Taylor Made

[Image: Taylor Made: A Tale Of Two Fittings - Strait: The Greenbelt Newspaper, April/May 1985(?) Cover Thumbnail]

[Image: Taylor Made: A Tale Of Two Fittings - Strait: The Greenbelt Newspaper, April/May 1985(?) Page 14 Thumbnail]
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[Image: Taylor Made: A Tale Of Two Fittings - Strait: The Greenbelt Newspaper, April/May 1985(?) Page 19 Thumbnail]
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Strait: The Greenbelt Newspaper
#20, April/May 1985(?)
Cover story, Pages 14, 19

(A Tale Of Two Fittings)

In a never ending search for the perfect suit, our wiry American hero gets measured by Graham 'Looks Fine From The Back' Langley, not off the peg but...


Confessions time first. When I was asked to interview Steve Taylor I was not keen. I have a patriotic pair of headphones and you can count the Americans I endorse on one hand--B52's, Talking Heads, 'Femmes, Anderson, Dylan, The Call--(OK so I've got 6 fingers). Above that prejudice I have a mental block when I see that WORD (Strait--the Kamikaze journal) on a record. What has Taylor to offer? Another Mid-Western evangelical with a Larry Normal pedigree? This is not an interview. It is a story of a conversion, mine to him, building of bridges and forging of friendship.

Can any good thing come out of Denver?

To prepare I listened to Meltdown. It sounds like it was recorded in the 80's which is a pleasant change. He uses synths and sound effects intelligently. His lyrics are spiced with twists, puns and satire. This is a strength. You laugh and while your mouth is open he stuffs a bitter pill in--Racism, Christian ghettoism, Sin.

This first time I saw Steve he was waiting to go on stage. He gave the impression he would love to make a run for it and that he was being forced on stage. He readily agreed to the interview but thought I may withdraw after his performance. He needn't have worried, the performance was a revelation. He charged the stage in a ludicrous sea green suit and two basketball boots--one red, one black. Anyone who gets away with that has got something to offer.

Steve went down a storm and for the rest of the weekend the interview proved difficult. Whenever we set a time a horde of autograph hunters seemed to be there first.

Eventually we got an hour to ourselves at the ACG coffee shop. We sipped tea, ate cookies (Langley goes to Idaho. Ed) and played table tennis with our programmes and a wasp.

GBL Can you give me a potted history?

ST My father was a Baptist minister. I grew up in church. I became a Christian very young and never went through any big rebellious stage. People often have double standards in raising children. They say don't do something but do it themselves. My father and mother were exceptional. They really did what they talked about. I went to a Bible college in LA as my first year at college, got a good Bible training then switched to university in Boulder. That was a really radical campus. It kind of picked up where Berkeley left off. I wondered if all the stuff I learned at Bible college was going to hold water. Surprisingly it did. I had aggressively pursued apologetics and the rational behind the faith and as I saw Christianity had all the answers I wondered why so many kids grow up in church, leave for university and come back at Christmas wondering why they believed in the first place. It seems we encourage kids to accept their pastor's authority but not to question their faith. I tried to put those questions into my work as a youth pastor in Denver. I did that for 5 years. While I wrote song and did tapes. I don't play any instruments so I was a voice major when I did my music theory major at Bolder. In my junior year the voice faculty recommended I left because if I graduated I would be an embarrassment to the college. I talked them into letting me stay and I started sending tapes. Either the lyrics were too controversial or the music was a passing fad and I got nowhere. Finally the guy in charge of the Christian Artists music seminar in Colorado put me on stage. I did two songs and the amazing thing was the response from a large MOR audience. Billy Ray Hearne from Sparrow Records was in the audience and signed me up straight away.

GBL Was there pressure to follow in Father's Footsteps?

ST There wasn't. I appreciated that because just about any father wants his son to join in his profession. He couldn't see much potential in music but I can't blame him. I didn't show exceptional talent.

GBL How do you convey the song to the band if you can't play any instrument?

ST I know music real well through theory and composition and all that jazz so I write it down, then check the chords, one finger at a time on the piano. I also surround myself with good musicians who improvise well. That helps.

GBL Isn't it fraught with danger of being mechanical?

ST It would be easier to be mechanical if I wrote on guitar or piano because your fingers tend to go to the same places. One reason Cockburn has such diversity is because he is an incredible guitarist. Your instrument limits you but your imagination is boundless.

GBL Let's talk about America. From our side of the Atlantic it seems to be Big Brother. People are more scared of Reagan than Chenyenko at times.

ST I think it's exaggerated in Europe. I understand the urgency of Europeans. Living in the shadow of the bomb and being a potential battleground makes a difference to how you perceive politics. I am very much in favour of the peace movement but not in the naivete that there's no evil in the world and that if we throw down our weapons everyone else will do the same.

When it gets right down to it politics either bores me or makes me cynical because they talk out of both sides of their mouths. For instance I admire Reagan's stance on abortion. At the same time, if he is so concerned that human life is sacred why does he adopt the posture of a strong military. That's the problem with the New Right in America. They align themselves with part of Christianity they like and ignore parts that don't like. I don't know where they get the idea that to have a strong defence has some kind of biblical mandate. There's nothing wrong with believing in strong defence but let's not put a Christian face on it. Let's stick to issues we're sure of. In my lyrics I try to avoid politicising and only speak of issues I'm sure of from Biblical standards, abortion, human rights, racism etc.

To me freedom of conscience is an important, essential thing although it doesn't mean that Christianity can't flourish if it's absent. In many ways the church in the Soviet Union is stronger than in the US.

GBL Subversion is harder to deal with than persecution.

