Fireworks

Fireworks Magazine Online 41 - Taz Taylor Band

TAZ TAYLOR BAND

The Taz Taylor Band is due to release their 3rd album in July, entitled ‘Big Dumb Rock’. Under the moniker of The Taz Taylor Band, it is a return to Taz Taylor’s instrumental roots. The band was formed following his solo album Caffeine Racer in 2005. The next year saw the release of Welcome To America with Graham Bonnet on vocals. Two years later following two international tours including a very abrupt parting of the ways with Graham Bonnet, a second line up was formed. Keith Slack (ex MSG) became the new singer with Val Trainor retaining drum duties and Dirke Krause on bass.
With Keith Slack still in the band, they are perhaps surprisingly about to release an instrumental album Big Dumb Rock. Rob McKenzie caught up with Taz Taylor himself on a transatlantic call to find out more.


Tell me about your new album?
We decided to make an instrumental album this time around for a number of reasons. A lot of people seem to think that they would not enjoy a completely instrumental record. I would like the opportunity to change their minds about this. A lot of instrumental artists are perceived as being somewhat pretentious, or that they take themselves oh so seriously. Their music is deliberately esoteric, leaving people with the notion that they could not appreciate it because you have to be a musician to understand it. Our instrumentals are not like that. We do not have song titles that are named after guitar techniques, or songs that were written around a particular technique. If you like rock music, guitar solos, riffs, drums etc, and don’t necessarily buy records just for the vocals, then there is a good chance you will like our instrumentals! We had a blast writing, rehearsing and recording this, and it represents truly what this band is all about. Personally, this record says more about where I am at as a guitar player than anything I have done before. These songs will be a blast to play live also, which is where this band has always been at its best.

Were you supported in your choice of direction by your record company?
We’re not with a record company, we are fiercely independent. Escape [record company for the ‘Welcome To America’ and ‘Straight Up’ albums] had said in the past that they would have no interest in an instrumental project whatsoever even though they did have an option on one more record from us. I am not going to make a record just because that’s what a record company wants. It was the right record for us, we are doing it for the artistry, love and fun of it.

Is there a story behind the name, ‘Big Dumb Rock’, for the album title?
People might look at it and think it’s a really stupid title. The title track when I demoed it was so clichéd that if it had vocals and presented as a serious song it would be so cheesy and 80’s and dated that we probably wouldn’t have done it. As an instrumental with a self mocking title it is just good fun. We are kind of laughing at ourselves, if you listen to it you think “yes that is a big dumb rock classic moment”!
There are just ten tracks on the album, some people think an album has to be 60 minutes long. All my favourite albums are 30-35 minutes long, that length they have a sense of beginning, middle and end. Listen to an album for 60 minutes and it’s like listening to the radio as you lose track of where you are. It’s easier to focus and get a feel for eight or nine songs as opposed to 16 songs, anything over 35 minutes is too long. If anyone says it’s not good value for money because there are only ten songs, well, we are not selling art by the minute and second!

What’s your take on selling a CD against downloading individual tracks?
I am so old-school, I want the album to be there in the right running order on a CD with the liner notes. I think the music industry is going off a cliff heading for disaster and I think the movie industry will follow it. Even books, the technology is in people’s hands so they can download a book rather than buying it. There’s nothing you can do about, everyone wants it for free. As long as I am playing music, I will put it out on a CD as a piece of art. Even if only 5,000 people want it I will still put it out.

Listening to your album, I could hear a lot of Michael Schenker influences.
Well, you know what? I’ll take that as a compliment! I don’t think I’ll ever be quite so famous that people would guess that it’s me; so for people to think it’s Michael Schenker is probably as good as I could hope for!

And you are supporting MSG, that must be a dream come true?
We are playing on July 18th. It’s huge for me, Michael Schenker is the reason I play guitar basically. He’s my lifelong guitar hero and we’ve been lucky enough to score the gig; it’s going to be a special occasion for me personally. It’s also going to be our CD release party and we’re not going to make it available anywhere until that night, it’ll only be available online the day after.

Apart from playing on your new album, I understand you were also involved in its production?
The production is the hardest part. When I record something, I can listen to the playback of the solo twice and say yes, that’s the take. I won’t listen to tomorrow and second guess it. When it comes to the mixes, it drives me nuts; it’s almost better to leave it to someone else because it would never be finished. There’s an expression - it’s never really done, you just have to choose the right moment to walk away.

You must be proud of the opening track ‘Viper’, which really sets the tone for the rest of the album?
‘Viper’ is an unusual song because it’s a blues song and we are not known for the blues. I was going for a Texas boogie, ZZ Top song and then I played it to Val, our drummer and he thought it sounded like the Scorpions! The first guitar solo is a genuine three piece, the first time we have done that with just guitar, bass and drums. That’s before the rhythm guitar comes in with the Hammond organ.

