Known for her work with Pink Floyd, Machan Taylor has actually worked with a large number of well-known, diverse artists, has fronted a band, released solo albums, and has now been a lecturer at two well-known institutions of higher education. She is also releasing new music.
Ed Lopez-Reyes: Machan, tell me a bit about your background: where were you born?
Machan Taylor: I was born in Yokohama, Japan.
ELR: Your father was an American service member when he met your mother, while stationed in Japan: what branch of the military was your dad in and what kind of work did he do?
MT: My father was a Sergeant Major in the Army. He enlisted when he was 17 years old, so obviously he worked his way up the ranks over years in service. He fought in World War II and the Korean War. He was stationed in Yokohama, Japan after the end of World War II and the US occupancy of Japan. Yokohama, being a port city, there were (and are) several military bases there. From what I know, my father was head of the Military Police division there. He was also the manager of the officers club, which is how he met my mother.
ELR: How do you feel about your exposure to military life - military culture seems far removed from artistic culture: did you feel any tension between these different forces while you were growing up and did your father share any of the artistic sensibilities you and your mother cultivated?
MT: On one hand, the military life demands discipline, focus and order, which can, in a way, work well for the artistic world. You have to have discipline, and commitment, in order to be an artist. Living an artistic life requires finding a balance between the freedom of an inner, creative flow, and the focus to work on developing your skills, your talents, and practical strategies to develop a career. It has to work together. So I think I unconsciously inherited a little of that military discipline and focus from the example of the military mindset my father demonstrated in that part of his life.
On the other hand, my father had very strict, close minded socio-political beliefs. So we clashed a lot, especially in my teenage years. If you can imagine, he was a little like an Archie Bunker character. He was of that World War II generation. He could be a bit of a bigot. He was very opinionated, and black and white about a lot of things. He didn’t express himself to be a spiritual or emotional guy. At least he didn’t show it. He had that very hardcore, military officer persona, even though he loved music, animals, and could be quite funny. So he did have a softer side. He was a bit of a contrarian. In looking back on the fact that he married a Japanese woman, and had a bi-racial family at a time in America before the Civil Rights movement, and he had the point of view that he had, I’m not sure he realized the hypocrisy in that. But it was a very different time in this country, and a lot of change was bubbling up.
Anyway, in the end, I believe my father was very proud of the fact that I pursued music, and succeeded to have a career. He (unfortunately) didn’t live long enough to see much of my career play out. He died in 1986.
I never imagined I’d end up a teacher. But I realize it's in my DNA, and the forces of life led me to this place.
ELR: Your mother has a vast musical legacy: how do you feel about the exposure to music that you gained through her work and her family's work, is it an influence that still manifests in the work that you do today - and how?
MT: My mother grew up in a very musical family. My grandfather was a classical pianist, composer and teacher. He taught at the University of Tokyo. He taught choral groups, piano, and also wrote books about his work. One of my uncles was a saxophone player. My other uncle was a piano player, and ended up having a career as a master tuner for Yamaha. Another uncle was a classical composer who in his youth, came to America, and studied at Columbia University. He unfortunately died in his forties, before I had a chance to meet him.
My mother, being the only girl among her siblings, was expected to play piano. According to my mom, her father was such a strict disciplinarian, that it turned her off to playing. She ended up becoming interested in singing, and in the theater arts. She went to an all-girls performing arts high school, called the NHK Theater program. Then, she became interested jazz music, and started gigging with jazz bands in Tokyo. That’s how she met my father.
My grandfather was apparently very upset about my mother’s musical direction. He was a strict classical musician, so jazz and pop music was unrefined, unsophisticated music. And then for my mother to get involved with an American soldier, ultimately marrying and moving to the United States... was heartbreaking for my grandfather. When I think about my mother and her family history, and how she was the rebel in her family, I realize where I got my fiery spirit from.
In looking at my life now, and how I ended up landing in the world of academia, I think about my grandfather and my mothers’ family. I never imagined I’d end up a teacher. But I realize it's in my DNA, and the forces of life led me to this place. I never imagined I’d end up working with students, paying forward the wisdom of my life experiences, and feeling so grateful for the opportunity to do so. I suppose I ultimately owe that to my mother’s side of the family.
ELR: Where did you grow up, Machan - and how did the environment you grew up around influence your musical interests?
