Steve Taylor -- Sonfest 95 press conference

Date: July 28, 1995
Place: Sonfest 95, Chilliwack, BC

Q: Was that really you on the Internet a few months ago?

A: Yeah, that probably was. I do it once every couple of weeks. I'm really just a dilletante. What do they call that? For Christians who do it, they're called 'bond hoofers' [sp?]. That's what it's called. Nah, I dunno for sure.

Q: I wanted to ask about the tribute album.

A: Right, uh-huh.

Q: What do you think of the different versions of songs like 'Bouquet'?

A: I was, of course, very thrilled to sit down and hear it, and very depressed because I liked almost all the new versions better than the old ones. 'Bouquet' was a good case in point. I thought that Sixpence [None the Richer] got the essence of that song a lot better than my version did, and so -- In fact, one of the strange things is, almost by accident, some of these versions on the tribute album have affected the way we perform the songs live, so that when we do 'I Want to Be a Clone' now, it actually sounds a lot closer to DigHayZoose's version than our own, the original song. Yeah, but I like them a lot. It's a nice thing.

Q: What about your videos? Where do you get your inspiration for those, cuz they're kinda original.

A: Oh right, thanks. Part of it came from when I was going to college, I took some film classes, and then getting into video was a lot, in many ways, out of necessity, because with Christian music, particularly early on, there wasn't really enough money to do videos and hire a director and all that stuff. So I got into it mostly just out of a way to save money, and I was still sort of that, I guess, but, for example, well it's just a good way to exercise a different set of muscles, I guess. When we took our trip around the world [for Squint: Movies for the Soundtrack] I actually bought a 35mm movie camera so when we finished that and that project was done, other labels started calling and asking if I'd do videos for their artists, so I try to slide them in between other projects.

Q: When you went on your tour, did you have any plans for what you wanted your videos to look like?

A: Yeah, I had some plans, and knew, like, I'd sort of narrowed it down to, like, countries. I knew we were gonna shoot 'The Finish Line' in Vietnam and it would end up at this place in Turkey called -- I forget the name of it, but the place where the waterfalls are -- and I knew that 'Jesus Is For Losers' would be filmed primarily in England in the countryside, and so I sort of had it spread out geographically, but then a lot of it was making it up when we got there, and with 'Bannerman', which is sort of like, grab stuff and shoot 'em in all the different countries. And in fact, the situation with 'Bannerman', if anyone's seen the video, there's a band that plays along, and that was actually the house band of the restaurant we ate at in Thailand. We just asked them if they would mind learning the song really quick and lip-synching to it, and they agreed. It just happened right there.

Q: When I talked to you last year, Now the Truth Can Be Told hadn't come out yet, and you seemed really ambivalent as to how good the student films may or may not be --

A: Right.

Q: -- and I have to say that, having seen lots of student films, I liked 'em a lot --

A: Oh, that's nice.

Q: -- even the one with the really bad sound [Joe's Distributing].

A: [laughs] Yeah, right.

Q: I'm just wondering, do you ever see yourself getting more into film? Cuz Christian music is so saturated now, and there's really nothing in [Christian] film, do you ever see yourself doing that?

A: Well, I mean, you know, everybody and their mother wants to do a movie at some time or another, so I'll probably be an exception, but I've just got so much more to learn before tackling something like that, that it'll be a long way off, probably. We were in Denver last week, and this girl came up at the end of the concert, and she wanted to know if -- she'd recognized the name on one of those student films, the one about the parents who tried to trade their baby on the Corvette [Baby Talk], and he was a DJ in Denver when I did the thing, and he's still at it, so I've gotta send him a copy now, see if he remembers, I don't believe he ever saw the final version.

Q: Steve?

A: Yes.

Q: You have said that without your experiences in Chagall Guevara, there would not be a Squint. This is obvious in songs like 'Sock Heaven'. Can you comment on [quotes lyrics] ...

A: Yeah. That song was written when I was trying to sort out all my feelings out of having been in a band on a pop label and seeing it from that side of things. Part of that experience, a lot of the light came on, I suppose, and one of the things, I think, that at least became clear to me, was that the Gospel Music industry exists, I think, is largely because the pop music industry doesn't particularly -- or at least didn't particularly -- want it to exist, and so this sub-culture of music sprung up for better or worse because there wasn't any way to really get it onto pop labels. You can argue that it was because of quality, but I think that it was actually more than that. My experience in trying to get something going with a label in, man, in like the early '80s, was I took it around to some pop labels and they said, "We like the music but the lyrics would offend our listeners," and of course then I went to Christian labels and they said, "We don't like the music and the lyrics would offend our listeners," so on both sides. But yeah, when that song was written, I was still trying to sort it all out.

Q: The whole "Where do we belong" --

A: Right.

Q: -- "where do we go?" That really affected me.

