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A Dirty Dozen with AUSTIN TAFT – April 2021

| 2 April 2021 | Reply


According to a recent press release: “Austin Taft is a songwriter and multi-instrumentalist focused on making unique and intriguing music – whatever that should entail.  The brand new album, Skeletons, has been self-described as “Prog-Metal-That-Sometimes-Isn’t.” This joins his previously released acoustic album (The Human Condition) and several additional releases to continue the trend of producing eclectic and deeply challenging records. All studio recordings are entirely self-composed, self-produced and self-performed, and his music is currently available through various online retailers and streaming services, including Bandcamp, iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, Spotify and Tidal.” We get Austin to discuss new music, influences, and more…

1. Tell us a little about your latest release.  What might a fan or listener not grab the first or second time they listen through?  Are there any hidden nuggets you put in the material or that only diehard fans might find?

The new album is titled Skeletons, and I have been describing it as Prog-Metal-That-Sometimes-Isn’t.  Musically expansive.  Lyrically bitter.  A lot of negativity on this one, but it was great fun to make!  If you’re looking for a challenging and unpredictable listen, this might be for you. I try to work various subtle things into the music, some of which I hope someone will notice and some things which will likely remain unnoticed, particularly in the production and the mix.  One general thing about the new record is that each song only contains two choruses, except the first track which has three.  The first song is the title track and it’s the shortest song by quite a bit.  It’s only got one single riff which plows the entire way through the song except for an 8-bar section which has a couple of variations to it.  The second track is pretty much the opposite with almost no repetition.  Once you leave a musical section, it doesn’t return until about 7 minutes in when you finally get hit with something familiar. The CD version of the new album also contains a hidden track (not to be confused with “hidden song”), but the previous two CDs also contained hidden tracks and I’m still waiting for someone to find those without me pointing out where they are!

2. What got you into music, and can you tell us about the moment you realized you wanted to be a musician?

My parents are both musical, and that was probably the catalyst.  My Mom is a very talented flautist and has an excellent ear and voice for harmony (something I never developed).  My Dad has written hundreds of songs and plays acoustic guitar.  So I grew up around the recording of many, many home demos tracked on a Tascam 22-4 reel-to-reel and really took to that.  They also had a significant record collection.  Sammy Davis Jr., Bread, The Carpenters, Wild Cherry, Genesis — all sorts of stuff.  But as for the moment which made me want to become a musician, I can’t really put my finger on that.  I can’t recall a time when music wasn’t the path I wanted to pursue.  But I will say that I have probably always had just as much of an interest in being a songwriter as being a musician, even at single-digit years of age.

3. Building on that, is there a specific song, album, performer, or live show that guided your musical taste?

Genesis was the group.  The first two Genesis songs I ever heard were “That’s All” and “Taking It All Too Hard”, both of which are from the 1983 self-titled album and absolutely brilliant.  But that same record has got some really beefy stuff, like the dark and atmospheric “Mama” and the 11-minute “Home By The Sea”, the second half of which is almost entirely instrumental.  So I was really intrigued by this band and dug into their catalog as much as I could in my single-digit years.  Up until around age 10, I discovered several more albums in the band’s discography which ended up being critical for me — We Can’t Dance, Duke, The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, but indeed, when I discovered the song “Supper’s Ready” on the Foxtrot album, the way I heard music was transformed.  It was a milestone in the development of my understanding of what music is capable of. Now, I say all of that with the disclaimer that this new album doesn’t really sound like Genesis at all.  It’s way too heavy and angry for that, on the whole, but sometimes the influence doesn’t just come in the form of trying to copy a drum sound, a guitar tone, a chord progression or whatever.  To my ears, there’s a consistent standard of quality in the Genesis albums with only a slight degree of wavering here and there, and I would say that level of quality is something I am striving to bring to my releases as well.

4. Who would be your main five musical influences?

Well, I’ve rattled on a bit about the first one, which would be Genesis for sure.  Otherwise, that is really, really tough, to try and narrow a list down to four more.  I am trying really hard to make music these days which is very much of my own sound, but in terms of elements I can clearly detect within my records, though frequently subtle, I would also say maybe… Type O Negative, Soundgarden, Rickie Lee Jones and King Crimson.  Plenty more than that, certainly, but that’s a passable draft for a “main five” list, I think.

