Steve Taylor

[Image: Steve Taylor: No More Clowning Around. Sort Of - Syndicate Magazine, October 1994 Cover Thumbnail]

[Image: Steve Taylor: No More Clowning Around. Sort Of - Syndicate Magazine, October 1994 Page 22 Thumbnail]
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[Image: Steve Taylor: No More Clowning Around. Sort Of - Syndicate Magazine, October 1994 Page 23 Thumbnail]
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Syndicate Magazine
October 1994 Volume 9 Issue 4
© 1994 Syndicate Publications, Inc.
Cover story, Pages 22-23

No More Clowning Around. Sort Of

By Chris Well

If it's inappropriate to label Steve Taylor a "god" to Christian fans of modern rock, it is still certainly appropriate to label him a big deal. After a six year absence from the Christian music industry that he turned on its head, Taylor has returned with a sort of vengeance with the album Squint, and then the home video Squint: Movies From The Soundtrack.

That would be enough.

But Taylor has also recently been the subject of a post-modern tribute album, I Predict A Clone; the star of a box set, Now The Truth Can Be Told, which also has a video companion; and he's currently headlining the 50-city Squinternational Tour, with opening acts Guardian and Hokus Pick.


Of the two-disc retrospective, which includes material from I Want To Be A Clone, Meltdown, On The Fritz, Limelight, I Predict: 1990 and the band project Chagall Guevara, Taylor says the theory ended up being a lot more than the reality. "The original idea was to go back and put a bunch of demos on the album. But when we pulled them out and listened to them, it was the most painful half hour of my life. It's funny--the recorded stuff is turning out to be better than I remember, but the unreleased stuff is much, much worse than I imagined. Fans will be glad these things never made it to the box set. Trust me, I'm doing them a favor."

One compromise was the unreleased "Dream In Black & White" and the curiosity called "Shark Salad," a montage of old demos from songs that were later recorded. Otherwise, the box serves well to give historical perspective. "All of those things were mastered for vinyl, so it was very nice going back through. It was a pleasant surprise listening to some of it. I won't say it all holds up beautifully, but sonically it holds up pretty well."

And then you have a track like "Lifeboat," a novelty tune even Taylor seems to have mixed feelings about. "'Lifeboat' is good once, maybe twice to see if you missed something. But, it's like, even your favorite episodes of F-Troop--how often do you want to see them?"

The box also includes the live version of "We Don't Need No Colour Code," the call-and-response song that makes a great barometer for which crowds are longtime Steve Taylor fans and which crowds just heard of him on the drive over. After all, those who know the original song know the crowd shouldn't always answer Taylor verbatim. "Yeah, you can pretty much tell the crowd by how they respond to that song--and if they don't respond at all, you know it's not one of your better nights."

For all the hoopla surrounding The Missing Years--Taylor retired from Christian music, resurfaced as a member of the mainstream guitar band Chagall Guevara on MCA, the band split up (critics loved 'em, retail ignored 'em), then Taylor cut a solo deal and re-entered the Christian music industry--some feel like Taylor should just pick up where he left off, business as usual. But the fact, quite simply, is that there would have been no Squint if there had been no Chagall Guevara.

"Yeah, musically and lyrically, Squint could not have existed. As difficult as the band experience was, it's hard to imagine life without it. All of us artists think the world revolves around us, every decision makes a difference. Entering a democracy where I'm not the man in charge was good; it was painful, as well, almost like going back to school."

When Taylor needed a clean slate, he found it in the band Chagall Guevara, with Dave Perkins, Lynn Nichols, Mike Mead and Wade Jaynes. The MCA mainstream project confused some, because the band refused to play Steve Taylor solo songs in concert. "It was the band's decision not to play any of my solo songs, and it really was the only way to do it. And yet, I wanted to be very careful that old fans understood I wasn't ticked off by things that had gone on in the past. I know Dave and Lynn had bad experiences."

When the band gig didn't work out--they didn't tour to support the album, and MCA didn't give the critical favorite (Rolling Stone practically drooled) the proper push--the band went, essentially in two directions: Taylor went solo (again) this time with Warner Alliance; Perkins and Nichols became Passafist.

Taylor was awarded custody of the bass and drum section of the band--so Squint reflects the less wacky rock sensibilities that Taylor learned with Chagall Guevara.

