Christopher Taylor is the sharply-cheekboned blonde one from Grizzly Bear; the Brooklyn-based band's multi-instrumentalist and in-house producer. It's Taylor's work with recording that, in many ways, makes the Grizzly Bear sound; achieving the spaciousness —so magically on Veckatimest— through which their cascading harmonies fall. As producer, Taylor has worked with a growing, impressive roll call of indie acts: Dirty Projectors, Twin Shadow, the Morning Benders, Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson, Blood Orange, Class Actress. In 2011, Taylor also debuted his own project, Cant. His first Cant album, Dreams Come True, found him abandoning the wooded sound of Grizzly Bear for cold-wave synths and noisy dissonance.
Interview: 25 July 2011
Why make a solo record?
"There's a lot of music that I listen to that I can only apply in small ways, and not take all the way. Like, everyone in the band has to like it, and we all have different opinions in Grizzly Bear. I felt like doing something where I could pursue my own angle on things. It's a fairly different-sounding record from Grizzly Bear."
How, specifically, did you want to make this different?
"I feel like what I did with the record was exactly what I meant to do! What I meant to do when I recorded it was make a record that sounds like it does. I can’t think of another way to answer that question. I just wanted to do something different: exploring different types of making music, different ways of writing lyrics. With each song I decided I would try and tell a specific story. I really like lyricist who can tell stories: Neil Young, Otis Redding, The-Dream."
When you say that the record you made was exactly what you intended to make, does that mean you weren't surprised at where this LP ended up?
"Oh, no! Not in that respect. I had absolutely no idea what the record would end up sounding like. I just knew what sounds I was into, what types of music I was into. In that way I was really surprised. I just kind of threw myself into this thing: I wrote three-quarters of the record in a week-and-a-half with George [Lewis Jr. of] Twin Shadow. Then I left that recording session and thought about it for five months, scratching my head, generally being really confused. Like 'wow, this is what it sounds like when I just run with my own thing?' I was really confused with what I was supposed to do with it next."
What was so confusing?
"Just that it turned out so different from anything I'd been writing with Grizzly Bear. It's just such different music. Which is what I wanted to do, of course, but it still shocked me when I came out with it. I felt very new to me. I didn't know how to make sense of it, at first. It was challenging. But I like a good challenge, so..."
I'm guessing that you're talking about how, to me, Dreams Come True is really much more dark and dissonant and strange than I expected. Are those qualities you hear in it?
"That was what I was feeling at the time, and where my head was. I was dealing with some tough stuff. So, the fact that it came out sounding on the dark and dissonant wasn't something that was surprising to me; but I was trying to make a dark record as much as I was trying to make something that felt like a release. I meant for it to be a kind of cleansing process. A musical exfoliating rub, taking off that old top layer of skin. Just trying to change; deal with things in order to move on; just releasing that negative energy. Listening to, say, Nirvana's In Utero or Joy Division, music that's incredibly dark, they don't make me feel sad or dark or despondent, they don't make me feel anything but joy. That sense of release —that exhale— is amazing. Listening to those records helps fix me up."
Was that your hope for your own album, something that could help fix you up?
"Yeah, absolutely. I was trying to make the record feel like that. To not just be a complaining record; I'd really hate it if it sounded like that. I didn't want that static kind of feeling, where you sit around and feel worse. I wanted it to feel like a forward motion, moving through these negative feelings. This is all a very abstract way of saying this album is about me dealing with stuff."
Well, if you care to talk about it, what kind of stuff?
"Oh, the usual. [laughs] The usual life stuff people write albums about! Y'know: love, love-lost, love-not-wanted. Family. Myself. My own head. The standard shit that people dredge up. There's not a single political instant on the record, it's all about me."
Does it feel like a revealing thing to put out?
"Yeah, probably. I feel like it's a really honest album. And it's definitely coming from my heart. There's a lot of confession on there, a lot of things I've never been able to confess to anyone before. I was just trying to be honest with myself, find at least one part of my life —or this one spot in my life— where I could just be unflinchingly honest. It's like skinny-dipping: that kind of revealing, cathartic, refreshing moment."
Have you made piles of solo recordings over the years, and this is just the first one the world's gotten to hear? Or is this a wholly new thing for you to do?
"This is definitely a whole new thing for me. The first song I ever released on Terrible, 'Ghosts,' was actually the first song I'd ever been able to finish. Then, the second song I was able to finish was the song that came out of that benefit for Kenya ['Kenya'], the one I did with Solange Knowles and Twin Shadow. Then, the third and fourth and fifth and sixth and seventh, or whatever, were the things that ended up on the album. There were actually some songs that were written and finished but that didn't make the record, but everything was from this first batch of songs I was doing. Hopefully it's the start of an ever-active process. I intend to continue releasing things in this sort of way."
What made you suddenly be able to finish things?
"I'm honestly not sure what helped me be able to finish them. I was kind of surprised that I was able to. Maybe just the desire to do it? Man, I don't know. Just wanting to do something different, that I specifically just wanted to do. When you're in a band with four people, you always have to compromise; and that's a very good thing, and a really important thing to be able to learn to do. But, between producing records for other bands and writing records with my band, I think I started to feel this need to pursue something that was just something that I was interested in, that I didn’t have to discuss with other people. I just didn’t want to deal with compromising. I’ve been doing that for seven years, and it’s been a really amazing experience, but just for a little bit I wanted to just do whatever I wanted to just do. I wanted some 'me' time."
Was Grizzly Bear already moving towards a hiatus to allow the four of you your own 'me' time?
"Um, no, no. My band is not on hiatus. But, it was the end of that cycle. We finally came off the end of the last tour we did for Veckatimest, and there was the idea that we were definitely taking a break. But, I can't just take a break. For whatever reason, I'm the kind of person who needs to constantly to work on stuff. When we finished touring, I didn't want to take some time off, I just wanted to go into the studio. But, I really didn't want to book myself in with a band and go record them, so I decided I'd try and make my own record."
What was it about working with Twin Shadow on his record that suggested he’d be a good person to work with on your own record?
"I love the way George makes his things. His take on pop music is really impressive, really 'up my alley' for lack of a not-stupid term. I just really enjoy how he approaches music, and it seemed like it was really in line with what kind of music I was into at the time, and what I was hoping to do myself."
Interviewing Dave Longstreth and Chris Chu your angel-name has come up, and each has told me how much they learned, as producers, after working with you. What has working with other bands taught you?
"Oh, shit, you learn so much. Every person you work with you take little bits and pieces of knowledge from. That's totally the best part of it, and one of the reasons why I do it. If there wasn't anything for me to learn, I wouldn't be that interested in doing it. I only do records with people I admire, who I respect, whose music I really love. I'm only ever in the studio because I'm really excited to be in there with them, and learn with them, and see how it is that they do what they do. I don't want to work with someone if I'm not excited to see them at work. So, of course, every time I go in the studio is a really lucky learning experience, because I try to only go in the studio with totally amazing people [laughs]."