MT: When my father transferred back to the US, and we all moved from Japan, we landed in New Jersey. My father was from Paterson, New Jersey. When we finally got settled, we ended up in a little, white, middle class suburban neighborhood in Wharton, New Jersey. We lived in a 'tract home' kind of neighborhood, which was popular in post World Ward II America. All the houses looked the same. And the people looked the same, except for me and my family. I remember being the only people of 'color' for miles. We were the only Asian people in the neighborhood, except when we went to the next town for Chinese food. Ha!
I remember always feeling like an outsider. And I was. But I think going to a Catholic school for my elementary years may have given me a little cushion of compassion with the nuns and priests around. They had to be nice. Right? But kids can be mean. And I remember being called a 'Jap', and 'chink' or 'gook', when I was little. It was terrible for my self esteem. I was also tall for my age, so that made me feel uncomfortable too. But because music was always a part of our household, and my mother sang around the house a lot, I started singing at a very young age. Music then became my refuge.
I started singing in choir at church during elementary school. And since I had a good voice, I became a soloist. Then I started getting gigs, being hired to sing for weddings and funerals. It was then that I discovered the power that my voice could wield. It gave me an identity. I could stand out, and above the other kids that teased me. I could make money. And I found my dream.
So, as challenging and difficult as my environment was as a child, it helped me find my path and myself.
ELR: You had mentioned being raised Catholic during a recent interview with Pablo Sánchez: in what other ways did your religious upbringing contribute to your musical formation?
MT: Well, as I mentioned, I started singing in church and school. So a lot of those Western-rooted hymns were part of my early musical exposure. But when you think about it, most Western music has its roots in European church music. So that wasn’t unique. But my mother played jazz and musical theater records at home so I had more of an eclectic exposure there. Then when I was a teenager, I discovered the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, and all the music of the 60s and 70s. That was revolutionary for me, especially Joni Mitchell. I started playing guitar at the age of 11 or 12 years old. I taught myself to play. I had some piano lessons before that. But the guitar seemed much cooler to me, because you could carry it with you. So by 13 years of age, I was writing songs and started performing in little coffee houses and in school. Then I got into bands, hanging with the musicians, and smoking pot. That was it for me. How much cooler could life be…music, bands, boys… oh joy!
ELR: So you started playing coffeehouses and nightclubs early - what kind of music were you performing and where did this all take place?
MT: By the time I was 16, I had a few years under my belt. You know, I was professional [laughs]. By then, I was in bands playing gigs, and in 'Battle of the Bands' competitions. And by then, I knew that this was what I wanted to do with my life. So I decided that I wanted to graduate from high school early. That was Morris Hills Regional High School in Rockaway, New Jersey. I got permission from my parents, and I took all my necessary classes in order to graduate. So I left school at 16 years old. I wanted to be out in the world working as a singer and musician. And that’s what I did. By the time I was 18 years old, I had my own place to live, a car and a regular gig with a band, working in clubs four to six nights a week and making a living.
ELR: When you began to realize you wanted to become a singer and musician for a living, was there any sense you also wanted to become a lecturer and academic?
MT: I never, ever imagined I’d end up in academia. That’s why I didn’t go to college when I was younger. I figured that I was already doing what I was supposed to be doing, and a college degree at that stage was pointless. I was already doing what I loved, and making a living. What more do you want when you’re 18 years old?
When I was a teenager the drinking age was 18. To have your own apartment and a car was affordable. And food wasn’t as expensive then as it is now. Life seemed much easier to manage as a young person. Honestly, I don’t know how young people mange now. When I see college kids that have to share an apartment with four or five other students, and they’re all paying $1,000 to$1,500 each in rent, in New York City, its astounding to me how they manage.
ELR: You're well known for your vocal work, but you play a number of instruments, you've mentioned guitar and piano but you also play percussion? Which instrument do you feel comes most naturally to you?
MT: I think guitar came very naturally to me. Whether it was just the times I grew up in, or that my hands just naturally accommodated stringed instruments, guitar came first. Piano was always a challenge for me. I think I was scarred from my early experience with piano.
When I was about eight years old, my mother gave me piano lessons. Mrs. Murphy, who was this sweet little Irish lady in the neighborhood, came to our house to give me lessons. Because I had a good musical ear, I naturally learned my lesson pieces by heart very quickly, and stopped reading the music. Mrs. Murphy busted me in a lesson one day, and told my mother I wasn’t doing my lessons properly. Because of that, my mother punished me, and stopped my lessons. Instead of getting me a better teacher, or that teacher finding another strategy to encourage me to learn to read music, she just thought I wasn’t being a good student. Unfortunately, I think it’s an all too common story with children that are gifted with a particular talent. If the parent doesn’t understand how to support the nurturing of those talents, many children end up losing those gifts. I think it’s different now. But many in my mother's generation didn’t get the psychology of education then.
