What are you doing?
I just ate some cold pizza!
Gross. Happy New Year?
Ha. Yes. Happy New Year.
Why is that funny?
I always chuckle at your addition or omission of ironic punctuation.
How many songs do you write in a day?
Like a hundred. But most all of them are terrible.
You played guitar with Future of Forestry on their last couple of tours. How was that?
It was awesome. The first tour was just on the west coast, which was awesome but I’d been to lots of those places before. This time we went way east, so I got to see lots of the country that I’d never seen before. Plus I totally love all the guys we toured with. It was so much fun.
You played few different instruments on that tour. What all were you playing? Did anything go terribly wrong during a show?
Yeah. I played guitar (duh), keyboard, vibes, bells, harmonium and some cymbals. And I did some vocals. Oh and a stand up kick drum.I think the worst thing that happened for me was in one of the songs I have to start the click on my computer a little ways into it. But this time I completely forgot. Eric (the singer) finished his part and other guy was holding out a harmonium note and they were just staring at me and I couldn’t figure out why. I just stood there like an idiot waiting for them. Eventually I started the click and the song went on. Luckily, from the crowds perspective, it probably looked like Eric’s fault.
I’m sure he appreciated that. Speaking of spacing out, One time I was in Brazil (humble brag) and I had an allergy attack on the way to the church we were about to play, so my friend gave me some allergy medicine. I took 2. immediately after that he said, “yeah take one and put one in your pocket for tomorrow”. I said “I took them both”, to which he replied: “YOU TOOK BOTH?!?!?!”. The next thing I remember is hearing “earth to James”. I snap out of it and look around and I am standing on stage, with my guitar in the middle of worship. I looked over at my friend and he whispered “start the song”. I remember nothing before that. Nothing. I had to ask him what song he wanted me to start. Cool pills.
That’s even better than my story.
It’s not a competition, Andy.
Too bad it didn’t look like someone else’s fault though. I also jumped off a kick drum (humble brag) and twisted my knee and fell over and knocked Eric over. But that ruled.
Tell me about your Ambient Songs series.
It all really started for me with YouTube videos. I started doing the Ambient Songs series because I was frustrated with songwriting. They helped me simplify and get some good ideas down. Those started to kind of take off, and people started asking me lots of questions.
Which lead to you blogging.
Yeah. The blog is really there to try to answer people’s questions on a larger scale. Lately I’ve really turned the focus of the blog to songwriting tips and advice on self promotion, because those are the biggest questions I get.
What’s the funniest comment you’ve gotten on youtube.
I made a video announcing that I was doing the Future of Forestry tours, and I had one guy say something like “how could you do that to your family??” as if the video was also my announcement to my wife that I was leaving and that we hadn’t already been discussing it for months. That gave me a good laugh.
I never watch YouTube. Ever. I mean, I have watched a couple of your videos, but that’s about it. A lot of people watch your ambient songs. Have you found that posting your videos to YouTube help your album sales?
Yeah, it definitely does. I sort of “started out” on YouTube, so that’s still where my biggest fanbase is. And a large majority of people who sign up for my blog tell me that they discovered me through YouTube.
Actually I did just watch a YouTube video last week where these two kids are speaking german or something and then they walk over to a table, rip the tablecloth off, one boy falls back and hits an entertainment center and it falls over on top of him. I laughed.
I know the one of which you speak. I laughed too.
I think it was fake.
See, I thought that too. But then that seemed like too much destruction to be fake? Maybe you just watched it too many times in a row.
I think you should make more videos. This one made me laugh. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SQAoXKjdgJc
We just talked about YouTube for a long time. Wow. Should we talk about gear?
Probably. Here’s a picture of the pedalboard I used on the Future of Forestry tour. http://instagram.com/p/TEpQZrh4ju/. I also used a Boomerang III looper that you can’t see. For amps I run stereo into a Matchless Chieftain and Clubman. I put the cab for the Clubman on the other side of the stage, so it sounded huge in stereo. My main guitar is a parts Telecaster with Antiquity pickups in it. I’ve got a Gretsch Country Classic Jr and a ‘78 Tele Deluxe that both rule too.
