Austin Taft - Interview


His Bandcamp page states that Austin Taft is a drummer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist focused on making unique and intriguing music - whatever that should entail. After listening to his 2020 album, "Skeletons", which has been self-described as "Prog-Metal-That-Sometimes-Isn't" I wanted to find out a little more about the man and the album. Austin responded to our introductory questionnaire with answers that explained a lot so dig in and get more acquainted with Austin Taft.

Tomek

Thanks for taking time to do this. How is Austin Taft doing nowadays, how is everything going?

Thank you very much for your time, and things are good! The new record is a banger and probably the best thing I have done to date. It's called Skeletons, and it's heavy. It's intense. It's unpredictable. Definitely a good one! I can't wait to get this to the ears of more listeners!

Well, let's get to it then. "Skeletons" is your latest album released last year, what can you tell us about it?

In some respects, it was a lengthier process than it should have been, but the end result is what it should be, so I have no regrets about it. Some of this material was written as far back as 2012, when I was recording the ridiculously titled War Of The Songs Of Light Against The Songs Of Darkness album. As I write material, it's usually clear to me if it's something I want to try and complete in the moment or hold onto and pursue later, and I pretty much had the track listing nailed down at that point for the War record, so I sat on this other stuff. Then I knew I was going to do an acoustic-focused record after that, so I painted myself into a bit of a corner by mostly working on acoustic stuff for a while, and that record came out in 2015, titled The Human Condition.

When I started working on the official plan for the Skeletons record, it was initially planned to be a 7-song EP, similar to a previous release in the catalog called Fragments Of The Absolute. I use the term "EP" loosely because Fragments was just under 40 minutes in length which is longer than the full-length albums released by a lot of other bands! But at any rate, the Skeletons release was going to just be a grab bag of several songs I had sitting around without too much of a main thread. Just some cool tunes in a more bite-sized release (compared to the War record which was 78 minutes in length and the acoustic record which was 75 minutes in length). But a couple of things happened as I tried to work out a track listing which made sense. For one thing, I continued to write new material (as I always do) and there was an influx of really punishing, really heavy stuff. Separate songs were being assembled which felt like they belonged together, and they were really strong, both instrumentally and lyrically. So, it was becoming clear that the Skeletons release needed to have a bit more weight behind it. It was becoming this ugly, intense, aggressive, angry, nasty thing, and I was quite excited about it. This would serve as a solid contrast to the acoustic record. I was ready to rock out in the studio, and this was a great way to do it!

Two key additional changes happened to the Skeletons album during the recording process. The first thing was that when I started recording the record, I was living in the state of Iowa, but unusually for me, I started having ideas for new arrangements and things after I'd already tracked a bunch of stuff. Left with the decision of leaving the recordings as they were or rerecording things to make the final result stronger, I actually ended up scrapping everything I recorded in Iowa for the songs on this record and every note on the final product was recorded in Colorado Springs, where I live now. So that was kind of a time waster, but it was necessary for the material to become what it is now. The other thing was that I eventually decided to add some additional songs to give the record a bit more balance. I listen to my share of angry music, but it felt like this record needed some moments to breathe a bit. The contrast makes each bit more effective. So, I added 3 more songs which took the total up to 10 tracks, but then I cut one of the original 7 because it was solid, but it honestly wasn't adding much that wasn't represented somewhere else. This brought us to a total of 9 songs, which is the final track listing that everyone will hear.

It's worth noting that I got a bunch of other stuff done in the same years I spent working on the new album. Briefly summarizing, I mixed and mastered several releases for several clients, I produced an entire album for a rapper out of Tucson which should be dropping later this year, I composed and recorded a couple dozen pieces for a video game and recorded most of a collaboration album with a close friend of mine (still finishing this up, yet to be announced). I have been productive! But getting this new Austin Taft album to the finish line has been quite the journey, and despite the changes along the way, it is definitely the most fun I have had putting an album together. I'm very happy with it!

Was there anything that influenced you while composing that surprised even yourself?

Most of the influences were probably negative. I was hearing a lot of records by good bands that sounded like shit. Very poor production and poor mixing. So that pushed me to try and make my record sound that much better. Also, every time I would hear a new Taylor Swift single or whatever, I would get that much more pissed, and the record got that much angrier. And I want to be clear here -- I listen to and buy all genres of music. There's a lot of great pop music out there but some of this stuff at the top of the charts is at the far end of disgusting to me. It's terrible. There are no standards. So, it's this sort of stuff which partially influenced the attitude of the record.