Anyway, much later down the road, I ended up getting a gig with George Benson. The gig required the background singer to also play percussion. So I thought, 'how hard could it be?' They weren’t expecting Alex Acuna or Airto Moreira to show up. They just wanted someone who sang well, and could add some color and groove to the music. And I think the look was also cool. I had a few weeks to get it together before the tour started, so I took some lessons with Mike Fischer, who was a percussionist in Los Angeles, where I was living at the time. And I practiced to get my hands in shape. I already had a good sense of rhythm, so I just needed to build some calluses on my hands, and get in the groove of singing and playing at the same time. I remember my hands hurting a lot in the beginning. But I think I pulled it off well enough. It was such a great time working with George. What an honor to have worked with such a masterful musician. He was also such a gentleman, and treated me with respect and kindness. Honestly, if I hadn’t left to go work with Pink Floyd, I might still be in his band. He is a very loyal band leader, and has guys in his band that have been with him over 30 years.
ELR: How did you end up in New York City and how did you connect with the Glenn Miller Orchestra? Had you envisioned performing in that genre when you were brought on board? How did your experience with the Glenn Miller Orchestra help define your musical career?
MT: The Glenn Miller Orchestra gig was my first big road gig. My old band in New Jersey had been booked by the Willard Alexander Agency, who booked many of the big bands back then. When I decided to move on to bigger adventures, the agency let me know that there was an opening with the Glenn Miller Orchestra. I auditioned and got the gig. I was maybe 20 years old or so. I sang and toured with them for a little over a year. It was actually a great training ground for me to learn about big band arrangements, singing with a big band, and performing in that style. I wore ball gowns and curled my hair, reminiscent of the forties and, strangely, of my mother’s singing career when she was young.
ELR: As you mentioned, you've also lived in Los Angeles. How have each New York City and Los Angeles impacted your creativity? Does each city tap into different musical instincts? Do you feel both cities expose you to different cultural convergences and has that influenced your musical work?
MT: New York City is my home base and always will be. There is an energy and spark to New York City, that for me, doesn’t exist any where else.
When I moved to Los Angeles, it was 1984, at the end of the Jackson Victory Tour. I had worked on that tour as a production assistant, and met so many wonderful people, including my best girlfriend, who I’m still dear friends with. Through a contact from the Jackson Victory Tour, I was offered an opportunity to audition for Pat Benatar as a back up singer. I passed the audition and toured with Patty on the Seven the Hard Way tour.
After that tour, I went on to George Benson and Pink Floyd. So I didn’t really spend that much time in Los Angeles then. After Floyd, I ended up marrying a guy I met on that tour, which turned out to be a difficult chapter in my life.
Anyway, I ended up singing with a group called Hiroshima after the Floyd tour. They we called a 'New Age Jazz' group. They were a group of Japanese-American musicians from Los Angeles, and it gave me an opportunity to be a lead singer. I think I was also exploring my 'roots' a bit if you will. Musically, it was a huge change from Pink Floyd, and in hindsight, perhaps wasn’t the best career move. But at the time the idea of being a lead singer seemed a good idea. Unfortunately, I had conflicts with the band leader, and it wasn’t the experience I had hoped it would be. So after a few years of touring with them, and recording one record on the Epic label, we parted ways.
For me, the difference in the musical vibe between Los Angeles and New York City was always that the Los Angeles sound was rounder and smoother. New York City always had more of an edge, more experimental and exploratory. Maybe its the weather, but I think it still holds true today.
ELR: Can you tell us about your time on the Jackson Victory Tour?
MT: I worked on that tour as a production assistant. A friend of mine was working at the Giants Stadium show as a local production manager and called me as a local add on. I wasn’t gigging at the time, so I took the job. It was a great opportunity to meet people. They ended up hiring me to stay on for the rest of the tour, which was six months. It was an amazing experience in 1984, as a young person. I learned a lot about the behind the scenes workings of putting on a huge, high level music concert at the time.
Tha Jackson Victory Tour had what's called a 'leap frog' set up. While one stadium show was happening in one city, the next one was already being built in the next. It was an over 300 man crew, and two stages that needed to be managed. That was the job of the production manager and his crew, which is who I worked for.
