Posts Tagged ‘Hiss Golden Messenger’

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Hiss Golden Messenger has released a new track from their upcoming album Terms of Surrender”, which comes out September 20th. The hypnotic and moody “Cat’s Eye Blue” finds lead singer/songwriter M.C. Taylor taking emotional inventory and gaining a new perspective focusing on what is fundamentally most important.

Taylor says of the track, “‘Cat’s Eye Blue’ is a song about anxiety. And about fathers. How to express ourselves in real terms. How to cut the poison out to avoid further harm. ‘Is this wicked word too bad to be spoken? You let the heart attack in. One taste and it’s broken.’ I sing about fathersmy own, specificallybecause I almost lost mine during the writing of this record. He’s still hereI hear him outside playing with my kids right nowbut I’ve been thinking about him a lot this past year.”

“Cat’s Eye Blue” follows the June release of “I Need a Teacher”, the first single off of Terms of Surrender. The inspiring video for the song was filmed during the statewide North Carolina Association of Educators’ Day of Action demonstration. The reaction and support since the release of the song and clip has been exceptional.

“Cat’s Eye Blue” from the new record Terms of Surrender, out September 20th on Merge Records.

Hiss Golden Messenger

M.C. Taylor has been singing about his kids since before they were even born. Before his eldest child, Elijah, arrived in 2009, Taylor — who for the past 10 years or so has made records with a revolving cast of musicians under the moniker Hiss Golden Messenger — wrote a sweet back-porch hymn called “I’ve Got a Name for the Newborn Child.”

But on his new album, Terms of Surrender, the tenor of Taylor’s relationship to his children feels different: more high-stakes, almost desperate at times. In several songs, he carries on imagined conversations with his son and daughter. Sometimes, they give him a pep talk (“Daddy, take down your sorrow”); more often, he’s apologizing to them for his shortcomings. “When you think of me,” he pleads to his daughter, Ione, in “Happy Birthday Baby,” a crushing song he wrote for her fifth birthday, “think of me better than I think of myself.”

When asked about this stark lyrical shift, Taylor pauses, then confronts the question head-on.

“I had this feeling that I could not shake that maybe I’m not going to be around for much longer, that maybe something’s going to happen to me,” Taylor says. “These tunes are, in part, imagined conversations that I am having with the people that are close to me, as something to leave behind, almost a last-testament type thing. I’m still here. I’m feeling good. Things are great. I love my family. They love me. But, you know, if I die somewhere out there on the road, what do I want my last sung words to be? That was definitely something that was on my mind.”

Since 2008, when Taylor self-released a collection of off-kilter folk tunes called Country Hai East Cottonthe Durham, North Carolina–based Hiss Golden Messenger has evolved into one of the most vital roots-music projects of the past decade — part solitary singer-songwriter outlet, part communal roots-rock collective. Taylor’s music turns the most banal of musician woes — the tribulations of life on the road, spending extended periods of time away from family— into gorgeous meditations on love and lack. Perhaps not coincidentally, Hiss Golden Messenger have became a favorite among fellow musicians, adored by everyone from Mumford and Sons and the Hold Steady to Jenny Lewis and the National’s Aaron Dessner, the latter two of whom appear on Taylor’s new record.

Taylor has grown his following, in part, by churning out an unusually large quantity of music, releasing nearly an album per year during the past decade. As Phil Cook, who’s become Taylor’s right-hand multi-instrumentalist (Cook’s words: “a sous chef in the kitchen of Mike Taylor”), puts it: “Mike has got a prolific bone to pick with the universe.”

But after several years of incessant gigging, recording, and writing, Taylor’s life ground to a halt in 2018. His father had a heart attack. He went through a “pretty huge interpersonal drama” with a close friend (chronicled, in part, on his new song “Katy (You Don’t Have to Be Good Yet”)). The meds Taylor had been taking for his depression, which had gotten worse in recent years, were simply not working. And he continued to struggle with what he calls the “spiritually complicated” parts of being a touring musician, the parts that involve spending a healthy chunk of the year away from his wife and children.

Terms of Surrender, Hiss Golden Messenger’s latest collection, documents — in sometimes frighteningly honest specifics — the crushing lows and precious saving graces of this turbulent time. Typically, after Taylor writes an album, he goes back and tweaks his lyrics “ever so slightly, to make it something that I’m going to be able to sing every night.” Terms of Surrender did not go through such a process.

