Steve Taylor - Cornerstone 2003 Press Conference

Source: The Phantom Tollbooth
Cornerstone 2003 Press Conference, Bushnell, IL
July 4th, 2003
Moderated by Chris MacIntosh

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MacIntosh: A number of years ago, the Resurrection Band was out on tour, and they brought this tall, skinny ex-youth pastor with them to open up the shows for them. His name was Steve Taylor. What have you been doing lately, man?

Taylor: [laughs] I haven't been doing any interviews, that's one thing. I'm a little nervous about this! I actually haven't taken much in the way of questions or anything since the Squint days, so I hope you guys will go really easy on me, and just a lot of powder puff questions, and make it easy.

MacIntosh: I would ask if anybody wants to ask questions, come up here, use the microphone, because we are recording these for future posterity. Does anybody have any questions for Steve?

Audience: What have you been doing since Squint, and when are we going to get the next album?

Taylor: [laughs] Okay. By the way, Dave, I'm really sorry about that interview I missed in 1987. I don't know how that happened; it just fell through the cracks.

Squint dissolved, or at least my involvement dissolved, in September of 2001. It's a long story. I want to keep everybody awake and I haven't actually talked about it before on the record, so I guess this would probably be on the record. So I'll be as gracious as I possibly can.

When I started Squint in 1997, I met with a few different funding sources. You may not be aware, but I'm not actually all that loaded with money. I was going to need funding to get something going, and I talked with people like Charlie Peacock and Toby McKeehan who had started sort of artist-driven labels, and both of the just counseled, just make sure you've got a lot of money. Because particularly with Charlie's situation, he was having success right out of the gate with his first artist that he signed, and was not able to chase that success when he started getting some radio play on Sarah [Masen] and it was a very frustrating experience.

I met with some different funding sources and the one that I clicked with most was a guy named Roland Lundy at Word Records. We sat, and I said, listen: I don't need to own this, I just have to total autonomy and I need a lot of money because we're going to be working with one group in particular and I've great expectations for this group Sixpence [None the Richer]. It's just going to take a lot of money to launch it. They've had bad experiences before with their indie record labels so I don't want to be putting them in the same position. He said, "Good," we shook hands on it, he was a man of his word and he did exactly that through the entire time that I was working with him. He gave us all the money we needed, he gave me complete autonomy to run things, and things went really well.

Then in the fall of 2000, Roland was pushed out of his position at Word. I guess the best way to put this would be in Biblical language: the new pharaoh knew not Steve. [audience laughs] He was a country music guy. I wouldn't say I was acting at all cocky or anything, but it never occurred to me that with the worldwide success we'd had, in many ways sort of unprecedented because it was a complete indie label; we even had an independent distributor in mainstream through ADA. We'd accomplished something that nobody was able to do anymore in having a worldwide hit as a total indie label based out of Nashville with independent distribution.

We had a really good batting average with the other groups that we had put out and this guy, originally, was very complimentary, and said how interested he was to sit down with me and talk with me about the future. So when we had our meeting, he started asking me questions about Squint. The first thing was, "I don't really get this Sixpence thing."

I said, "What is there to not get?"

"I just don't know that that is a group that is going to be around that long, is going to be that relevant." (I can't remember his exact words.)

I said, "Well, with all due respect, I don't see that as really your concern. I think they are going to be fine and they are a great group, they write great songs, and I have great confidence in them."

Then he said, "Well, what about this band Chevelle?"

I said, "Well, we put a lot of money behind them and a lot of promotion and done videos and they are just getting started, but I really feel like that's going to be a great group, it's a great band; three brothers. It's a really unique rock band and I really think that this is going to be a very successful group as well."

And he said, "And this hiphop group you've got, L.A. Symphony."

I said, "We're just getting started with that, but I feel like that's going to be our next big breakthrough. It's one of the best hiphop groups I've ever heard, and I just feel really privileged to even be able to work with them."

He said, "You are in a lot of different genres of music. In country music, we have one genre, country, and we have one set of radio stations, and we all just are aimed at that one group of radio stations."

Of course inside, I'm thinking, "Yeah, that's why country music, like, sucks completely." [audience laughs] I didn't put it in those particular words--I was just thinking that, it was like a thought bubble, and he couldn't see my thought bubbles, I'm sure.

He said, "Well, you've got all these different genres going."

I said, "Well, you know, in popular music, that would actually be considered a positive, that if you look at the labels we compete against, whether it's Electra or Reprise, they've got music in all different genres.

He said, "I'd like to hear this L.A. Symphony--these demos."

