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20 Q&As: Chris Taylor

In the new 20th Anniversary Issue of Dazed & Confused, we interviewed the profilic Dirty Projectors and TV On The Radio producer about his new music project, CANT

The Chuck Norris of indie rock, Chris Taylor doesn’t sleep, he waits. Or at least, it doesn’t seem like he would have time to sleep. Since moving to New York in 2000, the Seattle-born musician has been one of the most influential artists in the city. While studying audio engineering at NYU, he produced Daniel Rossen’s Department Of Eagles, eventually lending his multi-instrumentalist talents to Rossen’s then new band Grizzly Bear in 2004. Seven years later and the group have released two more albums, performed with national orchestras and made fans out of Jay-Z and Beyoncé.

Alongside his work with Twin Shadow, Dirty Projectors and TV On The Radio, Taylor formed the record label Terrible two years ago with friend Ethan Silverman and has since released singles by Chairlift and Blood Orange. This month, he releases a genre-blind, forward-thinking album under the name CANT, which is funny, as he is someone who very clearly ‘can’.

Dazed & Confused: What were you listening to back in Seattle when you were a kid?
Chris Taylor:
I was a little angry kid in 1991 so Nirvana made a lot of sense. Having said that, I found other music in the city like Pearl Jam or Soundgarden too cheesy. Apart from Nirvana, it was a lot of soul or jazz – I loved Charlie Mingus, John Coltrane and Miles Davis. Later, it was Duke Ellington and Don Cherry. I grew up on Stevie Wonder and Otis Redding, so Sublime or Red Hot Chili Peppers just didn’t make sense to me. I would buy the CDs, because all of my friends were buying them, but secretly I’d think, “Why am I listening to that?” Radiohead’s OK Computer was the next ‘guitar record’ to make me say wow.

D&C: Has that record stayed with you?
Chris Taylor: I still love that band and I love those records. I particularly admire Jonny Greenwood. It’s just that Amnesiac, Kid A and OK Computer were so groundbreaking that, nowadays, people almost expect too much of them. In Rainbows and The King Of Limbs are still so much better than most of the shit out there! They really understand that it’s important not to get bored or stay in the same neighbourhood, musically speaking.

D&C: You’ve lived in New York for 11 years now, is the city still exciting?
Chris Taylor:
Honestly? Sometimes wish I could move from New York, but I still feel like there’s so much stuff to be done there with Grizzly Bear and the label. Every time I think about leaving, there’s always something that draws me back.

D&C: Do you feel like it has changed a lot?
Chris Taylor: Yeah. I still live in Brooklyn, but I don’t live in the area everybody thinks I do! Williamsburg, which is really just one small neighbourhood, is a mess now. It’s just so full of tourists and yuppies. No musician can live there anymore. The rent has gone up because everyone heard it was a cool place to live. That happened in Brick Lane too, right?

D&C: Definitely. Where would you prefer to be?
Chris Taylor:
I love cities like Paris and Berlin but I’m not sure I could live in either just yet. Paris intimidates me and I even know French! If I’m honest, I think I’ve got a pretty good accent but somebody always calls you up on it...

D&C: You’ve worked on a lot of NYC-based projects, so surely you’d miss that? What about RAIN (in aid of water projects in Africa) and ‘Dark Was The Night’? How did you get involved in them?
Chris Taylor: A friend of mine organised the whole thing and just asked me to contribute a track. They wanted a female vocalist too, so I said, ’Maybe you can get Solange to sing on it?’ I met Solange about three years ago, through my friends in Chairlift. She’s so great. The benefit went really well. I think we’re going to Kenya and Rwanda to check out how things have gone in December. Red Hot was similarly New York-based, yes. That was because of the Dessner brothers. It was brilliant to be asked alongside all those acts. Grizzly Bear got to work with Feist on ‘Service Bell’ and there was Beirut, Yeasayer and of course, The National.

D&C: Do you ever take a break?!
Chris Taylor: 
(Laughs) I’ve been sort of organising dinner events too, called House Party. I want to make dinner a little more like it is in Germany and France – something friendly and involved. I’m opening a restaurant at the beginning of next year too…Apparently cooking is the new rock’n’ roll… 

(Laughs) Yeah, right! Cooks are the new rockstars, totally! I think it’s true...

D&C: Do you not think that guitar music has just been down on itself in the past few years?
Chris Taylor: I don’t know… I think when people say everything has been done before, it’s part of the problem. You can’t operate like that. For example, remove 1900–2000. What about that period of time? Was that all innovation and change? We can’t invent the lightbulb every day! For sure, nobody has ever done what Animal Collective has done, or Fleet Foxes. That guy had one microphone and made a record at his parent’s house. Bon Iver did a similar thing. They weren’t trying to change the world but the people who listened to them have made those records.

D&C: Has that DIY aesthetic meant a really big change for you?
Chris Taylor: The internet has just changed everything, right? There are definitely more ways for people to make a go of it. I love how The Weeknd self-released a free mixtape and now he’s doing half of Drake’s record. It allows genres to change a little more. Anything is better than the chart pop and R&B that just uses those cheesy, trancey sounds – the first time I heard people using that I was like, ‘What the fuck is going on?!’

D&C: There’s none of that on your record then? Have you always wanted to do something separate from Grizzly Bear?
Chris Taylor: 
I did but I kept stopping myself from finishing it. I didn’t have the headspace to ever sit down and figure out what I needed to do.

D&C: Is that why you called the record Dreams Come True?
Chris Taylor: 
I was sitting with George [Lewis Jr] from Twin Shadow working on a song called ‘Dreams Come True’ and I thought, ‘What if I call the album that?’ I just started cracking up. It really was just a joke at first but now I think it’s an interesting concept. Sometimes you feel satisfied with life and everything feels how it should be, in which case, your dreams have come true, but at other times everything is a total mess, you know? I think it’s a statement that resonates at any point in your life. You know which side of the coin are you on – the good or the bad.

D&C: Which side are you on now?
Chris Taylor: 
I’m on the nice side and try to stay there as often as possible. When I was doing the record in the winter, I definitely felt like I was on the other side of it, however. I love touring but there was almost two years straight with Grizzly Bear. It was inevitably exhausting on all of us. Your personal life can get a little bit shredded and relationships get kind of frayed, so I had to check in with myself and take care of myself. I started to feel that, if I didn’t do anything like that, I would lose it. The record helped me find happiness again. Seriously, I breathed such a sigh of relief. To have pushed myself to finish was an amazing feeling.

D&C: Is it important that you’ve done it all yourself?
Chris Taylor: 
It’s just something I enjoy and have enjoyed for the last seven years. It’s not a matter of taking ownership. People ask if I’m a control freak but what about visual artists? I don’t think John Chamberlain, the visual sculpture artist, hired loads of people to make his sculptures. He found the materials, he crushed them up, he put them where he wanted to put them… There is no difference! It just makes sense to present it in the way you want to present it. I’ve always liked recording, I like production, and the record label. It’s just natural. It’s what I do every day.

SIAN ROWE is editor of the music website ABEANO

Photography ALEC MCLEISH

Dazed & Confused's October issue, 'Come Together: 20th Anniversary Special', is out now. Click HERE to check out the other, already published, Q&As celebrating the issue