I had heard of the Taxpayers through a wild story about a band in the Northwest that lived in a storage space to record an album. I heard that they would lock themselves in and had to have someone else let them out. I don't even want to think about the smells of the place - that alone gives me the willies.
Then the Taxpayers were featured in Razorcake as the cover story in issue # 73, an impressive feat by all means. After reading the story, I picked up a copy of their seminal album God Forgive These Bastards: Songs from the Forgotten Life of Henry Turner and A Rhythm in the Cages. I was put off at first by a band that could wield such a dynamic selection of instruments from the trumpet to the accordion to handfuls of spaghetti, but simply could not stop listening. God Forgive These Bastards has since become one of my all-time favorite albums. I have spent a godforsaken amount of time obsessing over it, magnetized by the lyrics and the accompanying novella (called God Forgive These Bastards: Stories from the Forgotten Life of Georgia Tech Pitcher Henry Turner.) I'm really excited to have them featured on my blog.
Self-confessed "Goof-Punks," The Taxpayers are a band that combines many subgenres of punk rock and folk music while also showing a reverence for all things blues and jazz. It's almost overwhelming how much is going on in their songs and it's a testament to the gargantuan ideas the band is wrestling with as they craft songs. But if you see them play, they really are quite goofy. There's definitely no such thing as dumbing-down their music, but the band is really into making people happy at a show.
They recently toured the United States with Anarcho-Folk-Punk band Ramshackle Glory (and ended up playing the final show at Chicago's Swerp Mansion), which is one of the all-time best touring partners in my opinion. Their sets are a blaze of frenzied fun and awesomeness.
I'm totally honored to be able to post this interview and I think that you should listen to everything that they have recorded.
You can check them out on FACEBOOK, buy their stuff at USELESS RECORDS, take a look at their own WEBSITE or check out their albums on Spotify.
Jordan: Who all is in the Taxpayers? How did you guys meet? When did you guys decide to form a band?
Rob Taxpayer: The Taxpayers are me (Rob), Noah, Danielle, Phil, Kevin, Andrew, Alex, and occasionally Eric. Our friend Nate used to play bass, but doesn't anymore. We met in lots of different ways. Me and Noah met because we both explicitly wanted to start a band that sounded like the Minutemen. Then we slowly gathered others as time went on - Danielle was a friend that we talked into learning an instrument, we met Kevin when he moved in next door and stopped by to play trumpet while we were practicing, we met Phil on a stolen row boat on the Columbia river where he falsely told us that he owned a bass, Andrew joined after we saw him all over the country on various tours, we met Eric when he was on tour with a band from Minneapolis, and Alex came up to us pretty early on in the band and volunteered to play saxophone.
J: You all live in different states now - how do you guys practice/write new music/tour?
RT: Well, we don't practice, for one. We just meet up somewhere on the planet to start a tour, and then part ways when it's over. As for new music, I'll usually write the skeletal frames of songs - the lyrics, basic structure - and then email them to everyone else. Then we'll get together at some point in the year, see what works, add to the songs, break 'em apart, and see what sticks. For this last album, Cold Hearted Town, we did it all (including recording) over a two week period around Christmas when we could all be in the same place.
J: What is the process for writing a song? It seems like you guys have a pretty wide variety of music from more punk-oriented songs to ballads.
RT: It's different for every song. Sometimes a phrase will come out of the blue and the song will be built around that phrase. Sometimes I'll write a little story and then force the story into a song format. Sometimes a melody will linger around for years until it finally fits somewhere. Then, once I've captured the idea, everybody else will take a shot at the song - Kevin might say, "Oh, we should speed that one part up to 4/4, drop out the guitar, and bring in this saxophone melody", or Andrew will play a super cool guitar part that makes us decide to play the song country-style. But like I said, the process is a little different for each song.
J: I think you guys are a band that can write not only a great tune, but lyrically weave a story better than a lot of people. Where does the inspiration for these stories or lyrical style come from?
RT: I've always liked bizarre, abstract fiction, and a lot of those elements wind up in songs. I also really enjoy songs that tell stories that seem to encompass much more than the two or three minutes it takes to listen to the song - there's a ton of examples, but the line from Bruce Springsteen's "Promised Land" - "On a rattlesnake speedway in the Utah desert, I picked up my money and headed back into town...". And then he never comes back to that! What money was he picking up? What kind of deal went down in that desert? It's so mysterious, it's fun to think about, and I think really good songwriters will have a whole story figured out in their minds for each little line like that, even if the entire story doesn't fit in the context of the song.