I had an amazing time. I also met my best girlfriend of life, as I mentioned: Marcene O’Bryen. She was my partner in crime. She ran a tight, but hilariously fun ship. Great memories!
ELR: Can you tell me a bit about your experience working with Pat Benatar on the Seven the Hard Way tour? What do you feel you learned on that tour - how did it impact your musical interests and your work moving forward?
MT: Pat Benatar and Neil Giraldo were great to work with. Seven the Hard Way was a short, six month tour, but a lot of fun. Patty is a great artist and wonderful person…very down to earth. Working with her gave me an insight into being a powerful, female artist in the industry, and the challenges around being in that position.
When I worked with Patty, it was after the period of her really big hits like We Belong and Love is a Battlefield. She was at a different point in her career. She was married to Neil, more settled and working on starting a family. In fact, she had her first baby on tour with her. She wasn’t wearing those sexy, tight outfits anymore. She had really toned that image down, much to the disappointment of the management and the industry, I think. It was a different time in the business, and a different time in her life. But Patty was, and I think still is, very much in charge of her career and life. I think she is one of the few female artists at that time, that was not swallowed up by the record industry, and was able to have a good, healthy, sane life, along with her career. It’s not an easy thing to accomplish.
ELR: You've also worked with Aretha Franklin, Bobby Caldwell, Billy Joel, and Natalie Merchant: were you a background vocalist for each or did you also play an instrument with some of them? What periods did you work with each and was it studio work, live work, or both?
MT: My work with Aretha, Billy Joel, and Natalie Merchant were what we call 'one off' gigs. They were for special, singular events or occasions.
With Aretha, I did a few shows in New York City as part of a small choir of local singers. We did some private events, and a special show at Rockefeller Center in 2000. With each Billy Joel and James Taylor I sang with a few other singers as part of the Rainforest Benefit that Sting puts on, usually every year. And with Natalie Merchant, I was part of an event in Albany at the Egg, for an anti-fracking concert, put together by Mark Ruffalo.
Bobby Caldwell, on the other hand... I actually toured with him in Japan a few times in the early 90s, and later on the east coast - just a few years ago. He’s a great songwriter and musician who is still, from what I know, producing great songs. I really enjoyed working with him. Just performing the song What You Won’t Do for Love with him was a thrill. That is a classic now, and I think in the pantheon of great R&B songs from the 70s.
ELR: Your work with Foreigner was a bit different. On the interview you did with Pablo Sánchez you discussed working on the production side (in addition to singing), directing the choir that would join the band during I Want to Know What Love Is on their Agent Provocateur tour: how much more responsibility did this job put on you, relative to previous tours, and did it spark ideas for different things you might entertain doing in the music industry, especially on the production side?
MT: I was the 'choir wrangler', as they called me, on the Foreigner tour. When they had the hit song I Wanna Know What Love Is they needed someone to help them coordinate choirs in every city on a year long tour. That meant coordinating choirs in Europe, Japan, Israel, and all over the United States. It was a massive undertaking. And this was prior to the internet, digital music files, and regular email use.
I was hired several months before the tour started and had to develop contacts via phone, through promoters, churches, and universities before the tour came to individual cities. I then had to mail music on cassette tapes, and sheet music if the choir didn’t know the song. But it was such a huge hit then, most people all over the world knew the song. Then on the day of each show, I would meet with and rehearse with the choir alone, then with the band at sound check. We worked on staging: how to walk on and off the stage, where to stand, etc. We provided the choir robes, so the look was uniform. Then during the show, I sang with the choir and had a little solo part. It was a very satisfying job. Honestly, I don’t know how I pulled it off. I was in my mid 20s and had no idea what I was doing. But somehow, it was a success.
One of the secrets to success, pulling off a different choir every night, was the keyboard player, Bob Mayo - may he rest in peace. Bob had an Emulator, which was an early, state of the art, sample player. So he had the original choir recording from the record programmed in his keyboard. Depending on the quality of the choir du jour, the front of house mix engineer would mix in some of Bob’s samples with the live choir. Some nights, the choir on stage were great. Other nights, they weren't so great, and the audience would hear more of the sampled voices. Either way, as a production piece, it came off well and the audience was happy. In fact, sometimes the audience would be singing the words louder than the choir, so it almost didn't matter.
ELR: As part of your job with Foreigner you performed at Farm Aid in 1985 - what do you remember most about this show and what did you think about its scale at the time? Had you performed to that large an audience before?
