There aren’t many things in this world more enriching than a close friend. Someone whose soul hums at the same frequency as yours and whose existence only adds to the color in your life.
Talking with Hiss Golden Messenger’s M.C. Taylor and Phil Cook, it’s clear they’ve found that in each other. The two musicians met about five years ago in the fertile artist community surrounding the Raleigh-Durham area of North Carolina and have been constants in each others’ lives ever since.
Listen to the music of both Taylor and Cook and it you’ll begin to understand the roots of their connection. Cook’s work in Megafaun and The Shouting Matches showcased a penchant for crafting gorgeous hybridizations of folk, blues and psychedelia that resonated on a deeply soulful level. Last year’s Southland Mission was a lifetime in the making, a tour-de-force of vibrant self-expression that combined all of Cook’s musical influences onto one album.
As Hiss Golden Messenger, Taylor has been releasing music that offers raw portraits of his life on a bedrock of sturdy folk-rock for years. His storytelling is at its most revealing on this year’s standout Heart Like A Levee, which grapples with the intricacies of moving through life balancing art, work and family. Taylor and Cook’s respective albums represent the best work each have released and it is no wonder that they both employed the other to play on their and help bring their visions to life.
When I caught up with them recently over the phone they were finishing a U.S. tour behind the release of Heart Like A Levee. Their collaboration was playing out as beautifully on the road as it had on the record with Cook lending his deft touch on guitar and piano to Taylor’s music. They were jovial as they discussed how they’ve enhanced each others’ lives, their individual creative processes and the tight-knit community in Raleigh-Durham. The journey is all the more better when you have someone with which to share it.
Thanks for both hopping on the phone today to talk. I’ve never interviewed two people over the phone before, have you done an interview like this?
Phil Cook: I’ve sat in a lot of rooms where Mike was the only one getting interviewed, but this was the first time I was specifically requested to be somewhere with him, which is cool. (Mike Taylor laughing in the background).
Well I think both of you put out some really good stuff and the fact you guys play together is really cool so I thought I’d talk to both of you.
M.C. Taylor: I think Phil knows more about what’s happening in my music than I do (Laughs).
Well, we can get a second opinion on things.
MT: Well mine would be second and Phil’s would be first.
PC: Theory wise it’s probably accurate.
Mike, I’ll start with you. Reading through press stuff you mentioned that the song “Heart Like A Levee” came to you while you were in a hotel room in the midst of a tour, struggling with your position as a working musician in life at that specific moment. I’m curious, was the emotion that was the catalyst for that song find itself elsewhere on the album?
MT: Yeah, I mean I think the emotion that you’re talking about on “Heart Like A Levee” is a mixture of guilt and elation. It’s kind of the theme of the album honestly. I think it’s probably most condensed on that song, but I can’t think of a song on the record that doesn’t contain at least a kernel of that vibe.
Do you usually find the road an inspiring place to write?
MT: No, not really, it’s not quite my vibe. But sometimes I have to, either because I have some kind of self-imposed deadline or there’s just something going on inside that I need to deal with. That was certainly the case when I really sort of started the writing of this record.
Do you think you learned something about yourself as a person when you wrote this album? It seems testimonial in a way.
MT: Yeah I definitely did because I know I am a changed person from two years ago or a year and a half ago when I started writing this record. It would probably be hard for me to articulate in what ways, but there is something inside me that… It wouldn’t be worth doing unless it was transformative for me. First and foremost, I always assume that anybody interested in this music is eventually going to disappear (Laughs), find something more interesting. So first and foremost I am writing for myself, then it branches outward to my family and my kids, maybe they’ll find something on one of these records to put on my gravestone. Then I’m writing for Phil, and Brad (Cook) and for everybody that I play with, because they are the ones that sort of make this music live in so many ways now.