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Hiss Golden Messenger's M.C. Taylor Processes His Pandemic Blues In Latest Album

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Hiss Golden Messenger's new album is reflective, ruminative and not without a decent beat.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SANCTUARY")

HISS GOLDEN MESSENGER: (Singing) Feeling bad, feeling blue. Can't get out of my own mind. But I know how to sing about it.

FADEL: That's a bit from the song "Sanctuary," from Hiss Golden Messenger's "Quietly Blowing It." MC Taylor is the one singing on it. He wrote most of the album, and he joins us now. Thanks for being with us.

MC TAYLOR: Thanks for having me. How are you?

FADEL: I'm doing well. So you wrote this album during the pandemic.

MC TAYLOR: Right.

FADEL: But it seems the mood predates the coronavirus? Can you talk about where you were in your life at the end of 2019?

MC TAYLOR: At the end of 2019, I was probably nearing five, six, seven consistent years on the road...

FADEL: Yeah.

MC TAYLOR: ...Which is a gift in so many ways. But I was also feeling totally fried.

FADEL: Yeah.

MC TAYLOR: I have two kids, 8 and 12 years old. I'm married, and...

FADEL: Yeah.

MC TAYLOR: ...I wanted to see my family. So I did get some time off (laughter), but I had no idea that it would be as much time off as we all ended up getting.

FADEL: Little did you know that the pandemic was coming and mandating some time off for you.

MC TAYLOR: That's right.

FADEL: So you wrote this album during sort of the lockdown at the beginning of this pandemic?

MC TAYLOR: Most of it. There are a couple songs that probably predate 2020. But yeah, for the most part, it was composed between March of 2020 and maybe July of 2020.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IT WILL IF WE LET IT")

HISS GOLDEN MESSENGER: (Singing) When it all feels fake, do the words have no meaning? They will if we let 'em. But first we got to say 'em.

FADEL: And you were in the same place for most of the time that you were making this album, which is unusual for you.

MC TAYLOR: Yeah. Starting in March of 2020, I was in Durham, N.C. you know, until - I am actually in California right now, the first trip of this nature that I've taken since this all started. It's the longest that I've been home. It's the longest that my kids have ever seen me. It's incredible to sort of fall into the home rhythms. And it also - I'd be lying if I said it didn't make me question certain things about what being a professional musician requires of us.

FADEL: Like what?

MC TAYLOR: Well, the fact that we have to leave home.

FADEL: All the time.

MC TAYLOR: We have to be away from home so often. There are trade-offs, you know? I'm doing something that I absolutely love and am obsessed by, and my kids get to see me doing something that I am fully involved with.

FADEL: Right.

MC TAYLOR: But it does take me away from home. It's something that I thought about.

FADEL: Let's listen to a bit of "If It Comes in the Morning."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IF IT COMES IN THE MORNING")

HISS GOLDEN MESSENGER: (Singing) Was a pain that we trusted. The sword and the shield, lay 'em down, now they're rusting. There's a spade if you're willing to work on the building.

FADEL: So a pain that we trusted, a sword and shield rusting, a spade if you're willing to work on the building. What are you saying in this song?

MC TAYLOR: (Laughter). I think I was thinking about the potential for hope, right?

FADEL: Yeah.

MC TAYLOR: I didn't find myself to be an unflagging rock of hopefulness this past year. I think I was like anybody. I had days of hopefulness and days of despair.

FADEL: Yeah.

MC TAYLOR: But I feel like I was trying to keep my eye on the potential that hope has for us to help us evolve forward. You know, I think it's something that a lot of musicians have done in the past. I thought a lot about a songwriter like Curtis Mayfield or The Staple Singers this past year, the way that they positioned hope in their songs during times that must have felt unhelpful some days.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IF IT COMES IN THE MORNING")

HISS GOLDEN MESSENGER: (Singing) Will I be thankful if it comes in the morning?

MC TAYLOR: The pandemic, you know, the murder of George Floyd, the election, wildfires - it seemed like a moment in which the cosmos was forcing us to reckon with the way that we behave towards one another, the obligations that we have to one another as humans. And, you know, I'm very curious to see what lessons we carry forward out of this. I don't think that we're in the clear by any stretch.

FADEL: Yeah. It's not on this album, but I want to ask about "I Need a Teacher."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I NEED A TEACHER")

HISS GOLDEN MESSENGER: (Singing) Rock me, daddy. I'm still your kid. The ways to you are oh, so very different. Beauty in the broken American moment. Rock me, daddy. Happiness ain't free. I see where you're at. I know you can see me. Beauty in the broken American moment.

FADEL: So this was 2019. North Carolina teachers marched against cuts to public education...

MC TAYLOR: Right.

FADEL: ...And you wrote this song to support those teachers, right?

MC TAYLOR: I have always been around public school teachers my entire life. My parents were public school teachers. My sister is a high school counselor. My wife is an ESL teacher.

FADEL: Yeah.

MC TAYLOR: So I have always been witness to the discourse around public education and the way that public education has been a punching bag, has been on the chopping block. And I really believe that public education is a civil rights issue.

FADEL: Do you consider this a protest song? Or how do you feel about the term protest music?

MC TAYLOR: I don't know that - I think that there are people that write very powerful protest music, and I don't know that I'm one of them. But this music seems to have connected with the issue of public education. And I'm certainly not going to shy away from it being used as a song to energize or open up discussions about public education.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HARDLYTOWN")

HISS GOLDEN MESSENGER: (Singing) It's cradle to the grave, so be good to each other. I try to be brave. Oh, Mama, I don't know. I'm cold as ice.

FADEL: When people listen to this album, what do you want them to take away from it? I know you talked about finding hope.

MC TAYLOR: Well, I think that I - so much of it has to do with the ways that we react to forces in our lives that feel diametrically opposed - right? - so wanting to wander, you know, and at the same time feeling terribly homesick, or the ways that the sort of hypercapitalist society that we have built for ourselves can be so toxic and then at the same time, how much relief it can feel like to have a little bit of money in our pockets, right? (Laughter). I hear a lot of diametrically opposed things on this record. Now, I hope people step away from it feeling energized, feeling inspired. I was certainly inspired when I made it, and it was a fun record to make. It was helpful to me.

FADEL: That's MC Taylor of the band Hiss Golden Messenger. Their new album is called "Quietly Blowing It." Thank you so much.

MC TAYLOR: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF HISS GOLDEN MESSENGER SONG, "HARDLYTOWN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.