Jazznet Denmark did an interview with composer, multi-instrumentalist, sound manipulator, arranger, producer and record label owner and self taught progressive musician Robin Taylor, in the middle of February 2010. You can follow Mr. Taylor and his many ongoing projects here on this site.
Jazznet Denmark: How did your adventures with music begin, did you have any musical training or are you self taught? Robin Taylor: I have listened to music as long as I can remember. At my 8th birthday (I think) I was given my first Beatles record, and I became a fan right away. I felt very attracted to ‘electric’ music and had this dream about becoming a musician myself one day. My first ‘real’ instrument was a cheap electric guitar, that I had for my 12th birthday. I was never taught anything; just figured it out myself, learning by doing and listening to records.
JD: What music genres do you listen to yourself, and is there a certain kind of music that inspires you? RT: I’ve listened to many kinds of music: popular music, hard rock, psychedelic, progressive, modern jazz, fusion, classical composers – you name it. I’m inspired by anything I’ve heard.
JD: If you should mention 5-10 records that have meant something to you and your music what would they be? RT: Tough question… well, if I was going to pick 10 albums that have meant a lot to me, I’d probably say: The Beatles: Sgt. Pepper, King Crimson: In The Wake of Poseidon, Cream: Disraeli Gears, Emerson, Lake & Palmer: Tarkus, Mike Oldfield: Hergest Ridge, Weather Report: Tale Spinnin’, Secret Oyster: Sea Son, Gentle Giant: In a Glass House, Dimitri Shostakovitch: Symphony No. 5.
I could easily mention another ten!
JD: To my ears you are a group of musicians who are in constant movement and going in many different directions from track to track and from release to release. Where do you get your ideas from and what is your secret (if you have one)? RT: My mind has always been bursting with ideas; I don’t have a ‘secret method’ when I compose; I just go through the library in my head – made up from listening to thousands and thousands of records. There’s always an echo of something I’ve heard, that I’d like to do my own version of; refine into something personal – no matter what direction it’s in – and I believe you can always hear that I’m responsible for it.
JD: Are you a full time musician or are all your different projects your second job? RT: I’m not a full time musician; you can’t do these sorts of things and make a living from them (in Denmark you can’t, that’s for sure). Some of the other musicians are playing full time – but they have to earn their bread and butter by working with commercial artists in other genres.
JD: If a new listener were about to buy his first recording of your music, which one would you recommend as the best introduction to your amazing music? RT: That’s also a difficult question – depending on personal taste. If you’re looking for something not too far out, I’d recommend “Oyster’s Apprentice” or “Soundwall” by Taylor’s Universe. Or the Art Cinema (self-titled) album. If you’re more of a free jazz (avantgarde) aficionado, I’d advice you to check out “File Under Extreme” by Taylor’s Free Universe.
JD: Your music is hard to put in any musical boxes because it has so many different styles mixed with each other. In my opinion you belong to the progressive/rock/experimental part of the music world. Do you agree with that? And what are your opinions on that genre and genres in general? RT: You’re probably right when using the term ‘progressive’ on my music and probably not. Progressive Rock has become a ‘genre’ with many directions: symphonic, metal, avant garde and so and so on. I’d like to see ‘progressive’ more as a movement than a genre; bands and artists with different stylistic backgrounds working together creating new musical forms – or that’s how it all started (back in the early 70’s). Today there’s a lot of so-called progressive bands who don’t experiment at all; they just copy a way of playing that made fame decades ago. To me that’s not ‘progressive’ so maybe the term has lost its meaning. It’s always restricting when you put labels on music that can’t be labeled (because of its diversity). I wish we could use the word ‘fusion’, because that’s what this kind of music really is: a fusion of many genres – but that term has a meaning of its own today (electric smooth jazz).
JD: You have released numerous recordings over the years mainly on your own label Marvel of Beauty. Are there some of them that you see in particular as more important than others or landmarks in your massive production? RT: Hmm… Typically I lose interest every time a new album is completed (I get fed up in the process), but looking back there’s a few that I like to think of: “Pork” (from the early years) and “Oyster’s Apprentice” (both by Taylor’s Universe). I would probably add two of my solo albums: “Deutsche Schule” and “Isle of Black” – yeah, and Art Cinema (my first vocal album) is pretty cool I think.