MT: Farm Aid was an amazing experience. Yes, we were playing a lot of stadium shows, so the scale was on par with what Foreigner was doing at the time. But the energy of the show, I think because of the nature of the cause and the prestige of the event, was really exciting. When I look at the video clip of that show, it’s so funny to see my younger self on stage, soaking it all in. What a great memory!
ELR: How familiar were you with Pink Floyd's work before you started working with the band and how did you connect with them?
MT: I was certainly familiar with Pink Floyd’s work prior to working with them. But, honestly, I wasn’t a huge fan, simply because I was listening to a lot of different music then. When I finished working with Pat Benatar, the front of house sound engineer, Buford Jones, got the gig with Pink Floyd. He actually recommended me to David Gilmour for the A Momentary Lapse of Reason tour. I was living in Los Angeles at the time, which was convenient, as David was there mixing the record with Bob Ezrin. I went to the studio to meet with David. He was so sweet and welcoming, and basically hired me on the spot. I never had to audition. He trusted Buford's recommendation, and off I went on tour. How great was that!
ELR: When the band was rehearsing in Toronto, there was some concern about how the public would receive the new Gilmour-led Pink Floyd. Did you sense any trepidation during those rehearsals but did you also sense a tipping point, once the band got on the road, when everyone sighed in relief, realizing this new iteration of the band could move forward successfully?
MT: I think I was a bit naive about what was going on behind the scenes when I first came on at rehearsals. I was more concerned about doing a good job, and fitting in. I had enough to think about. But, as time went on, it became clear the lawsuit was going on, between Roger Waters and the other original members. I don’t think it was a pretty situation. In the end, David, Nick [Mason], and Rick [Wright] won the lawsuit, and the tour was a huge success.
ELR: When you toured with Pink Floyd, how did the band sort out specific parts for its musicians? Did you feel comfortable with the idea of performing The Great Gig in the Sky from the beginning? How did the band decide which vocalist would handle which part of the track?
MT: From what I remember, David was pretty open about what musicians played and what we each sang. Obviously, we had the original recordings to guide us on parts. But as far as The Great Gig in the Sky is concerned, it kind of fell into place according to our vocal ranges. We all shared a section of the piece that felt appropriate, and I actually think it worked out really well.
You have the energy of the New York audience, which is really exciting. There is nothing like doing shows in the New York City area. I think that’s probably true for all shows.
ELR: You were a part of both the Atlanta and the Long Island shows that were recorded for the video release of what would eventually become Delicate Sound of Thunder: can you please give us some insight on what you felt was different about the Atlanta and Long Island shows and why the band chose the Long Island footage for the live album and video? How different did the band and the performances feel by the time you recorded those Long Island shows, which were eight months after the Atlanta tapings?
MT: By the time the Long Island shows came around, there was a musical and personal cohesion in the band, and the production was well established. It was a well-oiled machine by then. So it only makes sense that those shows ended up as the final film. Plus, you have the energy of the New York audience, which is really exciting. There is nothing like doing shows in the New York City area. I think that’s probably true for all shows.
ELR: Do you feel the remix of Delicate Sound of Thunder that was included in The Later Years (and was then released last year on its own) sounds better? What about the video? Are you glad The Great Gig in the Sky was included (meaning to say, was it disappointing that it wasn't included originally)?
MT: I think the remake of the Delicate Sound of Thunder film is gorgeous. Remember, they actually recorded that show on real film, not video. So the master is very good quality. That, coupled with the fact that the film and sound recording technology has advanced tremendously since then, means they were able to upgrade the quality of the look and sound of the original masters beautifully. Yes, I’m so glad they included The Great Gig in the Sky on The Later Years collection. It’s such a special piece, and it’s proof that I was there and did that. It gives me a sense of pleasure that I’ve left a little mark in the music world, and on the planet.
ELR: You played some iconic gigs with the band on that tour - Venice, Versailles... what was your favorite venue and city to play with Pink Floyd and why?
MT: I think the show at the Palace of Versailles has got to be one of my favorite memories. To be standing on stage, facing the palace, looking out over hundreds of thousands of people, with a full moon in the sky, is such a magical, powerful image that will be imprinted on my brain, and in my heart forever.
