A convo with Scott Taylor of The Hard Way

I've played with a lot of great musicians, and one of the best ever is Scott Taylor. We met at karaoke night at Olympia's Thekla. I guess this would have been 2002 or so. Eventually it became clear that we were both hardwired for pop music with a lot of similarities in our motherboards: the Beatles (especially Paul), Brian Wilson, power pop, Hall & Oates, great horn arrangements, drop-dead-gorgeous string arrangements, decent T-shirts. Not to mention a shared belief that Mike Love's the antichrist.

Scott's band The Hard Way is a thriving bastion of exactly the kind of music I wish I'd made when I was a younger and more flexible man: straight-ahead rock with guts, and intelligent poptopia with soul. Their most recent album Day 5 is tremendous and it's coming out on vinyl as we speak. If you're in Olympia or know someone with a car, they're playing a vinyl-release shindig at McCoy's tonight (that would be July 17), with my personal friends C Average, and someone I'm sure is very nice, Visiting Nurses. The Hard Way will also be in Seattle next week, and then it's manifest Chehalis. You can plan your Hard Way related activities with their handy schedule.

Last December, in anticipation of the vinyl release party happening a little sooner than it actually did, Scott and I sat down for a Facebook chat, in which we both revealed our mutual geekdom. Except he actually put his on a record, so thankfully we spent most of our time talking about that.

Paul Pearson: How's it going anyway? I'll just start throwing some questions out here... already heard the album twice.

Scott Taylor: Going ok. Trying to get our website spruced up and operational. Hoping to have everything up by tonight/in the morning.

Paul: How long did it take to get Day 5 together, from the writing to the release?

Scott: Well, the initial sessions began, believe it or not, in January of 2011, mere weeks after the release of our last album, 'Tell Me When You Can't Breathe'. We recorded somewhere around 15-20 songs initially by summer/fall of '11. Then shit got weird.

Paul: How so?

Scott: In the fall of 2011, life sorta complicated things. Elizabeth and I broke up romantically. We tried to keep it going (I jokingly tried to convince myself 'now we just got a little Fleetwood Mac vibe added to the mix...I didn't band on how difficult that would be in reality). We parted on good terms and Luke Ogden who played in my other band, Scott Taylor & The Fond Farewells came on board. And as you know, he is a bass player and a half!

After that we kept going and working out new tunes while I toiled away mixing and crafting what we already had in the can. This album was originally to be called Woke Up At Zero but about a week into mixing, my originally intended opening cut, title track of the record got demoted from title track and ultimately bumped off to b-side. Then the album was going to be called This Time You Know and I had begun to seriously streamline the wealth of material we had.

Then, Tim departed the band and we soon went into the studio with Skyler Blake now on board as our other guitarist and recorded a handful of tunes intended for a separate EP.

Paul: I know we spoke -- I can't remember whether it was last Christmas, or 2012. Well, I suppose it could have been 2011. My sense of time is kind of off. But it felt like you were going through some major transitions at the time.

Scott: Transitions. Yes. I had at one point what I thought was a pretty killer 10 track album that I had whittled down from those original 15-20 tracks. Then a funny thing happened. I came back from the session where I recorded my vocals for the proposed EP Day 5 and had a revelation.

Paul: What was the revelation? If you're in a position to share it that is.

Scott: Well, it was my good old Evergreen critical thinking/editing skills came into play. I suddenly thought "What if I took the 5 bestest, bestest songs of the 10 from the LP I had prepared and sequenced them in a way where I could thread them together?" (Not that I am comparing in ANY way, but think side two Abbey Road suite and, well, Smile. See, the songs we recorded with the new line-up had a great continuous flow the way we intended to sequence them and I wanted to keep that for sure. I realized I could do the same with the other half and conceived a 'side one/two' or 'act one/two,' if you will, that really took things to a whole other level. I took snippets (background vocals, various other tracks) and began using protools the way Brian Wilson might have gone about "Heroes And Villains" if he'd done it digitally. I segued one song into the next.

Paul: What's behind the title Day 5? It seems really specific.

