing live and people talk over your set and reduce you to background music. Or folks who get serviced your CD only listen to the first few seconds of each song... that kind of thing. I'm not into the competing aspect of it all- I show up, do my job, say what the lyrics got me saying... unplug and go home! I watch these early Bob Dylan videos of him playing in some hall- now I know he's Dylan and all- but you could hear a pin drop! It's just not like that anymore... acoustic guitar and storytelling are endangered. Ya gotta show some skin, have sex appeal and look like a million bucks- and for God sakes- Ya gotta dance!! 

Sometimes, that's just what it's like. Other times, it's about sitting in the office of a record label and everyone's talking about how they're going to spend money on you, or market you or how you should be doing this or that and no one talks directly to you! If you didn't jump in with your opinions or convictions, they'd steam roll all over you. That has happened to me many times- probably my fault since I don't have a big mouth in that area. Too many cooks in the kitchen. 
 
Tollbooth: OK, let's shift gears a bit. Getting back to your new album, Brand New Ache I notice that you did the painting for the cover, and that you have a few paintings up on your website. Is painting something you have always done, or is this a new creative outlet for you? Do you plan on getting into that a bit more? 

Taylor: The painting thing has always been a part of my expression. It really took shape when Matt Slocum (Sixpence) asked me if he could borrow a title in one of my lyric books for the title of their next record (This Beautiful Mess)- he was gonna get all sorts of people to paint pictures for that album. I was one of them, along with Steve Taylor's wife Debbie and Howard Finster, Jimmy A... good company! I've since then painted some CD covers for Misty Jones and a few others. I thought it was perfect timing to do my own stuff for my own record. I try to sell them at live shows or on the road... but I wouldn't call myself a "painter"... I don't know all the in's and out's of it all. 
 
Tollbooth:  Let's take it a step further. What sort of relationship, if any, is there between your music and painting? Does one supplement the other? Does the painting allow you to communicate certain thoughts, feelings, ideas, or concepts that you can't communicate in your music, and vice versa? Is it a situation of looking at the same ideas from two different perspectives? 

Taylor: I don't think so... it's not conscious, anyway. I usually just put my brush to the canvas and go with it. I don't put half as much thought as to crafting a song or a chord change. The cover to Brand New Ache was made up as I went along but looking back on it- it seems so full of sadness... as if I knew what I wanted to communicate through this picture. I had nothing to do with it other than to put the brush to the canvas! Almost like stream of conscious painting! I don't get the same kind of joy or whatever feelings that others do looking at my own work- or listening to it. It's almost as if I'm removed from the experience... I appreciate it more as time goes by- it all seems more like a blur while it's happening 
 
Tollbooth: Shifting gears again. Back in the day you were in a band called Love Coma, which included Matt Slocum who went on to fame and fortune with Sixpence None the Richer. Over the past few years Sixpence has gone from a staple of the CCM realm to a band that is now heard all over the place, seen on MTV, playing on major tours, etc. What's it like to turn on MTV, or your local rock station, and see and hear your old buddy Matt playing to the masses? 

Taylor: I went through a year of being somewhat jealous of Matt and his new found fame and success... even in the beginning when Sixpence was getting started and getting all sorts of attention. Then to see them on Letterman and Leno and all those other late night gigs... It was like watching your roommate hit the lottery, move out and live the life! What are the chances of it ever happening to you? That was my attitude. Somewhere along the way I was convicted and realized I needed to live MY life and stop living through Matt's. Although Slocum was living out his dreams AND mine too... it was time to let it go and enjoy his friendship and the success that came to him. If anyone deserved it, it is him. Matt is very talented, very humble and always has been and continues to be a great friend to me- even though we don't see each other quite as often. It's too funny... I'll be shopping at some store... buying chips and food or whatever and inevitably "Kiss Me" will come on the overhead music or "There She Goes" will play on TV as a musical backdrop to some show... and I just smile. Matt and Leigh are both good people with kind and loving families. They've surrounded themselves with great talent in creating the band- all along the way. I told him if he ever needed a kazoo or a mime dancer to call me! 
 
Tollbooth: Earlier you mentioned that much of your newer music was born out of a separation from your wife of ten years. This is the sort of thing that isn't "supposed to happen to Christians," and yet marital problems are all too real in the church. As a Christian who is sometimes in the "spotlight," as it were, what have been the reactions of your listeners to this separation? How has your local church responded, and how has the Church in general responded? We Christians can sometimes be pretty harsh on our brothers and sisters who are going through this sort of pain. 

Taylor: All those are good questions. To be honest... I haven't gone out of my way to make it any of this stuff known from the stage. People can definitely figure out something went down in my life. You can't hear songs like "Salvation" or "Ain't Life Sweet?" and not think there was a break up here. In my situation, being some what a public figure, I'm trying to be as respectful as possible to Teresa and trying not to spill my trash over people who come see me play. It's all there in the songs... so if you're paying attention... but I don't like to spill it out in between songs too much. 

