Hiss Golden Messenger :: The Aquarium Drunkard Interview

“I had a little bit of a crisis,” songwriter M.C. Taylor jokes.

Arriving in Asheville, North Carolina, where Taylor performed earlier this month with members of Songs: Ohia and Magnolia Electric Co. as a tribute to his departed friend Jason Molina, he realized that his denim jacket wouldn’t cut it against the Southern January chill. He asked if we could delay our conversation, and when he called back, warmer wear acquired, he was ready to discuss his performances with Songs: Molina (you can — and should — hear recordings of that union at Archive.org) and Bad Debt, the 2010 LP he recorded at his kitchen table, while his newborn son slept.

The story of Bad Debt comes with its own crises: Originally released in limited quantities by Taylor himself, the album’s initial CD run was almost completely destroyed during the London riots of 2011, when a Sony warehouse burned. Its songs found new lives on subsequent Hiss Golden Messenger LPs, 2012’s Poor Moon and 2013’s Haw, but the album remained the skeleton key in Taylor’s discography, marking the point at which the former Ex-Ignota and Court & Spark member bloomed into his own, when Hiss Golden Messenger’s country soul crystallized.

On January 14, 2014, Bad Debt finally saw proper release via Taylor’s friends at Paradise of Bachelors. The latest edition is the definitive one, featuring for the first time Taylor’s intended track list. It’s a tremendous record. Taylor’s sturdy croon and acoustic guitar, augmented with layers of echo and foot stomps, sonically suggests Pink Moon, Nebraska, or The Creek Drank the Cradle, but Taylor’s ecclesiastic visions are all his own. “The record is about my God: that is, whether I have one, and whether there is a place for me in this world,” Taylor writes. “I don’t go to church, and I am not saved. I can party too. I can do a saxophone now and again, bang the drum. Bad Debt was my revelation, and there are many for whom I’ll never make a record better than this one.”

Crisis averted, new jacket secured, Taylor discussed the record and the daunting task of stepping into Jason Molina’s shoes.

Aquarium Drunkard: Right now you’re doing the Magnolia Electric Co./Songs: Ohia shows, right?

M.C. Taylor: Yes, right now I’m with those guys. We played in Durham, NC last night and drove to Asheville today.

AD: I heard last night was pretty crazy. Sold out, stuff like that.

M.C. Taylor: It was a little intense. I mean, it was intense for a lot of reasons. One, it’s just such a small club and that many bodies in there kind of freaks me out a little bit. The more obvious reason is I’m learning this friend of mine’s -- this friend of ours -- music. Maybe I avoided thinking of the sort of gravity or implications of doing that [because] the relationships that people have to his music because it might become a distraction to me. So, the whole process of learning this music, I just sat down and was very methodical about trying to honor his songs, but at the same time make it feel like a genuine performance by me. I’m not trying to cop every single lick that he does, just get the spirit there.

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