The Three Faces Of Steve

The Lighthouse Electronic Magazine
April 1996
© 1996 Polarized Publications and NetCentral, Inc.
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[Producer] [Artist] [Director]

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We also have an extensive Steve Taylor photo collection.

Steve Taylor - Producer

Unlike that of director, record producer is a role that Steve Taylor sort of fell into.

What started out as a little lyrical tutoring with the Newsboys for the Not Ashamed album eventually turned into co-production credits on their last three releases. Last fall, Taylor hooked up with Guardian to produce their most recent project, Buzz.

In both cases, the producing gigs came about more from relationships that developed than from either party specifically seeking out the other. When Peter Furler was writing the Not Ashamed album, he knew what he wanted to do musically, but he also recognized that the band had a weakness when it came to lyrics.

"We came to the end of recording Boys Will Be Boys," explains Furler, "and I'm putting it on my CD player and hating it before it's even been released. [I never recommend anybody to buy our early records.] I started working on Not Ashamed and I had most of the music finished. It came down to the lyrics and I had what I felt were good ideas for the songs--I had most of the lyrics done for a chorus or something--and then it got to the stage where I just felt we needed to go somewhere else. We needed some fixing in the lyrical department."

"So I went to the record company and they put me with some different writers who were supposed to be Nashville's elite of Christian lyricists, and it just didn't happen. Jeff Mosely from Star Song, who is a good friend of Steve Taylor's, said, 'Listen, I've got this guy I know and he's a great lyricist. I'll give him a call and see if he wants to meet--he doesn't really write with anybody else.'"

Taylor and Furler met up in a car at Gospel Music Week in Nashville, and Furler played a tape of the music that he had already come up with. Taylor was interested. He went away, and came back with some verse lyrics to "Not Ashamed." That's when Furler realized that he had found the collaborator he was looking for.

Furler was fairly unaware of Taylor's stature in CCM history. "I didn't grow up a fan of Steve Taylor--I didn't really know who he was. I'd heard of him but, coming from Australia, I didn't know much about him. And he didn't know much about us, and so it was kind of like a friendship started--and, I guess, respect. I didn't really go back and listen to his records even at that stage--I just sort of liked what he was doing with us."

The two started working together and the album started coming together. There still was no producer, however, and Furler started talking to Taylor about who might be the right person. Taylor made some calls to people he knew in England and the two listened to a lot of albums, looking for someone who might help them achieve the desired sound. In the meantime, the band was recording the album. Eventually Star Song president Darrell Harris came in and said, "You guys have nearly finished this record and you are still looking for a producer--why don't you just go and co-produce it each and just finish it off?" And the rest, as they say, is history.

As the relationship has developed over the course of the last three albums, Taylor has served more as a mentor and sounding board than a producer. While he has definitely had an effect on the band's development, both Taylor and Furler think that a little too much has been made of Taylor's influence. Much of that is due to the vast leap in quality between Boys Will Be Boys and Not Ashamed.

"You know, if he was just another producer, he probably wouldn't be given much credit--a lot of times producers don't get the credit," comments Furler. "But with Steve being an artist, he got a lot of credit--which is cool, because he's great. [But] it was not only us having met with Steve, but it was the budget for Not Ashamed--there was almost as much money spent to cut the drum tracks or drum sounds for Not Ashamed as there was to record the whole of Boys. People don't take that into consideration. Also, we've been a band that's made all of our mistakes on record--some bands don't get that opportunity. We got signed too early, probably."

"People give him credit in certain areas, but they don't give him credit in areas that I think he really deserves it," continues Furler, "and that would be as somebody who is just a great friend to the band and was somebody that we felt was outside of the industry. He's not in it for the bucks and not in it for the fame, just in it for the really true reason, you know what I mean? Which is just challenging people with a more exciting message of the gospel and the way that it can be presented. And the way he lives his life-- you know, Steve Taylor's one of the holiest guys I know. I mean this guy lives it, man, and that was really a big impression on me, especially working with him. He just seemed so un-Nashville-like. He's always gotten into European music and that was sort of what we were doing and still are doing. So he was another friend for us in a lonely city, you know--that's probably the best way to sum up Steve Taylor for us."

Taylor agrees that most of the Newsboys' direction has come from Furler, and he's been along to provide some advice and feedback. "They've definitely got a leader in Peter," says Taylor. "He's been very much the musical visionary for the band. I think one of the difficult things with the Newsboys is that their line-up has been sort of constantly changing over the years, and it's made it really hard for them to establish an identity as a band beyond their records. They've sort of been suffering as a result of not ever having a chance to have everything jell. Their current line-up had been solid since we shot the "Shine" video [which was for the Going Public album]."

"They came into the studio fresh from five months on the road," continues Taylor, "of playing almost every night. Peter really wanted just the band to do this one [Take Me To Your Leader] because on previous records, we'd used other musicians to round things out. At first I was a little bit skeptical because I didn't know if they were going to be up to it, but we sort of went into it with the idea that no matter how long it takes, no matter what it does to us, we're gonna just use the band. And, man, they rose to the occasion."

Taylor's work with Guardian was, again, a case of something just developing. The band jumped on the Squinternational Tour when Dakoda Motor Co. dropped out and spent about six weeks touring with Taylor in the States and in Europe during the fall of 1994. The group had recently decided to end their musical relationship with John and Dino Elefante, who had produced their first three albums in the CCM market, and were searching for someone new to sit behind the board.

All Taylor knew about Guardian was that they were a heavy metal band--or so he thought. "We did, like, thirty-five shows with him, and he would come out and watch us every night," remembers David Bach, bassist for Guardian. "And he said, 'Man, I really thought you guys were some '80's burned-out metal band, because I really didn't know anything about you. I'm watching you on stage at night--you guys are a classic rock 'n' roll band--you're a band!'"