ELR: The Pink Floyd line-up you performed with included some very young musicians, full of energy, who gave the band a much fuller sound and dimension: Guy Pratt, Scott Page, Jon Carin, and you and your fellow backing vocalists were very young for a tour on that scale and of that magnitude - do you stay in touch with your A Momentary Lapse of Reason Tour bandmates, and what was that experience like at that age? Did younger members of this touring lineup ponder and understand the scale of the band they were working with at the time - the part of history you would cement into as a result?
MT: I didn’t think about it at the time, but yes, we were all so young and full of piss and vinegar as the saying goes. It was an amazing experience, that I really only understood the magnitude of it much later in life.
I’m still in touch with Scott Page, who is still the same as I remember him back then. And I did see Guy Pratt and Jon Carin at Madison Square Garden when they were touring with David Gilmour in 2016. I’ve also been in touch with Durga McBroom here and there. And we actually did a gig together with Gov’t Mule back in 2008, for the Darkside of the Mule show. Durga’s actually done a lot of shows with various Pink Floyd tribute bands over the years, and I think has made a nice career doing so.
ELR: One of the most significant set changes on that tour was Echoes, which was replaced with Shine On You Crazy Diamond after somewhere in the vicinity of 11 or 12 shows - do you have a recollection of the band performing this track?
MT: Honestly, I don’t remember that they played that song. And if they did, we didn’t sing on it.
I wish I had taken some other gigs that were offered me to me, like with the Rolling Stones, and later shows with Floyd. But when they called, I had already signed a contract with Hiroshima.
ELR: When you finished work with Pink Floyd, what was your plan? Do you consider Pink Floyd the biggest gig you had had up to that point or was there a previous role you had that you felt was larger in scale? How did your experience with Pink Floyd change your outlook on your career and what did you feel you wanted to do after that tour?
MT: As I mentioned earlier, I went on to work with Hiroshima. At the time, I thought it was a good move for me to be a lead singer. In hindsight, I wish I had taken some other gigs that were offered me to me, like with the Rolling Stones, and later shows with Floyd. But when they called, I had already signed a contract with Hiroshima. Bummer.
ELR: What do you consider the most pivotal moments of your career so far and why?
MT: I think touring with Pink Floyd was the most powerful and pivotal gig in my life for sure. And, honestly, it’s the gift that keeps on giving. I’m still getting calls to do some gigs because of that gig. And that memory and experience is a major credit on my resume that overshadows all my other gigs.
ELR: Machan, a lot of Pink Floyd fans remember you as Margaret Taylor, a lot of Hiroshima fans seem to remember you as Margaret 'Machun' Sasaki-Taylor: what is the background of your name and what inspired you to emphasize Machan over Margaret?
MT: Machan is my Japanese family name. “Chan” is like an honorific or term of endearment. My grandmother in Japan called me Machan when I was little. I think she had trouble calling me Margaret. But it’s a common thing with family and close friends to use a first name or part of a name and add 'chan'. Normally its used with little kids. But it’s sweet, and it makes me feel connected to my grandmother and family in Japan. And, really, it’s part of my original identity. Honestly, I never felt like a Margaret, even though that’s connected to my English background and my father's side of the family, who were mainly from England and Ireland.
ELR: How did your musical journey impact your academic journey? As you recorded, toured, and worked with the many artists you got to work with, did you begin to develop a sense of where you wanted to go academically, eventually?
MT: In my later years and after I toured with Sting, it was time for a big change in life. So I eventually went back to school in my 50s, got my Bachelor's degree, then my Master's. Having done that - I believe that, in conjunction with career history - really strengthened my credibility enough to get hired at New York University and The New School, where I teach now.
ELR: You've released two solo albums, Machan and Motion of Love, in 2004 and 2007, respectively: did you tour in support of these albums and how did work on these projects fit in with your academic pursuits?
MT: Both my solo records were done before I went back to school. I don’t think I could’ve managed all of that at the same time. Unfortunately, both record companies I signed with, were small, independent labels that had little money for tour support. The first label I signed with, A440 Records, ran into some trouble and went belly up. Fortunately, I was able to get ownership of those masters. The second label I signed with, NuGroove, basically did nothing for me. I was able to get out of the contract, but didn’t get possession of the masters. I’m actually in the process of re-recording some of those songs that I feel deserve a place in the world, and getting ready to release them this summer.
ELR: Your first solo album was heavily influenced by Brazilian music - how did you develop an affinity for Brazilian music and did you feel your second album boasted any of those influences too?