“Mama, I’m standing on the ledge-i-o,” he mumbles, as if to obscure what he’s saying, on “Down at the Uptown.” “Run, jump or fly? I think I caught a bad one.”

Taylor has made several personal strides since the period chronicled on Terms of Surrender. During the making of Terms of Surrender, he started seeing a therapist for the first sustained period of time in his life, and it’s helped him “understand that it’s OK to have these feelings of anxiety, and that there are ways to let them pass through you and not destroy you.”

“I’m not putting this record out under any sort of duress,” he continues. “Making this record was an absolute ball; I was trying to get my meds right, and nobody really knew that, so I’d be going into the bathroom and having all these weird side effects and would be trying to shake it off and splash water on my face, and then go back out into the tracking room. It was amazing and terrifying, but great. The biggest danger that we have in our lives is forgetting how hard or complicated something was. For me, to have this reminder offers a path towards not going through that in quite the same way again.”

Taylor has a nervous, reflexive laugh that tends to surface right after he says something particularly intense, as when, discussing his father’s recent heart attack, he says, “Emotional heart trouble is big in my life, but shit, so is physical heart trouble.”

Emotional heart trouble is a helpful way of thinking about Hiss Golden Messenger as a whole. The central tension in Taylor’s music is the gulf between two distinct emotional zones: one, a brooding world of midlife angst and parental anguish; the other, a peaceful refuge of familial bliss and vivid Southern landscapes. In his best songs — 2012’s “Balthazar’s Song,” 2016’s “Heart Like a Levee,” 2019’s “I Need a Teacher” — these two spheres collide, each one informing the other.

“Sometimes I’m writing about things as they are in my life, and sometimes the songs are aspirational, where I’m trying to imagine a world in which things exist the way I posit them in the songs,” Taylor says.

The central challenge of Hiss Golden Messenger, then, has been how to hold room for both breezy major-key folk and dark, rhythmically stormy country-blues. Figuring out how to do that, Taylor says, was the foundational discovery that helped define the group and differentiate it from the previous musical lives he’s lived — with the hardcore band Ex-Ignota and alt-country outfit the Court and Spark — in his teens and twenties.

“I had found all these ways to create harmonic suspensions in the chords through different tunings to conjure that bittersweetness, the happy-and-sad-at-the-same-time thing,” he says. “I really had to search to figure out how to make those feelings appear in the chords, how to not commit to a major or minor chord so that it’s very hard for people to understand what they’re supposed to feel.”

The upshot is that, though Taylor works within well-established musical traditions, Hiss Golden Messenger — Taylor has said that the odd moniker holds no special significance — don’t sound quite like any of the scores of similarly minded Americana-based bands that have proliferated during the past half-decade. A few years ago, Taylor was playing with Heartbreakers keyboardist Benmont Tench, who, upon trying to learn the Hiss Golden Messenger song “Drum,” remarked, “Man, this song is crooked.” This delighted Taylor.

“There are a lot of parts of my music that are rhythmically a little bit crooked,” he says. “There’s a lot of crooked old-time songs, and maybe I sort of picked that up by osmosis.”

Taylor, who has a graduate degree in American folklore, goes on to say that he envisions his music as “country-soul, but I’m thinking of country-soul as an existential quest, a quest to understand and position the vast musical traditions of the South as a living and contemporary language that gave birth to everything good in American music.”

Perhaps because of how eloquently he’s able to articulate his musical project, Taylor is sometimes paralyzed by the idea that people regard him as someone who has capital-A “answers.”

“I get the sense sometimes that people might think I know something more than I do, which I really don’t,” he says. “I’m not a churchgoer. I wasn’t raised a believer. I just feel like love is a powerful, animating force in the world, and I’m trying to say that in the most non-hippie way that I can. I feel like, when people are talking about God, they’re talking about the animating force of love. That’s the way I understand it, that sort of holiness. For me, that makes belief and hope easier, because it’s something we’re not necessarily asked to take on faith. I can create love in my own house, and I can show my kids how to create it as well.”

Taylor laughs, perhaps realizing that, in answering a question about his fear of people feeling like he knows some greater truth, he has, inadvertently, spelled one out. “I’m sorry,” he says.