But when you see Taylor perform live these days, you notice a couple of things: 1) This man is still the same manic ragdoll who broke his leg during his Cornerstone 84 show and still did a couple of encores; 2) when you hear the old Taylor songs in concert these days, the new wave Devo-lutions have been dropped in favor of an aggressive reinvention, by way of Chagall Guevara.

"To do go back and do those songs as if nothing happened ... I have to deal with songs that are 11 years old now. You can't do 'Clone' as it is on record, and I don't know if I could. The fact that there are no keyboards ... that as much as anything else dictated where songs would go."

As far as Chagall vets Mike Mead on drums and Wade Jaynes on bass in Taylor's band, "they were never the cause of tension within the band ... it was always the three chief wanna-be's. And just adding keyboard players doesn't seem appropriate in this day and age."

One unexpected help in updating his songs: The tribute album I Predict A Clone, with the likes of industrial mavens Circle Of Dust, noise pop sensation Starflyer 59 and intelligent modern rockers Fleming & John. When Taylor heard the final proejct, he not only enjoyed hearing what the others had to say about his music, but he regained interest in songs he'd written off. "I heard Sixpence None The Richer's version of 'Bouquet': That was it, that's what I meant; my version completely missed it."

In fact, the garage jazz/punk version of "I Want To Be A Clone" from Dig Hay Zoose creeps into Taylor's own live set. "What do you call that, when you cover a cover? Their versions are in my mind more clearly than the originals."

The one-two punch of the tribute album and the box set seems to give Squint fans more perspetive. As much as Taylor likes the tribute, the box set gives him a chance to show a whole new generation of modern Christian rock fans that Steve Taylor is more than "The Guy Who Produced That Newsboys Album."

Speaking of which, Taylor's "return" to Christian music was pretty much announced by the rap in the middle of Newsboy's Not Ashamed remake of DeGarmo & Key's "Boycott Hell." Some felt the remake was something of a cheap shot.

"I didn't want that rap in 'Boycott Hell.' It was a bad idea. I put the rap on just for a joke ... this is why you have to be careful when you joke." Taylor says the rap was put on late at night, while in the studio, and when the band heard it they wanted to keep it. "Against my better judgment, it goes on the record ... it's the nasty side of me that comes out and it sounds like I'm trashing their work. DeGarmo & Key are much bigger men than me; they've gone out of their way to be nice to me. I'm embarrassed."

For the most part, the Taylor lyrics on Not Ashamed were intelligent, but they just weren't funny. Not funny, anyway, to those hoping for the more obvious Taylor wit (for example, classics like "Colour Code" or "Guilty By Association"). The more subtle wordplay continued when he recorded his solo album for Warner Alliance, Squint. New listeners didn't know the difference--but some longtime fans stumbled over their expectations.

"Inevitably, the first album you buy is a time capsule. I get letters all the time where people will camp out on one record. I'm surprised On The Fritz did as well as it does. A whole bunch of people that dug Chagall hadn't ever heard the older stuff, but maybe would like I Predict: 1990. They would probably like Squint."

Fans are starting to see, though, that Taylor still has his sense of humor--he's just weaving the funny and the serious elements together into a new, more clever hybrid. "You have an obligation to fans to give them the best you can possily give them, but not necessarily what they want or you become a cartoon in a few years. It's a balancing act. If anything seems too obvious, it's probably best not done.

"Humor is a changing target. Jerry Lewis was very funny at one time. Humor today is a lot more sly, a lot less obvious." Take, for example, "The Lament Of Desmond R.G. Underwood-Fredrick IV," the track that opens Squint. "Here's a guy who's going to die and he understates the whole thing, which seemed a lot more funny than the guy screaming 'God, why are you doing this to me?'"

Taylor has always been a lyrical craftsman, a science sharpened especially for Squint. "People have to be challenged or their brains start to dry up." Of the industry he's returned to, "Christian music is better musically, but has become too obvious. That's not a good thing. It goes completely against Jesus and the prophets, who used subversive communication ... they spoke through parables and stories and they acted out stuff. Obvious stuff is not the Biblical method."

On the other hand, Taylor says there may be some cases where it's okay to keep things simple. "Part of that could be a reaction to those other bands that put coolness above all else. But if you read the first chorus and you've got it, imagine how it looks to the outside world. Eventually Christianity becomes a cartoon."