MT: I’ve always loved Brazilian music, ever since I heard Girl from Ipanema back in the 70s. After I toured with Sting, I got back to playing guitar, and writing songs again. Somehow I gravitated to that style of guitar playing, and the songs just flowed out with that feel. I really enjoyed that musical period of my life. I actually did a lot of live gigs locally around the New York metro area for several years. I got to play with a number of wonderful Brazilian musicians too that live in the New York area. There’s actually quite a large Brazilian community in New York. And I honed my skills playing and singing in that style quite a bit. I loved it. Once my time became consumed with school work and my life shifted into the world of academia, I had to let that go. But now I feel the call again to get back to writing and playing music. So we’ll see what the next musical adventure will be.
ELR: What subject matters were the focus of your academic work - what did you focus your research opportunities on and has your academic work changed your perspective on music and on your own work, looking back? Do you find yourself deconstructing a lot of the music you worked on?
MT: After completing my Master’s degree, I think I realized how much I already knew, what I needed to work on, and what was actually lacking in a college degree.
Having a degree is great if you’re looking to work in academia, or you feel you need the paper to get yourself a better-paying job. But I don’t necessarily think you need a college degree to be an artist. There are thousands of examples of artists that never went to college that were or are profound, prolific, and successful.
And, in the larger discussion, I don’t think having a college degree from a big, expensive university is for everyone. I think people are finally realizing that it’s very respectable to go to a vocational school and learn a trade. And, actually, we need more tradesmen in this country. There are many professions that are struggling to keep their existence because of a lack of interest and skill from young people. Masonry for example. When you look at the cobblestone streets in New York City, the history is that Italian masons laid those stones, because they were the best at it, at the time. It’s an art to know how to build things with stone. From what I understand, there are few people that have those skills anymore.
I’m certainly not saying that education isn’t important. I think we’re actually suffering from a lack of education in this country, as the system is broken. But there are many other things to do in life besides being a pop star or a college professor.
ELR: Can you tell me a bit about ZaZuZaz? What is the history of the band? What kind of music do you play in that project, how did the band originate, and how long has it been active? Are you still doing work with them? Do you sing and play instruments with that project?
MT: ZaZuZaz was my first real band project when I was a teenager. My musical partner and boyfriend at the time and I started out as a duo in New Jersey. I was 16 years old at the time. We played coffee houses and bars and did quite well. When we expanded the band by adding a bass player (Dave Miller) and a drummer (Tim Solook) we had already built a pretty big following and were working several nights a week. We grew that business to the point where we were touring, playing not only bars and concert halls, but also large venues like The Bottom Line, the Newport Jazz Festival, and the Spoleto Jazz Festival. We also owned our own truck, lights, sound system, and had a two man crew. That was pretty big stuff back then.
ZaZuZaz was happening at a strange time in the business. It was the end of the disco era, the emergence of punk, and yet there was jazz fusion scene happening as well. Given our material, we were an eclectic blend of jazz fusion, pop, and bebop vocal swing. It was a great training ground for me. I really learned how to be a solid rhythm guitar player, singer and vocal soloist at the time. I was singing not only bebop vocal songs, but soloing like Ursula Dudziak or Flora Purim. In looking back, it was prep work for me to work with George Benson and to sing Great Gig later down the road.
ELR: You've done work on or for movies and television shows. Can you mention some of the films you've done work for and what you did for them? And what kind of work did you do on Saturday Night Live, David Letterman, Conan O’Brien, Jay Leno's The Tonight Show, and Arsenio Hall?
MT: Over the years, I did session work singing on not only commercials, but some film soundtracks. My work on the Star Trek V: The Final Frontier movie soundtrack was a great memory. I worked with the late Jerry Goldsmith, who is a legendary television and film composer. I was in the band Hiroshima at the time. I sang the lead for a song called The Moon’s a Window to Heaven, as well as for a scene in the movie, dubbing the singing voice of Lieutenant Uhura.
The television appearances were with bands I worked with. Whether it was Hiroshima, Sting, or Gov’t Mule, they were generally performances promoting new records or the like.
ELR: Machan, speaking of films and television, are there any particular composers you are especially keen on in that space? What movie scores do you find particularly compelling?
MT: I’m actually a huge fan of Ennio Morricone. I also love Bernard Herman who did all the Hitchcock movies. Thomas Newman, who composed for the Shawshank Redemption, which is one of my all time favorite movies. Also Angelo Badalamenti, who scored for David Lynch movies, and the show Twin Peaks. I love the textural, ambient, mysterious mood of his music. There are so many wonderful composers out there, and new young composers coming into the scene.
