Hiss Golden Messenger
Wed · November 13, 2019
Doors: 7:00 pm / Show: 8:00 pm
This event is minors under 18 with parent or legal guardian
Describing the Durham-based Hiss Golden Messenger is like trying to grasp a forgotten word: It’s always on the tip of your tongue, but hard to speak. Songwriter and bandleader M.C. Taylor’s music is at once familiar, yet impossible to categorize: Elements from the American songbook—the steady, churning acoustic guitar and mandolin, the gospel emotion, the eerie steel guitar tracings, the bobbing and weaving organ and electric piano—provide the bedrock for Taylor’s existential ruminations about parenthood, joy, hope, and loneliness—our delicate, tightrope balance of dark and light—that offer fully engaged contemporary commentary on the present. And then there’s an indescribable spirit and movement: Hiss Golden Messenger’s music grooves. There’s nothing else quite like it.https://www.dspshows.com/event/1846353/
For over ten years, Taylor has spearheaded this prolific, perpetually evolving group. He’s toured and recorded relentlessly, earning devotees along the roads, deep in festival pits, and across the seas, delivering earnest performances that morph from jammy freakout to private prayer in a matter of measures.
“The work that I do requires me to be in a certain emotional place,” says Taylor. “My music depends first and foremost on being in a heightened emotional state and putting my vulnerability on display.” This vulnerability is also central to Taylor’s steadily growing fanbase, which continues to discover universal themes in his deeply personal work. The critical acclaim and attention for Hiss Golden Messenger—including features in The Atlantic and The New Yorker, glowing album and live reviews in Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, and Consequence of Sound, and barn-burning performances on Late Show with David Letterman and Late Night with Seth Meyers—affirm the emotional power of Taylor’s work.
This raw emotion is especially apparent on Hiss Golden Messenger’s new album, Terms of Surrender. Out September 20 on Merge Records, Terms follows Taylor’s journey through a tumultuous year of trauma and psychological darkness, hoping and working towards redemption and healing, and the conflicting draw of home and movement. “Another year older,” Taylor sings on album opener “I Need a Teacher.” “Debt slightly deeper. Paycheck smaller. Goddamn, I need a teacher.”
Later, Taylor tracks the complex dynamic between father and grown son on “Cat’s Eye Blue,” singing, “Is this wicked word too bad to be spoken? You let the heart attack in. One taste and it’s broken.” He later pivots towards his relationship with his own daughter on “Happy Birthday, Baby.”
Happy birthday, baby
Go love your brother now
It’s a strange gift, maybe
Girl, you know me better—better than I know myself
I’m trying to repay you
All these miles that I roam
And when I’m far away, baby
Know that I love you and sing this little song
Taylor says that he wanted to make Terms of Surrender “a wandering record. I wanted where we recorded it to mirror the searching spirit of the music.” Having written upwards of 40 songs—in motel rooms, his studio in Durham, and a secluded cottage outside of Charlottesville, Virginia—Taylor winnowed them down to the ten works that comprise Terms of Surrender. With regular collaborators—including Phil and Brad Cook, Josh Kaufman, and Matt McCaughan—and new friends like Jenny Lewis and Aaron Dessner (of The National), the crew decamped to Dessner’s Long Pond studio in upstate New York, Sound City in Los Angeles, and producer Roger Moutenot’s Haptown studio in Nashville to create the most fully realized and genre-defying Hiss Golden Messenger album to date.
Hiss Golden Messenger songs create feelings to which devoted listeners attach their own meanings and memories with each repeated spin. Throughout Terms of Surrender, those feelings range from fearful to celebratory. But perhaps the title track—with its refrain of “I’m gonna give it/ but don’t make me say it/ It’s one thing to bend it, my love, but another to break it”—best summarizes the nature of Taylor’s work as a musician, father and spouse, and cultural communicator on this album. He explains, “Terms of Surrender is part apology, part plea, part love letter. It’s about how much of the most important parts of ourselves we can sacrifice and still feel like we’re living the life that we thought we wanted.”