Taylor concurs with that. "I didn't know the guys' music at all, but I'd heard they were really good guys. The musical match-up [for the tour] wasn't quite as good of a fit, but we really got on well together and I got to hear them every night--they were a really good live band. They played great and there are no weaklings in the band."

The group and Taylor developed a mutual respect, but it wasn't until the tour was almost over that the idea of using Taylor as a producer came up. As Bach tells it, "It was at our very last date in Germany--I think he [Taylor] was sitting back stage, just getting ready to go on, and we were in the dressing room and we came on stage and Tony [Palacios, guitarist] and I go, 'Man, it's Steve.' And we went over and he was getting ready to go on and we kind of dropped it on him. And he said, 'You know what, man? I think it's a great idea!'"

"I thought that was really nice," says Taylor, "and I said, 'The only thing that we could do is this--the whole metal thing has pretty much gone the way of the dinosaur, so we've gotta figure out some new musical direction to chart for you guys,' and they said that was sort of what they had in mind, so it ended up working out really well."

The experience with Guardian was different from the Newsboys. "Guardian has been a four-piece band pretty much from the beginning," Taylor continues. "Their line-up has been pretty constant for the last five years. They all came into the studio sort of--I think they were just intrigued with what was going to happen, and so it was sort of like there was less explaining to do, as far as where we were going. It was just like 'Well, okay, if you think so.' And then, pretty quickly in the beginning, they started getting the vision for what the record could be and it worked really well."

As with the Newsboys, Taylor really stretched Guardian in the lyrical department. While the band members are no slouches in that area, they found Taylor's input to be a great experience. "The biggest area Steve pushed us in was the area of lyrics," says Bach. "We always fancied ourselves decent lyricists, but he would go, 'No guys, it's gotta be better, it's gotta be better, it's gotta be better, it's gotta be better.' On a couple songs we said 'Well, Steve, do you have any ideas?' and he'd say, 'Well, as a matter of fact, I do.' So he wrote the lyrics on about three songs and then we co- wrote a song all together with him."

The atmosphere in the studio was much different from what the members of Guardian were used to with the Elefantes or Oz Fox [of Stryper], who had produced their very first album with Enigma Records. "It's probably the most rock'n'roll experience I've ever had in the studio," comments Bach. "Oz was very regimented, John and Dino were very regimented, but Steve was very loose. I think that was born out of the fact that he watched us live and that's what excited him, so he basically tried to capture us live in the studio. We did very few overdubs, as far as raw tracks. Tony and [drummer] Karl [Ney] and myself would all play together and maybe, if I would make just one bass note clinker, we'd go back and punch that; but he wanted to capture the entire track live. So it was a really exciting thing."

For lead singer Jamie Rowe, it was even more of a change. "Steve really gave me a lot of freedom, whereas previously with John Elefante, he and I worked a lot together on vocals. He is really, really a hardcore perfectionist. For those records, to get the perfect takes, sometimes I'd sing those songs one line at a time. The difference with Steve is that he's more performance-oriented. He doesn't want to hear technical perfection; he wants to hear a performance that's good. So basically, instead of one line at a time, I would sing these songs top to bottom and do it about five times and he may like the fourth take, but he likes the third line of the third take, so he'll insert that. That way you're definitely getting no tricks on this record as far as my vocals, but I was horrified at first."

He continues, "Tony thinks this is funny--we were doing the vocal for 'Lead The Way,' and I walked out and Tony said, 'How is it?' and I said, 'I don't know, man, it only took an hour. I don't know, you have to tell me.' I seriously was freaked out, thinking this should take at least six, seven hours. And that's before back-up vocals," Rowe laughs. "The new-found freedom was very foreign to me."

Even though producing isn't something that Taylor set out to do, he's open to doing more of it in the future. "For me, what ends up being number one is if I like the people that I'm going be working with and if I believe in what they're doing," he says. "I would not be anxious to get in a situation where I was--I don't even know how to put this--it wouldn't matter how successful a record was, if I didn't believe in the people that were doing it. Because, you know, we're talking about gospel music here. We're not talking about pop music, where the only measure of success is how many records you sell. So I've really got to believe in the people that I'm working with, and then also feel like they are wanting to stretch. My biggest complaint with gospel music is that most of the lyrics are pretty bad, and so I could never in good conscience get involved with something if I thought the lyrics were going to be the usual run-of-the-mill sort of bad stuff."

"When it comes right down to it, I haven't really done all that much producing," Taylor continues, "but what will probably manifest itself next time I'm on record is that I'm probably looking for something a little edgier to produce. I don't know how else to describe it. I think all of these experiences have been really rewarding and actually, I learn a lot from the process, too, from just trying to make sure melodies are good and everything like that. Probably all these experiences help me in my own records, too, but I would love to make something with a really young band with sort of an edgier sound, but who knows if that will happen or not."

Any young, edgy bands out there might want to find a way to get a tape to the man....

Beth Blinn

Steve Taylor - Artist

To be honest, I think I got the hardest portion of our "Three Faces Of Steve" profile. It isn't because his production or direction careers haven't lasted as long--it is because they have been less controversial. And the "Steve Taylor controversy" is not one you can draw a simple picture of. It isn't like the 1980's "Christian Heavy Metal Debate" where there were polarized sides. With Steve Taylor, there are numerous hues to the palette of opinion.

Some people never got his satire, while others laughed along with it. Some thought he worked too hard to be a rebel; others were all-too-anxious to grab their "angry young man" coats and join in behind him. Some thought he was a lyrical genius and others just didn't get it. I could go on and on. Suffice it to say, there were many issues with a lot of people on either side. It would have been easier if there was a clear-cut division--the "love him" and the "hate him" side--but it was not so.