Along with Val Trainor who’s been with you on drums for some time, who else is in the band?
We have a brand new bass player as of two days ago. Dirk Krause [original bass player} didn’t play on ‘Straight Up’ but played a few live shows. Then in April, he dropped out before we started recording the new album because he was trying to buy a house. We had to go ahead without him. We rehearsed during April and recorded in May. He was hoping to join us for the tour but he has commitments which meant he wouldn’t have been available for the start of the tour, so he suggested we find a replacement for him. It was sad because he was the only bass player I played with for 6 years, we had a good chemistry. I thought I was the only UFO fan in San Diego before I met Dirke. We auditioned the new bass player [Barney Firks] and he nailed everything, the feel was there and he never missed a note. It’s also the debut for the keyboard player, Bruce Conners – he’s done a great job. There’s way more keyboards than on the Straight Up album. There’s a presence on all tracks – not licks and solos but as a supporting role.

I notice you played bass on the new album, something that Ritchie Blackmore and Michael Schenker have reputably done in places on their albums?
I didn’t look at it as a chore and I applied myself to it a little bit. It’s odd, you’re playing the same song but you are performing a completely different function of the song. Playing the bass gives you a different perspective of the song, it’s a lot of fun.

‘Welcome To America’ appeared to be a bigger hit than it’s follow-up Straight Up. Was that the case?
Being out on a record label, you never really know for sure how many you’ve sold for sure. The impression is that WTA got very good reviews across the board and Straight Up confused a lot of people. None of the reviewers hated it but they just didn’t get it. There were comments that said it didn’t sound like Rainbow any more, but in fact WTA didn’t sound like Rainbow, so what were they listening to? It makes you wonder because they seemed to spend more time saying what it didn’t sound like as opposed to what is did sound like. I stopped reading them after a while.

Your split with Graham Bonnet was quite sudden, how did that happen?
We had two shows booked in Russia, we’d got our visas ready, the hotels were booked, backline was all arranged, five round trips paid up LAX [Los Angeles airport] to Moscow - so quite a bit of money that the Russian promoter had paid out. Then, about four days before we were due to go, Graham called me and he just refused to go, point blank. It turned out, 24 hours later, that a rival Russian agency had contacted Graham and suggested that if he cancelled the shows, he would fly him out on his own a couple of months later and put him together with a local Russian covers bar band to back him up. So that was the reason why the shows were cancelled. The original promoter lost thousands of dollars and had put weeks into promoting the shows. We’ve heard nothing from Graham since. Life goes on.
We got a good album out of it and we got good exposure and we were glad of the opportunity but Graham was glad of the opportunity too. He thanked me a couple of times; he said that the Welcome To America album had reminded people that he was still alive. He’d had people tell him that it had put him back on the radar and we played some good shows together. He always made a point when we were on stage at these shows of thanking us and telling the audience that he thought we were a great band and it had been a privilege to be with us and a great opportunity.

So is Keith Slack still in the band if you are currently focussing on instrumentals?
Keith is not necessarily out of the band, it’s not like the old days when everyone is on the road together. Certainly if we had the opportunity to tour as a band with vocals, I would hope Keith would join us. Our preference would be to tour as a four piece, no disrespect to Keith but we would like to promote our new album.
We will play the new album in its entirety and depending on the time available we could do an hour purely with instrumentals. I find myself more connected to the music if they are instrumentals; with vocals it always feels like it is an add-on. We did about twenty shows as an instrumental band when we first started and it was a lot of fun. You don’t need to be a singer to appreciate a song so why do you need to be a guitarist to appreciate an instrumental! A lot of instrumental bands tend to make the music too esoteric but we don’t take ourselves too seriously. We take the art of our playing seriously but you don’t work music, you play music.

Where is the album release show being held?
The MSG support show is at Brick By Brick, San Diego, we played there three times, including once with Graham Bonnet. The very first gig we did with Graham, in fact, was there.
We’d like to use the support gig as a CD release party, to get the ball rolling. We’d like to build a bit of a fanbase here locally [San Diego] as we’re better known in Europe that our home town currently. Being with Escape, all of their promotional work is in Europe, so we’re going to try on building the grass roots here. We’ve also got plans to tour the UK in spring next year, hopefully as an instrumental band.

Good luck with the launch of your new album, have you any final comments on how you see music loving people will take to it?
The new album is all about making music for the love of it, the artistry and fun of it, that it’s instrumental but it’s not aimed just at musicians and that it’s not to be taken oh so seriously and pretentiously just because it doesn’t have vocals. If you like listening to records because you like the sound of the guitars and the drums and you like UFO, early Van Halen and MSG, then this is what it’s all about. Just because we don’t have vocals doesn’t mean that ordinary people can’t enjoy it. That’s the whole message behind this whole record, four people playing music just for the sheer fun and artistry of it, we’re just passionate about it.

Taz Taylor Band

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