Scott: That came from that tour. Starting the first day every time someone would get pissy someone would say like on a reality show 'Day 5...Skyler wants to kick Dave's ass', or whatever. It was funny, 'cause even after actual day 5 of the trip had passed, the recurring joke continued to be 'day 5...Luke thinks Scott's a dork...' or whatever. Tour jokes keep you going and know one did kill anyone else, so all good!

Paul: "All in This Together" is one of the most amazing songs I've ever heard from you, just from a standpoint of how it's arranged and how fragile it sounds. It's interesting where "All in This Together" falls in the sequence, because you've got three songs before it that sounded like you were letting go of a lot of -- bitterness? Anger? Something. And "AITT" is sort of an antidote -- maybe one that's a little hard to take but ultimately truthful. And necessary. Am I in the ballpark?

Scott: I was so insecure about "All In This Together." For a long time, I didn't even feel comfortable playing it out at all. Couldn't even see it as a Fond Farewells tune. Then, I started to play it acoustically here and there and it just got such an incredible response.

Paul: I think insecurity is a huge part of "All in This Together," only because when someone says that, it's probably to overcome one's own insecurities. You can hear that a little in your voice, but that's what makes it so amazing.

Scott: I wrote it in the midst of the Sandy Point massacre, Hurricane Sandy and the tragic murder of beloved Oly local, Casey Heath. Literally, it was one of those songs that spun around my head as I thought I was losing it and demanded my attention. Anyway, so I realized I was writing an “Ebony and Ivory” or “We Are The World” kind of thing. I wanted it to have a good dose of “A Change Is Gonna Come” kind of vibe, too. It felt very vulnerable doing that, but to my surprise the rest of the band totally loved the song and said, we gotta do this.

Paul: Seriously, this song just keeps seeming more and more timely.

Scott: It's funny because the other song I really adore is "Don't Wanna Fit In," which is -- sort of -- the opposite of "All In This Together."

Paul: When I heard the horn section, I was like, "Yes!"

Scott: The horns!! Yeah, that was my first time arranging for horns. Certainly a first for a Hard Way record. I love the percussion, too.

Paul: I was wondering how much of your experience with Fond Farewells affected what you do with the Hard Way, or whether you're really intent on those being two separate entities artistically. "Don't Wanna Fit In" sounds like, if you tweaked it a little, it could also be a Fond Farewells number.

Scott: That's one of my faves! It illustrates the sort of marrying of the Fond Farewells with The Hard Way. With Skyler (also a FF member) joined the band, we just really had the potential for the kind of sound I had really been seeking all along. 'Don't Wanna Fit In' definitely has a bit of Hall & Oates/McCarntey kind of vibe to me. It's a weird song.

Paul: What kind of directions does Skyler steer you toward that you wanted to take? I sort of get some 10cc feel-ups from "Don't Wanna Fit In" as well, especially in the layered vocals.

Scott: He and I have just really always been on the same page pop-wise, I guess. The band has become much more about embracing our eclectic impulses rather than just rocking out. That said, to be fair, he and Luke only appear on tracks 1-5, which is interesting, because most of those songs are fairly brutal. Except 'All In This...' Tracks 6-10 feature Tim & Liz and that is the, I don't know, poppier stuff? But, again, there was way more that didn't make the cut. The 'side two' stuff made me feel like 'All In This...' fit in a bit more comfortably into the mix. Before I was like, 'so I can just see people rocking out and then that song comes on and they go, uh...wtf?' Now, I like the idea of that response, because its balanced with the side two stuff. To answer the 10cc thing, that was absolutely what I was going for...that and "Hurting Each Other" by The Carpenters.

Paul: Was that just you doing the overdubbed chorus vocals on "Don't Wanna..."? How many parts is that?