Sure, this was not an Earth-shattering controversy. Presidential debates did not contain the question "So, what is your stand on this Steve Taylor person?" But, to me, what is most interesting is that there are probably more misperceptions about Steve Taylor than there are accurate recollections. To be honest, I had a few of them myself. Let's look at a few facts:

You might start to get the idea that the range of thought and debate on this artist is far bigger than the artist himself. "Too old to be the bad boy, too young to be the elder statesman," he muses. "And now this Dove nomination business is going to ruin my alternative credibility," he laughs. "I suppose that once an artist runs out of labels, the only hope left is that over time you accumulate a strange enough body of work so they'll eventually have to add an '-esque' to your last name."

Hmmm.... how many times have I used the word "Tayloresque?"

Past that, what is there to say that hasn't been already said about him? Our print-magazine predecessor, THE LIGHTHOUSE had an extensive November 1993 cover story on him that should give you enough background on Taylor to make some sense of this interview.

Currently in the CD Player: Zelwer La Fiance Aux Yeux De Bois on the Belgian Crammed Discs label
Last book read: The New American Circus by Ernest Albrecht
Hometown: Brawley, California
Birthdate: December 9
First memory of music: My dad whistling
Most influential person: After my parents, I'd have to devise a short list, in chronological order:
  1. Jim and Elma Kreig (Sunday School superintendents in the church where I grew up)
  2. Kent Bowers (high school English/Art History teacher)
  3. David Milligan (high school youth pastor and guy that really got me interested in music)
  4. Norman Stone (English filmmaker)
  5. Scott Smith (my pastor)
Favorite way to relax: Sleeping
Favorite scripture verse: Philippians 2:1-11
Hidden talent: I'm double-jointed at the neck
If you were a piece of equipment in a recording studio, what would it be? The coffee maker (automatic drip)

When Taylor and I talked a few weeks ago, I told him of our three-part story. He was very flattered, of course. We started by wrapping up some proverbial loose ends from the other sections before beginning to talk seriously about Steve Taylor, the artist.

You have worked a lot with Ben Pearson in the last few years. He's worked with you on videos and, most notably, your renowned "Trip Around The World." What kind of partnership do you have with him, as far as the video production and stuff? Is that a formal partnership, into a company, or do you guys just happen to work together a lot...

It started with the trip around the world. Before then I was really good friends with Ben--he was a still photographer. He had moved down here from Cape Cod. We got on so well that when the opportunity came up with this idea to travel around the world [we naturally paired up for that]. The thing I had always recognized, ever since I had taken film classes at Colorado University, was that I didn't want to run the camera. I've got no facility for that kind of stuff. It's hard enough for me to even load film and all that jazz, so I've always wanted to work with one guy for a camera man and just never found anybody that I'd clicked with. I asked Ben what he thought about the idea and he was really up for it. The plan was that we would make the investment to purchase a used thirty-five millimeter camera and shoot everything on 35--as opposed to 16-millimeter, which is what most videos, particularly gospel music and everything low-budget, are shot on. We bought the camera, then Ben read a bunch of books on how to use it. We took one roll of film and shot it before we left, to make sure that the camera actually worked and then we were off... were probably worrying about how it would all turn out or not...

Well, yeah, we were, because it was probably a bit foolhardy to do. But Ben has a really great mind for that stuff and the proof of it was evident towards the end of the shoot--we were in England. At the end of the day's shooting, the camera just stopped. I went by his room that night and he had the whole camera laid out in pieces on his bedspread. He somehow figured out what was wrong, got a little piece of a comb or something, and stuck it back together and it was working the next day. Ever since Squint, I've worked with Ben exclusively. He's become more involved in helping me conceptualize different projects as well, and has taken care of a lot of the production chores. So we've formalized things into a company, just because we needed some sort of structure for paying people, officially, and all that stuff...

And your taxes, I'm sure.

All that stuff...

I wouldn't want to be your accountant. Too many places you get money from.

That's right.

[We spend a few minutes talking about the production work he's been doing lately, with the Newsboys and Guardian.]

The thing I like about producing is that it sort of naturally ties into this next question. The problem with being an artist, and a Christian, is that it's very easy to get really self-absorbed in our own thing and that's not really healthy for a Christian. One of the good benefits of being involved in producing is, your job is to try to do, at all points, what's best for this band that you're working with. It's really a great thing for me, to keep me from getting so self-absorbed in my own thing and my own work and all that stuff. I think, at the end of the day, that's been the most rewarding aspect of it. I love getting in with another band and helping them figure things out and that's why I'll hopefully keep doing it--just because it's been a really good thing for me to learn.

Has that been a problem at any point in your career, or is that just one of those potential pitfalls?

I think it's always a problem. The only three constants for an artist are death, taxes, and professional jealousy. We get so self-absorbed in our own thing and then we start thinking really competitively--we naturally think that way--and it's wrong for a Christian and there's no excuse for that. So, producing has been a good thing.

What's on tap for you, on your own?

My wife is a painter and I was watching her work the other day, and I'll relate this experience. It just cracked me up, because it was exactly what I was thinking. She was trying to do some sketches and so she has this big library of art books [everywhere]. She took her pad and pencil and was ready to start doing some sketches and she sits down, and then she decides this isn't the right chair. Then she starts sketching and none of her pencils are sharp enough, so she goes and sharpens her pencils. Then she decides she needs a cup of tea, so she goes and fixes a cup of tea and sits back down and gets ready to start sketching. Then she decides this [the tea] isn't hot enough and so she gets up to heat it up. So there was this series of five or six things before she could even start sketching.

And it's been the same thing on this record. I think it's a combination of the pressure of, after you've done a certain amount of producing, I think people figure, "What's Steve going to do on his own record?" So it's just like, anything, anything that I can do to keep from writing, I'm doing. I'll sit down and say. "Oh, man, I've really got to answer this stack of fan mail," or, "I've got to read this book for inspiration," or, "Man, there's all kinds of dust under this CD shelf, I've really got to clean that up"-- anything, to keep me from writing.