Phil Cook thinks of it this way: “The world is full of love songs, pretty cheap love songs, and I think Mike’s songs are about something that is much more difficult to pin down,” he says. “Not things people can sit down and say, ‘Here’s what it’s all about.’ I think Mike just searching, he’s got a lot of questions, and he’s not shy about saying: ‘I don’t know the fucking answer to any of this shit.’”

In February 2018, Taylor headed to a cabin in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia to begin writing songs for what would eventually become Terms of Surrender. Before he started to write, he took a small dose of mushrooms, “just enough to feel them,” and went outside.

“It was dusk and it was really cold and still,” Taylor says. “I could just hear the wind and the evening birds, and there was not another soul around. But then, out of the corner of my ear, I heard the faint sound of voices, kids laughing and playing. I thought I was tripping. I mean, I was tripping, but I thought that maybe I was tripping even harder. But then I realized that the property I was on was abutting this other piece of property that I couldn’t see. There must have been a family out doing their thing. For that minute or two, when I was just standing on this hillside in Virginia, completely alone and hearing these voices, and laughter, it was really beautiful, actually.”

The scene Taylor describes feels uncannily like something straight out of a Hiss Golden Messenger song. And then, almost as if prompted, he goes on:

“It was like being in this liminal space, not really knowing where I was or what I was experiencing, and it was really nice. It wasn’t terrifying, actually; it was comforting, in a way. It was a very particular feeling, and it really stuck with me. It was almost hopeful, we’ll say.”

Hiss Golden Messenger

Critically acclaimed indie band Hiss Golden Messenger just announced their anticipated new album Terms of Surrender, with a newly released single “I Need A Teacher.” The project led by gifted songwriter and storyteller M.C. Taylor, seamlessly fuses indie, gospel, and Americana sounds, and his catalogue has grown into a deep well of thoughtful, good-time folk to pull from.

“I Need A Teacher” continues this trend, with sharp lyricism, infectious melodies and harmonies, and a driving guitar line that steers the song along. According to a press release, ‘the video was shot during the statewide North Carolina Association of Educators’ Day of Action demonstration and features a glance into the eyes and faces of real teachers, children, and families that illustrate the humanity and what is at stake for our future.’

The new album features guest appearances by Jenny Lewis, Josh Kaufman and Aaron Dessner of The National, and was recorded at Dessner’s famed Long Pond studio in upstate New York.

Terms of Surrender will be released on Merge Records, September 20th,

Hey, everybody. There are two new Hiss Golden Messenger songs out today: “Everybody Needs Somebody” and “Watching the Wires.”

2018 was a hard year–for myself and, as it turns out, most people that I know–and I was thinking a lot at that time about how to cope with what felt like an unnameable existential crisis: Run for the hills, or hug the nearest stranger? As it turns, I’ve been doing a bit of both. Singing these songs has been helpful to me.

I hope you’ll take a few minutes to listen to them. Maybe they’ll speak to you.


The single, “Watching the Wires” is out now on Merge Records.

Much of Scott Hirsch’s musical attention over the past decade has been dedicated to the folk-rock ensemble Hiss Golden Messenger. He’s performed on, engineered, and produced several of the band’s records. As a solo artist, Hirsch brings some of the headier sensibilities of the earliest half of the Hiss Golden Messenger catalog into full bloom. His second standalone effort, Lost Time Behind the Moon, offers a fresh batch of songs that kick back to classic country, tempered with a satisfying dose of psychedelia.

The album’s anxious opening salvos—wriggling, warped guitar and a sparse drum-machine beat, followed by a warm blast of old-soul horns—offer immediate insights into its unwieldy style. Hirsch develops these jittery arrangements as extensions of the album’s overarching themes of love, comfort-seeking, and (as suggested by the title) the passage of time. “Nothing But Time,” for example, finds Hirsch ruminating on the past with familiar remember-when fondness, without becoming too beholden to the good or the bad: “She’s in my head too much now / Not too much in my dreams / And all these tales we’ve spun / They fell apart at the seams.”


The relaxed pace that Hirsch maintains across Lost Time Behind the Moon is a steadying force; Hirsch seems to approach his troubles with clear-headed thoughtfulness rather than scattered panic. Waves of pedal steel and pools of reverberating guitar lend a complementary sense of fluidity to the entire record, abetted by Hirsch’s cosmic lyricism on the lithe instrumental numbers “A Pair of Nines” and “Pink Moment.” By most accounts, reckoning with all the years we’ve lost, wasted—or even just passed without incident—is like fingering some existential hair-trigger. Hirsch’s record, by contrast, provides a comforting reminder of the inverse argument: it’s simply a matter of time.

