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Interviews of Prog


Robin Taylor
Robin Taylor
(TAYLOR'S UNIVERSE)

VM: Hello Robin. I recently put your name into an Internet search engine to read some of your interviews, but could not find any at all, at least in English. It seems your remarkable creation still remains obscure to most of the progressive audience. It is time to change that situation. Let's begin... from the very beginning: How and when did you become familiar with music?

RT: In my earliest childhood most of my musical inputs came from radio and television. I remember being very fond of watching music programs on TV and different kinds of bands and orchestras playing - no matter what style it was. To me it was all very fascinating, just seeing people being able to work together and create all these wonderful sounds. You must remember, this was in the days before rock 'n' roll was allowed on Danish radio and TV, before The Beatles.

VM: What were your first favorite bands and musicians, genres and styles? Have you always preferred jazz and related things to the other musical directions?

RT: I had some favorites among the popular tunes that were played on radio, but I didn't take much notice of the artists' names. The first band name I knew was The Beatles, and I was hit by the Beatle-mania about the time I started school, collecting their records, of course. I didn't know about jazz at that time. The popularity of The Beatles did change a lot of peoples reluctance against letting the young generations having their own "noisy" music culture, and soon after the National Radio introduced the first music programs for teenagers, where a lot of the so-called beat music of the time was air played. I got to know bands like The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Kinks etc. Later on it was The Doors, Jimi Hendrix and especially Cream, who became my absolute favorite group in the late sixties. After I'd seen them on TV in autumn '67, I was convinced, that one day I'd be a musician myself, though I'd never laid my hands on a musical instrument. The year after I got my first, cheap, electric guitar for my 12th birthday.

VM: When did you learn to play guitar? And keyboards?

RT: I never did! I'm still just fooling around on the strings, trying to create the sounds I need - and the same goes for the keyboard. After I got my first guitar, I formed a band with some friends from school - but nobody wanted to play bass, so I picked up a bass guitar, which became my main instrument for the next ten years or more. Besides I enjoyed playing drums on occasions.

VM: What can you tell me about your early creative activity - before you began working on your first album in 1985?

RT: I was playing bass in several (unknown) local rock groups during my teens, and also began composing music, as I was fed up with playing covers. The music rarely sounded as I wanted it to, because the standard of my fellow players was rather awful. I often had to teach them, how to play their own instruments, which, I think, in return made me a better arranger. I needed something else, beside working in a band, so I began experimenting with tape recorders - inspired by the early Mike Oldfield records; building layers on layers and playing all the instruments myself. I gradually lost interest in being part of a band, and in late 1980 I decided to take a break, which lasted for almost twenty years.

VM: So you have finally come to the idea of recording your music. Please tell me of your work on the album, which was released many years after under the title of "The Bendbix Tapes".

RT: The Bendbix Tapes is a compilation of tracks that were all recorded at home. In those days the Danish National Radio had a program, Bndbixen, where they offered creative listeners an opportunity to send in homemade tapes for airplay. You had to be a non-professional, to have your music played - to avoid recording artists using the show for promotion - and the music had to be original compositions by the contributors themselves. I had my debut on the show in '78, which I followed up with a wide range of recordings during the following seven years.

VM: Did you make an attempt to release the album at the time it was completed?

RT: The sound quality on those recordings was very poor, so I did not intend to make an album release of them at that time. However, in '85 I was in possession of better equipment and, together with Jan Fischer, I made a lot of recordings, which actually were intended for release in some kind of way - most likely on cassette. It never turned out that way - but - in this autumn, I've finally completed this project for release on CD in 2005.

VM: Your first official release, "Essay", saw the light of day in 1991. What did you do during those five years that separate your work on the album from those recording sessions at the Bendbix studio?

RT: Not being able to complete and release the '85 project became some kind of a failure to me, and I gave up music for quite some time. I wasn't musically active until sometime in the beginning of 1988, when I attended an art school for five months. This was where I met Jan Marsfeldt, a much younger and inexperienced piano player, who showed an enormous interest in some of the old tapes, I'd brought with me. There was this musical chemistry between us right away, and we began making plans for the future.

VM: Is "Essay" your only album, which exists only in the form of LP? Is there any opportunity to reissue it on CD one day?

RT: "Essay" was the first outlet from Taylor and Marsfeldt working together, and today I see it as a rather naive testimony from two wannabes shouting: "Yes, we finally made it - we're in the business now!" No, I have no intention of reissuing it on CD!

VM: "Essay" was quickly followed by "Cloze Test Terror", which, however, was released on the other label.

RT: "Cloze Test Terror" showed an improvement; now we were recording on 8 tracks instead of 4, but it still sounds "early", I think. Yes, I tried another label, but still I had to pay them to release the CD. Well, I learned a few useful tricks.

VM: Next year, you came to the realization of the necessity of creating an independent recording company, Marvel of Beauty. What can you tell us on the matter?

RT: I actually used a third label for my third release, before I realized how stupid it was, depending on other people - which would cost at least the same amount of money - when it was still up to me, if anybody was going to hear about this release. I established my own label, because nobody wanted to invest one single day of labour in this matter, without getting well paid.

VM: Under what circumstances was Taylor's Universe formed?

