Five Questions … Sean Taylor
Shire Folk interrupted Sean Taylor’s busy gigging schedule to muse on London, life and politics.
SF: Your music is broadly blues-based and John Martyn is a name frequently mentioned in reviews. Who would you say are your main musical influences?
Sean: I like lots of different music. I started out playing guitar and singing when I was 14 and got into a lot of 1960s and 1970s fingerstyle guitarists like John Martyn, John Renbourn and Bert Jansch. Then I got into a lot of the music that influenced those artists, such as blues, soul and jazz. I have always gravitated towards artists who sound like no one else and move between genres, such as Van Morrison and Tom Waits. Songwriting is always the most important thing for me ... I love artists who can convey emotions and stories with great melodies and great lyrics. Such as Leonard Cohen or Joni Mitchell.
SF: Your latest album Chase The Night is like a love letter to London and specifically being London-Irish. Is that how you see it and how much does background and location influence you?
Sean: That is very true. I love London ... it is my home. There are so many influences in cities ... different cultures and different rhythms all living side by side. I’m very much a city person, the countryside freaks me out a bit ... I’m not used to silence, I’m more at home on noisy streets with distant sirens.
Chase The Night was recorded in Austin, Texas with a great producer called Mark Hallman (Carole King, Ani Di Franco) at Congress House Studios. The album is about being from London, but it is also about being a troubadour travelling from town to town. The world moves differently when you re living like this. In Austin, we recorded a lot of the album live and we worked very quickly, moving between instruments and getting loads of ideas down fast. I love working like this, it’s exciting and full of surprises. I wrote the song ‘London’ with Mark Hallman on a late-night recording session laced with whiskey ... that was a good night. On Chase The Night I brought in a hero of mine, Danny Thompson, who I have been touring with. I’m playing his birthday in a few weeks opening for Eric Bibb.
SF: You have a serious gigging schedule – how do you keep it fresh night after night?
Sean: It has to be different every time, I never have a set list. That is why I love gigging with Danny Thompson; because of his jazz background we improvise all the time. I have always seen every gig in the same way a painter sees a fresh canvas ... you have to think on your feet and react to the audience. Every set I play changes based on the type of venue and audience.
SF: When I saw you live you said that for lots of political gigs you’re the go-to guy if they can’t get Billy Bragg. Do you see yourself as a political singer, or singer with political influences?
Sean: Some of my songs are very political. The album before Chase The Night was called Love Against Death and that was a socialist album and I am a socialist. I believe in collectivism and the redistribution of wealth and power. But first and foremost I’m an artist and the songs I write choose me rather than me sitting down and thinking I’m going to write about a certain topic or specific issue. I find political songs the hardest songs to write and they often take years. With love songs and stories about a place (like London) you have more freedom for ambiguity. With the political songs it’s harder not to just tell a story or say which side I’m on. As I said on stage when you saw me, I always turn up for left-wing gigs providing I’m free as it’s a little something I can do to make the world a better place.
SF: With six albums since 2006, you’re averaging almost an album a year. Will you keep your foot on the pedal or what else does the future hold?
Sean: I love making albums and it’s an addiction. This year I have a really busy gigging schedule but I’m working on lots of new songs. Not sure when I’m going to record. I don’t want to rush this next album. I never go into a studio unless I’m certain the songs are ready. Recently I have been playing with a number of great musicians as well as Danny, such as a great fiddle player and a great percussionist in London … I love playing with other musicians ... It’s a huge buzz.
If you fancy catching Sean live (and you really should) you can find out more at [www.seantaylorsongs.com]