Are you still loving your new Badcat? It looks so awesome. And it’s named after your daughter.
It’s a cool amp! about 5 hours ago I put some new tubes in it. I put a Dario Miniwatt rectifier tube in it. Also a Phillips EF86 and some old Yugoslavian 12AX7’s in. All NOS. Blah Blah Blah. But I will plug in it tomorrow and see how it sounds. I never get to play guitar at home. Stetson hates loud noises.
That rules. On the fall tour with Future of Forestry I came across this massive bin of NOS tubes stashed in this random church office. I guess the worship pastor had a friend who was an old radio guy and he just gave him all these tubes. I bought four 12AX7s off him. But I haven’t even tried them yet. Maybe they’re awesome.
Luckily my kids are cool with me being loud. They even sleep through it right next door.
You just quit your job.
Tell me about it.
Well, the goal was always to quit my job and do music full time. So my wife and I were preparing for that. But when I told my manager about the second Future of Forestry tour, they basically told me that I had to choose between keeping my job and doing the tour. So I quit and did the tour. It happened earlier than we were planning, but I think it’s gonna work.
I know we talked about that several times over the last couple years. I remember telling you not to quit your job. But I am proud of you.
Yeah, I remember that. I wanted to quit for a long time. But it wasn’t the right time. THANKS JAMES. If I could put the crying emoji in here I would.
Tell me about your new record.
It’s called Passage. It’s five songs. I wrote and recorded it all in the four weeks between finding out that I had to quit my job and leaving for tour. I tried to capture both my excitement and sheer terror of my new situation. It’s lots of swirly, verby guitars, but I used lots of banjo and other things this time around.
It’s really pretty.
Thanks. So is the new ATBL. Am I allowed to tell people that I’ve heard it? And when is it even coming out?
You may tell people you’ve heard it. At least people will actually believe we have a new album. It’s coming out… soon.
Good. It’s good.
Thank you. Do you find it hard to keep a consistent song quality when releasing a lot of music? How do you keep yourself accountable.
Yes and no. I feel like the more I do it the better I get at it. So that helps. But there’s also a little more pressure each time to try to do better than before. I try to be honest enough with myself about the good and the bad in my songs so that they’ll always come out better next time.
What do you have coming up? What will we see you doing this year?
Well, my wife and I have our third baby due at the end of February. And I’ve written music for each of my other kids, so I’ve kind of set the precedent and will be doing that for this little guy as well. I’m also going to be doing a lot of work on my blog trying to help people learn how to write, record and promote their music all on their own. And hopefully I can release another full length album by the end of the year. That would be swell.
What about Lowercase Noises shows? Are you going to play live this year?
Oh man, I’ve done that a few times and it was the most stressful thing I’ve ever done. I don’t know. I do most all the instruments myself, so I’d either have to get a few guys together and coordinate all that or figure out a way to cover a bunch of stuff myself without making it boring. I’m open to the idea but I haven’t thought up a good way to do it without going crazy. Probably not this year. But maybe. I don’t know.
Do you play at church?
I do. I haven’t played a whole lot the past 6 months or so because of touring and lots of other stuff, but yes.
Do you like playing at church?
I like it in the sense that I get to serve others by playing my guitar. I like when people tell me that my playing helped them worship. But I really struggle with a lot of the cultures and mindsets within worship music. I feel like there’s a lot of settling for mediocrity that goes on, and I don’t like that. I guess in a nutshell I’m glad to play occasionally, but I’m glad that my “career” isn’t based on playing at church or being part of the larger worship music scene.
Who are some of your musical influences?
When I was in high school I was all about Van Halen and Stevie Ray Vaughan. I wanted to shred so hard. But eventually I got sick of that kind of playing. When I started college a friend gave me a copy of El Cielo by dredg, and I freaking loved it. It’s still my favorite album of all time. Their guitarist Mark has this absolutely massive sound that I fell in love with. From there I discovered post rock and ambient music, my biggest influences there being Hammock (especially the Maybe They Will Sing For Us Tomorrow album) and Riceboy Sleeps by Jonsi and Alex.But the first song that I ever fell in love with was Changes by Bowie.