Then I got really quiet. I said, "Maybe you are not aware that the deal I have is that I have complete autonomy to run things. If you are a big hiphop fan, and you just would like to listen to L.A. Symphony demos because you want to groove with them in the car, that is fine. But if you want to listen to L.A. Symphony demos so you can give me advice on which songs you like, and which songs you don't like," I said, you know, "I can tell you right now, that's not going to work. I would not be interested in that kind of a situation."

To his credit, he didn't call security, but we pretty much left the meeting on those terms and literally the next day, I was told that they were going to sell Squint.

This took me by great surprise. To this day, I don't have any animosity against this gentleman. I think he was just acting out of what he thought was his responsibility and his role. He's a very, very successful country music executive, and I think a genuinely good guy. We just honestly had a difference of opinion. He felt like he had this new job, and he needed to be in charge.

So when I found out they were going to sell, I went through their lawyers at Word and Gaylord at the time and I said I would like the opportunity to buy Squint back--this label that I started. Unfortunately, there was another guy there who was the head of business affairs. He and I had not gotten on for a number of years. Those of you who know me know I'm a very nice guy, and very easy to get along with. This one gentleman in particular, we'd had a really be row a few years back. It was actually about--he had been hired by Word as an outside attorney and was supposedly representing Word and Squint and other acts and so this was the first time I'd worked with him in this situation.

He had done something when we were negotiating Chevelle's contract without telling me that was bad for the band. I was really, really angry about it. I actually got him on the phone, and got Chevelle's lawyer on the phone, and sort of said, "What's going on?"

He said "Well, I did this."

I said, while their [Chevelle's] lawyer was on the phone, "you don't do those things on your own. You work for me."

He said, "Steve, we'll talk about it later."

I said, "No, I want to talk about it now!" (I was really worked up.)

He said, "Steve, we'll talk about it later."

I said, "No, I want to talk about it now. What are you doing, trying to change our contracts around? I make these decisions, you don't make them!"

So we ended up in a very, very tense situation from then on, and it was this guy who was now in charge of selling Squint.

Things were not sort of stacking up in my favor. He refused to even give me an asking price for the label, which now, of course, was worth a lot of money. So I was really put in a tough position. I couldn't go out and raise money because I didn't know what the asking price was. And unfortunately, I haven't spent enough time hanging out with wealthy people, either, so I didn't have a lot of people I could call. Things got kind of right to the end, and I made a call to the people at Big Idea.

I have a lot of friends up there, and Phil Vischer and some different people we met and hung out and really like each other. They very graciously said, Steve, we don't want to see this happen. We believe in what you are doing so we will come up with the money and we'll partner with you to buy Squint back. They were probably the only people I could have gone to because they also had their distribution through Word, if you are following all this, so they had such a huge part of Word's business that this guy in business affairs couldn't afford to blow them off. They had to actually take them [Big Idea] seriously.

So that kept us going for the next nine months. We worked out our deal with Big Idea and we worked out a deal with what was the Gaylord corporation at the time to buy Squint back, and everything was going fine. It took three or four months to get it all worked out and it came right to the signing phase of it, and that signing kept getting postponed. At first, it was looking like Word was dragging their feet, and then, it became more and more apparent that Big Idea was actually in financial difficulty as well. As successful as they've been, and as great a work as they have done, they'd actually gotten to where they were sort of, I guess, over their head financially and hired too many people, and they were just having trouble keeping their cash flow going, or staying liquid, or something like that.

Word said, you've got to sign this, or we're going to sell it to someone else. Big Idea and I came back and said, we'll keep funding it ourselves, and in the meantime, Big Idea was assuring me that they would be able to come up with the money, it was just a matter of a few months. That situation carried on through the first half of 2001. Big Idea, and I have to say, they did this, I think, first of all, out of the goodness and generosity of their heart and they really believed in what Squint was about, and I have nothing but respect for all of them, but they actually were in such a financial hole, they were never able to get out of it. They were never able to come up with the money--the asking price.

So during these six months, I'm paying money out of my rapidly depleting bank account to keep L.A. Symphony on promo tours and take care of other promotional costs with Sixpence, who was actually recording another album. It was getting really hairy and Big Idea was probably matching every dollar I put in 2 to 1, so the more they got in, the more I was sure they would actually close because they wouldn't want to lose all that money. And just like so many other things in the last nine months, I was wrong on that, too, and they had to pull out right at the last minute.

