Music News & Reviews

‘The music feels genuine to me.’ Psychedelic folk band Hiss Golden Messenger coming to Lexington

M.C. Taylor, the lead singer of Hiss Golden Messenger, will bring their psychedelic folk sound to The Burl in Lexington.
M.C. Taylor, the lead singer of Hiss Golden Messenger, will bring their psychedelic folk sound to The Burl in Lexington.

In many ways, Hiss Golden Messenger still seems like a new musical enterprise.

Perhaps that’s because founder and frontman M.C. Taylor has continually reshuffled personnel, compositional structures and folk-derived inspirations to expand an initially homemade sound into a sprawling, ensemble charge.

In short, everything with Hiss Golden Messenger evolves with each recording and tour. No wonder it continues to sound new. So one can’t help being a little surprised by the fact Taylor has kept various incarnations of the band going for almost 12 years. In fact, Hiss Golden Messenger has been honing its folk-fortified sound for so long that its newest album contains much of its earliest music.

“The music feels genuine to me,” said Taylor, who brings his newest lineup of Hiss Golden Messenger to The Burl on June 12. “That’s always what I’ve been most concerned with. Am I going to be able to look back in five years, 10 years and feel like this is an accurate representation of the place I was at in my life at the time that I made these records? So far, that feels true. But generally, what I’m hoping for and what I’m looking for is some kind of documentation, and our records are documents of the times in my life when I was making them.”

In 2007, Taylor’s previous band, the indie San Francisco rock troupe The Court and Spark disbanded. That sent him from one coast to the other – specifically, to Durham, N.C., and a period of artistic reappraisal.

“There were a few years of searching,” Taylor said. “I didn’t get rid of my guitars or that sort of thing, but I definitely took a step back and tried to assess what it was I was looking for from music. There was definitely a reorientation. On paper, what I was trying to do with The Court and Spark and what I do with my music now were actually quite similar. I drew from the same musical wells. But the intentions were quite different. For one, I’ve become a better songwriter over the years.

“Having been a student of Southern culture from afar, I also felt I wanted to live in the South in order to understand, or attempt to understand, what it is I loved about this place from a distance. I needed first hand experience. That’s what brought me to North Carolina.”

On the second Hiss Golden Messenger album, 2010’s “Bad Debt,” Taylor explored a stark, almost ambient folk sound through a series of songs penned in the months following the birth of his son. He recorded them in very soft focus fashion on a cassette recorder in his kitchen.

“When I first started making records here that people were paying attention to, one of them being ‘Bad Debt,’ I didn’t really know anybody where I was living. I didn’t have a musical community around me to speak of, so I was kind of existing by myself. I made made some friends around the time of that record who were musicians and things grew from there. There was no master plan.”

An appearance at last year’s Forecastle festival in Louisville revealed just how far Hiss Golden Messenger grew in the ensuing eight years. Under temps nearing the 100 degree mark, Taylor and company still worked off a poetic folk base. But songs like “Call Him Daylight” and “I’m a Raven (Shake Children)” drew on the electric ingenuity of a three-guitar front line. That made the music sound, at times, like a psychedelically inclined Dire Straits.

“I work on musical relationships where the people who play with me trust me, “ Taylor said. “They have a particular musical voice that I like and that I think will add something to the songs. Then we just see what happens. No Hiss Golden Messenger show sounds the same.”

In terms of current music, Taylor has a new Hiss Golden Messenger recording completed. Until its release, fans can enjoy two newly released songs that are not part of the project – “Watching the Wires” and “Everybody Needs Somebody.” But the band’s most recent album is actually a compilation of its earliest music. Released in November 2018, the four CD box set “Devotion: Songs About Rivers and Spirits and Children” gathers three early albums – “Bad Debt” and its two follow-ups, 2011’s “Poor Moon” and 2013’s “Haw” – along with a rarities disc titled “Virgo Fool.”

Work on the collection demanded something of Taylor he has seldom indulged in: a renewed and detailed listen to his past work.

“It was pretty sweet, really. I generally don’t listen to my records too much after they come out just because I spend so much time with them during the writing process, making them and mixing them. So by the time a record is out, I generally don’t listen to it again unless I’m referencing something.

“But putting this box set together was a very unique opportunity of actually being forced to listen to the music again. It was a little bit like putting together a family photo album for public consumption.”

Hiss Golden Messenger

When: 7 p.m. June 12

Where: The Burl, 375 Thompson Rd.

Tickets: $20

Call: 859-447-8166