Scott: I did all of the harmonies on 'Don't Wanna Fit In' (except the echo part during the choruses, that was Liz and Dave). I pretty much did all the harmonies on the second side. I love the harmonies on 'Same'. I did get everyone to sing on that one. Tim brought this thing in, asked me to help him out on it. I think I added the big hook on the chorus and helped tighten the structure a bit, but otherwise that was all Timmy. Good tune, that's why it made the cut where many others didn't. Thematically, I felt it needed to be there. It was originally to be the opening cut of the album when it was to be called 'This Time You Know'. When I shuffled the running order of those songs and reconfigured them into the melange on side two, I knew it had to be the penultimate number. Always very important to me in that lost art known as the 'album'. Yeah, that's a killer tune.

There were a lot of good songs anybody would probably have been more than happy to take. Now though, I'm glad I was discerning; not that there was anything inherently bad with any of the ones that got ousted, I just felt the whole would be stronger AND each and every tune could stand on its own as well. Never done that before in an album, but I think I speak for us both when I say that as a kid I admired that attribute in an album all the way.

Paul: I think you and I have this shared affection for the people who really spent a lot of time in the studio, coming up with these intensely layered and broad sounds... Obviously we're both Brian Wilson and Beatles freaks, but you could also put Nilsson in there.

Scott: See, lots of times, after we had stuff tracked, I would just build it up as it came to me and I'd show it to the others and teach it to them, but they'd always go, 'yeah, but it already sounds right'. So I left it. I think Nilsson is all over 'All In This...' Shit, there's one part where I think there can be no doubt about it. But, especially some of the side two stuff, very much influenced by Harry, for sure. It has its tweeness, but it's tough, too.

Even the album's length was important to me. Remember when CDs came about and folks decided that, because they could, they'd fill the whole damn 80 minutes and you wind up with garbage like 'Use Your Illusion' (Even a single disc of that would have been too much though, if you ask me1), I love the idea of an album of 'Classic' proportions. This one clocks in at 39 minutes. I fucking dig that.

Even the album's length was important to me. Remember when CDs came about and folks decided that, because they could, they'd fill the whole damn 80 minutes and you wind up with garbage like 'Use Your Illusion' (Even a single disc of that would have been too much though, if you ask me1), I love the idea of an album of 'Classic' proportions. This one clocks in at 39 minutes. I fucking dig that.

Paul: I'd like to think it's for the same reasons you like 'em, because of how albums used to be complete stories in themselves that told the story in 40 minutes.

Scott: I was super happy when I got Jenny Lewis' new album (probably my favorite current pop songwriter in the world today btw) and it, too was concise.

Paul: Yeah, Jenny's album was very much in that mode. A lot of references to the good parts of the California sound, except her lyrics are a lot better. I heard a lot of Warren Zevon on "The Voyager," oddly enough. It was like Fleetwood Mac fronted by a female Warren Zevon tribute artist. Great, great songs.

Scott: Exactly! I love the narrative of a good album. That's what this album feels like it has, a narrative, cohesion. I never liked buying singles as much as I did albums when I was a kid and track placement was crucial. 'The Voyager' is the best album I heard (last) year, hands down.

I would just encourage people to attempt ever so slightly to stretch their attention spans a smidge. Listening to an album is a commitment. I want to make sure not to lose the listener, so I have to in a weird way pretend I'm them and in turn get them to see it my way. In a perfect world. Yeah, right. I know, I'm starting to think at what point did I turn into Old Man Taylor. Inside, I still feel like I'm a kid.

Paul: That's why I think the album format will never really go away. There's just so much an artist can do with it. Maybe the packaging won't be great like it used to be, but you still have the same space musically. Still, I think, if you're a musician, someone who actually works hard at their craft, regardless of genre... you don't go into this for a profession or even a sideline and think, "Yeah, I'm going to make a one-hit wonder single and retire!" You don't go into this seriously with thoughts of just pumping out singles. At some point you want to say something a little more substantial. Even Madonna felt that way.

Scott: That kid who would stare at artwork and liner notes, pondering the universe of whichever album I was listening to. I remember when I'd go to bed, I'd stack a shit ton or LPs on my record player and was particular about which side would play. Then I'd try and see how long I could stay awake to hear them all. A form of counting sheep, I suppose. Never made it all the way through. Primitive playlists. Before iTunes. You are absolutely right though, making art for the ages far outweighs making one hit wonder shit.
Photo: John Johnson

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