Hiss Golden Messenger
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Lilly Hiatt - 8:15pm
Hiss Golden Messenger - 9:30pm
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Describing the Durham-based Hiss Golden Messenger is like trying to grasp a forgotten word: It’s always on the tip of your tongue, but hard to speak. Songwriter and bandleader M.C. Taylor’s music is at once familiar, yet impossible to categorize: Elements from the American songbook—the steady, churning acoustic guitar and mandolin, the gospel emotion, the eerie steel guitar tracings, the bobbing and weaving organ and electric piano—provide the bedrock for Taylor’s existential ruminations about parenthood, joy, hope, and loneliness—our delicate, tightrope balance of dark and light—that offer fully engaged contemporary commentary on the present. And then there’s an indescribable spirit and movement: Hiss Golden Messenger’s music grooves. There’s nothing else quite like it.
For over ten years, Taylor has spearheaded this prolific, perpetually evolving group. He’s toured and recorded relentlessly, earning devotees along the roads, deep in festival pits, and across the seas, delivering earnest performances that morph from jammy freakout to private prayer in a matter of measures.
“The work that I do requires me to be in a certain emotional place,” says Taylor. “My music depends first and foremost on being in a heightened emotional state and putting my vulnerability on display.”
This vulnerability is also central to Taylor’s steadily growing fanbase, which continues to discover universal themes in his deeply personal work. The critical acclaim and attention for Hiss Golden Messenger—including features in The Atlantic and The New Yorker, glowing album and live reviews in Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, and Consequence of Sound, and barn-burning performances on Late Show with David Letterman and Late Night with Seth Meyers—affirm the emotional power of Taylor’s work.
This raw emotion is especially apparent on Hiss Golden Messenger’s new album, Terms of Surrender. Out September 20 on Merge Records, Terms follows Taylor’s journey through a tumultuous year of trauma and psychological darkness, hoping and working towards redemption and healing, and the conflicting draw of home and movement. “Another year older,” Taylor sings on album opener “I Need a Teacher.” “Debt slightly deeper. Paycheck smaller. Goddamn, I need a teacher.”
Later, Taylor tracks the complex dynamic between father and grown son on “Cat’s Eye Blue,” singing, “Is this wicked word too bad to be spoken? You let the heart attack in. One taste and it’s broken.” He later pivots towards his relationship with his own daughter on “Happy Birthday, Baby.”
Happy birthday, baby
Go love your brother now
It’s a strange gift, maybe
Girl, you know me better—better than I know myself
I’m trying to repay you
All these miles that I roam
And when I’m far away, baby
Know that I love you and sing this little song
Taylor says that he wanted to make Terms of Surrender “a wandering record. I wanted where we recorded it to mirror the searching spirit of the music.” Having written upwards of 40 songs—in motel rooms, his studio in Durham, and a secluded cottage outside of Charlottesville, Virginia—Taylor winnowed them down to the ten works that comprise Terms of Surrender. With regular collaborators—including Phil and Brad Cook, Josh Kaufman, and Matt McCaughan—and new friends like Jenny Lewis and Aaron Dessner (of The National), the crew decamped to Dessner’s Long Pond studio in upstate New York, Sound City in Los Angeles, and producer Roger Moutenot’s Haptown studio in Nashville to create the most fully realized and genre-defying Hiss Golden Messenger album to date.
Hiss Golden Messenger songs create feelings to which devoted listeners attach their own meanings and memories with each repeated spin. Throughout Terms of Surrender, those feelings range from fearful to celebratory. But perhaps the title track—with its refrain of “I’m gonna give it/ but don’t make me say it/ It’s one thing to bend it, my love, but another to break it”—best summarizes the nature of Taylor’s work as a musician, father and spouse, and cultural communicator on this album. He explains, “Terms of Surrender is part apology, part plea, part love letter. It’s about how much of the most important parts of ourselves we can sacrifice and still feel like we’re living the life that we thought we wanted.”
Lilly Hiatt returned with Trinity Lane on August 25th, 2017. The 12-song set was produced by Michael Trent of Shovels & Rope and engineered by Andy Dixon at Trent’s Studio Bees in Johns Island, SC. It is the follow up to her acclaimed sophomore album Royal Blue, which Paste Magazine described as “a glorious tumble of influences – surf rock, Smiths vibes, Laurel Canyon twang and jangle, Sonic Youth flatline, Britpop flourishes, Seattle grunge and Joy Division meets Human League synthery.” In addition to her backing band, Trent is featured as a musician throughout, and is joined by his wife and Shovels & Rope partner Cary Ann Hearst for backing vocals on “Everything I Had.” Lilly’s love of the ‘90s alt-rock she was raised on continues to shine through on Trinity Lane in the distressed guitars and urgent backbeats. She cites the Pixies, Breeders, Dinosaur Jr., and her favorite, Pearl Jam as influences, but there is also something distinctly Americana lurking in the songs. Rolling Stone Country premiered the Michael Carter-directed video for the album’s title track HERE, stating, “The daughter of John Hiatt, she keeps the family tradition alive, mixing Southern influences – Americana, folk and left-of-center country – with a raw approach that’s better suited to the garage than the saloon. The album’s title track is no exception…the song finds Hiatt making peace with her old demons, while guitars crash and pianos chime in the background.” They continued, “‘Trinity Lane’ is an empowerment anthem stocked with details from Hiatt’s everyday life, from the name of her street to the smell of her neighbor’s cooking.”
After moving out of an ex’s house, Hiatt settled into a new apartment off of Trinity Lane in her East Nashville neighborhood and went on tour with friend John Moreland to the West Coast and back. The intensely personal, autobiographical album was written largely upon her return, in isolation, facing the issues she escaped while on the road. Every time she wanted a man, she picked up her guitar. Every time she wanted a drink, she picked up her guitar. Hiatt says, “Love will take you to the darkest places but also the most honest places if you let it. Learning how to love myself is something I’ve always been lousy with, and I spent some time on that. I thought about my sobriety, what that means to me, the struggles I’d had throughout the years, since I was a 27-year-old and hung up my toxic drinking habit. I thought about my mother, who took her own life when I was a baby, not far from my age at 30 years old, and I related to her more than ever. As you can see, there was plenty of time spent on my own. I didn’t talk to that many folks, albeit a few close friends, and leaned into my family. I stayed away from men, and danced alone in the evenings, looking out my window observing my humble and lively neighborhood. I found power in being by myself. I found peace in the people I was surrounded with – we didn’t really know one another, but we smiled when passed on the street. One time I almost rear-ended an older woman in her car backing out of my driveway and I said, ‘Oh man, I’m just not used to any cars coming around this bend. She replied, ‘This is our little hideout, baby,’ And it really was.” She continues, “After a while, I had all these songs to play, and wanted to share them. I wanted to get out of town to get some distance from everything, so after an ongoing conversation with Michael Trent, I took my band to Johns Island, SC and we holed up for a few weeks. I poured my heart out, and trusted them with it, and these guys gave it right back. I think we all understood what it’s like to question home, intention, demons, love…I think most people understand that.”
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