TAZ TAYLOR is all systems go-go-go for the launch of STRAIGHT UP, the latest album by the TAZ TAYLOR BAND. GET READY TO ROLL! meets up with Taz at mission control as the album prepares for lift-off.
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Hi Taz, and congratulations on the new album which is already being hailed as a very exciting follow-up to Welcome To America which featured Graham Bonnet on vocals. This time, the razor-tongued Keith Slack (another former MSG singer!) is making all the right noises on Straight Up. How did you hook up with Keith and what made Keith the right man for the job?
Hi, yes, Keith was a real find. For a few months last summer we were tossing all kinds of names up in the air. We spoke to a few guys and to a few guys' managers but nothing really seemed to be connecting. Then I suddenly remembered Keith from the "Unforgiven World Tour" live album from MSG. I listened to the CD to refresh my mind of Keith's voice. I was very impressed with his range and dynamics and the fact that he was covering the styles of a handful of MSG singers with ease. I decided to get in touch. My one concern obviously, though was that all the songs on the MSG album were written by other people and I was curious to hear his own material. He sent us a copy of his solo album "Bent Not Broken". Myself and Val were instantly blown away to be honest. Not only by the quality of his vocals, but by how different he sounded on his own material. Much more contemporary and raw. By the time we had settled on Keith as the man for the job, the rest of the album was already recorded, so we sent him a couple of tracks and he was into it immediately. It really was an instant connection!
The album kicks off at full throttle with Lock And Load, and roars along at a right rocking pace. Talk us through the tracks - the styles, influences, your favorite songs, how the recording sessions went, etc etc.
Lock and Load was one of the first songs that I had initially demo'd, in fact I had that one as well as a couple of others laying around from before we went to Europe last year. It is a lot of fun to play!
Actually all of the songs on this album are fun to play. The whole ethos behind the album was all about that! I approached this album from the perspective of writing a new live set to take on the road, as opposed to writing a 'studio album'. That probably sounds a little weird, but it really was where I was coming from. I was watching a Mötley Crue show on TV from their recent reunion tour... I've never been a huge Crue fan, but it was just song after song of great live songs. All simple "Straight Up" hard, riff oriented rockers. I immediately thought, wow that looks like a lot of fun!
I demo'd everything at home on my multi track with my drum machine and me playing everything and then Val and I rehearsed, just rhythm guitar and drums.We had about eight rehearsals over a period of six weeks. Val recorded all the rehearsals, then I would load those into my multi track and add the bass, keys and lead guitars to those versions. We repeated the process as the songs developed their natural feel and Val worked on his drum parts. Aside from the vocals, we knew exactly what the album was going to sound like and how we were going to get there, before we even entered the studio.
When we did enter the studio, all the rhythm guitar and drums were recorded together, live, with no click track. We just counted 'em off and hit 'em! All eleven tracks in just two days - over half of them were first take! On the third day I did all of the bass parts. I did all of the guitar solos and some minimal keyboard parts at home the following week.
For most people, the obvious difference between this album and Welcome To America will be Keith's vocals instead of Graham's. But for me the live edgy feel of the album is the big difference. This is a very organic, raw sounding album - it lives and breathes!
Reading the liner notes, this is a completely new line up of the Taz Taylor Band. In fact you yourself are credited with playing bass as well as incidental keyboards. How and why did that come about?
Well first of all, I should point out that Val Trainor joined the band on drums, immediately after the sessions for Welcome To America were completed. So he has been in the band for well over two and a half years now. As far as Bob and Dirk on keys and bass are concerned, well, people move on. They want to do different things, new things. We wish them all the best. Graham wanted to concentrate on his new version of Alcatrazz. I am looking forward to the album - I am a huge Alcatrazz fan.
The MSG connection is taken a step further with the guest appearance of legendary keyboard-player Don Airey on the title track. This is a more gentle and stately tune than the others on the CD. Did you have
him in mind when you wrote it, and how did you approach him to play on it?
That song was initially going to be the one ballad on the album. It was at one point about five minutes long! Eventually though, I came to my senses and just rewrote it as a short instrumental. I was determined to close the album with an instrumental and have it be the title track.
We decided to ask Don to play on it because.... well, why wouldn't you!?
We had met Don in the UK in 2007. He had come to a couple of shows to see his old friend Graham from their days in Rainbow and he and I had hung out over a few drinks after the Milton Keynes show and stayed in touch since.
He invited us all out to a Deep Purple show in San Diego as his guests. I sent him an email to ask if he would play on the track and he wrote back within about two minutes to say "of course, no problem"!
It really does mean a lot to me to have him on there. That guy is all over my record collection, and he did a superb job on "Straight Up".
Your first release, Caffeine Racer, was an all-instrumental album, and then you got together with Graham Bonnet for Welcome To America. Nowadays, are you consciously building tunes with a view to lyrics being added? If so, how does that influence the way you write?
That's a good question. I still have a place in my heart for purely instrumental music, but to be honest, I think my strengths are more in line with writing rock songs. Or to be more accurate... musical arrangements that can become "songs" when presented to a good singer, writer. Also as a guitar player, it is easier to convince people you are a good player when you only have to solo for 16 measure on each song... I wouldn't want people to see through the subterfuge if I had to play longer!
In 2007/08 you toured the UK and Europe with Welcome To America. How were the shows received and in what ways did interest in the Taz Taylor Band change as the tour went on?
On the UK Tour it was at first obvious that the fans were there to see Graham for the most part. But we definitely won a lot of new friends on that tour as it went on with many people coming back to 2, 3 or more shows and telling us how much they enjoyed our Welcome To America material. The European tour had a really different vibe, with many fans knowing exactly who we were in advance, waiting for us in the street after sound check and calling to us by name etc.
Let's talk gear for a second... are you still using Gibson Explorers and Marshall amps?
I play Gibson Explorers exclusively, they fit me perfectly and I don't have to think about it. I have gone back and forth between Marshall and Peavey a few times. Right now I am using Peavey because they sent me a brand new 6505 from the factory for half price and also were kind enough to set me up with 2 half stacks for our Euro Tour last year. They sounded great every night and the new one sounds great on the album... just ask my neighbors!!
Are you planning some live shows with Keith? If so, what when where?
We certainly hope to. It will of course depend on the public reaction to Straight Up. If there is significant interest we will tour significantly. If there isn't we may just tour anyway, just to be annoying!
© Get Ready To Roll - 26th March 2009