J: I've been listening to "God Forgive These Bastards" a lot and I read the accompanying book. Where did this come from? How did you guys write and record the album?
RT: When it comes to specific things, like the Henry Turner character from "God, Forgive These Bastards", the inspiration for him came from a bunch of places - first, there was a guy I used to always see under the Broadway Bridge whenever I'd go fishing, and him and me would drink beer together while I fished and he'd tell me these fantastic stories - some of which became inspiration for Henry Turner's life. Other aspects of Henry's life came from real events I discovered after researching things about Georgia, where I decided Henry should be from. Some of it was just purely invented. It's fun, making things up!
J: How about Cold-Hearted Town, your newest release?
RT: For Cold Hearted Town, I was going through a period where nothing I wrote seemed like it was very good. I had some different concepts, tried writing a comic book that the songs would be based on, but none of it really clicked. So I decided to do the thing that Robert Johnson did and made a deal with the devil. The devil gave me this really fucked up story about a terrible nightmarish town where horrible things happen. I have some different ideas about why they happen in the town of Blackridge, but I'm afraid to say publicly...
J: How do you guys record? Do you have your own set of equipment?
RT: We have friends record us. We'll usually pay them a little money (way less than they deserve) in exchange for a demand of their constant attention and flexibility until we're pretty happy with what's recorded. Then, we'll have a few central places where the recording happens, garages, houses, etc, and some extra field places like parks and busy streets. Our friend Michael Miew Love did the Exhilarating News, A Rhythm in the Cages, and a good portion of God, Forgive... Eric Frame did To Risk So Much for One Damn Meal. Our friend Trevor Oats did Cold Hearted Town. They all do amazing jobs.
J: How do you guys promote a DIY ethos? What do you all think the role of DIY should be in music? Is there a correct way to make and do music in your opinion?
RT: DIY is increasingly becoming the only way, due to technological changes in the way the world works and the slow dismantling of the traditional music industry. Which is a good thing. There are still idiots who will pay a manager 60% to sell their product to all the indie outlets, but those idiots don't get rich and famous like they used to. The difference today is that you can tell pretty quickly who's in it for the riches and the fame, and who'd be doing it in a dark hole with an audience of stray cats just because it's a part of who they are...but is there a correct way to do music? Nah. There are jerks that make good music and extremely ethical people that make terrible music (see: the folk punk scene), but it's up to the listener to decide who they're gonna pick, how, and why.
J: You guys just recently toured with Ramshackle Glory. How did that go? Were there any highlights on the tour?
RT: It was good! They are great people. One of the odd things about their band is that they've reached celebrity status in a scene that has traditionally been anti-celebrity, and I know it drives them crazy. Hats off to them for handling it in such a poised and graceful manner.
J: What do you guys usually do in the car between stops?
RT: Listen to books on tape. Check in to see what pop-country radio is churning out. Occasionally bicker about insignificant things. You know - typical family vacation stuff.
J: Did you guys have any standout meals or haunts while touring? Any places that you guys seek out?
RT: We always stop at Pismo Beach in California. There is a good clothing dumpster behind a church in a Laramie, Wyoming. We found a really cool arcade in Nashville this last tour that has all the machines hooked up to free play! As for meals, there used to be a place in San Diego that had one dollar subs that were pretty okay. I think they might have shut down, though.
J: Are there any bands or records that have stood out to you guys so far this year? Even stuff that maybe you heard for the first time this year.
RT: To be honest, I haven't listened to much music lately. Tour can be music-overload, so it's nice to take a break from it for a little while at home. But there is a cool band from Providence, Rhode Island called Downtown Boys that I heard this last tour!
J: What all is in the future for the Taxpayers? Anything you guys have laid out?
RT: I don't know. Probably nothing for a while. I think everyone is feeling sort of burnt out after being so busy the past few years. We will probably take a break for a while and then record another album. Maybe we'll take a loooong break. Maybe not. Who knows?
J: Anything else you'd like to say?
RT: Hey weirdos of the world: be nicer to each other! We're all we've got!