A: Yeah, I think it's a struggle for Christians that are involved in any kind of artistic endeavour. Charlie Peacock, I think, did a good job explaining it. I heard him talk, one time, about how there are certain systems that are set up, that are already in place, and when you work within those systems you have to recognize where the boundaries are, and if you cross those boundaries there are going to be consequences to pay, and I think that's definitely true in gospel music, and I think that's also true in pop music. One of the things that surprised me was that it was true in alternative music. Alternative music, which was really set up to be a place where anything goes, has become in some ways, it can be argued it has become more codified musically, but it's definitely become more codified lyrically and I think it is -- Well, I know it's assumed that if you're an alternative artist on a pop label, that you hold even a certain set of political beliefs, and that if you did not follow those political beliefs, that you would be ostracized from that crowd. So it's a trade-off no matter where you end, and for myself, especially in deciding to get back into gospel music and talking with my pastor about it, I decided it was a trade-off that was worth being in.

Q: Do people ever mistake or misconstrue your humour as not being serious about the gospel?

A: Yeah, it used to happen, probably a lot more than it does now. I think one of the benefits of having a body of work behind me now is that people who don't really like what I do made up their mind on that a long time ago and a lot of other people after they, I dunno, see over a period of time they start to give you the benefit of the doubt that they might not give a new artist. So hopefully people aren't necessarily questioning my motives any more for doing that music. But there are still people that are probably offended at satire, and it's a strange line that we walk, because controversy for its own sake would be wrong, but controversy for the sake of truth is good and imperative, and many times I think satire is the only way to get hard issues or talk about hard issues without making it sound really stupid or sounding very didactic or coming out very preachy, and so that's why I still use it a lot.

Q: Steve, how did you get your bent -- don't mind me saying that -- bent sense of humour, a touch of cynicism, but ... [something about being a Preacher's Kid] ...

A: Y'know, I think you grow up in the church, and there's something that goes wrong with pastors' kids at an early age because they get all this attention that they don't necessarily deserve, just because they're the pastors' kids, right? And so somewhere something went wrong and I started liking to get up on stage in front of people. The sense of humour may have come partly from my dad, who I think has a good sense of humour, but I think a lot of it also came from being a youth pastor, and going to a university that was a very radical university at the time and in some ways still is, and you just realize that the best way to get things across is by levelling it with humour or satire or something like that. I'm going to get off the subject here, but [in] the last issue of Rolling Stone [there] was a debate between their normal political writer, a guy named William Grieder [sp?] I think, and this other guy P.J. O'Rourke, who's a young upstart, and it was very much a left-wing versus right-wing battle of the wills, and in my mind, O'Rourke won hands down because he was just so funny in the way he put things across, y'know, and it was like, if I was reading the two, and it's hard to be objective, I probably would have leaned more towards his thing because it was so funny, and the way he put it! And humour is very disarming, so it can be a good thing. One of the reasons why I like what Hocus Pick is doing, and it's been cool watching them progress as a band and being out on tour with them last fall, is they'd get that aspect of it too, that humour is a really good way to disarm people.

Q: In your earlier albums, you had some scathing criticisms of the whole evangelicals being in bed with the Reagan administration and all that --

A: Right.

Q: -- and in 'Down Under' you said, "I don't lean left or right, I stand on solid rock" --

A: Right.

Q: -- so this may be a little off the basic topic, but what's your take on the Christian Coalition and all that?

A: Politics makes me very, very cynical, and I really try not to be cynical about most things, but politics really makes me cynical. I don't know who it was, it was probably a Canadian that said, "Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely." I don't know who said it, but I think that's very true and I think that's been proved in politics time and time again. I think Christians just have to be very careful wielding political power the same way that those of us who are in performance and media and things like that have to be careful about the way that we view ourselves and the way that it may affect us, because as far as with Jesus, we're following someone who set an example of humility and self-sacrifice, y'know, having all the power possible and yet not wielding it. So I think both politics and something as seemingly innocuous as Christian music have intrinsically within them potentially very bad things, they can do bad things to our minds, they can make us think that we're more important than we are, that we're in the middle of self-promotion and all these other things that I think are hard to reconcile with the way Christ lived and what he taught, and so I actually can see a lot of parallels with being a politican and being a Christian. I'm glad that there are people that are doing it, but it's a really tricky business. I really do try to stay out of partisan politics, probably cuz I'm chicken in some ways, but also just because it always bums me out. Politics just always seems to disappoint, so there you go.

Q: It seems from what you're saying, you were making comments before about Christian music providing frustrations and joys in the past, politics has done that, the secular music industry has done that, it seems from what you're saying this is more of a human problem than just simply a Christian problem. You know how, as Christians, we always tend to be critical about ourselves, but what can you expect from a perfectionist religion? Can you comment on that?

A: That's a good point. Yeah, it's like, all these things are human problems, but as Christians we don't have the excuse that everybody else does for it. So when a Christian is in office or when a Christian is on the stage performing, I think it's proper that people expect more from them, from not just their views, their personal lives, and realizing that we're all human, we're all sinful and we all make mistakes, but at the same time that that's not really a good excuse. I mean, there have been examples of people who have done it well in the past, and I've been reading a biography of Billy Graham, I think that he's done a good job. In many ways it's hard to tell those things until someone gets pretty far along in their life, then you see patterns and consistency over the years, and I think a common thread for Christians in the public eye who have been able to make it in the long haul is that they really recognize their own sinfulness and prideful nature and they try to surround themselves with people who are able to call them on the carpet and remind them that they're no big deal and those kinds of things.