5. If you could call in any one collaborator to do a song with, who would it be, and why?

Going into dream land but trying to keep it slightly realistic, maybe Peter Gabriel.  The guy records piles of stuff that ends up just sitting around, but he’s got a great reputation for being open to just jam and see what happens, and it seems like he has a lot of fun in the process.  I think that could be a wonderful time.

6. How would you describe your music to someone who’d never listened to you before? What is the one comparison a reviewer or fan has made that made you cringe or you disagreed with?

I’ve released five albums since 2009, and I used to describe the early ones as Rock 2.0.  Generic as that might sound, I listen to most everything so I like to create a bit of everything too, but the output tends to hover around a “rock” center.  The Rock 2.0 label probably still applies. I would hate to make enemies by stating that certain comparisons I have received personally or in the press make me cringe, because people hear what they hear in the music, and I think sometimes comparisons which don’t really align can get drawn when a listener has nothing else to compare something to.  One is simply working within one’s known frame of reference.  And it may not even be that they don’t make sense — they simply don’t make sense to me on my own personal level.  This is particularly true when being compared to a group I simply don’t listen to.  Dream Theater came up once and it was meant in a positive way, but I don’t own any Dream Theater albums.  I couldn’t name a single Dream Theater song.  I have great respect for the group’s achievements, but I don’t listen to their music.  That said, and I mean this in the most empathetic and nicest possible way, my perception is that Dream Theater is one of those groups which people reference when they have only heard of, like, three progressive bands.  And so with that in mind, again, one is simply working within one’s known frame of reference. To put it another way, let’s say an individual has only ever heard the music of Fats Domino and the composer Maurice Ravel in their entire life.  That’s it.  Just Fats Domino and Maurice Ravel, for the sake of this example.  Well, in that case, if one were working within this frame of reference and had to draw a comparison to my new album, “Skeletons”, one could argue that my stuff has some similarities to either one of these creative minds.  And you could technically draw links both ways which make sense, if we’re being truthful about it.  But with a big picture view, of course, neither of these would be particularly accurate.

7. When your band is hanging out together, who cooks, who gets the drinks in, and who is first to crack out the acoustic guitars for a singalong?

Well, the live band lineup is in flux and I work alone in the studio, so it sounds like I’m singing and playing guitar during the downtime in the cooking process.  I don’t drink, so I’m also saving money!

8. When was the last time you were starstruck and who was it?

I’m not sure that I have ever been starstruck, by definition, and it seems unlikely that I would ever meet the folks most likely to trigger this reaction from me.  Probably for the best, I think!

9. What is the best part of being a musician? If you could no longer be a musician for whatever reason, what would be your dream job?

For me, the best part of being a musician is probably the moments when the potential of the music is realized and the music is truly heard properly.  If I could no longer be a musician, my dream job would be… is it cheating to say “music composer”?

10. What is one question you have always wanted an interviewer to ask – and what is the answer? Conversely, what question are you tired of answering?

With all sincerity, nothing comes to mind on either front.  I am appreciative of the time and interest shown in the music, and I haven’t gotten burned out yet on the interviews for this press cycle!  Forward we go!

11. Looking back over your career, is there a single moment or situation you feel was a misstep or you would like to have a “do over,” even if it didn’t change your current situation?

It is my belief that everything is leading to something, so no.  Mistakes have been made, but I regret nothing.

12. If you could magically go back in time and be a part of the recording sessions for any one record in history, which would you choose – and what does that record mean to you?

Probably the recording sessions for the Genesis album Foxtrot, but I would just be a fly on the wall.  Forced to perform, I would probably play third tambourine or something.  I wouldn’t want to mess it up.  The song “Supper’s Ready” is really the Sistine Chapel of progressive rock, as far as I’m concerned.

BONUS QUESTION – Due to the current world situation with COVID-19 / quarantine / shelter in place, what have you discovered you miss the most from your life before the pandemic struck?

Performing, I suppose.  In truth, I have always preferred working in the studio to live performance, but I find significant value in both approaches, and there is an energy and an immediacy to the spirit of live performance which is irreplaceable.  I look forward to getting back out there when the time is right! Thank you very much for your time, and my very best to the 100% Rock readers!





Category: Interviews

About the Author ()

ToddStar - that's me... just a rocking accountant who had dreams of being a rock star. I get to do the next best thing to rocking the globe - I get to take pictures of the lucky ones that do. I love to shoot all genres of music and different types of performers. If it is related to music, I love to photograph it. I get to shoot and hang with not only some of my friends and idols, but some of the coolest people around today.

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