How much do you love his new single?
I love his new single! I love Bowie. His music feels so important, if that makes sense. When I listen to Bowie I feel like I’m being allowed into a different world. Or whatever. Yes. I love him.
I agree. I’m glad we get to hear some more.
If you could write a song with anyone, who would it be with?
If I got put in a room with Josh Scogin and Skrillex I think we could come up with something pretty cool. (I’m not even kidding)
But for real, I would love to get together with you and Frodo. I don’t know what it would sound like, but I think whatever we made would rule.
What is Post Rock? Are you Post Rock?
Post rock is Explosions in the Sky. Everyone knows them, right? To me I feel like it always has full percussion and lots of big dynamic crescendos. I wouldn’t say I’m post rock. But I dunno. People can call it whatever they want. I just want to make music that they can feel.
Are you Post Rock?
No. I don’t know. No.
I made up a genre name one time. “Motivational Rock”.
That sounds great. But maybe too happy. I’d go for the “Demotivational Rock” where you are crippled by a debilitating sadness.
Where are you?
I’m in LA working on some music and living in great weather.
What have you been up to lately?
I’ve been on the road and tracking/writing for the most part of the last year.
Did some touring this fall with Phil Wickham, Robert Schwartzman, and Kate Earl.
Now I’m concentrating on pulling this loose tooth in the form of an original project with some friends of mine that I’ve had for awhile. Very excited about some stuff on the bubble. Writing a bit too.
What’s this original project you speak of?
It’s called Dallas. My friends Tyler and Josh and I have been writing a lot the last few years together. We tracked a bunch of stuff last year with some good folks in LA, Manny Marroquin and a producer named Malay, but have decided to run with it ourselves now seeing that we are geographically challenged (our singer lives in Texas). We are all excited.
What’s the best guitar?
On a scale of 1-10 how much do you love U2?
I love certain songs of theirs. You know I didn’t get into them until the All That You Can’t Leave Behind era?
A little late to the game, but that’s a good record to acquaint yourself with.
I like that record because it introduced me to Daniel Lanois when I was 16. My favorites off that record were “Kite”. Sheesh, what a song! And “When I Look At The World” (currently teaching my fiance how to play the solo on that tune. She likes the idea of playing one note and rocking the whammy!)
It was not cool to like U2 growing up. As a young guitar player the Edge was average at best amongst my friends. Guitar at that age was more of an athletic competition than musical.
Those songs still make the hair on the back of my neck stand up at the production and parts and tones and energy. Not the biggest Bono fan but he can sing.
Yeah. Kite is my favorite song of that record as well. The first time I heard that guitar solo I didn’t know what to do with myself. So good. The solo for When I Look at the World is also one of my favorites. I’ve definitely ripped off that delay sound a few times. And I love Daniel Lanois with all my heart.
Who are your favorite guitar players?
David Grissom and Andy Summers.
David Grissom is responsible for my interest in country guitar. If it weren’t for him I would have never started hybrid picking which there’s no going back on now. Listen to the Joe Ely record “Live at Liberty Lunch”.
Andy Summers, from the Police, shaped my playing and ear a ton. He would be responsible for a lot of my tendencies from note choice, chord voicings, phrasing, use of effects.
Speaking of being a standout guitar player, What are some important aspects you feel get overlooked by a lot of guitar players right now?
My dad is a songwriter. Before I ever got into how a guitar sounded I was asked to play parts. This was very early on as a player. I’d play with my dad who’s a pianist and he’d go “Taylor, why don’t you start this song?”, putting me in the hot seat at a young age. So, I had to come up with something hooky and melodic in a matter of seconds because he thought guitar would sound good at the beginning. (At this point I had a strat and a marshall valvestate so it better be a good part ‘cause I had no clue how to use effects!) It stretched me a lot without even being too aware of how much he was asking of me as a musician.
He also used to train my ear before I played guitar. We’d be in the car when I was 12 and he’d go “what chord is that?” and I’d have to pick out the 1, 4, 5, minor 6 chord by ear. That helps and it was fun.
