“The album took me way longer to finish than I anticipated so just the feeling of letting go of the music has been personally rewarding,” says the Brooklyn-based Taylor McFerrin about Early Riser, his debut long-player for Flying Lotus’s Brainfeeder stable. “Now I feel like a fool for not putting it out earlier.”
During Early Riser‘s near-six-year gestation period, McFerrin has been steadily etching out a position for himself as a beat-based renaissance man: His talents include composing and producing, playing the piano and deejaying, and this blend of abilities turns the 12-track project into an urbane and nuanced listen, with savvy guest vocal spots balanced by lush periods of spacey instrumentation. (Taylor is also the son of Bobby McFerrin, who graces Early Riser with guest vocals.)
Ahead of a celebratory post-album release show at Lot 45 on Tuesday, June 17, as part of the Red Bull Sound Select series, here’s Taylor talking through early versions of the recording, working with his father, and the time he proposed to his then-girlfriend while performing on stage with Early Riser guest triller Emily King.
You mentioned that the album has been many years in the making. Did any of the Brainfeeder artists give you any feedback or constructive criticism on it during that time period?
I went to LA a few times and played earlier versions of it out there, like FlyLo heard two early versions of the album, but I hadn’t played him any of it in the last year and a half. So the version of the record I turned in was very different from the stuff I initially played. The only person in the Brainfeeder camp that heard the whole process is Adam Stover, who pretty much runs it day to day. So he heard all the developments as it progressed. The label is very hands off though — they sign people they trust to just hand in whatever they want so it was kinda down to me to get everything together behind the scenes.
What were those earlier versions of the album like?
It was a whole different batch of instrumentals. To be honest, initially I wanted to sing on everything so my first thought process was to make beats that I thought I could sing on but then once I amassed a couple of hundred beats over a few years, when I went back and listened to my favorite stuff I realized it wasn’t always necessarily production I could sing over. I only started singing in the last couple of years and I realized that my voice just hasn’t developed into a point where it’s something I’m owning yet. So at that point I decided to lead with production.
Working on an album over a couple of years, you go through this stage of loving a song and then hating a song, then sometimes you need the space to listen back to it and realize that it was really dope after all. So I think some of my earlier tracks were more soul and hip-hop-oriented just because that’s what I’m more comfortable singing over. Then when I went back and actually chose the tracks that would make the album it became more diverse — I wanted a broader sonic palette.
How was recording with your father for the song “Invisible/Visible”?
Super chill! I see my family quite a bit — my parents are in Philly and I’m down there almost every month. I don’t play my dad hardly any of my music until it’s finished, so at the point we recorded he hadn’t heard the record. But he’s a really spur of the moment and improv musician, so I had an early version of the beat he sings on and I just looped the beat for like 20 minutes and he just freestyled over it. Then I had to do about 15 edits to all his stuff to make it sound like a performance ’cause I kinda caught him in a weird mood when we recorded — he was really jokey about it and doing all this funny stuff, but then he really locked into something that worked. It wasn’t stressful or anything — I kinda know how my dad likes to make music so I just made the session as easy as possible for him.
How did the hook up with Emily King, who sings on “Decisions,” come about?
We have a cool story actually. Many years ago I was in this band with a singer named Kevin Michael and they were friends, so I initially met her backstage at one of his shows. Then a lot of my friends in New York were always talking about Emily King and I finally started to see her live in a couple of venues and realized she has one of the best live voices — there aren’t many artists that sound as good or better live as they do on a record. I’ve always thought her voice is extremely pure and honest. Then she became my fiancé’s favorite singer and me and Emily got close enough as friends where I plotted to propose to my then girlfriend at an Emily King concert. I was gonna sit in with her on stage and I ended up calling my girlfriend up on stage to propose during Emily’s new song “Distance.”
When it came to the album, I actually made a special track for Emily which didn’t make the album but I let her listen to everything and she gravitated towards the song that became “Decisions.” Her process was she wanted to have the instrumental and then go and work on it for a week or two.
Phonte has also been tweeting about how much he likes the album. Any plans for a collaboration any time soon?
Yeah, we actually have a failed collaboration from a long time ago. I sent him a beat and because I was kinda a rookie, I didn’t send him any options and he didn’t really know what to do over it. I remember at the time it really bummed me out but I realized it was because there were a few things I didn’t know about production and the process at the time. I sent him something that was kinda a funk song which looking back was not the best idea for him. But I’d definitely link up with Phonte — he’s a super cool and amazingly talented artist. At the moment I’m kinda plotting my strategy for the next six months and I think it’s going to involve a lot of collaborations before the next solo stuff.