A quarter of one of the America’s most revered bands is stepping out alone
You’ll probably recognise Chris Taylor, though there’s a chance you won’t know where from. Yet this man might be considered among the most influential figures in the American indie/alt scene today.
Taylor is the striking, blonde-mopped, angular-faced bassist and sonic visionary of freak-folk idols Grizzly Bear, as well as a massively in-demand indie producer. Given much of the credit for his band’s uniquely spacious yet lovingly and painstakingly assembled recordings, his stock reached a zenith with 2009’s seminal Veckatimest. What’s more, Taylor has lent his talents in some capacity to records by Twin Shadow, Dirty Projectors, TV on the Radio and Jamie Lidell. So when it was decided that Grizzly Bear would take a short break (not a hiatus, just a break), Chris elected to spend his time the only way he knows – by submerging himself in music, specifically a label called Terrible Records. And the first release on the label came from the mysteriously titled CANT.
Maybe it was a reflection on the spiralling success of Grizzly Bear; maybe it was something to do with the watershed of his 30th birthday, but suddenly Taylor had something to say that couldn’t be expressed through his esteemed day job. CANT’s first offering, Ghosts, part of a split 7” with a previously unreleased cut from deceased experimental electronic icon Arthur Russell (given a Taylor facelift), was a slow-burning effort, a gradual builder with textured vocals and drawling percussion, dotted sporadically with piano tinkles and measured guitars. Cue a period of intense writing alongside Terrible Records signing George Lewis Jr, better known as ultra-hip, new wave figurehead Twin Shadow, followed by an equally intense period of recording which birthed a full-length album that surfaced in September. Where Ghosts had been a single flash of inspiration, riddled with ideas, Dreams Come True was the fully realised creation.
It came thick with claustrophobic drum loops and heavily sampled instrumentation, yet allowed the emotion of the vocal delivery to shine through: an impeccably pulled-off sonic exercise, deserving of one of the most respected and accomplished producers in the business. From the staccato clicks and tautly plucked double-bass of opener Too Late Too Far, the departure in both sound and approach was clear. The soul vibes of The Edge offered heavily synthesized bass and a gentle swagger, sitting alongside the loopy percussive pop of first single Answer, a track on which the influence of his collaborator loomed large. She Found A Way Out almost seemed to celebrate the contrast from Grizzly Bear, opening as a quirky baroque-pop number not dissimilar to that band, but abruptly degenerating into a dark electric scape with the intrusion of an oppressive, deep synth riff, all concluded by confessional piano-led closer Bereicht. Dreams Come True was a truly intriguing record from conception to execution.
Crack spoke to Taylor in the wake of CANT’s sold out show at London’s Cargo, one leg of the band’s European jaunt. The project which began as two, then became one, is now a fully-functioning four-piece band, one member of which is Devonté Hynes, whose current Blood Orange project has been released on Terrible Records as well as providing the main support for the tour. With a determination to emphasise CANT as far more than a ‘side-project’, this is his first jaunt around Europe as a lead singer. Here’s how our chat with Chris went down.
So how’s Europe treating you? Has the reaction been very different to what you’ve experienced in the past?
It’s going great, we’ve just been around the biggest cities which has been real fun. The reaction has been different but it’s been good. It’s a pretty different-sounding record to anything Grizzly Bear would do, but particularly speaking in terms of Europe I think it’s been really well- received and the shows have all been full.
What is your role within the live band?
I’m playing bass, guitar, keyboards and singing, but there’s also a keyboard player and a guitar player, so it’s spread around.
Although you’ve obviously got plenty of experience performing and singing onstage, for this band you’ve stepped forward and become the focal point – how are you finding being a frontman?
It’s definitely a new experience, I feel different stepping out onstage than I do with Grizzly Bear. It’s all about putting meaning into your vocal performance and getting an honest delivery. I have to give something more than I would if I’m just playing bass, I guess. There’s something really cathartic about it though. The songs we’re playing are all really personal and I have to try and release that onstage. But also there’s the band, who are such amazing, brilliant musicians that I feel lucky to be given this platform to express things. It’s kind of … exhausting? laughs But in a cathartic way. It’s kind of like a sauna, y’know? Just sweat it all out.