Lyrically, this is very much a record for the "now". I typically focus on writing for the long term, but a lot of people have been very angry and frustrated in recent years. They feel betrayed by the companies they work hard for. Betrayed by their governments. Betrayed by friends or loved ones or even betrayed by themselves. You put your trust in something and you get let down. There's a lot of pain in this life. So, the lyrics reflect this, and they are unusually negative for me, but I'm very happy with the final output.

Was that your frame of mind while working on it?

A few general philosophies were at play. With the previous record being acoustic-focused, I wanted this one to go hard left and get really aggressive. Also, I didn't want to have to be concerned about performing this record live, though some of the material will definitely be performed anyway. But most of these songs took 70 or 80 tracks to record. If I wanted to add a fifth guitar or a ninth keyboard part or whatever, I just went for it! That was a great deal of fun. I like using the studio as its own instrument of sorts. I'm trying to make the ultimate version of something, so let's put some layers on!

What is the story behind the name The Austin Taft Soundtrack?

Indeed, the name of the live band is The Austin Taft Soundtrack, but that's for the live band only. In the studio, I work alone and perform all of the instruments, so for all intents and purposes, "Austin Taft" is the person who writes the material and puts it together on the records, and "The Austin Taft Soundtrack" is the live band which takes songs from the catalog and reinterprets them for the live stage. The live band is currently on hiatus, but we will be back!

No confusion out there because of the name differences?

Well, despite my intention to have The Austin Taft Soundtrack be a pretty clear concept, it has resulted in some unforeseen confusion. I was trying to be practical about it. I didn't want to advertise the full band live shows as "Austin Taft" because there are several other people on the stage and it's not just me. I mean, if you go see Rod Stewart perform, you know it's not just Rod Stewart on the stage, it's going to be Rod and his band, but you know this because of his reputation. In my case, by contrast, people are still learning who Austin Taft is, and the live band is very much a group effort and I wanted it to be credited as such. It should be called something else, and so it is! But at the same time, my name sort of needs to be in there to have a clear thread to the studio albums. If we called the band "Giraffe Snot" and the CDs at the merch table are called "Austin Taft", there's a disconnect. So, I'm quite happy with the live band name of The Austin Taft Soundtrack, because it's definitely my soundtrack, but the songs take on a whole new life on stage as a result of the other personalities and playing styles handling several of the parts.

Is there a second bottom if it comes to the meaning behind the title of the album? What can be expected from "Skeletons"?

Skeletons is the title of the album as well as the title of the first track contained within. It's a solid word to represent the record because it has a sort of cold and raw mood to it. In this case, it's more about establishing an atmosphere than having a literal meaning as an album title. Listeners can expect lots of moments to bang your head to, and a few moments to rest your neck. There are some killer riffs on this album!

Do you create for yourself or for others? Is it to build or to destroy?

Both, but I create for myself first. To quote DJ Premier, "I make what I like to buy." The music is written and recorded because I want to hear it. But then when I hear it and really enjoy it, I am motivated to share it with the public. I figure there are 7 billion people on the planet, and if I really like it, chances are that someone else out there will too. I create to build. To intrigue. To teach. To explore. To motivate. Certainly not to destroy.

Which emotions do you have a plenty and which not enough?

I'm not sure if impatience qualifies as an emotion or if it's more of a general character trait, but I have plenty of impatience and not enough patience.

What do you think about genres, categorizing and putting tags on music?

It's not really for me. As a listener, I've never once gone searching for new bands based on a specific tag like slam or sludge doom or whatever. I listen to a bit of everything, and I like what I like. As for my overall output as an artist, it would be very difficult to listen to all 57 songs floating out there and call it anything other than "rock" or "rock 2.0" at the most. There's entirely too much variety to nail it down further, in my view. This new record leans more toward progressive metal, but I'm not really a "metal" artist. I just got more into that mode when working on this particular batch of material. I'll do more of that moving forward too, but it won't be exclusively that. Keeping a big picture view, I just focus on what's right for each song and what's right for each album. If I should be playing in 19/16, then I'll play in 19/16. If I should be playing some very basic, simple stuff for several minutes without wavering, then that's what I'll do. A chord progression might be closer to jazz than metal. A groove might be closer to country than rock. An attitude might be closer to metal than rock. I'm honestly not thinking about it in those terms most of the time, let alone in terms of subgenres of subgenres.