Q: I was just thinking as you were saying that, that perhaps where the dichotomy is between the secular music industry and the Christian music industry, is that performance of Christ. We're called to go in the name of another.

A: Right.

Q: And promotion, self-promotion that an industry like this demands is difficult when you're going in someone else's name --

A: That's very true.

Q: -- whereas if you're in the secular music industry, you're supposed to promote yourself.

A: Right.

Q: Can you comment on how you balance that with going in the name of another?

A: Right. Well, it's a very tough act, and I think that's the thing that I still don't know exactly what we're supposed to do. I mean, I try to cover myself with the things that I'm talking about, y'know, surrounding myself with people who can give it to me straight, but I don't know how far that's supposed to go. So much of what I do is self-promotion, and there's this media circus that goes on when you're doing this, and it's not just in press conferences and things like that, it's videos and the image thing that comes with it. I'm making videos, and videos are primarily about portraying an image! How am I supposed to be comfortable with that? Well, the fact is, anybody who gets in front of a camera has an image, so I justify it in my mind saying, "Well, what we're trying to do is figure out what it is that's right for them, and do that," but y'know, if that's a problem, then I'm probably part of the problem, even in making videos. I don't know, these are different times. I wouldn't dare to presume, if Jesus was here today, what path he would take. I don't know. The media is, like, ever-present and things are different than they were 2000 years ago, but I don't know how it would be done then. So I think all of us have to be very circumspect in the way that we walk as Christians.

Q: When I think of you, I think of Steve Taylor the songwriter, Steve Taylor the performer, and Steve Taylor the producer -- and forgive me for classifying you as those. Recently you worked with the Newsboys and Guardian; is there any specific avenue that you're going to pursue in the future?

A: Oh, right. No, I'm just gonna keep juggling as long as I can until it all comes crashing down. Same thing with films, I need about ten more years of wisdom before I tackle a book or anything like that.

Q: Outside of the Bible, [what books have you read]?

A: Well, I mean, a lot of us who are Christians keep coming back to writers like C.S. Lewis and Francis Schaeffer as really profound writers. I'm tackling a book by a guy at Wheaton [Mark Noll] called The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind -- I haven't got through it yet but it seems like a good read. I managed to plow through The Brothers Karamazov with my Cliff Notes always with me; took me about a year to get through it, but I was looking for, like, the comic book version of it, and I could never find it, so I had to read the big one.

Q: There's a movie with William Shatner and Yul Brynner.

A: Oh, that'll do it, the one with the Star Trek guy, that's what I need to do, is watch the movie.

Q: On the production thing: with Guardian, you went to over 30 concerts, just checking them out. Is that something you do with every production?

A: Oh, well, the Guardian thing was weird. We became friends before anything like that even occurred to either of us. But yeah, I had seen 'em, we had done this tour, I'd seen 30 concerts, I could tell they were a really great band live, and musically their thing wasn't particularly what I'm into, but at the end of the tour, I think we were in Germany, and they said, "Would there be any chance of you being our producer," and the idea of hanging out with those guys seemed like a lot of fun, and I liked them as people a lot and I respected their commitment and their heart and everything like that. The problem is we just had to raise -- They grew up musically in a genre of California metal, which has gone the way of the dinosaurs --

Q: Is it more modern -- ?

A: Well, yeah, hopefully it's more modern, it's definitely them, it's just bands need to keep changing and moving and their last record had been more acoustic so they were in a good place to do that.

Q: There were two songs I'm aware of that have not been released on CD yet. One of them, 'Not Gonna Fall Away', you said would be released over your "chicken-pecked corpse".

A: That's correct, yes.

Q: Why?

A: Because I think it's just a dreadful nine-minute meow mix from the pit of hell. [laughter around the room] I wouldn't wish it on anybody.

Q: And last year at Greenbelt you performed 'It Only Takes a Spark' to the tune of 'Born to Be Wild' --

A: Oh yeah, that was --

Q: Why wasn't that on Liver?

A: Oh yeah, that was just a big mistake, I don't know whose idea that was. Do you sing that song 'Pass It On' at camp, y'know? Well, it works really well to 'Born to Be Wild'. Like, all you need is another camp song where you change the lyrics --

Q: Like 'Amazing Grace' to 'Gilligan's Island'.

A: Yeah, exactly. So it was one of those things. But there was a time we were thinking about recording it, and I think the Steppenwolf estate wasn't too into the idea [laughs] and frankly I think they were right, so we won't see that making the light of day.

Q: Since Chagall, you've released Squint and three other albums in your name [Now the Truth Can Be Told, I Predict a Clone and Liver], but they've all been retreads, so to speak. What's up in the future?

A: I'm just treading water until I can think up ten new songs. If you guys have any other ideas on repackaging, I'm certainly open to the idea. [laughter across the room] It's gonna be another six months until the next one comes out. Maybe do, like, ten different mixes of 'Not Gonna Fall Away', that would be nice.

© 1995-2001 Peter T. Chattaway
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