JD : Of many you have two projects. One called Taylor’s Free Universe, the other called Taylor’s Universe. Could you try to explain the difference between them; is one of them completely planned before start while the other is not? RT: After a couple of minimalistic solo albums I wanted to do an album with much more of a “band sound”. That led to Taylor’s Universe – my studio group. In general the music of TU is very structured, but everything is possible – even moments of pure improvisation. After some years of working with saxophone ace Karsten Vogel, he persuaded me to form a live band and that became Taylor’s Free Universe. The idea was to get some people together and just have a go. No written material, no rehearsals – we just brought in our gear and started playing – whether it was on stage or in the recording studio. The results were quite odd and sometimes really exciting. We played festivals and made quite a few records (even got nominated for a Danish Music Award Jazz) but it was a struggle to get gigs. The band folded in 2005 (after five years in service) and I returned to studio work.
JD: How is it to be a musician in little Denmark – is there a live scene for the music you do? RT: No the situation is absolutely hopeless.
JD: When I listen to your music, I can hear some of the same ideas I hear when I listen to King Crimson and Robert Fripp. Are you inspired by him or am I way off? RT: You’re quite right; I’m a big fan of Crimson/Fripp – especially for what they/he did in the 70’s.
JD: What’s your best advice for young aspiring musicians who want to make it in the progressive music world or any musical world for that matter? RT: Be yourself. To me originality is the most important thing. And if you can’t come up with something of your own, don’t play music. We have enough copycats around already.
JD: Where do you see yourself in 5 years – still making music for the masses? RT: The point is, I have never made music for the ‘masses’; the things I’m doing are too far away from ‘mainstream’ and if you’re not a mainstream (commercial) artist, you can’t expect a huge following. My music is a ‘minority’ thing – unfortunately – but I am being honest to my art and that’s very important to me.
JD: Finally what are your plans for the future and what will be the next release from the mighty Robin Taylor? RT: I haven’t got any actual plans at the moment. My latest album was released just before Christmas (we’re in February now) but I suppose, I will return to the recording studios when spring comes (my energies are a little low this time of year). I’ve got a few ideas that might turn into a new Taylor’s Universe album. We’ll see…
Interview with Robin Taylor of Taylor’s Universe
By Rok Podgrajšek / The Rocktologist
Robin Taylor just recently released a brand new Taylor’s Universe CD, entitled Kind of Red. Robin was kind enough to give us a few moments and answer a few questions about this new effort and times gone by.
The title of your new album is Kind of Red. I think many people’s first reaction might be King Crimson. Did you have that in mind with the title?
“Not specifically – no, it was rather a wordplay on the title, Kind of Blue – the famous album by Miles Davis.”
What about the music? It does have the kind of King Crimson guitar feel and those Mellotrons…
“King Crimson are one of my greatest inspirations (at least what they did up til 1974). They opened a whole new world of music for me. That music integrated so many styles in one; melodic rock ballads, grand symphonic pieces, and jazz- and avant-garde improvisation. Crimson (Fripp) were true pioneers, and I love unpredictable music.”
I’ve read about you being compared to Robert Fripp. How do you feel about such comparisons?
“Very flattered, of course – but it’s not the truth. Fripp is a guitar master, which I’m not. He has dedicated his life to playing the guitar, while I see the guitar more as just one of many colours on my musical pallet. I play a lot of different instruments in the studio, so I don’t consider myself as a guitarist. The comparison could probably be right, when it comes to writing and arranging music; there might be some similarities in the way we blend things, working with a lot of the same sounds. And I’m talking about Crimson in their early ages; the Anglo-American version of the band from the ’80s and up were something completely different.”
Did you write all the compositions and arrangements on the new album yourself (I know it says so on the CD)? The sax and trumpet work, for example, seems so natural that I would attribute it to a person who plays those instruments. Did the guys have any say in the arrangements at all?
“The sax and trumpet work is all improvised – except for a very few details. I just told people to play, what felt right to them. Later in the process I chose the best parts from the many takes we had and edited them together. I always have the final say being the arranger and producer.”
Can you tell me something about the cover? Who’s on it, does the pose have any special meaning?
‘The lady in red is my girlfriend. We were out for a walk, and when we passed this plastered wall of a very old building, I asked her to stand in that pose as I took the photography. It has no special meaning, but I really like the image; there’s something magic about it, I think.’
You use vintage keyboards to great effect on the album. Why are you so enamoured with vintage keyboard sounds?
