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24.09.2014
Meghan Stabile
Letter From the Editor
Features

Taylor McFerrin

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The World According To Taylor

by Al Shaw Ki
 
In a world where one has to constantly discover and reinvent, it’s refreshing to know that there is some semblance of respect and integrity that still exists amongst the spoils and ashes. Although often excavated through a myriad of layers, distractions and mediocrity, the art of improvisation or “jazz” does exists. No matter what, the concept of jazz will forever remain a critical lifeline for any musician or performance artist. It’s a life force that slowly creeps through the stems of nature forming new traditions of art and composition. There is a new movement of stealth jazz that is in motion, stirring up amongst the pots and peppers. In between the cracks of pop culture and the flames of flamboyancy, there lies a fusion of various bodies, souls and instincts that are redefining the urban griot.

Taylor McFerrin, a musician, composer, producer and occasional beat boxer is getting an early start at becoming a rising star in music. Joining the Brainfeeder family, a label created by Flying Lotus, Taylor releases Early Riser, a sincere, sonic and romantically orchestrated love letter. Although the LP was released earlier this summer, it seems like only yesterday that Taylor released “A Place In My Heart,” the mellow Bjork-esque track featuring Ryat, which served as a part of the promo sampler for the Early Riser project back in 2011.


Reminiscing, I recall speaking to Taylor one winter evening in 2011 about the new record. The weather in New York was unbelievable to say the least. Meteorologists labeled it as a “Wintry Mix” which was a pleasant way of describing a cold, snowy, rainy, sleeting night of thundering hail, believe it or not. Due to the weather, we decided not to meet in person, so I gave him a call. Apropos as it was, the conversation immediately began with the significance of the weather.

TAON: How does the weather affect you emotionally? Creatively, do certain climate conditions affect your mood?

TM: Yeah, it’s more just in the wintertime. I tend to wake up so late in the day. During the winter I get cabin fever really bad. I don’t go outside. I wake up so late, then it gets dark within a few hours and I’m like ugh… the day’s over so I’m just going to stay in. Then that starts to add up over the course of the winter. I’m not a fan of the cold weather, but I think it’s more of the constant darkness that gets to me.

TAON: What about the winter inspires you?

TM: The only thing that inspires me about the winter is the very beginning. I grew up in Cali so it’s not something I’m entirely used to. The new snow, I’m almost never expecting it. I like when it first changes, but I get over it real quick. Like I said, I’m not fan.

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TAON: How would you explain the juxtaposition of location, such as your New York state of mind versus going back and forth to deal with the label in California?

TM: I feel excited about it. I’m hyped that the label is in Cali. I’ve always hit it off with people from California. I’ve been living in New York now for almost eleven years. It’s been so many times when I’ll meet this random person and we’ll hit it off and it turns out that they’re from San Francisco or LA. It’s definitely a tangible vibe. It’s the pace. In New York, everyone is always on hustle mode constantly and I feel like in California you don’t get that aggressiveness or someone always trying to sell themselves to you. People do it, but it’s not that blatant. I mean you may actually find yourself talking about stuff other than yourself in California. In one way it’s cool because I think I’m the only dude from New York. So that feels nice that they’re bringing me into the fold and it’s cool vibing with people from all the way across the country.

Another thing about the label is that I don’t feel any pressure to conform my sound into anything other than what I’m really feeling right now. You know, Flying Lotus, it’s his label and he’s personally signing people that he’s feeling. It’s a nice feeling to have someone who’s opinion you respect and is also a peer that is into your stuff too. I was nervous at first because I have a lot of respect for the scene out there right now, but once I was out there it was so chill. It was very laid back and it felt like a good choice to go with them. It’s important that I have some experience with the record label scene and the kind of pressure and environment that comes with a major label. It kind of threw me off a little bit. I was basically on track to release all of my stuff on my own, but with Brainfeeder, it seems like I don’t have a lot of that stress. They’re all about the music right now. It’s a very organic scene.

TAON: So, it’s like a family vibe at Brainfeeder?

TM: Well, half of the artists live in the same neighborhood. Everyone actually hangs out. It’s both built on respect for musical talent and also seeing that everyone’s friends. That’s important for me because I’ve been in a lot of bands over the years and it’s always been me and my homies making music, but also it’s been about the hang after the show, the rehearsals and all that. When you’re really just trying to blow up to be a huge artist sometimes you end up side-stepping all of that stuff. Then you’re relying on all of these people that you aren’t really close with. Whereas it seems out there (at Brainfeeder), everyone has each other’s back. Everyone’s collaborating. A lot of people I’ve never met came out to my show just because it was a part of the family vibe.

TAON: Describe the mood you’re trying to convey with “Early Riser”.

TM: Early Riser. I’m messing with people’s perception because I don’t wake up early at all. It’s kind of a joke for people that know me, but for people that are just finding out about me, I just like the way it sounds and the impression it gives. I don’t even remember when I came up with the title. (Laughing)

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TAON: Your music tends to transcend genre. What you do takes hard work, but you make it look easy. Do you feel that some artists are trying too hard in this over-saturated market?

