Interview: The Sound of the Universe Inside The Mind of Hiss Golden Messenger

Mike Taylor of Hiss Golden Messenger did not let the COVID-19 pandemic halt any of his plans to pump out LP #12. Fresh off a Grammy nomination for his last album Terms Of Surrender, new record Quietly Blowing It – due June 25th – continues the Americana soulful rock sound that has caught the attention of many fans. We caught up with Mike recently via email…

In your excerpt from the book, ‘One Last Song’, your song of choice was Ronnie Lane’s ‘Anymore for Anymore’. You mention a fresh cut grass smell associated with this song. Do you have any other songs that you love to listen to, or songs that you’ve written, that enliven your sense of smell (or maybe taste?)

I tend to deal with music seasonally, so I’m often listening to more reggae and Tropicalia in the warmer months, and folkier music in the cooler months. In the past few years, though, I feel like I’ve crossed over into listening to reggae music year-round.

Tell us about your love of gospel records. When did this genre enter your life and what are some of your favorite albums and artists?  

I’m no expert on gospel music. But I am drawn towards musical expressions that sounds genuine and vulnerable. I find that gospel music often has that thing that I’m looking for more often than other types of music. Soul cries, maybe. The Jackson Southernaires’ Save My Child is a great record. I found a CD of it in Harlem maybe 15 years ago, and found a vinyl copy in the last couple years. My number one for a long time was On Jesus’ Program by The Sunset Travelers. Hard record to find. I was heading to the record store one day and thought, “I’d love to find a copy of that Sunset Travelers record,” and when I got there it was just about the first record I saw and it practically jumped into my hand. That was weird. The Consolers, Brother Joe May, Sister Lucille Pope. The Nashboro label is dependable.

If you were able to choose one artist from before your time and see them perform live who would it be and why?

Maybe Little Feat circa Sailin’ Shoes or Bob Marley & The Wailers at the Roxy in 1976. Both would be amazing.

What Hiss song in your entire catalog would you recommend to new fans to get them hooked on your music?

“Sanctuary” seems to be resonating with people.

Your songs have a recurring theme of major/minor mysteries. Last summer you posted a video on Instagram about the guitar tunings that help you create this intentionally vague space. What advantage does it give you as the performer, writer and creator to “add effects” to your work and give the audience a uniquely crafted space to interpret?

I think every artist is looking to create a language that is specific to them. What I’m doing isn’t anything new—I’m not inventing a new type of music whole cloth—but the way that I combine certain elements is unique, and it comes from a lifetime of trying to make something that sounds like the universe inside my head sounds. There’s nothing else that sounds quite like it, I don’t think. I just do it because I feel called and compelled to do so.

Questions from Scott J. Herman

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