“Oh, I’m just fed up with all those synthesizers, that dominate music today. I’d rather work with analogue sounds; they have a warmer presence than all the digital rubbish.”
How long did the writing process take for the new album?
“That’s hard to say, because much of my music arise in the recording situation. I very rarely bring final compositions to the studio, just some loose ideas. I normally record just one instrument at the time, with me doing all the basic things. I create the skeletons on which the other players do their parts, after I’ve made my general view. It’s really like a jigsaw puzzle; fill in all the empty spots, until the whole picture is done.”
Can you tell me the reason for so many Robin Taylor projects – Free Universe, Universe, solo, etc.? Are the projects really that different? “I regret the many Taylor brands; they’re confusing. I started out recording as Robin Taylor, but when more and more players were required in the studio, I thought it would be better using some kind of a band name, so Taylor’s Universe was born. Still I kept on releasing records bearing my name, when I wanted to do something a little different from the Universe band-concept. To make things worse, I formed a live group in the beginning of the new millenium, Taylor’s Free Universe, and I did hope the word ‘Free’ would signal, that this was a vehicle for my need to play some totally freaked out, improvised music as well – but people got it all mixed up and some were chocked as they thought, it was all about the same music. I actually released an album with a fourth project, called Art Cinema (in 2008), but people speaking of my music happen to ignore it – maybe because my name doesn’t appear in the band name.”
If my information is correct your first release dates back to 1991. What about what happened before that? What kind of bands, projects were you involved in prior to that?
“I started playing music when I was 12 (in 1968), so it was a long way until I decided to release my first album in ’91. Through the ’70s I was the bass player in different local groups, who rarely left the rehearsing rooms (goddamn horrible music, that nobody really wanted to listen to). During the same decade I started to record my own music. The equipment was almost hopeless; I had no money – but I enjoyed working by myself. And from that I learned a lot about composing and arranging music, playing different instruments, as well as some of the basic recording techniques. At the end of the ’70s I had improved so much, that some of my home recordings were broadcast on the National Radio. That was a turning point for me; it made me conscious about the fact, that I was actually able to make music on a higher level than all the childish noisemaking, I’d been part of with my friends. So I expanded my home studio over the following years, but lacked a serious belief in my abilities of making records – until another decade was gone.”
What has changed for you in the last 20 years since embarking on a solo career?
“I guess I’ve become more experienced, I’ve bought more instruments, and I’ve learned more about the music business. I’ve also learned, that this kind of music will never make me a wealthy person.”
Do you partake in any other projects than your own?
“Not much. In the late ’90s I got involved with an avant-garde big band, Communio Musica, led by Hugh Steinmetz – but it didn’t last long. I’ve recently got an invitation from a guy in the US, who wants me to play on a project of his. This could turn out very interesting. Time will tell.”
Would you ever consider being part of a band where the whole band contributes to the writing as a group?
“That was actually the case with Art Cinema: We made an album, which I think is pretty good – but we had too many conflicts during the process, and I don’t want something like that to happen again.”
Progressive music is a quite obscure genre as it is, but avant-garde music even more so. What keeps you motivated?
“My motivation lies in the fact, that I care so much about the music. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be part of it.”
What got you interested in (this kind of) music in the first place?
“I borrowed lots and lots of records on my local public library, when I was in my teens (and had no money); much progressive rock and jazz-rock fusion. My friends weren’t into it the same way, I was… It took time for them to really dig into it.”
I remember you once saying that the scene for your kind of music is awful in Denmark. Is that still so? Do you play any gigs at all?
“In Denmark progressive music died, when punk and new wave arrived in the late ’70s. Nobody from the press and media have cared ever since, so – apart from a few old hippies – no one today knows what ‘progressive music’ stands for. I believe, I’m the last dinosaur in my country, still keeping the flame burning – but I don’t have an audience here; it’s all happening abroad. The most popular music forms in Denmark are radio friendly pop, and standard jazz. No, I haven’t played gigs since the Free Universe folded in 2005. It wasn’t much fun travelling for hours to a venue – with only 10 or 15 people watching the performance. A very sad thing!”
If you could choose any one of your albums, which would you say is your favourite?
“It’s difficult for me to make a choice, but…
Taylor’s Universe: Kind of Red
Taylor’s Free Universe: File Under Extreme
Robin Taylor: Deutsche Schule
… in a week or two, I’d probably choose differently.”