Exclusive AUK Backstage Video: Taylor McCall

Photo credit: Andrew Frolish

One of the most exciting, emerging voices in Americana today is South Carolina’s soulful singer-songwriter Taylor McCall.  McCall’s first full-length release was 2021’s ‘Black Powder Soul’, a varied album with a mix of quiet, introspective moments and gripping, distorted guitar rock.  He’s just followed that up with brand new record ‘Mellow War’, another ambitious set of songs with flavours of blues, rock and Americana. McCall says of the new material: “‘Mellow War’ pays homage to my late grandpa. My grandpa went to Vietnam. The album cover is him in Vietnam. The video for this song is from the war in Vietnam. These are songs that are sort of letters to home that I imagined he might have sent. My grandpa was a life inspiration for me; it was bigger than just music. The songs are a tribute to everything he stood for and everything he taught me. It’s a way for me to share with him even when he’s in another dimension. This isn’t just about me or myself.”  Songs like ‘Rolling Stoned Again’ and ‘Rest on Easy’ are dramatic expressions of McCall’s character and storytelling ability.

Throughout March, Taylor McCall has been touring the UK, supporting Robert Plant Presents Saving Grace, Featuring Suzi Dian.  AUK’s Andrew Frolish caught up with Taylor backstage at the Ipswich Regent before the show to record a song in the intimate dressing-room setting.  Needless to say, Robert Plant and Saving Grace’s performance was spellbinding – earthy, elemental, epic.  But Taylor also delivered an incredible live show.  Aided by the excellent Sam McDonald on bass and backing vocals, Taylor opened the evening with an excellent energy.  Starting with the powerful ‘Red Handed’, his searing electric guitar was full of bluesy atmosphere.  ‘Mellow War’ is one of the finest songs I’ve heard so far this year and it was inevitably a highlight of the live set.  ‘I Want You Still’ offered a real contrast – delicate, acoustic guitar and intimate vocals, with effective backing.  ‘Rolling Stoned Again’ and ‘The Devil Wants to Dance Again’ were both moody places for Taylor’s gravelly, worn and weary voice to inhabit.  The set was rounded off with the surging ‘Black Powder Soul’, which fizzed and burst with explosive power.  McCall won over the crowd with his music, powerful performance and humour.

For this exclusive backstage video, Taylor played the title track from his brand new album ‘Mellow War’.  The songcraft is fabulous: it’s lyrically intriguing and meaningful while musically the song is assured, layered and full of melody and drama.  On record, Taylor’s vocal performance is gritty and authentic, perfect for the challenging thematic material.  Recorded raw and unplugged, this performance really showcases the song’s emotional pull.  Many thanks to Taylor for the absorbing acoustic performance and the exclusive Q&A about the song below.  Enjoy.

Thanks for playing ‘Mellow War’. Tell us a few words about song, what it means, where it came from, what it was like to write.
‘Mellow War’ came from reading an article online about the Vietnam War, or just war, but talking about how during war, some of the scariest and most tense and terrifying times were not when they were fighting, but the anticipation when nothing was going on, when gunfire was about to go off. So I had this metaphor or epiphany – ‘Mellow War’, that’s a title for a record.  It was the first thing that pulled the thread of this record, but also thinking of my grandfather and a lot of these songs, it’s one of those things where I kind of wrote it from the perspective of him sitting in a foxhole and going through that.”

It’s quite an experience to try and put yourself into. What’s that like, emotionally, particularly when it’s your grandfather?
“I’m a very empathetic person and I always have been since a kid.  I’ve felt things in a way that it has allowed me to be a songwriter because it sparks creativity and allows you to view things from outside of just your perspective. I just think of how young he was, younger than I was, and I couldn’t imagine going through that and just how good we have it as, as humans, these days.  I know things are still all over; there’s always something going wrong and scary and terrible, but back then, he didn’t have a choice.  It was like, you’ve got to go do this whether you want to or not, you know? Whereas I get to play music – it’s just thinking about the differences and how grateful and lucky I am.”

What’s it like playing it acoustic and live as opposed to the studio version?
“I would say I thrive in the studio. That’s my safe space and comfort zone. I can hear things better in a way.  I’ve spent so much time in the studio lately that sometimes playing live can feel a little bit more of work because you’re not hearing things like you do in the studio, but it’s good. You just have to think about it differently – what I’m hearing is ultimately not what they’re hearing. As long as you’re delivering it properly, and you feel comfortable then it’s good.”

Speaking of playing live, of course you’re on tour with Robert Planet and Saving Grace. What’s that like?
“It’s like a dream. That’s probably every kid’s dream to get that call. And I know, as a kid, I had always hoped and prayed and only imagined and dreamed that something like this might happen.  Before he called, a year before, I was kind of butting my head against the wall. Touring things weren’t going right and I felt that I might not be meant to be doing this right now – I’m going to take a step back.  So, I took a year off and then after my birthday in August, he gave me the call after I got out of the studio and it was feel like my mind was moving in slow motion  There’s no words to describe it.  It’s been amazing.  They’ve taken me on like family and it’s nice to be among the caliber musicians I’ve always hoped to be around.”

Absolutely and here you are tonight in the Ipswich Regent.  What’s it like being here?
“When I can’t sleep at night, and I’ve never been here and I don’t know where I’m going, I look it up…I’m like, has Jimi Hendrix played there? So, last night we played Bristol – he played there; tonight, here at the Ipswich Regent, and there’s some footage of him playing here. A lot of artists have played here.  Anytime I get to stand where my hero stood, I feel like there’s an extra little bit of magic and perspective that brings something a little extra.”

So, the new record is out.  How’s that being received so far?
“Ultimately, this was not a contrived record, just putting more noise out in the world. It came from the emotions I was feeling after losing one of my best friends.  It’s not just about my grandfather. ‘Mellow War’ and the cover are kind of a shield for my good friend, who I lost, before you can even apply to it being about war. It’s being received well, I believe, and I’m really excited that people are even enjoying the songs that I wondered if people will like.  It’s a little outside the box and people seem to really like that, which makes me happy.”

It’s moved on from the first, and your previous album.
“Every one of them sure has because I didn’t really know who I was as an artist for the first two EPs.  Then, when I finally had my chance to get a publishing deal in Nashville, I had the time to not work and be able to write for two years.  I wrote 200 songs. I was able to able to pick ten of the best of those years, which became the album ‘Black Powder Soul’.  I feel like ‘Black Powder Soul’ and especially this record really represent where I am and who I am as a musician.”

Photo credit: Andrew Frolish

About Andrew Frolish 1453 Articles
From up north but now hiding in rural Suffolk. An insomniac music-lover. Love discovering new music to get lost in - country, singer-songwriters, Americana, rock...whatever. Currently enjoying Nils Lofgren, Ferris & Sylvester, Tommy Prine, Jarrod Dickenson, William Prince, Frank Turner, Our Man in the Field...
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