Doomsayers solemnly state that the old-fashioned slow-burn way of artists gradually finding an audience as they hone their craft to perfection is a thing of the past. Hiss Golden Messenger provide compelling evidence to the contrary.
In five years, this North Carolina-based loose collective centred around songwriter MC Taylor and multi-instrumentalist Scott Hirsch (veteran of underappreciated California group Court and Spark) have gone from stark solo sets recorded at Taylor’s kitchen table (2009’s hypnotic ‘Bad Debt’, reissued last year) to blowing the roof off the Late Show. It would be tempting to describe HGM’s offerings as Americana, did that not conjure too many memories of slavish devotion to past masters.
Whilst Taylor’s songs certainly speak of an in-depth appreciation of American roots music, the familiar building blocks and themes are twisted into fresh new shapes.
With justifiably praised new album ‘Lateness of Dancers’ providing a more accessible entry point for newcomers than the haunting and troubled (albeit brilliant) Poor Moon (2011) and Haw (2013), Sunday’s show offers a chance to witness a band on their way to even bigger and better things.
Yorkshire Evening Post spoke to MC Taylor in the run-up to the band’s return to Leeds on Sunday.
You played a solo show the Brudenell Social Club last year. What are your memories of the venue and Leeds in general?
I remember having a great time at that gig. I was alone for that performance. That was my first time in Leeds, though I have been around that part of the country—including Manchester and York—several times. I’ve actually spent some fair amount of time in Todmorden, right outside of Hebden Bridge, and I find the landscape stunning. I believe Ted Hughes has written some poems about the Bridestones thereabouts. I’m drawn to working class cities, or cities that have a history of working class culture; Durham, the city where I live in North Carolina, has a similar legacy. It makes for a more dynamic place, culturally speaking. It’s more interesting to me, anyway.
You’ve gone from recording alone in your kitchen (for Bad Debt) to playing the Late Show in a few years time. How do you feel about this progression?
I feel grateful for it. It’s fun. Though, to be fair, I bought my first tour van when I was 17, and I’ll turn 40 this year. So it’s not as though things have happened overnight for me. In fact, I would be hard pressed to think of someone whose path has been longer. I’ve had a great time all the way. Around the time of Bad Debt, I feel like I struck upon something very personal and natural, which must have been compelling for listeners. It was certainly compelling for me. It was like having songs arrive out of the sky and into my hand. I’m thankful for everything that has happened with my music in the last few years. I don’t take it for granted, and am always working in the service of the songs.
Lateness of Dancers appears to be a less dark (or more hopeful) album than its three predecessors. What brought on the change in your songwriting?
That’s a tricky question. I do like the idea that it’s more hopeful than previous albums, but if that’s so, it wasn’t a conscious move. When I’ve been asked about this before, I talk about it as being a more open record. At the end of the day, though, these songs just arrived together and I can’t really account for their demeanor. I did have a daughter — my second child — while I was working on Lateness of Dancers. Maybe that had something to do with it?
Hiss Golden Messenger, Steve Gunn, Ryley Walker, many others: there appears to be a number of compelling artists/bands active at the moment who draw inspiration from the less obvious parts of the American music tradition. Which artists do you feel kinship with? Who are your main inspirations?
Steve and Ryley are friends, and I admire their work. When it comes to what artists influence my own music, I’m not quite sure what the answer to that question is anymore. It’s less and less that I am listening to other records with an eye towards borrowing sounds or ideas from them. I’m usually just so deep in my own head nowadays, trying to work out my ideas with the family of musicians around me. I can’t think of the last album that I put on at a recording session of my own — maybe a Curtis Mayfield record?
I’m actually at a bit of an impasse right now because I’m not quite sure what to do with my record collection. It’s quite vast and has become somewhat disinteresting to me. It just feels like stuff, you know? It’s not where my head is at. And I honestly consider that a positive evolution. I know where to get my power from music when I need it, and it’s not necessarily in the stacks of records downstairs.
One thing that I’m interested in is how to make music—my music—more inclusive. I’m not talking about changing my music to appeal to more people; I’m talking about understanding what it is about my music that appeals emotionally to listeners, and refining that, and bringing that to as many people as I can. I have been a record collector, and as much joy as that has brought me, there’s also a lot of cultural gatekeeping that happens in that world that I have no interest in. I place no spiritual value on obscure records. I’m just interested in making music that moves me and moves other people, and being positive about it, reveling in that relationship together.
Your work rate is quite phenomenal. How do you keep inspired?
I surround myself with great people doing great things. I have an incredible family and group of friends.
How would you describe the HGM sound to anyone who might have seen your name mentioned but hasn’t actually heard your music?
Hiss Golden Messenger play at Brudenell Social Club, Leeds on Sunday February 8. For details visit