Fast forward to doing this as a job and I’ve found that it’s now ingrained in me. Thanks, Dad.
Legendary songs have legendary parts, something signature. It gets people going. Beatles songs have a lot of them (day tripper, paperback writer, please please me)
One of the first ones I wanted to learn was the figure at the beginning of the Billy Joel song, “big shot”. So cool!
That’s not to say every song needs a guitar riff or hook, but something signature is great. It can be a tone, a drum beat (nirvana’s “scentless apprentice is a rad example), the bass, whatever!
The first professional band I was in was with Robbie Seay. I was 19 and had no gear. A strat and a VHT pitbull with a tubescreamer and a wah pedal. I had no clue what tap tempo delay was or what a Twin Reverb even sounded like. Within my first 4 months of playing with him I had to play on a live record in front of thousands of people. Live in the sense of no overdubs later, at all. I wanted to make sure I had a signature part for every song. It gives the band another voice.
How old were you when you started playing guitar. Do you play any other instruments?
I was almost 15 when I started. Before that I was borrowing a drumset from a friend whose family was in between houses and fell in love with Weezer. I learned the drum parts for every song on the Blue record. When they found a house about 4 months later I had to give it back. My dad plays piano but had an acoustic guitar so he put me in group guitar lessons. I went all in and tried to learn the theme song from the movie “That Thing You Do” cause I thought those guitars and that song were amazing. Piano a bit as a kid and in music college. Anyone can play bass, right?
Right. What was your favorite record of 2012?
Synthetica by Metric.
Really like Jake Bugg’s EP too. He’s got this Paul Weller thing happening.
Mine was Elton John Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.
That was released in 1973. Come on, James.
My answer stands. What’s your favorite era of music?
Undoubtedly the time when the Beach Boys and Beatles were neck and neck as to who was writing the best songs in pop history.
The Who are incredible. 1969 might be the best year in music
I watched you play at Big Church Day Out with Phil Wickham. Why are you so good?
How did you get started doing what you are doing now?
My family. They encouraged me to go out and play when all I wanted to do was stay at home and listen to Pinkerton.
Ok, so what does your guitar rig look like right now?
I use my Gretsch a lot. It’s a small guy, country classic junior. I have a handful of others laying around and actually pick up my strat more often than ever.
Pedals I look at a little differently. I am not into geeky hour long conversations about this overdrive or that delay. Fulltone overdrive, Boss verb/vibrato/delay, Strymon delay, and that Diamond tremolo are what’s on my board.
I run my amp hot. For example, if you were using a deluxe reverb or fender type amp like that I tend to keep it on 8. AC30 or 15 I run at about 2 o’clock, and so on…
I learned this from David Grissom. The theory is you use all the amp you can and if you have a good enough guitar its going to clean up nicely with your volume knob/pedal. The cleans sound better when the amp is being run hot. It’s also an “oh crap” technique that I learned from playing festivals with little to no soundcheck. When your board goes down you better have a fat sound coming from the amp! When you run your amp hot, a good tube amp, then this or that overdrive doesn’t really make too much of a difference. Feels way better.
I don’t run my amp all that hot. Mostly because If it starts breaking up all my stuff doesn’t sound right. And I’m too shy. But, I do love the way a cranked amp sounds on other people.
Yeah, there’s nothing like squashing an old AC30 to 10 with a rad guitar. I just don’t get off on pedals like some people do. I have a semi packed effects board but it’s cause I play with a variety of people. I don’t want to have to remember overdrive settings and all that on pedals.
I have a few things I do when I’m plugging into an amp that’s new to me (rental amps, etc…) to get it where I want. It doesn’t take long. It’s gotta feel right and have some attitude. You can always clean it up with your volume knob or pedal. At that point your clean sound is still hitting those EL84s or 6V6s you spent an arm and a leg to use! When your amp is run low I feel like you aren’t getting all you can out of it.
Do you love Frodo, or what?
You know it. I think he’s one of the kindest, most hard working dudes I know. He’s got a lot of drive for such little legs.
What advice can you give to aspiring musicians who want to be doing what you do for a living.
Create and work hard. Play often. Love God and love people and you’re good to go!