Since moving to Nashville in 2015, the native Californian has been welcomed into folk music, bluegrass, Americana, and traditional country communities – even as When You’re Ready stretches the boundaries of those genres. Over the past year, Molly has continued to accumulate accolades, winning Folk Alliance International’s honor for Song of the Year for “You Didn’t Call My Name” and taking home her second trophy for the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Guitar Player of the Year (the first woman in the history of the IBMA to win that honor).
“I love so many types of music,” she says “and it’s exciting to be a part of and embraced by different musical worlds, but when I’m creating I don’t think about genres or how it will fit into any particular format – it’s just music.”
When You’re Ready is infused with an intoxicating wash of drums and electric guitar while still keeping Tuttle front and center. “I wanted to keep the focus on the songs,” she says, “but also make an interesting guitar record.”
The album opens with “Million Miles,” a song that her songwriting collaborator Steve Poltz brought to her, mentioning that he and Jewel started it in the ‘90s and didn’t complete it. With their blessing, she finished the song and enlisted Sierra Hull to play mandolin and Jason Isbell to sing background vocals. The wistful track sets the tone for an album that offers subtle moments of reflection as well as dazzling musicianship.
Tuttle wrote or co-wrote all 11 tracks since moving to Nashville, giving the project a unified feeling. “A lot of the songs are more personal than I’ve written before, and many of them are conversational, like one person talking to another,” she says. But, when it comes to the messages of the songs, each one stands apart. “Take the Journey” provides encouragement, even as “The High Road” finds two individuals going their own way. Later, the subdued “Don’t Let Go” concludes with a spaced-out slow groove, while “Lights Came On (Power Went Out)” amplifies the album’s youthful energy. “Sleepwalking,” a gentle love song, may be the album’s most impassioned and emotionally intense moment.
Tuttle grew up in California in a musical family, performing at festivals with her father and two brothers. As a young girl, she took violin lessons but eventually grew more interested in playing guitar. Fortunately her father Jack Tuttle is a noted instructor in the Bay Area. “My dad brought me home a little guitar and he would sit with me whenever I wanted to play it and show me something,” she recalls. “He was really encouraging, and I think that’s what made me stick with the guitar. I liked having a fun thing to do with my dad and practicing didn’t feel like a chore.”
By the age of 11, Tuttle was attending bluegrass jams and decided that she wanted to do more singing. She took voice lessons from one of her neighbors, a classical vocal coach who taught proper technique without sacrificing phrasing. As a young woman interested in bluegrass, Tuttle admired bold songwriters like Hazel Dickens and looked up to Bay Area bluegrass musicians such as Laurie Lewis and Kathy Kallick.
As Tuttle matured, her musical tastes soon ranged from Bob Dylan and Gillian Welch to The Smiths and Neko Case. Because she kept seeing Townes Van Zandt referenced to by songwriters she admired, Tuttle dug into his catalog and found “White Freightliner Blues.” Her own exceptional rendition has become a showcase for her nimble playing, as well as a graceful nod to her musical heroes. And the circle continues; her own instructional videos of the song online have been discovered by the next generation of pickers, who look to her as a role model and for inspiration.
“I love seeing any young person trying to play one of my songs or just learning something from me,” she says. “One of my goals is to inspire the next generation, especially young girls, to play guitar. I think if girls see a woman doing something, it helps them think, ‘I can do that, too.’”
After graduating from high school in Palo Alto, Tuttle enrolled in Berklee College of Music in Boston, where she studied in the American Roots Music Program, focusing on guitar performance and songwriting. “In my time at Berklee,” she says, I developed much better understanding the fingerboard, so that gave me the freedom to play more of what I heard in my head and to try to play something that was meaningful to me.”
That sense of freedom and accomplishment carried over to making When You’re Ready, which conveys a true progression of her distinctive talent and musical ambition.
“This album feels like more of a collaboration with new people I’ve met since moving to Nashville, which is really cool,” she says.
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