M.C. Taylor makes beautiful folk music as Hiss Golden Messenger, but last week he embarked on a very different kind of job.
When he phoned the Voice, Taylor was on his way back from “town” to his home in rural North Carolina after picking up some wood to put new cabinets in his kitchen. The new cabinets more than likely will stay a work in progress, as Taylor is about to embark on a mini-tour, something he’s been getting pretty good at over the past year and a half, for better or worse. The toils of the road even lead to writing a new album, his first full-length since 2014’s critically lauded Lateness of Dancers and his newest output since the Southern Grammar three-song EP he released at the onset of 2015.
“Everyone in the band has kids and we’ve spent a lot of time on the road, definitely the most I ever have,” he says. “The time away from my wife and kids brought on all these emotions and the joy of doing what I love for a living but just having to leave a lot. The writing of the record was a way to approach those emotions.”
These new songs took shape when Taylor was commissioned as the artist in residence at Duke University’s Duke Performance center to pair his music with the photographs of William Gedney for a project titled “Heart Like a Levee.” The process didn’t go as smoothly as he planned at its outset, as the photos didn’t even end up inspiring the music that came from him. He thought it’d be a narrative record but just couldn’t crack it as it hit him that he just can’t work that way.
“I’m an imagistic song writer, so the longer I tried to write these stories about the people that appear in the photographs, the less genuine it felt, so I scrapped the entire process and kind of tried to connect with what I felt were the emotions in the pictures,” he says. In the end, it was his long times on the road that brought new songs to light. “It was a whole new situation for myself and my family. There were a lot of goodbyes,” he says. “It was sort of dealing with that sense of dislocation and loneliness of the road and that reckoning with work and pleasure.”
Even though it’s tough for Taylor to be away from the fam, he’s still ready to get back on different cities’ stages.
“I feel so lucky to be able to do something that I’m so connected to. That’s just something that a lot of people don’t have in their lives,” he says. “But in the end it’s really just work, like any other job.” His children are young, at two and six, and are…OK with dad’s tunes. “They’ve grown up hearing it all the time, so I think they’d say ‘It’s fine!’” he says, laughing. “I don’t think they’d say my music is their favorite music but it has a place in their life and an impact in the house.” That house will be waiting right where it is when Taylor makes his way home again after tour, along with some unfinished cabinets.
Hiss Golden Messenger plays Baby’s All Right on November 19. For ticket information, click here.