The Story So Far -- Hiss Golden Messenger

Written by
Logan Tabor
Published on
October 27, 2022 at 12:07:57 PM PDT October 27, 2022 at 12:07:57 PM PDTth, October 27, 2022 at 12:07:57 PM PDT

It’s not often we get to sit down with a fellow North-Carolinian who has made a big splash as a recording artist, so we figured it was about time we had a go at it.  MC Taylor is the mastermind behind Hiss Golden Messenger – he’s been making huge waves as a singer, songwriter, and guitarist in the folk americana world for quite a while now.  We recently had the chance to squeeze in a quick chat with him, and boy were we absolutely pumped!  

You know the deal guys, we had to start from the beginning…

“From a very young age I was obsessed with music and by the time I was 11 or 12 years old, I was spending whatever disposable income I could scrounge together—usually loose change—on cassette tapes and records: Public Enemy, De La Soul, punk bands like TSOL and other stuff I discovered in skate videos. I loved the stuff that my parents listened to, like The Beatles, The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, Joni Mitchell, but for whatever reason when left to my own devices I was drawn to music that seemed to exist left of the dial. There were a few small record stores in the town of Irvine, CA, where I grew up that carried a lot of imported music, and that's how I learned about stuff like Lush, Siouxsie and the Banshess, the Sisters of Mercy, and all kinds of goth and industrial music.”

Already loving the breadth of influences we’re seeing here.  This definitely has the makings of a unique artist.

But what about the GEAR that got Taylor into playing?

“My dad is a guitar player. He owns a Martin D28 which he bought new at McCabe's in Long Beach in 1964. I know he paid something like $200 for it. That to me has always been the gold standard of guitar tone for mostly nostalgic reasons, and it's the reason why I generally play Martin guitars now. My philosophy about tone, if I even have one, has always been pretty simple: Find a great-sounding instrument and don't mess with the sound that comes off it too much. Easier said than done.”

Letting a great instrument work for you and with you is absolutely a great approach.  As we all know, passion is a huge part of the battle in the first place.  If you have something great to say, a great instrument will only help you say it.  

Alright so we have some background now.  Let’s see what his gear looks like these days…

“As for acoustic guitars, I generally play 000 Martins. I've found that for the way that I play and the way that I use a guitar, I have better luck with smaller guitars. To my ear, the sound is more focused and takes up less space within a sound mix. That's not to say that I don't absolutely love the sound of a dreadnought or some other big-bodied guitar, but that's just not what I use. I'm generally trying to be a part of the rhythm section; my strumming should blend with the high-hat in such a way that it works like a shaker, while still maintaining a harmonic component. I recently bought a Pre-War guitar, a 000, that is absolutely gorgeous. I'm a big fan of what they do. As for electric guitars, that's probably a long conversation, but I mainly play Telecasters and have forever. I love a Tele with a thin neck and great-sounding single coil pickups. I'm a rhythm player, and I've always wanted to play rhythm; it's what I love to do the most. I've never played a guitar solo in my life! So I'm usually looking for Tele pickups that are rich and warm, not brittle or sharp—again, I'm always searching for a guitar that sits in the mix with drums, bass and piano as one big rolling rhythm.”

This is a great way to think about things.  Knowing where you and your instrument belong in a mix is absolutely crucial, and it’s a mark that many musicians miss.  

Hiss Golden Messenger has released a hefty bit of music and it seems like they are constantly touring and/or working on new material.  In all that hustle and bustle, there have to be some moments where one might feel a little less inspired than others, right?

So how does Taylor break through those short lapses?

“I suppose there are certain times that I'm more inspired than others. I surround myself with books and music and art—that's usually enough to keep me searching. I spend time exploring stuff that sounds nothing like the kind of music I make. If I need a break, I take it. I generally don't end up making anything of value when I'm forcing myself to do it.”

Well said; much respect there.  Alright so, what is tour like and how does he keep a level head and positive attitude on the road?  

“I hardly drink at all—the occasional glass of wine—and certainly nothing before playing a show. I exercise as much as I can, even if it's a dingy motel exercise room, and I sleep as much as I can. I drink a lot of water, I don't eat much meat or junk food if I can help it (though I do have a soft spot, as my bandmates will tell you, for Haribo gummy candies). I didn't really adopt any of these things because I'm a musician, but just because they make me feel better in general. Oh, I do make it a point of doing a group hug and short—not a prayer, exactly, but just a little talk—with my band right before we go out onstage just to look everyone in the eyes and get on the same page. It's helpful, I think.”

I think we could all benefit from a routine like this, especially while on the road.  All that work can be taxing and if you don’t give your body back the things you take from it, you might find yourself getting spread thin.

Recently Taylor started using Mojotone’s Quiet Coil NC-1 Acoustic Soundhole Pickup; naturally, we wanted to see how that was working out for him and how it might contribute to his sound/performance…

“Mojotone was generous enough to send me a few NC-1 pickups, which I installed in my road guitars, both of which are Martin 000s. These are paired with a Grace Designs BiX preamps. In truth, this is a question that my front-of-house engineer, Luc Suer, could probably answer better than me—so much of what audiences are hearing out front is a direct result of the way that Luc is processing my acoustic sound. But we take the acoustic tone in particular really seriously because, let's be honest, it's really hard to make an amplified acoustic guitar sound great, especially in front of a loud band. The NC-1 makes my guitars sound like my guitars, which is simple to say but so hard to do. I've been super impressed. We use in-ears onstage, and the first time I used the NC-1s, everyone in the band was talking about how good the acoustic guitar sounded.”

Well that may have just put a small….or large smile on all of our faces here at Mojotone.  We worked hard on that pickup and we’re elated to hear about other hard-working folks getting some good use out of it.  

Alright, that’s about all the time we have.  Before we go, why don’t we find out what Taylor and Hiss Golden Messenger are up to for the next little while…

“Well, we just finished a really busy year of travel and did a ton of touring. We also just finished a new record, which should come out sometime next summer, at which point the whole merry-go-round will start up again. For now, I'm enjoying the cooler weather, and really enjoying my time at home with my family. I'm trying not to make any plans at all, if I can help it.”

I don’t think anyone would blame the guy for that!  That’s it for us today everyone; we’re so glad you stopped by to check us out and we’re extremely grateful to MC Taylor for joining us.  Everyone go show Hiss Golden Messenger some love and make sure you tune in next time!