You’re often referred to as a ‘multi-instrumentalist’, although you’re known for playing bass in Grizzly Bear, but is there an instrument you’re naturally drawn to?
Well, I spent most of my life playing saxophone, that instrument feels like a third arm or something, it feels like a part of me. I’m very close to the bass too, I love playing the bass, but I feel like I have so much to learn to get anywhere near where I am with the sax.
Would you ever consider a project where you could use the saxophone a bit more?
Actually three of us in the band came from primarily jazz backgrounds, so we were joking around during soundcheck the other day that we should do a jazz 7’’, that would be kind of funny, to throw people a bit!
You’ve got Dev Hynes as part of the live band, as well as supporting you on the tour as Blood Orange and being released on your Terrible Records label. I presume you’re a big fan of his?
Oh yeah, I think we totally dig each other and we work well together, he’s just an awesome guy.
What was the thinking behind starting up that label, and how involved are you in the running of it compared to your partner, Ethan Silverman (of Lust Boys)?
Ethan handles more of the day-to-day logistics I guess, my role is more the producer/A&R kind of side of things, finding cool bands and artists, checking things out and if I think something’s great then I’ll forward it on.
So was that the mentality behind starting up the label – because you’re hearing cool bands and you want to give them a platform?
Yeah, that’s it right there. Although that’s only half the reason, the other half is a bit more selfish in that I wanted to self-release my own music; to not have to operate under any expectations, to make a record on my own time and to promote it in the way that I saw fit. And in a way I was physically able to do, as I have a full-time job with Grizzly Bear, so I had to carve my own path in terms of how and when we would tour it.
Do you see these smaller, artist-run labels being the future to some degree?
I don’t know if it’s the future, but I definitely think it’s a cool option that’s come about, helped along hugely by technology and the internet, just in terms of the ability to distribute music digitally which makes the job of a small label far easier. I have my own studio, so recording and production is all in-house. None of the bands have to part with any money. Being on the label and having a release, it’s kind of my treat.
Was the input of George Lewis Jr. on Dreams come true limited to the writing process?
He and I got together for a duration of about two and a half weeks in two parts and just started writing. What we accomplished was about six of the instrumentals. We wrote them and I took care of the rest by myself in terms of vocals and turning those instrumental chunks into songs.
It must be quite strange for George to see the songs he helped write develop as a completely separate entity from him?
Yeah, well he got to see the show for the first time about two weeks ago and he was saying it was kind of funny to see it alive and fully realised, not just something the two of us were recording, but four guys bringing it all together. He said he liked it.
Do you feel like the songs have developed and become more collaborative since being out on the road with the band?
For sure. The songs have, in my opinion, really improved. I’m still very proud of the record, but I love how the band has reinterpreted things. I was excited about having that external input from people who I really respected, and it’s been fun for me to watch this all unfold and grow and change. The idea is that the four of us write and record as a band from now on, so it’s exciting to see how that develops, creating songs from the ground up.
You mentioned earlier how Dreams Come True is very personal to you; how was the process of putting the lyrics together?
I worked on those by myself. It was the first time I’ve done it, I write a lot and think like that, but I’ve never really put anything into song form, so that was, for me, something I really put a lot of time into. I wanted every word to count and to be proud to print the lyrics. I spend a good couple of months working on those. I didn’t just want to throw reverb all over it and make it a vibey kind of thing. It was an important part of doing this creatively, to get a chance to express myself on a verbal level.
With this departure in sound, would you say that you and the other guys from Grizzly Bear listen to and are influenced by quite different music?
All four of us have very different music we listen to, that’s part of what makes us, us. It’s a big part of why we sound like we do. So this is kind of my side of things that I love.
And you fully intend to carry his on alongside Grizzly Bear as a long-term project?
Yes, definitely. I get a lot of enjoyment from doing this.
Finally, we’ve heard you’re a bit of a force in the kitchen?
(laughs) I love cooking, but I don’t know about a force!
So what’s the signature dish?
Aaah, I don’t know. I think I have a way with eggs. I’ve managed to nail it in a few different permutations. It’s something you can work on for the rest of your life, the execution of good egg cooking. Eggs-ecution! Ha!
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Words: Geraint Davies