“The first thing I ever did was write songs,” admits Sean Taylor, one of the brightest new voices in the contemporary acoustic blues/roots scene in the UK. “I couldn’t really play guitar that well at first, but before I knew I wanted to write songs. I’ve got so many songs in my back catalogue that are just not even worth listening to – I was thinking about songs, I was dreaming about songs, I was waking up thinking about songs – it was just there all the time. I just love songwriters.”
Luckily, Taylor learned how to play well enough to translate those songs into a solo career that has spawned five albums and seen him build from performing small local clubs to Glastonbury and other festival stages around the world, headline tours around the UK and Europe and, of course, here in Australia.
While he may be mining in the American roots blues area as a songwriter, Taylor is very much the English artist, but for his most recent album, last year’s Love Against Death, he opted to travel to Austin, Texas to record.
“The reason I went to Austin was the producer, a guy called Mark Hallman. He produced [American folk singer] Eliza Gilkyson, who’s a fantastic songwriter, and he also produced Carole King and also worked with Ani DiFranco as well. I was just really excited by his sound and his production, and there was a really great understanding there straightaway, so for me it was very much, ‘Yeah, I have to work with him’. It wasn’t so much about America; it was just this one producer, and he understood what I was doing straightaway.”
A multi-instrumentalist himself, Hallman also brought in a few friends to add the odd pedal steel here, a violin there, as well as Gilkyson, who adds her voice to two songs.
“I love the idea of a journey,” he admits. “All my favourite albums are a journey, from John Martyn’s Solid Air to Dark Side Of The Moon, Pink Floyd. I mean, in the last couple of years, Bon Iver’s self-titled album for me is a journey. That’s why I make albums. For me, I don’t keep diaries, I make records – they very much talk about where I’m at in my musical career. The songs are about my life, and you meet people along the way that are inspiring, even if their stories are sad stories, and before you know it you’ve got a song out of it. I’m very much a people-watcher – I love meeting people and writing songs about them.”
There are quite a few places along the way for listeners who care to join him on the Love Against Death journey.
“Although I make albums, and that’s really important, I see it much more as a kind of ongoing thing of developing as a songwriter and as an artist. It never ends – it’s just one album falls into the next. For me it’s just a continuous process of improving.”
Fresh out of that London borough made famous by the late Ian Dury, Kilburn, Sean Taylor has been besotted with the idea of the song for as long as he can remember, as he tells Michael Smith.
Taylor has already recorded much of his next album in Austin with Hallman, though he’s finishing it off in England and Dublin, Ireland, bringing in a few guests including veteran double bassist Danny Thompson, who’s worked with everyone from Richard Thompson to Eric Bibb. As for the songwriting, unlike so many artists, Taylor finds the more he plays, the more he writes.
“For me, most of my songs always come out of live performance. I have a really strange kind of ritual – before I play a gig I sit down and before I know it I’ve written a song. It’s happened so many times it’s weird.
Sean Taylor will be playing the following dates:
Friday 8 to Monday 11 March – Port Fairy Folk Festival, Port Fairy VIC
Wednesday 13 March – Northcote Social Club, Melbourne VIC
Friday 15 March – Lizotte’s Kincumber NSW
Saturday 16 and Sunday 17 March – Blue Mountains Music Festival, Katoomba NSW
Wednesday 20 March – The Vanguard, Newtown NSW
Thursday 21 March – Camelot Lounge, Marrickville NSW
Friday 22 March – The Mechanics Institute, Brunswick Music Festival VIC