I'm trying to get through this whole thing with the least amount of damage to her and to myself. Thank God for Cibolo Creek Community Church... thank God for those people. They took me in when the last place I wanted to go was to a church, the one place where judgment and public opinion rule over God's word. Gossip abounds and people manipulate God's words and take a kind of control over them and abuse other people along the way. Not everybody in every church... but there are enough stories about people being scarred from that kind of thing going on. Cibolo Creek made me their music director! (laughs) After quite a bit of pursuing me... and even knowing my situation, they embraced what was left of my heart and talents and now I'm soaking in learning about leadership and what it means to serve and to dedicate your life to and for others. And that's insane after coming through- well... still going through a very self-absorbed grieving process. There have been people who look at me with a critical eye and a harsh word... they have no idea- NO IDEA WHAT IT MEANS TO LOSE YOUR WIFE, YOUR BEST FRIEND, YOUR LOVER AND YOUR HOME IN ONE DAY. No amount of listening to sermons, writing Christian songs, being a moral person, or even talking and praying to God will prepare you for that blow. But because those things were in my life before... I had to- and still have to make the choice to continue in that direction. It's funny... how much identity I've lost over the last year. I've watched the old Chris Taylor fade away and this new person... I'm still learning about. Thank God for good friends and the outlet of art and music to help me through. 
 
Tollbooth: As music director at Cibolo Creek, what are your tasks? Are you merely leading worship or are you writing and composing original music for the worship services?

Taylor: I've been writing tons of songs that go hand in hand with what our pastor is speaking on. Plus, I get to do the same thing for the kids at the church... can you picture me in front of 50 kids singin' crazy songs and leading them in worship at that age? I never thought i would do that kind of thing. But it's been so cool... 
 
Tollbooth: Care to share any examples of those songs for kids? And the music you are writing for the service, are any of those songs the types of things that could show up on an album some day? Or could there even be a Chris Taylor "worship" album down the line with a lot of that material together? 

Taylor: Well... my ideas of what a true "worship album" are quite different from the mainstream, marketable stuff we here these days. There's a scripture... I believe it's in Romans... Chapter 8 that talks about a level of the Spirit that I long to strive for. "In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express... and he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will." That's some heavy-duty stuff... but there lies the truth about real worship- the way I see it, anyway. The sing-songy type stuff is fine on one level... I'm more interested in this kind of thing. Unfortunately... I won't be doing that for the folks who walk in the doors of Cibolo Creek. Not anytime soon... this is far more personal. If I ever did a worship record for any kind of label... they couldn't give them away! The stuff Iím writing is very obvious, practical... easy to digest songs that appeal to all sorts of people. The occasional artsy thing slips in and usually leaves folks scratching their heads and smiling politely! 
 
Tollbooth: So right now you are "promoting" your two latest releases, the Lo-Fi Project and Brand New Ache. How do you plan on getting the word out, as it were, so that people can find your music and enjoy it? Are you trying to work the whole grassroots, word-of-mouth route, or is a more organized plan in the works? 

Taylro: I just planned to sell it out of my trunk, through the www.christaylormusic.com site or at live shows... I really am turned off by the music bizznass right now. It's just not where my heart is. But I wanted to make back the investment and then some on these records. So I don't owe anybody any money... funny enough...the last few days, there has been some outside interest from a few different places. 

I didn't send them to anyone other than friends who kind of like my stuff and wanted the latest. But it wasn't like I had plans to sign to a new deal or try to use these as demos or anything like that. So it's funny to see even a small buzz on the streets of anywhere but San Antonio! There is nothing solidified with anyone- and I want to respect my contract with Rhythm House- so no plans have been confirmed as of yet. 
 
Tollbooth:  What's up next for Chris Taylor? You say your heart is not fully into the music business right now, but will there be more records down the road? Or are you thinking of spending more time at home and working on your job at the church? 

Taylor: Always, always, always more music. The business has nothing to do with the joy of making it... The love of creating songs, sounds, taping the band, creating the artwork... those are the things I will always love. The contracts, the hassles, the miscommunications, the lack of communication, the- no one talks to you, they just talk about you- thing... the imaging, marketing... when it's not in your control... it all gets a bit silly really. well... it's ALWAYS silly! but I'm still gonna make music, play live, record, and still go to crazy functions like GMA and all that. It's worse to stand on the sidelines and complain than it is to be a part of it all and make a difference... no matter how small it may seem at the time. as far as the church thing goes... I'm here for the people and Iím loving it! My CD's can go places I can't right now... but I finally have a foundation and am not tossed like a wave on the sea... that feels good right now... 
 
Tollbooth: Well, to wrap things up here then, anything else you'd like to talk about that we haven't touched on? 

Taylor: Absolutely not... other than Ruben V being one of the greatest guitarists around (esp. if you like the blues-see www.rubenv.com, staying out way too late for the past few nights, lack of sleep, bad tacos at the drive through, why my guitar strings are breaking now more than ever, friends losing their wallets, what rhymes with orange? and I've been trying to join Out of Eden for 3 years now and they still won't return any of my calls! 

Iím simply too tired... but thank you for caring! Thanks for talking with me and please keep in touch!! 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 
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