Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Interview with Craig by Splice Today online mag

Raymond Cummings interviews lushfarm singer/guitarist Craig Taylor.

SPLICE TODAY: Your debut album was titled Dead at 30; that's a pretty arresting name. What inspired you to call it that?

CRAIG TAYLOR: It's actually tied to the song “2012,” which is about a popular end-of-the-world mythology. As it happens, I will be 30 years old on December 21, 2012, so if the world does in fact end, and I die, I will be dead at 30.

Another interesting tidbit about the title is that I saw Gonzo, a documentary about Hunter S. Thompson, and somewhere in the film someone says, "We all knew he'd be dead at 30 anyway." I thought that was pretty cool. I wouldn't say he's been a huge influence on my music—the movie came out after the album did—but his work/lifestyle definitely inspired me to do... other things.

ST: In your opinion, how likely is it that the world will really end next year?

CT: I think that the world ending on the exact date is pretty unlikely. I just think it's a cool idea to make History Channel shows and rock-album names out of. I wouldn't be surprised if the world ended tomorrow or 100 years from now. The universe will go on with us or without us.

ST: Tell me the Lushfarm story. Who's in the band, and how did you come together?

CT: I met the drummer, Greg Binney, when we were working at Don Pablo's together. It took us a while to figure out that we both played music, and a little longer to actually get together. The first time we played together was inside Don Pablo's after hours, which was pretty cool. Our first project was a hip-hop thing with guitar and drums, but the vocalist had some trouble and that didn't work out, so we started playing the songs that I wrote in college.

We got a bass player and recorded a live CD in my basement, and played a few shows. After a while the bass player left the band, and a few months later we recruited our Kresimir Tokic, our current bass player. At one show our old bass player's brother, Steve Fisher, ran sound for us and we asked him to play keys for us. He joined and we recorded Dead at 30 shortly thereafter, comprised mainly of those songs I wrote in college.

After about two years of playing shows, Steve decided to leave the band to focus on his initial project, The Petticoat Tearoom. A few months later, we recruited my workmate Andrew Wheaton—also the guitarist of Asexual Woods—to add a second guitar to the band. He recorded a few songs on the new album and we played a few shows together, but he left to concentrate on Asexual Woods. We’re back to being a three-piece now, but it's actually really comfortable for us. I bought a few pedals that make my guitar sound crazy, so that fills out the sound a bit.

ST: Was this the Don Pablo's near the Owings Mills mall? My wife and I used to eat there pretty often when we lived in Baltimore.

CT: Nope, the one in Columbia.

ST: You guys have a really interesting dynamic sense, in your songs, like how "Three Sides" on the new album has an almost courtly bounce to it; I don't know if you've ever seen A Knight's Tale, but that song reminds me if the scene where Heath Ledger has to fake a dance from his home kingdom, which is total fiction because he's a commoner who's invented a lineage so he can joust and such. This is the Middle Ages, Chaucer era. But anyway, the dance is like this mass crowd dance that's almost synchronized, but there's a sway and life to it. And then "Conestoga" is more complex than that—very hushed and subtle but then later the music reminds me of someone swinging a bull-roarer at different speeds. When you guys write songs, do you write with these disparate dynamics in mind from jump, or do they evolve over tome as the song evolves?

CT: Our songs have always been, as described by a good friend of the band, "like a roller coaster." We try to make every song different, and we want each song to have its own well-defined parts. We've never wanted to be a band with one sound, like a punk band or a country band or a folk band. We want to be all of those things at once. Since we recorded Lushfarm ourselves, we had freedom (and time) to add whatever instruments we wanted to add.

Being dynamic is very important to us. When we write songs together we definitely hone and craft them over time, and some songs may sound totally different at the end than they originally did in my head. But we're all happy with what we've done with this album. It sounds more like "us" than our first record and definitely has subtleties, intensity, and the edginess that we've been trying to achieve.

ST: What's the significance of the name "Lushfarm"? My first thought is that maybe the band has enjoyed some epic benders; my second thought is that you've chosen a great name for the Google age, in that web searches return the band pretty quickly, with a minimum of confusion and difficulty.

CT: Well, the true story is, the band was sitting around after practice one day drinking a couple of beers trying to come up with a band name. We had a few ideas that were pretty abrasive—I think one was "paper cut"—that in retrospect were all terrible ideas. Binney was outside smoking a cigarette at one point and pops his head in the door and says: "I got it! Lush Cowboy! No, wait. Lush Farm!"

I loved the name right from the beginning. It has a few different meanings in my mind, one being that we do enjoy adult beverages more frequently than the average Joe. In this sense, it's pretty whimsical. Another is more of a picture: just a thriving, bountiful farm with lots of foliage and no light pollution. In this sense the name carries a rustic connotation, very Americana. Over time I started using all lower case when I typed it, and eventually made it one word. I’m not really sure why. The Google search thing is purely coincidental; a very happy accident, if you will.