And that, for all intents, closed down Squint as far as a label that I founded. I tried to bargain to at least keep the name, and that was just one other argument that I lost. My first day--it seems maudlin, maybe I shouldn't even mention it--but my first day out of the office was September 11th [2001]. And so at that point, it was sort of like, my little problems are actually quite small compared to something as catastrophic as that. And that was it.

MacIntosh: Let's jump ahead to this summer. You just played Creation Festival, you are playing at the Birthday Bash tonight. Who's your backup band and is this any indication of things to come?

Taylor: I haven't actually performed live, outside of last week at Creation, since the last concert on U.S. soil was Cornerstone seven years ago. I didn't actually have any intent on touring again, at least not in any kind of near future, but John Herrin at Cornerstone called up maybe six months ago, and we usually call every year just to say any chance of coming back? And that was saying, no, no, no I'm not really doing concerts. And he called this year and said, "Come on, it's our 20th anniversary. We're going to have a big birthday bash. You can close it out, and put together a shorter set. It'll be really fun." And it did sound like fun. So I called up the band members on the last tour and they could all do it, so I called back and said yes, I'll look forward to it.

And then, actually, like a week or two later, the Creation Festival called and they said, "Is there any chance of you coming and doing a concert this year?" and I said no, I'm not doing concerts. They said, "Well, we heard you are doing Cornerstone." [audience laughs] I said you've got to understand. It's sort of a special relationship, they've been a big support through the years. They said, "We feel like we've been a really big support through the years as well." And that was true.

And I said, it's their 20th anniversary. It's like a special event. And they said, "It's their twenty-fifth anniversary." So, how could I turn that down? So I'm just doing anniversaries now. It's just these two concerts. I don't have any plans to do any other touring.

MacIntosh: Who is playing with you tonight?

Taylor: Tonight, Mike Mead and Wade Jaynes from Chagall Guevera are on drums and bass respectively, and then Mark Townsend, who had done a lot of touring with me and played, I think, since then with Jennifer Knapp and DC Talk--and I must say has become an incredible producer in his own right having produced the last three Relient K albums--is playing guitar. Jerry McPhearson is playing guitar. He is an incredible player from Nashville and did most of the guitars on the Squint album, my last studio record.

MacIntosh: What is the current status of the film called St. Gimp?

Taylor: Yes! I'm glad you brought that up. This is another great embarrassment. There's just a whole series of them.

When Squint was started, film was a component of it, at least on paper. In fact, Roland Lundy, the guy I told you about at the beginning, the good guy, also committed Word to I think $850,000--no small sum of money--to do an independent feature. The pitch was just half a page. Don't ask me to repeat it, I don't know how close the story is now. Like I said, we really wanted to be about music and film.

Many of you know that's always been an interest. I studied film in college and have directed a lot of music videos, some documentaries, and one long-form sort of comedy-drama, just to have the experience of doing something with dialogue. That was with the Newsboys a while back. I had always intended on getting into film at some point, and this seemed like a good point.

They committed the money to a film called St. Gimp, which was going to be a live action drama sprinkled in with three or four stop-motion animated sequences. We had on staff a guy, Jonathan Richter, who ended up doing two music videos for us at Squint. One was the Insyderz, which was a really cool video, if you saw that, and the other one was this Chevelle video on "Mia," which is still one of the coolest videos I've ever seen. Both of those were stop motion animation.

MacIntosh: Didn't he also do the video for "Cash Cow?"

Taylor: That's right. I first met him--he was in school, I think. He sent me a tape of some animation he'd done, just really short cell animation. I wrote him back and said, "Man I really like what you are doing." So he sent me another thing six months later that was even cooler than that. That was actually stop motion animation. Where you've got little clay figures, or figures of Plasticine and you move them a little bit and then you take a frame, and a little bit more and take a frame, like Wallace and Grommet or Chicken Run or that kind of thing, [or] Gumby.

I said, "Listen, I'm getting ready to do this long form video for the Squint album and there's a song in there called 'Cash Cow.' Would you be interested in doing something for that?" I sent him the track and he sent me back this "Cash Cow" video, which was really quite impressive, if you've ever seen it. After that, I wanted to work with him on a more structured basis so we hired him on at Squint.

He went to work on St. Gimp. We had the basic story outline done, we had these animated sequences laid out and we storyboarded them. He went to work on the animation and ended up--someday we may show this to prove there actually really is a project named St. Gimp--about a minute and a half of tests for St. Gimp that were animated. The technique of them is really extraordinary and in many ways was groundbreaking. If you know the technique of stop-motion, you know how difficult it is. That's one of the reasons why we very seldom see more than one or two characters at the most in the same frame. You have to move each character just a little bit and take a frame of another character.

