In 2014, after 20 years juggling bands with a regular day job, Durham’s MC Taylor decided to devote his time to music. He’d built a reputation with his band Hiss Golden Messenger and critics and fans caught wind of a band that fellow musicians were already praising.
“I felt enough enthusiasm, it seemed like if I took a leap and it didn’t quite work maybe the cliff wouldn’t be so high,” he says while on his way to a show in Mississippi Monday.
Hiss Golden Messenger plays Neighborhood Theatre Sunday.
On the recent album, “Heart Like a Levee,” he touches on the conflict and how life is more fulfilling (but still rife with struggle) than it was when he was working at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University – his last job.
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“It addresses the weird trade-off I made. In order to do the thing I love and I’m obsessed with, I have to leave home. It’s kind of a funny, slightly Faustian deal,” he explains.
Like other hard-touring musicians with families, he finds that while the distance is hard he is ever-present when he is home.
“The deeper theme of the record is this idea that when I’m at home with the people I love and made a life with, I’m very present and engaged and mindful and clear. Those things are easy to talk about but hard to put into practice,” he says. “(It’s about) being clear and straight-forward about my love for the people around me and making the most of the time we have here emotionally.”
With children ages 3 and 7 at home, taking the aforementioned leap wasn’t an easy decision.
“The anxious part of me – the father and husband – is, for obvious reasons, concerned about making sure my bills are paid on time and making sure the band is paid on time,” he says. “The artist has different priorities.”
“Heart Like a Levee” is rich and inviting, with layers of psychedelic exploration, folk-rock introspection, and warm, horn and harmony-laden gospel soul. He’s joined by a number of Carolina musicians who make up the community Taylor finds himself a part of.
“Durham – for how small it is, relatively speaking – there’s just a cultural richness I’ve never seen anywhere else,” says Taylor, who moved here from his native California to attend grad school at UNC a decade ago. “People are excited to be there. The cost of living is low. People are making art.”
“I have an affinity for small towns in the South,” he adds. “They so often are the places that gave rise to things that I love. It certainly drove my move to the South. I just felt like if I wanted to understand the Southern cultures I loved so much of my life, I needed to actually be there.”
Taylor purposely focused on the region when booking the current tour.
“My manager, and booking agent – we talk a lot about how to make what we’re doing viable and sustainable for as long as we want it to be. Part of that is making sure that you give attention to smaller towns that might not see touring acts come through as much as metropolitan areas,” he continues.
“It’s important for me that we’re hitting places like Oxford and Birmingham and Harrisonburg, Virginia. It can be a little hard to break into those cities. Folks might not have the same relationship with going to see live music that people in big cities do, but I’m going to keep pressing on,” he says. “Our music draws on a lot of music that was born in the South. I think people recognize that. Even for people who haven’t heard Hiss Golden Messenger before, there’s something familiar in our music.”
Hiss Golden Messenger
When: 8 p.m. Sunday.
Where: Neighborhood Theatre, 511 E. 36th St.