TM: I’m not really one to say the music game is messed up right now. I don’t think of myself as ahead of the curve. I just think that I’m willing to do music that feels right to me at this point and not necessarily trying fit into a genre. I’ve had the experience of playing with so many different types of groups, club music, psychedelic fusion and hip hop, so I guess modern music is a mix of a couple different genres. It’s also a mix of production styles. Your sound has to do with what gear you use. I think I have an interesting mix of older analog stuff and really modern equipment. I’m using synths that were used on old records from the 70’s and then I’m chopping it up in ways that you can only do with modern techniques. In a weird way, it’s more about being a producer, it’s more about mixing up production styles as much as music styles.

For me, it’s part of growing up. When you’re a young kid, you try to fit in. Then you go through a period as an adult where it’s not necessarily cool to try to fit in. But, then you go through a period where you’re uneasy just being yourself. Then, hopefully you get to a point when it feels the best just being yourself, and that can be scary sometimes. There’s a letting go point. As a musician or artist, that’s the most important thing. At a certain point you don’t care so much to sound or be like any body else and begin accepting that you are unique and do what you do. And a lot of times you don’t necessarily know what you’re doing, but that’s a zone that I’m comfortable in. The other thing about artists is when you’re really young and naïve you may express yourself in the wrong way because of self-consciousness. You may retreat a little bit and get scared. And I think that even happened to me a little bit with the Broken Vibes EP. I wasn’t even planning on making that EP, it was just kind of inspired one week. I really got a lot of love from the broken beat community and the UK heads. Getting a lot of gigs out there and getting attention from that scene made me want to make more music that I thought that scene would like. But, I think over the last few years, I’ve let go of trying to make music to fit into a particular scene.

TAON: Watching you perform live is similar to watching a live construction site. Would you consider yourself an architect or a conductor?

TM: I would say more of an architect. It’s really all based on improvisation. I jam. I record myself for like five minutes straight, then I go back and look for a sample of what I played. Then I loop that or chop up a couple sections, and piece it together. It’s really like a puzzle. Then, on to the next sound. I experiment with it. That’s my process. In the beginning, it’s pretty free form, then I try to find a moment when something nice happens, and then I build upon that.

TAON: Who are some of your biggest inspirations?

TM: My top four influences are Stevie Wonder. Herbie Hancock, J. Dilla and my dad (Bobby McFerrin). I grew up going to my dad’s concerts and the improvisational aspect of my music is all based off of his influence. I’m really into The Isley Brothers and a couple Brazilian artists such as Cesar Mariano and Arthur Verocai. There’s a band called Little Dragon I really like. Black Milk, Oddisee, Robert Glasper, Chris Dave and those cats. Miguel Atwood Ferguson, who is mainly a classical violin player and composer and he does some really nice work. One of my good friends is a really dope producer, and we have a healthy producer rivalry, this dude, Phantom Lover. I’m inspired by live music. I like going to live shows and seeing guys that are crazy talented on an instrument. I’m more into that than checking people’s albums.

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TAON: Your music has a romantic vibration. What feeds this romance?

TM: All of my favorite music growing up was really emotional. I like music with emotion. I’m into Stevie Wonder’s chill stuff like “Creepin” or “Superwoman” more than “Superstition.” That’s why Donny Hathaway is one of my favorite artists. There’s so much crazy emotion in his music. I like when a song can make you choke up, or if you’re going through an emotional time in your life, music can hit you while in that type of space. There are definitely different types of scales and chords that are melancholy, sad or emotional and I tend to gravitate to that type of stuff.

I like anything that has real emotion. Even if I’m in a horrible mood, I’d almost rather feel like being in a lot of pain or angry than being indifferent or feeling empty like I have no emotions. That’s how I feel sometimes in the winter, when I’m inside all of the time. You start to lose feelings of any kind. But, when I’m out in the world interacting with people, I wake up a little bit.

Three years later, Early Riser has finally awakened, shining with a warm, sexy residue. Melancholy and subtle, Taylor sedates you with rhythmic scats colored with quirky keys and melodic synths. Naturally reflective of the label’s vibe, the soulful fusion of downbeat, electronica, jazz and vocals create a therapeutic elixir ideal for ‘a great day in the morning’ or evening. Hints of romance stitched throughout, “Postpartum” is the seductive intro that leads you down the rabbit hole to the refreshing “Antidote” featuring Nai Palm of Haitus Kaiyote. Taylor expands with instrumentation on tracks such as “4:00 AM,” “Stepps,” and “PLS DNT LSTN”. Robert Glasper, Thundercat and Emily King are prominent features on the album while “Invisible/Visible,” a fly duet with pops Bobby McFerrin is a timeless father and son moment, while setting a clear distinction between the two artists’ styles. Taking a cue from Hancock, Taylor totally dives in, immersing himself inside of a technical paradise to create new worlds. Early Riser succeeds to lift you above the murk, revealing a love affair over a melodic drift, weaving freely in and out of emotional states, all with a sparkle of hope.

Story & Photography by Al Shaw Ki

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