RT: Taylor's Universe was formed as a studio group, with no intensions at all of performing live. From the time of creating our first album, we used the far better facilities of a professional 24-track recording studio for the first time. The music was too complicated for being played on stage; it would demand far too many musicians - not to mention a great deal of equipment - if it was going to sound nearly as good as the record. Besides, Jan Marsfeldt had stage fright!

VM: And what pushed you forward to form Taylor's Free Universe?

RT: Taylor's Free Universe is the opposite thing, because the music of this unit is totally improvised. We never rehearse; we usually discuss a few ideas, before we enter the stage, and the rest is kind of magic. We never know, how a gig will turn out, but till this day, we - knock on wood - haven't played anything regrettable. It was Karsten Vogel, who pushed me into forming this band. He had been working with me in the studio for some time, but thought it would be a great idea, if we made a presence on stage as well. I hadn't played live for ages, and with my skeptic nature, it took a lot of persuasion. But he had his way - and I thank him for it.

VM: Please share your thoughts on the past and the future of each of these outfits.

RT: I consider TU as a past memory, while TFU is very present. I revived the TU name, when "Once Again" was released earlier this year, because the musical concept was similar to the original TU's. I think the CD turned out quite good, but that's just one side of me; I have other faces too. I have the need to divide my musical ideas into more than just one expression. TFU is different from TU; I like going completely wild with TFU, and I like being polite as well with the more conventional TU. And with my "solo" CD's - my third face - you never know, what you get. The reason why I see TFU as part of the future is, that this is a band with a great potential and lots of untried possibilities.

VM: What are the principal factors distinguishing these bands from each other and your solo creation as well?

RT: That's a difficult question. Maybe I've already answered it.

VM: I am not able to find in your music traces of anyone's influence and even the lightest shades of such. Besides, I find it highly innovative. With each new album with your direct participation I realize that you are finding yourself in an endless search for new ways to express your talent. Maybe I can't see the others' ideas in your music because I am rather poorly acquainted with jazz? Can you shed some light on the matter and tell me whether your music has ever been influenced by particular composers or was it always, primordially original?

RT: I believe, my main strength relies on the fact that I have no musical training at all; I don't know, what's right or wrong, when it comes to expressing emotions in the language of sound - I just do, what feels right to me. Of course, I've been influenced by particular composers, but there are many of them: Lennon/McCartney, Robert Fripp, Bela Bartok, Brian Eno, John McLaughlin, Brian Wilson, Dmitri Shostakovich, Robert Wyatt, Frank Zappa, Terje Rypdal, Charles Ives, Ennio Morricone, Karsten Vogel, Bill Frisell - and many more. I'm not much of a jazz freak, really; my interest in jazz- related music first started with the jazz/rock movement of the 70's; traditional (standard) jazz has never been my cup of tea.

VM: Your creative relations with Jan Marsfeldt and Hugh Steinmetz were almost as long and fruitful as with Karsten Vogel. Please tell me briefly about each of these musicians and your work with them.

RT: As already mentioned, Jan Marsfeldt was the person I needed to get back on the trail, when I had almost given up music. We shared an interest in the same musical stuff, and I was encouraged by him to suppress my hesitation about going the necessary two steps further. As we began to record the first Taylor's Universe album, we needed a trumpet player - but knew none. By coincidence my father knew Hugh Steinmetz's father. Hugh was voted Danish Jazz Musician of the year 1966, and that was practically all I knew about him, as he hadn't been around for long, because of illness. He had now recovered, and I phoned him and asked, if he would like to come and play on a studio project of mine, and he said yes. He contributed on more albums the following years and also introduced me to his soul mate, Karsten Vogel. Karsten was one of my long time heroes, as I've always admired his groups, Burnin Red Ivanhoe and Secret Oyster. Karsten played a key role on the third Taylor's Universe CD, "Experimental Health", in '98 and has been a true companion since. Hugh is working on his own projects today, and Jan has completely retired from music.

VM: Which of your albums is the winner by the number of copies sold? I mean all the albums in your general discography, not only solo.

RT: "Experimental Health" is my bestseller so far.

VM: Can I ask you some intimate questions? Is there anyone in your family who also follows the path of a musician?

RT: In my family I'm "the black sheep" playing music.

VM: Are you a religious man? If so, what role does religion play in your life? And music?

RT: I wouldn't describe myself as a being a religious person, but I do believe in something larger than man and science. I don't know if it affects my music.

VM: What / who inspires you to compose music?

RT: Life inspires me: the joys and miseries. Everything from daily life routines, daily life sounds - to nature's beauty and the opposite. Winters in Scandinavia are very long and dark, which can be quite a depressing experience. My release from 2003, "November", shows, I think.

VM: What are the most memorable events from your creative past?

RT: Listening to my music on the radio for the first time. Entering a professional recording studio for the first time. Achieving a Danish Music Award nomination for the first time...

VM: What are your thoughts concerning your future as a musician and composer? What next will be grown in your universal musical garden?

RT: I hope, I grow some tasty fruits for the future, and that people will learn to appreciate them. There's not too many people eating them right now!

VM: Well Robin, thanks very much for the interview. I wish you health and happiness and that your music be heard and understood by more and more music lovers.

VM: December 16, 2004

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