Mike Coykendall: Drums, Harmonica and additional recording, Orpheo McCord: Drums, Mikael Jorgensen: Keys, William Tyler: Elec Guitar Karl Hunter: Saxophone, Jesse Siebenberg: Pedal Steel, Jimmy Calire: Organ, Lauren Barth: Vocals, Jade Hendrix: Vocals, Yair Evnine: Cello

This limited-edition deluxe Hiss Golden Messenger 4-LP box set includes remastered reissues of Bad Debt, Poor Moon, and Haw plus Virgo Fool, a bonus album of Hiss rarities available physically only with this collection.

Individually numbered in a one-time pressing of 2,200, the four-album set is housed in a beautiful cloth-wrapped slipcase with three-color foil detailing and includes an exclusive foldout poster. Each LP is pressed on black vinyl (with full download) and includes a two-sided insert with liner notes and full lyrics, all housed in a heavyweight jacket with a debossed cover.


Released on November 2nd, Hiss Golden Messenger will release Devotion: Songs About Rivers and Spirits and Children, a limited-edition deluxe box set which includes remastered reissues of the classic Hiss albums Bad Debt, Poor Moon, and Haw as well as Virgo Fool, a rarities compilation that will only be available physically as part of this collection. Both the 4-CD and 4-LP sets are housed in a cloth-wrapped, foil-stamped slipcase and feature original iconographic artwork by Sam Smith, an exclusive foldout poster, full lyrics, and new liner notes by New Yorker writer Amanda Petrusich and MOJO editor John Mulvey. The vinyl set also includes a digital download of all tracks.

The 4-LP / 4-CD box set Devotion, Songs About Rivers and Spirits and Children is out November 2nd, 2018 on Merge Records.

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“Standing in the Doorway” was written and recorded during the making of Heart Like a Levee. I think I was trying to understand if and whether luck was related to my life at the time. I always liked this tune, but it didn’t seem to fit the emotional arc of that album for some reason. It also seemed like it could survive on its own, away from other songs that might give it context. Since Heart Like a Levee came out, a lot has changed in the world, of course. I’m currently writing this from the studio where we’re working on our next record and trying to live in this world with some kind of light.  —M.C. Taylor


This song was recorded with the Spacebomb family—a collection of musicians with deep kinship and connection to Hiss Golden Messenger—in Richmond, Virginia, on February 7th, 2018. They love their families and friends in the same ways that I do mine. I was proud and honored to work with them on this song.

All proceeds from “Passing Clouds” and “Passing Clouds Dub” will benefit Everytown, a movement of Americans working together to end gun violence and build safer communities. I urge you to perform your own small actions of peace whenever and wherever you can. We can make the world we want to live in. 


No spiritual surrender. —M.C. Taylor, Durham, NC

Released March 21, 2018

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Blind Boys of Alabama + Hiss Golden Messenger “When the Wall Comes Down” Luck Reunion Presents in Association with Titos Handmade Vodka, Lagunitas Brewing Company, and Stolen Whiskey

Present: The Luck Mansion Sessions 2017 at the Texas Consulate. In Sept 2017 Luck Reunion took over the Texas Consulate mansion in East Nashville creating an analogue studio space with the goal of inspiring collaboration. Artists were invited to perform live and record 2 songs as part of a series called the “luck mansion sessions”. We provided a house mixologist named “Floyd’, unlimited tape, and a production team to support. this is what happened…

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MC Taylor, the brains and imagination behind Hiss Golden Messenger, has been slowly simmering his particular blend of folk and more mainstream musical styles just below the national radar for years. With this year’s Hallelujah Anyhow, he delivered a collection of songs that sheds light in dark places, encouraging the listener to be grateful for even the hard times. With his warm, comfy vocals, deeply insightful songcraft, and the deft contributions of the exquisitely talented brother team of Brad and Phil Cook — plus some backup from famous friends Tift Merritt and John Paul White — Hiss Golden Messenger unlocked a new level of artistic achievement.

Hiss Golden Messenger perform “Gulfport You’ve Been On My Mind” from their 2017 album, “Hallelujah Anyhow,” live in The Current studio.