Returning to the Bay Area, Parlour to Parlour comes full circle (though there is still one more special episode to come) with Steve Taylor. Just like Portland’s Chris Robley, Steve is prone to busking, and actually does it quite frequently. And like Meredith Axelrod, Steve also plays music as his sole source of income. In fact, it was a chance run-in with Steve following a set by Meredith Axelrod at the Haight Ashbury Street Fair in San Francisco last June (Steve was busking by some port-a-potties with his piano) that reminded me – this dude has chops and soul, and featuring him here would be a real treat.
Steve Taylor’s debut album, Has The Size Of The Road Got The Better Of You, had mostly won me over with its fixation on vintage ’70s synths and a pretty dead-on approximation of what pop music was like back then. And yet, it still felt current, as it was obviously coming from a place unique to Steve. I noted in my review for Performer Magazine that he was irony-free in his references to prog rock, blue-eyed soul and even Nick Drake-esque acoustic folk. It was a strong combination, with room for even more growth in the future. And even now, after living with his music for a while, I feel that if Steve had his own equivalent of a George Martin or a Jimmy Miller, he could produce a truly great, earth-shattering classic pop record on par with those of his ’60s and ’70s heroes.
When Steve and I spoke about putting this episode together, we decided to film it just before a big birthday bash was about to start at his home in Oakland. The party vibe was, shall we say, strong in a very Bay Area way. I learned a valuable lesson from my experience with The Purrs, however, and no equipment was harmed during the filming of this footage.
Even though we started a bit late, we got through the interview without any guests arriving to interrupt the proceedings (though some annoying cell phone interference that came through on the tape made some of the editing choices plainly obvious in post production). So we learned of the beginnings of Steve’s piano-toting busking activities (encouraged by some friends during a 2008 trip to South by Southwest who made good dough doing it), his experiences playing lead guitar in San Francisco churches (one of which is located on the same block where I lived from December 2005 till the end of March this year), and what led him to amass more engineers than songs for his album – an album that took almost three years to complete in part due to lack of funds and dissatisfaction with the results of his recordings.
And as Steve continues to plug away on his next record, which is intended to be an acoustic endeavor, the idea is to get it out there far more quickly than the first one. After remarking to Steve that I had been listening to “Mystery” off his first album repeatedly for a while, he noted that it’s a good indication of the general idea of the next record’s sound. Which, as far as I’m concerned, is a great thing.
So accordingly, we present to you Steve playing not at his piano, but on his acoustic guitar, the song “Mystery,” for our performance footage. We recorded a few takes, but just as I felt in the moment, the tape revealed later that the first take was the best, and a beautiful representation of one of Steve’s best songs.
After we wrapped, the party began. Guests started to arrive with food and drink in hand, and slowly the house filled with friends and friends of friends, many of whom were musicians too. Short sets were played in the basement by duos, trios and solo artists, friends of Steve’s who are also active in the Bay Area scene. A jazzy jam with wordless vocals and vibraphone augmenting the bass, guitar, keyboard and drums turned into a blissful cap to the evening.
And this was our last Parlour to Parlour episode shoot of the year, a journey which zig-zagged up and down the west coast and beyond, where lots of new music, people and places were discovered. That warm, welcoming side of the artists I sought to uncover came through, and the personal experiences I gained were like none I had imagined. Suffice to say, my mind continues to be blown open in new ways, the full benefits of which I probably will not see for some time as it all sinks in.
But there’s still one more episode to go, one that was filmed back in August, that I have been saving for the very end. And if you’ve been keeping score since the announcement back in June, you probably have an inkling of where it doesn’t take place.
Steve Taylor – “Mystery”
Steve Taylor – Has The Size Of The Road Got The Better Of You
Steve Taylor – One More For The Road
Buy Has The Size Of The Road Got The Better Of You