It's kind of like when I was in college, trying to find any possible excuse for not studying for finals. The apartment was always cleanest then--I would clean instead of studying.

Exactly, it's the exact same mind set. I still carry it with me from my college days. But, what I'm trying to do with this next record--I won't go into detail because I have to see if it's going to work or not first. When I was in high school, I was a very mediocre high jumper on the track team. I'm trying to figure out some way to place the cross bar higher for myself so that this next record is a bigger challenge. I've got an idea and I'm working on it and I'll see if it takes shape. The idea is I'm supposed to start recording sometime in late February. Hopefully the record will be out in the early part of Fall.

Do you feel like any pressure that, since you produce all these other artists, you'd have to produce yourself--even if you wanted or found somebody that would want to produce your own album? Would it almost be in poor taste for you to have somebody to produce your own record after you produce all these other albums?

You know, that's a very perceptive point. I produced [Squint] only because I've been so used to having to funnel ideas through another producer or co-producer that I just wanted to see what would happen if I didn't have to do that. More than anything else, I think the thing I like most about producing myself is that I can just make decisions really quickly. But, I think that there's a lot of dangers in producing yourself, so there would be benefits to working with someone else. What I'll probably do is get so deep into this next record, I'll be begging for anybody to bail me out. The toughest part of it is producing your own vocals and judging your own vocal performance, especially since I don't particularly like the sound of my own voice to begin with. The engineer I work with, Russ Long, has a good musical sense, so when it comes to doing vocals, I'll ask his opinion a lot. And then guys like Wade [Jaynes], my bass player, are really good to have around, too. They've always got good ideas, so a lot of producing yourself is to surround yourself with great musicians who all have really good taste, and hopefully they cover for you.

What kind of things is your wife doing and how does she keep you sane amongst all this other work that you do?

Well, she wasn't an artist when we got married. She was just taking some classes when we got married, so I didn't know she could paint--actually, she didn't either because she'd never done it before. When we moved to Nashville and were involved with the band [Chagall Guevara] and things were pretty tight, she went to work at a restaurant as a hostess. They changed their artwork [at the restaurant] every six weeks. After a year of seeing the art work that had been going up every six weeks, she came back one day and said, "You know, Steve, I think I could do that stuff."

So I said, "If you think you can, then why don't you go for it?" So she quit her job and started painting. It was one of those experiences where it was not a starving artist syndrome at all. As soon as people saw her work, they bought it and so her painting really helped us out during the waning, hungry years of Chagall Guevara, which was pretty much from the time we started until the time we hung it up.

She's gotten now to where she's got a gallery in Denver that represents her and a gallery in England that shows her work as well. She's been flown over to the Greenbelt festival to be one of their guest artists. She does really well--I guess it's okay to brag on her because we're related--she can't really keep anything in stock because people buy her work as soon as she paints it.

It was really funny because just the other day I ran into the guys from Jars Of Clay, and they were asking about Debbie, because they'd seen her work at different places and really liked it. She was in a different part of the building, so I motioned her over and she talked with them for a while. Then the other day, my pastor's daughter let somebody know that she was talking with Jars Of Clay, and they were all excited because they'd gotten to meet D. L. Taylor [Debbie, Steve's wife], so everything's been reversed these days. Sometimes people come up and they say to my wife, "Man, I've always wanted to meet you--and who is your husband?"

I guess that kind of puts you back in your place.

It's good for me.

It's good for the humility factor. I guess she's probably not going to do any more album covers for you. [Debbie Taylor painted the cover of his I Predict 1990 and The Best We Could Find projects.

She didn't really enjoy that experience at all.

It wasn't a tarot card. [laughter] [Debbie Taylor designed the cover for I Predict 1990 and the Taylors were criticized because many people thought the cover looked like a tarot card.]

[laughter] Yeah. She gets a lot of offers for doing album covers. She just really doesn't like doing commercial work, so she pretty much avoids commercial work at all costs.

But, the Sixpence None the Richer This Beautiful Mess thing was right up her alley.

That was a good experience, because the paintings were already in existence.

So, you have little to say on the new album, because you're just barely beginning on it.

Yeah, I mean I've had these ideas brewing for quite a while--I'm not exactly sure how to describe it, because I'm afraid if I start describing it at all, that might sort of flavor people's expectations. I guess what I should say is that I'm ready to be, what's the word--I'm just ready to be-- I'm ready to get in and do it and concentrate on it and nothing else.

You're waiting for inspiration?

I think I've actually got the inspiration. Now it's just a matter of actually getting it completed and trying not to get in one of those deals where you think it needs to take longer than it actually needs to take. Too much time is the death of good art--I think. For the first time, there's not any kind of financial pressure to try and get the next record out or anything--which is sort of bad. It's kind of like being a professor who's got tenure.

Lulled into complacency, there.

That's right, that's right. Open up the windows and turn off the heat--I need to suffer a little.

How you would describe your overall purpose/driving force/goal in writing and performing your music? [Question courtesy of TLeM reader Markus Watson]

Well, I hate to fall back on the standard response, but it's not actually changed that much. I started writing music when I was a youth pastor, and back then I was writing it because I felt like it was the best way to communicate my faith with something that was culturally relevant. It's pretty much stayed the same throughout. I've talked a lot about the central mission that drives it. Probably the fatal flaw of Chagall Guevara is that we weren't actually being driven by any sense of mission, outside of being a successful band, and that ended up being not enough to keep me going. So I think that's still it--to communicate Christianity to my culture, and this still seems like the best way to do it.

Does it kind of surprise you that people are now bidding like $60 or $70 in auctions for a Chagall Guevara CD?

I had to buy one from a used record store the other day--where they sell CDs at this shop for $6 or $7. They were selling Chagall's for $15. It was really annoying having to buy one, because I didn't have any of my own. I didn't understand that, really. I wish all our new-found fans would have been around when the record first came out.

