Hiss Golden Messenger

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Latest album, Terms of Surrender, follows M.C. Taylor through a tumultuous year

Globe Hall | October 18-20

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By Timothy Dwenger

Over the past couple of years, the struggles of mental health in our society have become painfully apparent and we have lost far too many prominent and beloved figures to their own hand. While Anthony Bourdain, Kate Spade, Chris Cornell and Avicii are some of the most recognized names on the list, depression is an issue that permeates our society and something that many people struggle with in silence. As the spotlight has turned to focus more intently on this issue, sadly some retreat, but others, like M.C. Taylor of Hiss Golden Messenger, do their best to acknowledge their struggles, choose life, and turn to face things head on.

In Taylor’s case, the promotional materials that accompany the new Hiss Golden Messenger album, Terms of Surrender, mention that the record “follows Taylor’s journey through a tumultuous year of trauma and psychological darkness” and he was willing to unpack that a little bit during a recent interview with The Marquee. “That was a place that I was in for a good part of 2018 and I hear a lot of that reckoning on this new record. So, because the record is a public document, at the time we were putting that stuff together, it felt like that should be mentioned. One, because it was a big part of the process of composition, and two, because I think a lot of people were experiencing all sorts of trauma through 2018. We live under this big black cloud that is a corrupt administration, but the record is not a political one unless you feel, like I do, that everything, including the personal, is political. I’m not singing about politics on the record but I’m singing about the ways that we are trying to exist in this world together. The ways that the zeitgeist changes and takes on the colors of everything around us.”

As the conversation moved on, Taylor pivoted a bit and honed-in on the realities of the profession he has chosen to pursue as his life’s work and how that factors into his day-to-day well-being. “When I would sort of daydream about being a musician, I didn’t have any of the details,” he admitted. “Those daydreams didn’t have any details in them, they just had the part where I’m sitting in a hotel room playing guitar with my buddies. It’s a lot more than that. But, at the same time, it’s amazing. I can’t believe I get to do this with my life. It’s so crazy! It’s like a hallucination.”

Some of the details that those daydreams were missing are the loving wife and two young kids at home in Durham, North Carolina and, while he readily admits that it never gets any easier to leave them when he has to hit the road, he’s doing his best to strike a balance that will work for everyone. “Can I have it all?” he asked rhetorically. “I don’t think I can have it all. I don’t think I can have this rich, deep, fully present home life — this loving relationship with my wife and my two amazing kids — and also travel all the time. I need to be able to convey presence and emotion and engagement on the stage every single night. I need to be giving all of my emotions in that arena as well. It becomes a question of how do I divide myself up. Is there a way to split myself up and still feel like I’m giving everybody the things that they need in order to feel like they have an actual relationship with me?”

While he acknowledges that this is a conundrum faced by millions of people every day, the emotional demands of his work are typically different from going into an office or factory. “The work that I do requires me to be in a certain emotional place,” says Taylor. “My music depends first and foremost on being in a heightened emotional state and putting my vulnerability on display.”

In the end Taylor finds himself in the same place that many do, when they realize that something has to give, but at this point he seems to be approaching it in a healthy way and keeping things in perspective. “I never feel like I’m totally succeeding at home in the same way that I never feel like I’m totally succeeding on record. I’ve never had a scenario where I walked away from finishing a record and felt like ‘Wow I nailed it.’ But that’s not really what I’m going for,” he revealed. “I’m trying to capture a moment in time on record, so I made a vow a long time ago that I was going to leave things that I felt were mistakes on a recording if it felt like the vibe was there. Then the mistakes are okay. I make a lot of mistakes at home too. There’s communication, there’s me not being present when I really should be. There’s me on my fucking phone when my kids should not be seeing my phone. There’s all that stuff. I’m trying the best that I can, that’s what I’ll say.”

While no one but Taylor and his family can comment on how those efforts are going on the home front, the brilliance of his musical output speaks for itself. Since 2014’s Lateness of Dancers, Hiss Golden Messenger has happily called the mega-indie label Merge Records home, and albums like Heart Like a Levee and Hallelujah Anyhow have garnered critical praise and helped to expand upon his dedicated fanbase. Now, with the highly emotional and deeply personal Terms of Surrender, Hiss Golden Messenger has yet again lived up to the high bar that he has set for himself.

“Sometimes I think it would be easier if I were just that solo guy drifting through with none of the types of concerns I have on my mind, but I’ve known a lot of those solo guys over the years and the sort of loneliness that envelops you in that lifestyle after years and years of it — the lack of a home and an anchor. I’ve seen that destroy people completely,” said Taylor. “Do I want to be on the road forever? For the rest of my life? I don’t know about that, that’s a tough question. But I think that’s what this record is about. Not being a musician, but coming to terms with the fact that what you hoped you would do — what you hoped your life would feel like on your best day — is often so much more complicated than what it looks like in your daydreams.”

Globe Hall | October 18-20

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