Hiss Golden Messenger Make Ambient Americana from the Dark Side
MC Taylor and Scott Hirsch fronted San Francisco's The Court and Spark, a well regarded, if enigmatic, band that confounded critics with a blend of rock, country, and ambient instrumental textures. When the band ran its course, Taylor moved to North Carolina to attend the University of North Carolina's folklore program, and Hirsch relocated to New York City. Despite the geographical distance, they continued collaborating as Hiss Golden Messenger, another groove-based band with a skewed interpretation of American folk and roots music. Their new album, Poor Moon, which came out April 17, includes Gothic bluegrass, metallic rockabilly, banjo-driven rock tunes, mystical blues, and the atmospheric country of "Jesus Shot Me In The Head." Taylor and Hirsch recently gave us their thoughts on Poor Moon, and their ongoing collaboration, from their respective homes in North Carolina and New York.
Does the album title have any significance?
MC Taylor: I like all the 'o's. It's also the name of my favorite song by Canned Heat.
How does this project differ from your last album, Bad Debt?
MCT: The songs for Bad Debt and Poor Moon were mostly written in Pittsboro, North Carolina, but the former was a stark recording made on a Sharp tape recorder. The latter features a full band, although the albums share a few of the same songs.
Scott Hirsch: Everything you hear on the record is either first take or very close to that. No editing, just pure music. If something wasn't working, we'd just move on. We'd rehearse a tune until it felt right and cut it. We're mobile with our recording rig, so were able to record steel guitar in San Francisco and strings in L.A.
What were the challenges of producing yourself?
SH: We've never had a producer, but we're both able to move in and out of that role. For me, producing goes along with engineering. It's easier to talk about a sound we want and get it, than to have it be interpreted and discussed with another person. Mike and I share a lot of references. If he says, "Impressions chops with a Waylon honky stomp and Cale vocal treatment," I know what he means. Anyone else in the room might be confused.
This album is on a "real" label. What's next?
MCT: Our own label, Heaven & Earth Magic, is a real label. Tompkins Square came to us asking whether they could license Poor Moon and we said yes. They've been a model of support, but generally speaking, I don't give two shits for the record business. Scott and I have been making records longer than most labels have been around. Our musical journey is about something else entirely. No offense to anyone out there who thinks they want to get into the music biz. What's next? We'll finish another record we're working on and put it out somehow, either with Tompkins Square, or on our own, or with someone like our friends Paradise of Bachelors.
A lot of the songs are about death and mortality.
MCT: We all live and die. I'm able to find a melody that controls me when I'm thinking about the dead and dying, or my son, or the Damascus Road. I'll write a love song now and again, but prior to HGM, I was writing songs for The Court & Spark. I did my love song thing back then.
Does your location have any influence on HGM?
MCT: I believe it does. Our music has always owed a large debt to the American South, but I don't think I began to understand how to play properly until I moved here. It's something about the air and water.
Do you do many gigs?
MCT: No. When there is an HGM gig, I often do it solo because it's cost-prohibitive to travel with a band. Any monies I make, I put back into HGM expenses. I hope to one day be able to travel with Scott and our other friends to play music because it can get lonely out there. Mostly, we just have our good times at home.
You still favor slow, moody grooves.
SH: This record is fast to us. It's like speed-metal.