You wish you were getting some of the success right now...

Another reader question--do you write your songs with a Christian audience in mind, to get us to ask ourselves questions about our faith or do you think of the non-Christian audience with more of an evangelical intent? [Question courtesy of TLeM reader Brian William]

I'm probably always straddling the fence on that. I think, the one constant is that I refuse to say the words, "It's just a Christian audience," or to talk down in any way to the people that buy my records. I encourage the same with bands that I work with. I think that there's a way, actually, to be able to write songs that can make sense on both sides. That's not always the case. Sometimes you write songs that are specifically about Christian concerns and you just try to do it in a way that doesn't make it totally coded to someone from the outside.

And I guess, in that, is the idea of avoiding the "Christianese" clichés that we have.

And you know, that's a constantly moving target. Things that maybe weren't clichéd before, might be now so...

You know, I'll be listening to a lot of Christian pop on the radio and just know what's coming--the next line. Once you hear the word such and such, you know, they're going rhyme it with such and such. I think that's my favorite thing about your stuff--you never know what to expect.

It's amazing how in something like Eugene Peterson's The Message, when someone comes along and re-phrases these Bible passages we're so familiar with, it can add new freshness and depth. That's one of our jobs as Christian writers, to take these truths that have been around for thousands of years, and put them in a way that still grabs people and makes them see the same truth again in a different light.

When somebody walks up to you and says, "Hi, My name is such and such and what do you do for a living?" What do you tell them?

It usually happens on an airplane. I normally say that I'm involved in music. It's just too hard to explain--they don't really care at that point, anyway. And they decide, from the look of you, that probably the kind of music that you're involved in is not something that they're really interested in. I saw this movie where a writer bumps into her friend with a new boyfriend. She says, "What do you do?" He says that he is a writer and she says, "Oh, really. Who do you write for?" He answers, "Rolling Stone." She gives him a patronizing smile, then goes back to talking to her friend. It's sort of the same thing.

I'm sure that happens a lot. I was wondering how the Billboard Awards affected you [Taylor has won two Billboard music video awards]. Were you totally shocked and horrified the first time it happened? Is that just another, along the road of fitting in with the Dove Awards?

It's really nice. The truth is the "On The Fritz" video was a really tough one to make. I believed in it so much that I spent my own money to finish it. I told the record company that I could do it for less and I just wasn't able to finish it for that amount. So I had to finish that one myself. The most awards can do, probably, is to offer some sort of pat on the back from your peers.

I almost feel like awards have been put up as road blocks for all of us who are involved in Christian music, to try and trip us up. If you take them seriously, that's the beginning of the end--it's very much a two-edged sword. I look at them as a marketing device to try and get people to check out Christian music in general, particularly in the case of the Grammys, where for a lot of people it's sort of a short hand for, "I guess he was nominated for this, so he must be worth checking out." You wouldn't want to take that stuff too seriously or you'd be a chump.

I didn't know if that as being a pat on the back from a very different group [Billboard] than like the Doves was one that made you smile a little bit longer than the others.

It's good from the standpoint that--it's coming from a whole different slice of the music industry. I don't think the judges know much about Christian music, so they're just looking at the videos for their artistic merit. It's a nice acknowledgment for those of us who do videos just for a hobby.

What don't you do for a hobby? Here's what everybody wants to know--what do you do in your spare time, or what would you do if you had any spare time?

The good thing about it is--you know how you hear people talking about synergy? To me, the ultimate synergy is to work with people that you want to hang out with anyway. So that's what makes producing so fun--that's why working with Ben on videos or Russ on records--it's so fun because I'm working with my friends. And the big kick is, if I had extra time, I would travel. And so, with my work, I get to travel all the time, too.

Debbie and I both love traveling together. And now through our work--it's like, we've got a reason, if we have the time and the need to take a trip to wherever. We've even got a reason to go and check out museums--not that we need an excuse--because that's part of Debbie's work. The big idea of doing the around-the-world-video was really just an excuse to take a trip to some of these exotic locations.

And get the record company to pay for your travel.

That's right. So, in fact, all these things I do are just excuses to travel and hang out with my friends.

What else is on the horizon for Steve Taylor?

There's a, there's something that I'm working on now but I probably better wait until it's a definite before I tell you about it. Maybe you could call me back in a week or two and just ask me if that thing's happened yet or not, then I could...

Hmmm. Maybe like starting a record company? [laughter]

I guess it's not very [secret]...

My editor told me, "Don't bring that up with him--don't put him on the spot, don't make him talk about something he's not supposed to talk about." I thought I would just hint and see if you would bring it up. [laughter]

The deal--it's not a done deal. Although it looks like it's probably going to happen.

...I can put things into practice on a bigger scale--things that hopefully have been learned over the years. I can maybe stack things a little better in favor of the artists and at the same time insist on high ethical standards before God, high artistic standards, and a strong work ethic.

The weird thing is that this has not been a big dream of mine. The opportunity came up and I just want to see if it can work. If it fails, it will fail for all the right reasons, but I think it can succeed for all the right reasons. When I talk about it, I can't help but also mention what Charlie [Peacock] or Toby McKeehan or Michael Card are doing, because I think we all have the same basic motivations. I think it's a good time to be doing something like this, so we'll see what happens.

Do you think that's one of your gifts--as far as discerning talent, drive, and the mindset behind an artist and finding the right kind of artist that has their head on straight?

I hope so. I would have a pretty low tolerance for people I felt were in Gospel music for the wrong reasons. I think what you hope and pray is that God will lead the right people to you.

We'll see. Probably all these things that I've theorized on, I'll end up making a big mess of when I turn it into practice. But, the goal is to put out music that's both modern and relevant from artists who are truly living their lives under the Lordship of Jesus, and to insist on those same standards from the record label. And I don't mean any of this in a reactionary way, because I think there are labels that are doing that, but I also think there's room for more.