ST Yes exactly. Schuller's false doctrine of self esteem is one example. Another is the idea that God wants you rich. That could only come out of the US because who else has got time to dream up such ridiculous nonsense and try to justify it from a few Bible verses. America is in the strange position of having time for silly religion whereas persecution would separate wheat from the chaff.

GBL Larry Norman said you shouldn't get involved in politics, for instance peace marches.

ST Well politics does seem futile. My feeling is that individuals make a difference. In Europe the thinking is more towards mass movements. It may be naive but I think one man is important. Take Winston Smith in 1984. He thinks 'Am I crazy? Why am I the only one to think this way?' But finally concludes it doesn't matter, it's still truth. The whole Catch 22 with politics is we sit back and criticise it for being dishonest or inherently corrupt. In which case we should offer alternatives. I suppose the nuclear freeze movement is more important here than in the US. We've got ocean on either side so I'm only reminded of it by things like The Day After.

GBL In Europe the spirit of the times is depression, a nihilistic eat, drink and do what you like, tomorrow you may be nuked. What is the zeitgeist in the States?

ST It is materialistically oriented. That and personal security from crime. They look at their wallets and vote. Materialism is the key. The church too is affected by materialism otherwise it would lose members.

GBL What could we learned from the States?

ST Europeans can take an example from us in our concern for personal holiness. Here the social gospel is very important but there is a laxness in personal holiness. You push the boundaries to find out what you can get away with and forget that Christianity has a cost. It seems that both sides are missing out. We are missing the social concern and you are short on the personal.

GBL There are people here at the '84 Festival working to form a scriptural world viewpoint. The premise is we need a coherent framework to cover politics, art, the personal, sex, everything. Is there such a move in the States?

ST You've got different sides fighting right now. Perhaps Franky Schaeffer and the New Right are saying one thing and others like Ron Sider are on the other side. The idea is admirable but it could border on a kind of fascist. 'This is how it must be' mentality. Has it ever been done before, historically?

GBL Of course originally in Europe Church and State were unified so the need was not so obvious. I'm sure some American States are based on such a strong Christian tradition. I suppose in Utah, (Mormonsville) the divide between Church and State must be much narrowed.

ST Well I like to think that basic orthodox Christianity is unchanging and is found in our system but the fringe things are being pushed in the States with the new right and the Christian left acting as if theirs is the view and it may not be.

GBL Has music a place in present views? Songs like 'Colour Code' can only say a small amount and once people have heard it a few times they get it into their heads and it becomes entertainment not education.

ST No. I was in Brixton the other day and I found myself singing 'The Guns of Brixton' by the Clash and the whole thing reminded one of it afresh. The power of music is that the phrases are tacked onto melodies so they are easier to remember than poetry because you have two ways to remember truths, music and lyrics. That's why are transcends time elements. Music has a strong place and I don't look at my work as entertainment.

At this point 3 autograph hunters interrupt us. Duty done we resume.

GBL Why do you sign autographs? Doesn't it encourage idolatry?

ST Putting musicians or baseball heroes on pedestals is part of growing up and you leave it behind as you mature. No matter how much you say 'Jesus is the one you should idolise' it doesn't work because young people need role models. If a 14 year old plucks up courage to ask me and I say, 'no', they walk away, not thinking 'I admire that person's strength and stance against idolatry' they think 'Steve Taylor's a mean person.' The only time I asked for an autograph I waited 3 hours in a hotel for Cliff Richard to sign the first album I ever bought. It took a lot of nerve. I wouldn't want to put some kid off. If Cliff had put me off how could we reconcile that now?

GBL What have you enjoyed at Greenbelt?

ST I was impressed to see the seminars so full. Musically I thought Talking Drums were the best band. They blew me away. You get a lot less 'Say something to make people applaud' here--'Isn't God wonderful?' 'Yeh (claps like a seal)' let's give God a round of applause.' That's healthy. Cockburn's set was incredible. I think Greenbelt's more adventurous than American festivals so I've been eating it up.


The phone rings one Saturday evening in February and who is it? Steve Taylor in New York with more news to supplement this interview and a chance to mention his UK tour with Sheila Walsh. Steve's a busy man. In March he has to finish the album in time to get married in Paris, to Californian Debbie Butler, before starting his tour here in April. Sounds like a hectic spring.

GBL Tell me about the new album?

ST It may be called On the Fritz which is like when the fridge breaks down (translates 'on the blink') I wanted to escape the west coast sound so I went to New York to get more edge.

GBL How important is the European Tour to you?

ST It's very important. I use Europe to balance out what I pick up in America. There Christianity is the religion in theory of the majority. There is a large subculture. I need the opportunity to think outside and prevent the music from slipping into Americana.

GBL What are you listening to at the moment?

ST Well I'm keen on General Public. The new Bunnymen 'Ocean Rain' and Bowie's 'Tonight'. I just got Depeche Mode's new album but it's so disappointing. They use synths so much and have no emotion in their stuff.

GBL How do you maintain a critical edge when you're writing a new album?

ST Well I try to surround myself with people who feel free to criticize constructively the lyrics and music. I don't like Yes men.

GBL Finally I want to ask about your humour. In the previous interview none of your wit came out yet on record you're very amusing. Why?

ST For some reason I lose humour in interviews. I try to relax and have fun but people take things literally. It's like being interviewed by your pastor. I need to loosen up. I wish I could but I can't. I did one interview and the woman took all my jokes seriously and it caused problems.

GBL But in your lyrics it's crucial?

ST Well if you sound preachy people stop listening. Meltdown found an audience because it wasn't too preachy. The light hearted element keeps people on your side. Take 'Colour Code'--an important serious subject but people listen because of the format.

Good cloth, nice material, hangs well, go and get acquainted with the man behind the lapels. A good thing has come out of Denver.

Graham Langley