Memphis’ Prodigal Son Paul Taylor Makes Triumphant Return This Week

After nearly four years, longtime Memphis musician Paul Taylor is finally  returning home to play his first local show of the 2020’s.  His triumphant return to the Green Room at Crosstown Arts will take place this Friday evening, where Taylor will be joined by his brand new band, Three Springs. Prior to his highly-anticipated return, we sat down with Paul Taylor to discuss his return, his recent hot creative streak, and much more.

1. Before moving to Wisconsin in 2020, you were one of the city’s go-to sidemen and a celebrated solo artist as well. Just to set that stage, give us a brief rundown of your career and of your many notable collaborations for readers who may not be familiar with your work.

Aw heck, I’ve been very blessed (non denominationally speaking of course) to have a toe in many different scenes for pretty much my whole life.

Obviously, I had the great fortune of growing up a second gen Memphis musician. I learned so much from my dad Pat Taylor. As a child, I would beg him to let me hang out all day in the recording studios while he worked (aside from being a legendary guitarist and vocalist, he was also a recording engineer at Ardent) and through that I was equally fortunate to meet and fall in with the Dickinsons and Selvidges, who would become lifelong musical associates. That connection was also pivotal inasmuch as it was mostly through Jim Dickinson that I was educated on Memphis music and it’s history.

In the 1990s I was doing all kinds of random stuff. For instance- making very left-of-center Cloud Wow Music with wizard Shelby Bryant whilst also doing one-off tours as a bassist with people like Ann Peebles. At some point I became a serious student of jazz drumming. In the early aughts, I was touring with Dave Shouse in The Bloodthirsty Lovers as a drummer and then coming back to Memphis to play Beale Street as a bassist with the Gamble Brothers Band, or subbing as a drummer with Charlie Wood at King’s Palace- while also making my own brand of lo fi electronic music, which I dubbed Leftronica, under the pseudonym Interrobang. For many years, I also played drums for Amy LaVere.

Around the early 2010s, I was playing bass with lifelong friend Eric Gales, and touring with San Francisco legend Chuck Prophet as a drummer. Having backed up every great guitarist in Memphis from Calvin Newborn to Eric Lewis to Shawn Lane- in the last 12 years, I decided to start gigging as a guitarist and band leader in my own right with my band the Merry Mobile, and various other outfits, whilst also continuing to work on my solo acoustic act, trying in vain to do my best imitation of David Cousar, who I was lucky enough to make a good bit of music with over the years.

In the 2010s I played drums with Hope Clayburn’s Soul Scrimmage, The Mighty Souls Brass Band, subbed a bit as a bassist with Outer Ring; and most crucially to my late life development, I played guitar for the better part of 5 years in the Reba Russell Band, while also playing guitar with those fabulous twins, The PRVLG. All the while I’ve been putting out my own records under my own name and then using my nom de plume New Memphis Colorways. I need a nap just thinking about all of this. I’m sure I’m forgetting over half of it. This is the short answer!

2. As previously mentioned, you are now residing in Wisconsin. How do you think the move has changed your art and music over the past three years, and what do you miss about Memphis as a musician in particular?

It’s a damn good question. My own sense of self value has always inextricably been wrapped up in being a Memphis Musician- all of my self worth and pride has been in that identity.

Extricating myself from that gerbil wheel of my hectic musical life there has allowed me the time to reset spiritually and musically. Yet also somehow, I’ve carried that identity up here to Door County with me. It’s still an enormous badge of honor to be a Memphis musician. No matter where I live, I will always be that.

But my new vastly different environment-with lots of water, snow, ice and such- has inspired music and songs I certainly would’ve never written in Memphis. Look at where Sister Bay, WI is on a map! It’s like Mississippi farmland surrounded by an inland freshwater ocean that freezes in the winter. Quite mind-blowing for this southern boy!

And I’ve befriended a whole community of musicians up here – I’m basically doing the same things I’ve always done, filling in wherever I’m needed on whatever instrument is required!

But of course I do sorely miss the Memphis groove, which truly can only be felt when making music with my Memphis brothers and sisters!

3. On November 17th, you will be returning home to play your first show back in the Bluff City in over three and a half years at the Green Room at Crosstown Arts. What are you most excited about the show, and what should fans be expecting?