Is there anything we didn't really talk about that's on your mind or any new things you're going through on the positive or the negative...

Well, one of the things that I'm going to do with the next record--is I've been talking to the guy that did the "Cash Cow" video, Jonathan Richter. I think I'm going to actually have him direct my next video, as well as work on the art direction for the packaging. That's something that I'm really looking forward to. The guy is very, very good, and the twist he brings to animation is, I think, brilliant. I'm anxious to actually give him a real budget to work with. At the end of the "Cash Cow" video, I asked him to send me a bill for his expenses, and he would only charge me something ridiculously low-- like $680 for expenses. He's now finished college, 'cause I think that was like a senior thesis and he's working for a really prestigious company, R. Greenberg and Associates, out in LA.

You can say you knew him back when.

That's right. I think my next record is going to have a lot of unique twists, so I think it could be a great collaboration.

One more thing and then I'll let you get going. I just want to know who do you have involved and what kind of arrangements do you have set up as fellowship and accountability, as far as music-wise and personal-wise, to kind of keep your life in focus.

It's a combination of things. I share the same pastor with a number of my peers in music--Scotty Smith at Christ Community Church.

I finally got to see that. I was down in Nashville in October for a week and finally got to go down and actually see the church. We saw you there, in fact.

He's been really great. He was a key person in the decision to do Squint, and he's been really helpful through the years, not only his teaching, but advising me on big decisions. And then the close circle of friends that I've got--not only Ben and Russ, but a pretty tight circle of friends we have in Nashville that, I think, function pretty much the same way. After ten years of being married, we just bought our first house and we sort of wanted to start it off on the right foot. Realizing that it's definitely not something that we deserve and we're just really thankful to...

"But when we don't get what we deserve it's a real good thing." [Quoting "Real Good Thing" from the Newsboys' Going Public which Taylor worked on]

[laughter] And when we say, "I deserve better," we know what happens there, too. We had a lot of friends over before we moved in and we flew out another really close friend to lead a dedication service for the house. My parents even came down from Colorado. My Dad sang "Bless This House." It was really cool--that was last month, it was sort of--in some ways it was just a recognition, that evening, of how fortunate we are to have that quality of friendships in Nashville, of fellow believers, and how a lot of people in that group have sort of held each other up over the years. So that's been good. It's the same with the band that I work with. Over the years, I've been blessed with guys in my band who get "the big picture," who understand the mission behind what we do.

Well, thanks so much for the help. Let us know when the album is done!

STEVE TAYLOR Discography
1983 I Want To Be A Clone
1984 Meltdown
1985 On The Fritz
1986 Limelight (live)
1987 I Predict 1990
1988 The Best We Could Find (collection)
1991 Chagall Guevara (as lead singer)
1993 Squint
1994 Now The Truth Can Be Told (collection)
1995 Liver (live)

J. Warner Soditus

Steve Taylor - Director

I have been a fan of Steve Taylor for almost 13 years. If you can find a copy of the very first edition of LIGHTMUSIC [October 5, 1983], you can see Taylor's EP "I Want To Be A Clone" [released in January of that same year] displayed on the bulletin board of LIGHTMUSIC's "1950's music studio" set.

He's a brilliant lyricist and a crafter of "hooky" rock tunes--and his satire always makes me laugh. I also think he is the best director in Christian video--both for himself and for other artists. What's more, he's a nice guy--unassuming, shy, humble, and approachable. The following interview took place in December of 1995 before his concert with the Newsboys in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Taylor discusses "On The Fritz" and Christian communication. [3.2 MB]

What is the difference between art and propaganda in Christian music video?

The place that we can best draw our inspiration is from the Bible and specifically from the teachings of Jesus, who is the master communicator. Jesus allowed people to participate... He allowed them to use their own minds to figure things out. That's a very indirect way of communicating--and most of the time, people didn't understand Him--even his disciples didn't understand. And when they'd ask Him to explain His parables, sometimes He would explain and sometimes He wouldn't explain. He realized the value of people using their own heads to figure things out. I think that may be the place to draw the line between art and propaganda. Propaganda insults our intelligence. It usually doesn't teach us anything that we don't already know.

It oftentimes plays fast and loose with the facts, and it doesn't allow people to use their own minds to enter into things. I think that's very dangerous when we are trying to communicate the Christian faith. If people make strictly emotional responses or make decisions based on propaganda, real faith has a hard time taking deep root. I've had to think about this myself. I mean you guys at LIGHTMUSIC have played "On The Fritz" (from Liver, released Spring 1995) which a lot of Christian stations won't air. I think that one of the reasons is that "On The Fritz" requires some thought--there's symbolism there that comes from the Bible. Maybe the people that make the decisions about whether or not to play things don't even know their Bible well enough to know where that symbolism comes from. But it requires thought and I think that the best art--and the best art that's done by Christians--requires us to have to use our minds and dig in deep to try to figure things out. When that happens, the rewards are much deeper. When Jesus' disciples finally figured out what He was saying with certain parables, it was like the lights went on. When He would predict things about His death, crucifixion and resurrection, they didn't get it until after the fact, but then when it made sense, it stuck a lot deeper.

I am thinking about the difference between what we call the Renaissance and what we call the Dark Ages. Art in the Dark Ages treated religious subjects very simply. In the Renaissance, something got added to the mix which we now call self-expression. Do you think about self- expression as a Christian artist?

Yeah--I mean, the self-expression part is very important, but as Christians we realize that that is not always an end in itself. We are created for a higher purpose. And so, if self-expression is simply just a means to an end, then I think that it's ultimately a dead end. I've been through that conflict in myself. I've found without a mission and a higher sense of calling, you can become self-absorbed and full of pride and become very blind to what's important.