What would you call it yourself?

For the entire catalog, I would probably stick with "rock 2.0". For the new album, Skeletons, I would call it "Prog-Metal-That-Sometimes-Isn't".

What does Prog-Metal-That-Sometimes-Isn't mean to you?

The album hovers around a progressive metal center, but the material was given the freedom to do what it needed to do. There's nothing prog about the first song. It's 4 minutes and 3 choruses. But with the second track, everything changes, and I think that can make for an interesting listen.

Where do you see yourself and the band in next 5-7 years, any plans?

I see myself with a larger discography and more awesome live shows under the belt. Right now, the plan is just to do everything I can to get the word out about the Skeletons album. https://austintaft.bandcamp.com/album/skeletons has got the goods! I'm working on two studio albums at the moment, one of which is the collaborative effort I mentioned earlier, and I'm also sketching out how and when to get the live band back out there. The time is approaching! Finally, I'm working on some exciting content for the YouTube channel. A performance series and then another series which digs a bit more into the creation of the music.

Nowadays most of the labels and bands release their new material on CD, vinyl and cassette. Vinyl is coming back some say but for me it never went away just like cassettes. What is your opinion about the physical media, which one do you prefer?

I'll forewarn you that I am very opinionated about this. I'm a big CD head, and forced to choose, the CD is my preferred method to listen to music. The fact that vinyl just might overtake CDs again is highly frustrating to me. I'll take this moment to note that I own just under 900 LPs (12-inch releases, not counting 45s), so I very much enjoy and appreciate vinyl. Let's get that right. But the fact is, half of the people I know who buy vinyl don't have a record player. For every person out there, who really values the medium, there's someone else supporting it as a gimmick. And there's a snobbery around vinyl in some circles these days which really turns me off.

I think vinyl is a perfect medium for music which is best heard through vinyl. That might seem like a bit of a circular statement, but it's the best way I know how to put it. Wes Montgomery sounds fantastic on vinyl. A lot of stuff sounds fantastic on vinyl. But a lot of stuff doesn't. I bought the Temple Of The Dog reissue on vinyl and it's one of the worst sounding records I own. Absolutely abysmal. The CD sounds incredible. There are so many variables when it comes to vinyl which make the format completely impractical as the dominant physical format. They're not easily portable. CDs are. A proper turntable takes a fair amount of setup, versus a CD player which requires no setup. You get more bass response on the outer grooves of a record than you do from the inner grooves. I'm not making this up, it's just a fact. Inner groove distortion is also very much a thing. You're also at the absolute mercy of the quality of the pressing. A record wears down a bit more every time you play it. Why is the general public pretending like these factors don't exist?

Again, I will specify that I very much enjoy and appreciate the vinyl medium, and I buy a lot of vinyl! I like that vinyl is available, and I believe it should always be available as an option. But vinyl is "in" right now for reasons that I don't fully understand. It really just feels like it's "the cool thing to buy" or whatever, and I'm not interested in trends. I'm interested in music being heard properly. And I honestly have a problem with these bands that are releasing their music only on vinyl and ignoring CDs altogether. I was busting out a buddy of mine about this. They spent $3500 on 500 LPs and printed no CDs. Their previous releases were available on CD, but they did no CDs for this new one. I was told "We felt like the line had to be drawn somewhere." I countered, "Well, as a fan of the band, I want a CD, and you could have printed 100 copies for $200. Maybe $250. You'll spend $3500 on vinyl but won't drop an extra $250 to manufacture a short run of CDs for the people that want them?" I can't understand it.

To a certain point, I don't mind that CDs are out of style and are no longer being carried in most stores and the like. However, I DO mind that they haven't been replaced with anything else. DVD turned into Blu-Ray which turned into 4K Blu-Ray, but the next digital upgrade for music is simply nowhere to be found. It feels as though music is being treated like a second-class citizen, and I'm offended by this. Oh, and on an unrelated final note because you mentioned them, I think cassettes are cool. They aren't particularly durable and are hardly the most accurate vehicle for audio, but they're fun and I still buy them sometimes. Similar to vinyl, I like that cassettes are available and I think they should remain available as an option. But CDs are king. It's as simple as that to me.

Thanks a lot for taking time to answer all the questions, last word is yours.

Your site totally rocks, and my very best wishes are extended to you and your many readers! I hope you're able to take some time and listen to the new album, Skeletons, and I appreciate the support!!!

Entered: 11/1/2021 1:01:19 PM

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