17 March 2009
Robin Taylor is perhaps the most prolific artist I've had the pleasure of discovering over the past few years writing about progressive music. Each album is different from the one before it, or the one to follow. He's worked with Michael Denner of Mercyful Fate, Karsten Vogel of Secret Oyster, and noted bassist Peter Friis Nielsen, among others, on a discography that currently covers a massive 26 releases over the last 18 years. With another new album, Return to Whatever, imminent, I felt it was a great time to sit down with this diverse and eclectic musician to get his thoughts on his career, the state of live music in Denmark, and a few other topics as well...
1) For our readers who may be less familiar with your work, can you give us a brief sketch of how you got involved in music?
RT: As most musicians my generation (I'm 52), I started out at age 12, with a very cheap electric guitar. Together with a couple of classmates from school, we formed a band. Soon after I picked up the bass guitar, which became my main instrument all way up
through the 1970s.
We had grown up with the Beatles, and around the time we started playing ourselves, we became very fond of the psychedelic scene (Cream, Hendrix) as well as the blues. During the 70s, where I played in several local groups, I discovered progressive rock (ELP, Crimson, Oldfield) and also found a great interest in jazz-rock (Mahavishnu, Weather Report etc.) By the end of the decade, I lost interest in playing in bands; I found more satisfaction in recording (my own) music, after years of experimenting with tape recorders. Though I'd never had any formal musical training, I found great joy in composing and piecing bits together on my (poor) recording equipment, which was also how I expanded my abilities in means of arranging music and playing the different instruments, that were needed in the process. I earned my first royalties by having a lot of this stuff airplayed on a radio show (for upcoming talents) on the national radio.
By the end of the 1980s I decided to take the big step and record an album, Essay, which was released by a small independent record label in 1991. Funny to think about - but that's 27 albums ago!
2) Your catalogue covers a wide swath of styles (ambient, composed, free music). Do you have any notion before the material comes out what style it will be, or do you decide "Now's the time for a Free Universe album," and write to that want?
RT: My choice of style is basically based on the mood I'm in, when I plan a new album. Also it may depend on some "new" music I've listened to (I buy a lot of records), maybe it's a new instrument I've been introduced to - not to mention a bunch of new players...
Because I work as an independent artist (most of my albums have been released on my own label), I have full control and a total freedom to do whatever I like. I'm not trying to make a living of it, so as long as I'm able to pay the studio bills, that's alright with me. Like most people I do get fed up, if I've been doing the same thing for too long. It's my priviledge, that I can turn a page in the book and yell out: Now to something completely different!
3) Many of your albums feature extensive electronic treatments and tweaking. How much do you use the studio as another unstrument in creating your material, and how did that come about first?
RT: The recording studio IS my instrument. I feel safe in this environment, because I know of all the think- and unthinkable possibilities hidden there. I learned about it "the hard way" in the early days, when nothing came easy - due to my primitive equipment. I had to use my imagination. I'm always hearing music in my head, and my job is to bring it down to a media, so other people can share it. The studio is like a piece of canvas, I'm the painter, and the musicians I work with, are the bright colours on my palette.
4) How did you first become involved with Karsten Vogel (Secret Oyster, Burnin Red Ivanhoe)?
RT: In 1996 I was invited to join the formation of Communio Musica, which was the brainwork of trumpeter Hugh Steinmetz (who had played on a couple of my albums). CM was a kind of avant-garde big-band with players, Hugh had all worked with before. This was where I met Karsten Vogel for the first time, and such an honour it was, as I'd always been a huge fan of Secret Oyster and BRI. The band played a few concerts, recorded a couple of albums - and that was it.
Next I asked Karsten if he would come and play his horns on the new Taylor's Universe album (Experimental Health) I was about to record, so he did - and after that we worked together for the next 10 years.
5) Do you think you'll be working with him in the future?
RT: Karsten has been quite busy, since Secret Oyster reunited in summer 2007, but we still have some unfinished recordings lying around, which we intend to complete sometime in the near future.
6) Likewise, how did you get Michael Denner (Mercyful Fate, King Diamond) to guest on Soundwall?
RT: I've known Michael for years, as I frequently visit his second hand vinyl shop here in Copenhagen. Because of his shop, Michael can't avoid listening to all kinds of music everyday, and though his background is in metal, he will often make new discoveries. He'd been listening to some of my stuff, and one day he asked me, if I'd ever concidered adding him to one of my projects. I'd never given it a serious thought, as I assumed he was used to large payments, every time he entered a studio - but I was wrong. Michael didn't expect anything apart from getting the chance to play some guitar on a prog album. That changed my attitude immediately, so he became part of Soundwall, and it worked out perfectly. He's now in TU.
7) Do you have a "dream list" of musicians you'd like to work with, but haven't yet?
RT: My main vehicle right now is Taylor's Universe, who have undergone some radical changes recently, and I have great expectations for this new line-up (including most of the Art Cinema members). This is about my "dream list" come true.
8) Do you have many opportunities to play out with any of your groups?
RT: No! I'm not all that keen about playing gigs; I prefer working in the studio - but that said, Taylor's Free Universe was kind of fun, because the music was totally improvised; we never knew, what was going to happen when entering the stage. The interesting bit for me was the colossal amount of concentration always present, the energy and the fact that not two gigs were alike. I'm sure, it would bore me to death in no time, if I went touring with any of my other groups, playing the same stuff night after night. Not that I find composed material less interesting, but every time I've finished the recording of a project in the studio, I'm always feeling relieved: never will I have to face this material again. Turn the page.
9) What is the Danish live music scene like?
RT: The Danish music scene is terrible. People are terrified about anything new. The big trend is bands playing tribute; in Denmark they're called "jam bands"; bands copying no matter what - as long as it's popular: Beatles, U2, Tina Turner, George Michael - you name it. You can have a pretty good group playing original stuff to 5-10 people in a small club, and across the street there's another club with a jam band playing Tom Jones covers - and the place is absolutely crowded.
In addition to that, progressive music is very looked down on in Denmark today; both radio and press ignores it completely.
10) Do you feel that the diversity in your material makes it harder to 'place you' musically?
RT: In Denmark it makes no difference; Robin Taylor, Taylor's Universe, Taylor's Free Universe or Art Cinema... all "dinosaur music".
In foreign medias I've spotted the tendency of confusion - especially because of the two Universes.
11) What's coming up next for you? Do you have any plans for what will follow Return to Whatever?
RT: I'm already working on my follow-up to Return to Whatever. As I said, I have great expectations for the new TU.
Also I've been talking to my friend, Pierre Tassone (my "regular" violin player), about the two of us recording a duo album together. Could be an interesting challenge.
12) Do you have any final words for our readers?
RT: Hmmm... Do yourself a favour and go to www.cdbaby.com. There might be one or two releases of mine, that will interest you!
LINKS OF NOTE:
http://www.progressor.net/robin-taylor/ (Official Website, including discography)
http://cdbaby.com/cd/taylorsfu (Representative CDBaby link; other releases listed on the left side...samples galore!)