I'm interested in what you think about your work as a video director. I'd just like to know what you think about some of the videos you've directed--both for yourself and for other artists. Could you start with "Meltdown"? [from the March 1984 release Meltdown]

I think "Meltdown" was pretty good for the time. I had to see it again because I was putting together a compilation reel, so I was looking at it and noticing a lot of editing mistakes that I made. There were some things about the lighting that probably could have been better, but a lot of that I just attribute to a low budget and the fact that I didn't know that much about what I was doing. Thankfully, I was working with some really good people who covered me. So I attribute the good parts of that video to the people I was working with.

Were the videos from I Predict 1990 the next ones you did?

The next one was actually in the early summer of 1985--"Lifeboat." I think that one turned out well. I didn't technically direct that one. I started off with one director, [then] it shifted to someone else. So I was pretty involved in the process and of course with the story and everything like that. When I see that video, I think it holds up pretty well. It's such a strange video--it doesn't really have anything to do with anything else, you know. Wearing a dress is probably one of those things that'll keep coming around and haunting me.

The one recorded live in England later in 1985 ( Limelight) was next, right?

Oh, right, yeah. Live videos are the hardest ones to do--to me those age the quickest, 'cause...

Your hair is short.

The hair is short. Styles change and there's nothing else going for it besides it being a live concert, you know. I think the whole package with the interview and everything like that helps break it up a bit. Those live videos--those don't age very well, I don't think.

"I Predict 1990" [November 1987] was next?

I'm trying to think... There were five or six videos in that one package and some of them were OK. "Since I Gave Up Hope" was pretty good. I think "Principled Man" had some good things going for it, but I don't think it necessarily aged very well. When I look at it now it just looks a little silly.

Were you going for a Swedish art film thing with the black and white?

Actually, they messed up the color processing on one of the source reels in the lab so we had to match the rest of the footage with that was one of those accidents that we had to run with.

How about "Harder To Believe Than Not To?"

One of the things I learned from that--when I direct other artists now-- is that I'm way over-emoting, and the camera looks silly. I don't think my part in that video was very good, but the story that it tells is a good story.

One of my favorite videos from I Predict 1990 is "Jim Morrison's Grave."

I think that one's probably one of the better ones. It was a good song. The song had many layers to it and so there were a lot of different ways you could see it. We shot it in Paris at Jim Morrison's actual grave. One of the reasons I like natural settings as opposed to manufacturing something is that a good setting can interpret things and add sub-texts. When we were there, we were sort of shooting things at random. The real craft always comes when you actually put it together while you are editing. A lot of the video was made up of happy accidents--things that just worked out well.

Same album--your most controversial video--"I Blew Up The Clinic Real Good."

I don't actually think that was a very good video. It was a tough one to do and it's just sort of boring--it's like, there's not that much going on. I have a hard time watching that one. I think Smashing Pumpkins did a video with an ice cream truck that was much better.

Let's talk about your dive into the mainstream with Chagall Guevara [the band--with Steve Taylor as lead singer-- recorded one album and a video--"Violent Blue"--in February, 1991.]

I really was not into that video. In fact, we were all pretty disappointed with it. That was one of the reasons that I got back into doing it myself. We came up with the idea of setting it in this cave--it was an incredible location--it had this big chandelier and everything like that. We all saw a bunch of director's reels and the guy that we hired is a good director, but I just don't think he was able to make the most of that opportunity. I think primarily it was just the way it was shot. I think, more than anything else, it was a lighting problem--it looked very flat.

Which of your world tour videos [from Squint, released November 1993] do you like?

I like "Banner Man," just for the goofiness of it. I like "Sock Heaven," as far as it being the most exotic one. "Cash Cow" I didn't do and I think it's brilliant. That was an animator, Jonathan Richter, who was a student who sent me some stuff to get my opinion on it. I called him and said "I love what you're doing; I'd love to work with you in the future." So I sent him the song "Cash Cow" and $600 later, he came up with that thing and it was nominated for a Dove Award.

So, are you going to work with him again?

Yeah, yeah, he's brilliant. So I'm going to have him work with me on the first video for the new album.

Let's go on to work you did for other artists. Talk about the two videos you directed for Out of the Grey.

I really liked both of those. I think the most successful videos are the ones where there's something going on beneath the surface. So you're not literally interpreting the text to the song--you're showing something that's deeper inside there and you're communicating something that supports that. With "All You Need," I thought it was really interesting that they're talking about how God is reaching out to us in the name of love and how we share it with others and so, in the video, we put them in this setting that they were probably fairly used to--a photography sitting and there's people all over the place that they've never dealt with before that they would have never seen before. So we tried to recreate that mood and you know there's tensions that go on between crew members and here's this couple who are Christian singer/songwriters and in that little microcosm, all eyes are on them. I thought it did a good job of showing how Christians can be salt and light into that kind of world and so I still really like that one.


Yeah, "Gravity," I really like that one. I think--I felt enormous pressure because I think that song is really brilliant and it talks about judgment in a way that few people dare to go to. I worked on that treatment for a long time and storyboarded everything very carefully. The song "Gravity" is not an actual story song. We needed something that would sort of interpret the song and what it's talking about. It's talking about people... They start off and they think that they've sort of got the world on a string and there are no limitations and eventually, they realize that gravity is pulling them down and "without gravity that pulls you to your knees, there has to be a final reckoning. By grace or grave you'll feel the gravity." I thought that was great. I thought that story did a good job of interpreting it. There's little things like talking about lighter than air and balloons and birds and things like that that, you know, we tried to support in the video.

Margaret Becker's "Deep Calling Deep?"

Margaret's was originally an entirely different video--we filmed a whole other segment for it which I was really happy with and would have made for a much better video. The record company was not happy with that one segment. They felt like it was too "Catholic," whatever that means. It was bogus, because it was actually sort of Renaissance-looking. They felt that it was too "Catholic-looking." So we had to scratch all that and go back and create the B-roll with no money and no time and it's just not as good. I mean it's OK, it supports the song. I thought the filming we did of Margaret was really good, but I was bummed out because it wasn't the video we wanted it to be.