I'll describe it just a little bit. There's a baby in a nest. Up on a long tree trunk and on top of this is a nest and there is a human, animated baby inside. (Is that an oxymoron, "human animated?") It starts raining. You've never seen rain like this. He actually would animate each drop of rain hitting with a little Plasticine drop and then he'd replace it on the next frame with another Plasticine drop going a little wider and then a third one going a little wider and that's happening all over in this nest. It's just extraordinary.

While he was at work doing this, my writing partner Ben Pearson and I--you've seen Ben's work, he's done a lot of photography for me and did all the cinematography for me on the Squint project where we went all around the world--he and I are working on the script. We come up with what we think is a pretty good draft of the script for St. Gimp.

Of course, at the same time, I'm trying to run the record label, which is becoming more and more time consuming. As it gets more and more successful, it gets more and more time consuming. In the beginning, I was hanging out with the band in the studio talking about songs, doing stuff that was fun. A year-and-a-half later, I'm on the phone to Turkey trying figure out a licensing arrangement, stuff like that. It was really getting nuts.

We finish a draft. I get seven or eight actors around our dining room table at home, we just give them each a copy of the draft and we set our tape recorder, I don't say anything, I just listen to the script being read, kind of hear how it's all sounding. It started really well, the first twenty pages going along, chugging along really great. Ended well, last ten pages, very good. That middle fifty or sixty pages were just all convoluted, over-plotted, going into corners, and just wasn't working. So we said "thank you very much" and we went back to the drawing board to try and get the script right. Because if you don't get the script right, you don't have any chance of making a good movie.

In the mean time, all the problems started happening with Squint so the project started getting sort of--the pages started to yellow and Jonathan holds off until doing any more animation until we get this right and then, of course, in the dissolution of Squint, that was one of the things, that's another really long story, but that was one of the things that got lost in the fire.

MacIntosh: We've got about another five minutes or so before Steve has to leave for a sound check. Did you have a question?

Audience: Do you ever plan on writing a book, or re-issuing any of your albums?

Taylor: Man, it takes a lot of courage to take the long walk all the way over to there and actually ask a question; I appreciate that.

I don't have any plans on writing a book, at least not until I get much wiser.

As far as re-issuing albums, it bugs me a little bit when they go out of print. You know, the record industry, as you know, is in great turmoil right now. We really tried to address some of the fundamental issues with Squint in setting it up to be much more artist friendly. One of the things that I was preaching all the time, to anybody who would listen, is that the record industry is so corrupt and is founded on so many wrong foundations. And those get piled up on top of bad foundations to where it's just a very corrupt industry. It's almost like the tax code. It builds year after year to certain places that what does this mean anymore? Why can't you just toss it all and start again from scratch because it doesn't mean anything anymore? That's how I felt with the record industry.

One of the problems with the record industry is, in my situation, I've had albums on three different labels. I have no control over what happens to those albums or how and if they get re-packaged or released. I've made attempts to try to license them back from labels to try to put them out myself have been met with stone faces. So I have no idea if they'll be re-issued or re-packaged. Personally, if you want to get them off the Internet, I have no problem with that, go ahead. They are not available, have at it.

Troy Davis: Mr. Taylor, Troy Davis from the very important website "Sock Heaven".

Taylor: Troy! Of course!

Davis: Mr. Taylor, it's been twelve years since Chagall Guevera's debut. It's been twelve years. Do you think it's time for a sophomore record, maybe? I won't put you on the spot with that, but you've mentioned before, you try to keep your solo work and Chagall Guevera's work two separate entities, solo and group. You mentioned that you've kicked around the idea with the guys of getting back together for another one.

Taylor: Did I say that!?

Davis: Yeah.

Taylor: That's funny. I don't remember that.

Davis: With time, does it get more likely, or is it getting less likely?

Taylor: Right. Well, everybody's still alive, so that's good, and we all still like each other, so that's good.

The experience of being in a band was really rewarding. It's interesting that when I listen to that album, even recently to try to decide if there was a song to do in the set, invariably, the things that I like most about it are everybody else's contribution to a song, to the sound, or whatever. There was not a lot of unreleased stuff. There were probably five or six songs that we recorded as we were. We were trying to make demos on a new record at the same time we were trying to get out of our deal with MCA because we didn't see any future there. During that process, we were recording new songs. There are some songs that have never been released. There was a live album that we recorded at a club in Nashville that I think sounds really good, but we've never actually mixed it.