I am terribly exited to breathe the Memphis air, see my friends, feel the aforementioned Memphis rhythm emanating from the soil! Crazily enough- I haven’t seen any of my dear friends there since BEFORE the pandemic period- it’s been almost four years. So, I look forward to lots and lots of big hugs!

And also worth mentioning- folks may not know that I actually was the very first musician in the Crosstown Arts Artist Residency Program, and then wound up employed at Crosstown Arts for almost two years running a project studio as well as helping host the first shows that happened in the Green Room. I dearly love that space. It will be good to be back!

And I have new songs and new jams and a new band of awesome musicians!

4.  As you noted, you’ll be joined at the show with your new band Three Springs. Tell us a bit about the group, how it formed, and how the music differs from your previous work.

Welp, as I became immersed in the Door County music community, I found some like minded musician friends in drummer Adam Cain and bassist john Frater. I had been kicking around the idea of resurrecting some of the songs off of my first two solo records- a few of which I think are amongst my better songs, but which suffered from me being a novice record maker way back then.

So ostensibly, we formed to play those old songs- and breathe new life into them; but of course, we wound up writing new songs and incorporating instrumentals and some of John Frater’s excellent songs (I would compare his writing to Jonathan Richman or Stephen Merrit). It’s everything from power pop to funky experimental instrumentals.

5. Earlier this year, you and your longtime collaborators Luther Dickinson and Steve Selvidge released an excellent project entitled MEM_MODS Vol 1, and you also just released the new New Memphis Colorways EP, “Let The Mystery Be,” which is similarly awesome. (I will link to both). Tell us a bit about both projects and where folks can find them, along with your earlier work.

MEMMODS came about during that uncertain otherwise dismal Spring of 2020. One day out of seemingly nowhere, Luther Dickinson emailed me several WAV files of some minimal bass parts he had written, and asked me to overdub drums. I did so, and suggested that he send it to Steve to flesh out (we all have gone recording rigs which facilitate this kind of long distance interaction)! A fire was lit, and the next thing you know we were seemingly making a record, and we were using the Marco Polo video chat app daily, that was a huge part of it. In a time of otherwise isolation, we were chatting and catching up, reconnecting, and furiously working on this music. It was cathartic- I think I can speak for all of us in saying that It probably saved our sanity and provided hope and purpose. As such- that horrible scary and tragic time for most people was probably the greatest summer I can remember! I like to say that we FINALLY made the music we were trying to make when we first got together as teenagers. It only took 3 decades and a global pandemic for it to happen!

And when we wrapped up around August of that year- I then used the residual momentum and steam to make my New Memphis Colorways 2021 record ‘It Is What It Isn’t’ – a fusion-y funk freak out that has many similarities to MEMMODS.

Bearing in mind this is pre-vaccine and was the most uncertain time- my wife and I then decided it was a good idea to move to Door County Wisconsin to ride things out! We weren’t sure if we’d stay or not but it has turned out to be a very happy place to live. That first winter up here made me feel like I was living in the movie Tron! … and that inspired me to return to programming music, which I was hugely into as a teenager. In an isolated waterfront cabin on a frozen bay- I wound up delving into this strange hybrid of live and programmed elements which was quite unlike anything I’ve done before; but then those tracks sat unfinished for the last few years. Miraculously, on the first day of spring this year I decided to go on a sober jaunt which continues to this day. A huge wave of inspiration came over me and I found myself writing lyrics and melodies to those cabin tracks.

I added guitars and other sprinkles, did a ton of editing- and then mixed it- all within a week or two. I should mention that I also decided to make a concerted effort to use more accessible song forms. Repetitive hooks, tight verses etc. I’m proud of it- it’s a departure from my standard non-standard fare!

And the inspiration didn’t stop- I then went on to write many many new songs, many of which I’ll be playing with Three Springs at the show! And we aren’t just coming to Memphis to play this show- we are coming to make a record! I’m bringing these guys to soak up that Memphis groove and catch that vibe, and eat ALL of the BBQ!

Paul Taylor with Three Springs will be performing at The Green Room at Crosstown Arts at 7:30PM on Friday, November 17th. Tickets are available here

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