ST: You know, I just realized that you guys share band-name initials with Lungfish.

CT: It's actually hilarious that you mention that; the guy doing our artwork put “Lungfish” on the cover of our album in his first draft. It was a complete accident, but I thought it was hilarious. When I Googled the name for shits and giggles, I realized they were actually a Baltimore/D.C. hardcore band! Pretty awesome.

ST: One of the things I like about Lushfarm is the straightforwardness of the lyrics; it's as though you're engaged in a monologue or conversation, and you're trying to offer a representation of yourself without any guile. This is a quality you definitely share with (Baltimore band) Vinny Vegas.

CT: As the sole lyricist, I definitely appreciate that. I'm an English major with a minor in creative writing, so I guess you could say I went to school for it. When I was in high school, I wrote typical angst-y poetry—I got "class poet" on the senior superlatives page in our yearbook—but that was all crap. When I got to college and started taking writing classes, it not only improved my story writing, but it also had a profound effect on my lyric writing, which I had just started to pursue. I like songs that are about something, something obvious enough to pick up on directly. While I admire some more poetic lyric writers and their music, I've always had trouble being extremely poetic or mysterious. I write some of my best stuff after an emotional tragedy when my heart and brain are all opened up.

I tend to write guitar parts first and then lyrics with melodies. Sometimes whole songs will come to me the first time I play something on guitar; other times it takes months and months to solidify lyrics.

I can dig the Vinny Vegas comparison. I was the original lead guitarist in the band for two years; Scott [Siskind] and I are actually very close friends. We've made music together and do have similar musical tastes, so I guess it's no surprise that our lyric writing is similar.

ST: Who are some lyricists and singers you admire? When I first heard Lushfarm I immediately thought of Chris Cornell and Kurt Cobain for some reason; your singing isn't as larynx-strenuous, but in some intangible way I feel like you're coming from a similar place.

CT: We are all definitely three children of the 1990s, though our musical tastes differ a bit. I actually love Soundgarden, though whenever we've played around at practice trying to cover something by them, I end up screaming unintelligibly because Cornell's range is much greater than mine. My favorite band, since eighth grade, is the Smashing Pumpkins. Billy Corgan, prickish and strange as he is, is definitely my favorite songwriter. The albums after Adore are all hit or miss, but there are good songs here and there.

Other singers/lyricists I admire include the guy from Fleet Foxes, Connor Oberst and Jeff Buckley. Nick Drake makes me want to slip into a coma, in a good way. I like Stephen Malkmus' fuck-all attitude and voice; I dig the same thing about the guy from Modest Mouse. From the Beatles, John, Paul, and George all touch me in a special way, but not Ringo. I also really like the singer from Wye Oak; she's awesome. On a controversial side-note, I'm really not into the whole revival thing that's going on. I think Adele—however great her voice is—is sort of a joke. If the recordings were more "vintage" sounding, it might be cooler, but the crisp perfection of her songs irritates me.

ST: I think we're in agreement on Adore's place in the Pumpkins' catalogue; in a lot of ways, it's my favorite album of theirs. It's like they're finally calming down a little as they go electronic, but without losing that sound that's quintessentially theirs.

CT: Totally, man. I love Adore. Corgan's voice isn't as whiny, but he manages to use his falsetto in a tastefully emotional way. The production is pretty great too. The guy who mixed a couple of our songs, Jamie Cerniglia, actually worked with Billy Corgan on engineering the song "Appels & Oranjes" from that album. Probably my least favorite song on the album, but whatever, I'm still jealous!

ST: What sort of work do you guys do in civilian life?

CT: I work at a local music store, which is right behind Bill's Music in Catonsville. We sell guitars online. Binney delivers produce in the Harrisburg/York areas. Kresimir works at an A/V company and does planning/installation of systems in commercial and government buildings. We’re all looking for quick easy ways to make tons of money so we can quit our jobs. No idea why we're playing music.

ST: You mentioned earlier that you were on jury duty. Are you still on it? I know you probably can't talk specifics, but is it an interesting case, at least? Have you had to serve before?

CT: Well, as it turns out, I did not actually get picked for jury duty. This was the first time I'd ever had to do that and I didn't realize that Baltimore City selects upwards of 600 people every day to come in and be available for a case. About 25 percent of these people excuse themselves before the date, and then probably 25 to 40 percent don't show up, so they end up with about 200 people sitting in a room in the courthouse where they show movies—in my case, It's Complicated and College Road Trip—until a judge calls down for a random pool of jurors. No one was called on my day, so I sat there from eight a.m. to two p.m. keeping busy on my iPhone and then, after our lunch break, we hear over the loudspeaker, "Thank you for your contribution to the Baltimore City Circuit Court, you are now free to go home." We got paid $15 for the day.

ST: How did you spend the $15 you made?

CT: On parking! How crappy is that?

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