ELR: What bands do you listen to these days - what genres, what specific artists?
MT: I listen to a lot of different music. I love Radiohead. But I also love Coldplay on the pop end of the spectrum… and everything in between. I grew up listening and singing a lot of jazz, so I have that catalogue in my background. And I grew up with what’s called classic rock and folk now. I try to listen to everything, especially since I'm teaching and dealing with many young vocalists that are into various styles of music. So I listen to everything including Bruno Mars, Billy Eilish, Beyonce, Olivia Rodrigo, Kendrick Lamar, etc.. I think it’s important to stay informed about what’s happening in the contemporary music world.
ELR: - Was it serendipitous that you were able to add academic work (your studies and then becoming a lecturer) right as the music industry was transformed by streaming services and social media?
MT: There may have been some serendipity involved, but honestly, I saw what was happening in the business, and was concerned about it. I knew I had to change my life at the time. And I was no longer looking to live out of my suitcase and being on the road anymore. Not to the extent that I was. I grateful things worked out the way they did, when they did.
ELR: These days you do a lot of work with Gov't Mule: how does Gov't Mule pick artists to perform with and bands to cover? How much input did you have on Gov't Mule's Dark Side of the Mule setlist and production?
MT: Yes, I have done a lot of work with Mule over the years. Since my husband, Danny Louis, is in the band as their main keyboard player, that has certainly opened the door to me there. But I have no involvement other being a sideman-vocalist.
When they decided to do the Darkside of the Mule shows, it was more about celebrating the 40th anniversary of Dark Side of the Moon. Obviously, Warren Haynes was very familiar with the work of David Gilmour. Warren is a great singer/guitarist in his own right. So I think it was about paying homage to David and Pink Floyd with that idea.
As far as guest artists that sit in with Mule…they’ve always been pretty spontaneous about sit ins. You know, it’s that 'Jam Band' mentality. There’s a lot of freedom, improvisation and cross-pollination in that arena. In a way, it’s musically a very 'jazz' mentality. Because the players are generally really good in that sense, musicians can sit in and play with each other on the spot. Its a level of musicianship, unlike the pop world, where players have to rehearse and learn songs. Mule rarely ever rehearses. And, in fact, I think that’s part of the excitement of the way they approach music. It’s s 'fly by the seat of you pants' attitude. It’s incredibly ballsy. There are only a handful of players out there today that can do what they do.
ELR: You've had the opportunity to work with your husband, Danny Louis, on your solo work and on Gov't Mule: what other projects have you collaborated on and what do you see on the horizon for the two of you as musical partners?
MT: During the pandemic, since we were both home together a lot, we co-wrote and produced a song called Burn Down Babylon. The name of that project is called Graus Corde. We also did a socially distanced ( from the crew) little video. I hope we’ll have a chance to work a few more things this summer as well. But right now, we’re in a remodeling stage with our home and studio.
ELR: Have you had a chance to see Roger Waters live? How do you feel his live work contrasts with what you experienced as part of the Gilmour-led era of Pink Floyd?
MT: I have not seen any of Rogers’ live shows. I’ve seen clips on YouTube and follow him on Instagram. He’s obviously still a dynamic musical and personal force out there. He’s very political, and not afraid to voice his opinions. I respect that. I understand he’s touring next year. Maybe I’ll get a chance to see him then.
My working title for this next batch of songs is Resurrection, as I feel like I’m not only resurrecting some old music, but myself.
ELR: What other projects do you have on deck, Machan? Do you feel you'd like to work with David Gilmour again in the future and would you consider work with Roger Waters?
MT: I am working on re-recording some old songs, and writing some new things. I’m releasing them as I finish them. I have a song called Everyday coming out soon. It features reggae artist Culture Brown, and is co-produced by Gordie Johnson from the band Big Sugar.
My working title for this next batch of songs is Resurrection, as I feel like I’m not only resurrecting some old music, but myself.
Of course, I’d love to do something with David Gilmour if he ever did anything again. Maybe I can get him to play on something for one of my songs. Wouldn’t that be fun?
And Roger? I doubt there’d be an opportunity to work with him, but if there was, why not? Life is short...
For more details on Machan Taylor's current projects visit machantaylor.com. You can follow her on Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, and YouTube. Photography courtesy of Mariachiara Freddura, Dion Ogust, and Joan Savio.
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