We kicked around the idea of putting something together and putting that out, because it was a really good live band. The problem was that that show that was recorded we also videoed and we've been on the hunt. It was a guy that had done it as a favor, and somewhere, probably in Nashville, Tennessee, in some vault, are three beta tapes of that performance, and we can't find them anywhere. If we ever could find that, we might put out a live DVD, but until that case, I'm not sure.

Audience: Any hope for a new album?

Taylor: I'm sort of in a similar position. I've recorded different demos at different junctures. A lot of the songs were written for this project, St. Gimp. That's still on the burner, it's just on the back burner.

Those of you who are wondering what I've been doing for the last two years: I've been working almost exclusively, especially for the last nine months, on film projects. One of them sounds suspiciously like something you've heard before, but I really think this one is going to happen. We're supposed to start shooting in January.

It's a decent budget--$2.1 million dollars. The trick about movies, of course, is it takes so much money to make them. You can't go into your own studio and record something for $15,000, or something like that. You have to find people with money, and I'm not very good at that, as you know. But I think this one is going to happen.

You'll hear all about the project when it's announced, but that's supposed to be shot in January. Even these two concerts were a little bit awkward because movie people are used to hearing ideas from music people, but they just look at it as a hobby. I think they are inherently suspicious of music people wanting to get into movies. I've had to go out of my way to make sure that everybody knows I'm not doing music anymore, that this film pursuit is real, that that's what I'm doing with all my time.

I've managed to burn most music bridges behind me and I'm sure I'll be going back to those people and saying, "listen it was just a joke, I made a terrible mistake." So I've put everything on making this film happen. If it's any good, maybe I'll get to do another one, and it it's not, it'll be my fault because there is certainly enough money to make something decent. So that's my plans for the near future.

MacIntosh: Okay, Steve has to be at a sound check for the Birthday Bash in fifteen minutes, so right at this moment, he's not going to be available to do liners or autographs or stuff like that. I believe he'll be available to stuff like that after the main show tonight.

Taylor: Oh, yeah! You know what? I do want to say one other thing. We'll have these available afterwards, too. A number of us in Nashville have been involved in Bono's organization, DATA, which is an acronym for "Debt relief, AIDS relief, and Trade for Africa." Of course you've heard all about this, and are very aware of what's going on. Bono made the decision last year to tape a short, three-minute PSA. I ended up being the guy on this end that got their PAL, or whatever it is, English-version DV-cam that he had taped, put it together and got it transferred so it could it be shown at festivals. I think Toby [Mac] showed that PSA last year from the stage, if I'm not mistaken.

He's taped another one this year, and actually mentions Cornerstone from the stage tonight and wishes everybody a happy twentieth anniversary. The amount that has been done with DATA is really extraordinary. The knowledge that he has of the situation is sort of a model for those of us who are artists. If you want to engage a problem in the world, do it like he's done it because he really knows his stuff. He's worked and given a lot of his own time and resources to meet with government officials and has been so much of the reason why President Bush addressed his AIDS initiative at a State of the Union address last January.

That has since been passed by Congress, and it seems like every time something good happens, there is something comes along to potentially hold it up. I believe this week President Bush is traveling to Africa and the AIDS initiative is in the appropriation stage at Congress. It needs people to call their congressmen, senators, and representatives and say, "we support President Bush's AIDS initiative. We want to see the whole thing funded. Please do your duty as a congressman and make sure this thing goes through."

Bono is going to be talking about that on a taped announcement tonight. There are going to be pledge sheets available, and we'll have them at our table as well, and if you all would get the word out through all your sources. There is obviously a great Biblical rationale as Christians why this is important to us. The people at DATA, and actually, people in Washington, have specifically pointed to the way the Christian community has taken this on as their cause in the last year. It's been a really extraordinary thing how the Christian community and the evangelical church has really turned around and made this their cause.

One of the reasons this thing has gone through in Congress is they are hearing from people they don't normally hear from. They are hearing from Christians--soccer moms that go to church. And when they are hearing from young people who are Christians who are saying that this is important to us, they have actually sat up and taken notice. DATA has done a lot of crediting to the Christian community, and the Christian music community, too, because a lot of artists have been really involved in this, in saying that they feel that this has made a difference.

So we need that same group of Christians to make that last round of calls and make sure this gets pushed through. And of course, making sure we all keep Africa on our agenda as it is a looming catastrophe. It can be stopped if we do what Jesus calls us to do.

So that's it. Thanks.

MacIntosh: Thank you for your time.