How did Margaret like it?

She seemed happy. I think it's a good video, but I never showed her the original thing because it just would have bummed her out because it would have been a lot better.

Twila Paris--let's talk about that.

Here's what happened with Twila's video: originally the first video they wanted was for "God Is In Control" and for me to want to do a video, I just have to really love the song. That song was fine, but it wasn't a song that I had any visual ideas for. But as I was listening to the album, I thought the song "What Am I Without You" was beautiful, and I said, "if you ever want to do a video on this song, let me know." So they came back about five months later and said they'd like to do a video on that. So we picked a location and...


It was up in Cape Cod. God smiled on us and we were able to find this old house and everything like that. One of the things that video taught me is that in a five-minute song, it's really hard to keep people's interest unless you've got a lot of money. I think that that video is kind of slow at first and it picks up steam towards the end. But if the opportunity ever comes again to direct a very long song, I'll encourage the record company to let me edit the song to make it tighter because, to me, if a video makes you want to watch it again, it's been successful, it's done it's job. And if you see it once and you feel, "Okay, that was nice," then I haven't done my job.

Probably your two best-known videos on LIGHTMUSIC are the Newsboys' "Shine" and your own newest video [from Liver] "On The Fritz." Where would you rate those in your body of work?

I hope this comes off with the right spirit of humility and everything. I love doing videos and I take it really seriously so when everything comes together, you're just really happy. And I'm grateful, too. The trip around the world was one where it shouldn't have come off as well as it did but God smiled on us in our ignorance. I think I experienced the hand of God more clearly in doing video work than any other thing because you just realize how few elements you have under your control. That trip around the world was an extreme example of that. We should have had that film confiscated, we probably should have been arrested a few times because these border guys--they didn't know what we were doing and we tried to do everything on the up-and-up of course, and we did--but you can only do that so far when you are going into these third-world countries. So you really see the hand of God at work. So when something works, it really is by the grace of God that it works.

I think that both those videos worked really well. I really had to work hard to get Star Song to give me a shot at that ["Shine"]. They, for whatever reason, wanted to go with somebody else and it's like, usually, I would have just bowed out. But I'd written the lyrics to that song and I had a real strong idea of what I wanted to do and what I wanted it to look like. I had just been dreaming of it for so long that while I was on vacation, supposed to be taking a holiday, and instead I'm using a friend's computer and working on this treatment. The shoot was just a lot of pre-planning and it came out well. It's a cool song, but there's all these different things going on in the verses, and so the combination is good but I think the video helps people understand the song better and it helps them make sense out of the video, too.

Where do you rate "On The Fritz?"

I think that's the best thing I've done. It was one of the lowest budgets I've ever had to work with. What happened was that the record company wanted some sort of video to promote the live album [Liver] and originally I was just thinking, "We'll just do some sort of live video." But as I was working with other people, I started feeling the pressure that people are going to expect something more than just a "Jive Live" concert or a clip and so I got dreamin' on it. And that song, I think, was a good song to do it on. I wasn't sure if the idea of putting a live track with a concept video would work but it seemed in a strange way to serve the story line even better. It got very deep because that's an old song from 1985 and I've had all this time to think about what the song said. It aged better than a lot of my other songs and of course musically it had been reinterpreted.

The song is about pride--that's something I know really well. I am sorry to say--but those of us in the public eye, once that monkey is on our back it's always there, and once we think we've got it under control, we don't have it under control. That, combined with the story of this guy who sings religious songs--so you imagine somebody who is a Christian, who's in the public eye, possibly a musician and, "What did this guy do that made him fall from grace so extremely?" The song alludes to that he probably had some sort of extra-marital affair or something like that. And so, without it getting seedy or anything like that, how do we present the reality of that situation and more than anything, show the consequences and also show God's forgiveness.

So you've got all these agendas to try to be fulfilled, and that was where the idea of a guy who's actually working as a church janitor (which I knew about because I did that for about five years while I was first writing music), and he almost thinks that he has to work this out with a penance or something like that. He thinks about his past in flashbacks and he sees how his affair affected his daughter. At one point I was wondering if it was too far-fetched, the idea of a daughter finding photos. Believe it or not, one of our friends in Nashville saw this video and she sat there in stunned silence after she saw it and said, "That is almost verbatim what I went through when I was a fourteen-year-old kid." She had a father out on the road, who was a pastor, and he had an affair and the woman sent tapes to his home and she found them and she buried them and so they never knew what had happened. And then the thing of it is, what are the consequences? Well, the consequences are lived out in this guy's daughter and those aren't going to go away, you know. Because sin has consequences and they last for a long time and that's why it's so insidious.

So he's going through all these different acts of contrition and working and examining photocopies of his face, you know... What it is that got him to this place? ...and he finally realizes that the only way out is the blood of Jesus. We found a church that was built in the 1800's that actually has an Egyptian motif inside, so you see that and the church setting and palm trees and everything like that and at the very end--the blood on the doorposts from Exodus and he finally figures it out... It's a heavy video and it's been criticized and a lot of people don't play it and stores sometimes say, "There is no way we're going to play this." If we can't deal with those subjects we shouldn't be involved in Christian communication, because the truth is those things happen and there's consequences and those things don't go away... But there's forgiveness as well. I couldn't tell a lie and say that everything is going to work out fine, because it doesn't work out fine and this guy's daughter is going to be scarred forever. But there's always forgiveness and God's grace, too.

What are you working on now?

My own record--I started recording that in January. I want to work with the "Cash Cow" guy for one of the videos from that because, you know, he's really good. I learned a lot from him, just watching him. He's, like, 22 years old and he's really good.

Tom Green