Just to be near Willy Tea Taylor is to love him.
He speaks with the warm embrace of a bed of coals in a fire. He resembles the warrior elf Gimli from Lord of the Rings, and laughs with the same rambunctious brawn. His songs are as intimate as a late night conversation with your best friend on a dark porch. His performances are troubadour confessionals that can liquify a room into a puddle of cheap beers and tears. Yet all these truths still feel like the effects at the cause of why Willy Tea Taylor is such a magnet.
Ultimately, Willy Tea Taylor is a person who loves to be with other people. He loves people so much, he’s been criss-crossing this United States for decades connecting with as many as he can, using a guitar, mic, and a lifetime of adventure to do it. His music is secondary to relationships he finds out in the cracks and corners of this godforsaken country. “I’m taking these lessons and connecting with people with the heart. I think that’s what I do. The music is really beautiful and I enjoy singing songs, but I enjoy hanging out with the people the most,” Taylor said to me over the phone, a couple days before heading out on his current two month tour with songwriter and new buddy Will Carlisle.
Taylor’s penchant for hanging out with cool ass people has brought together a collection of kindred spirits to form his new band, The Fellership, and to release his new album, The Great Western Hangover. It wrastles together drummer Tyler Thompson and guitarist Taylor Kingman of TK & the Holy Know Nothings, guitarist Dylan Nicholson and bassist Eric Patterson of The Turkey Buzzards, and guitarist Kris Stewart of Wanderlodge and Rootjack, while also featuring guest spots from Jeffrey Martin, Lewi Longmire, and Anna Tivel. The album was recorded in an old schoolhouse in Portland, Oregon that has also been a place of recording for folkers John Craigie and Kassi Valazza. The album is currently in the final stages of mastering.
When Taylor brings this music to the road The Fellership might look a little different than it did in that old schoolhouse in Portland. But that’s OK, The Fellership is less a definitive band and more a freewheeling collective grounded by a love for sharing the human experience with other humans. The road is where these songs will live their best lives, just as Taylor does his. He’s a rolling stone that has gathered no moss, but he’s gathered an incredible collection of other rocks who love other rocks. And when they all get together in a room, no matter how big or how small, you love to be around it.
“The road has taught me a lot about myself, people, about the person you want to be, about the person you are, about the person you are becoming. There are times I’m pretty sure I was close to death (laughs), there’s questionable situations. That’s the adventure of it all.”
The following is an interview with Willy Tea Taylor. It has been edited for length and clarity. Top Photo Credit: Andrew Quist.
What goes into getting your mind right and being prepared for being on the road?
We come prepared with an arts and crafts box with all the wood burners, dremels, carving tools, clay to make weird stuff. Then we have a complete tool box with drills and everything we might need on the road. Lots of merch and a lots-of-weird-things-you-might-not-know-you-need box; a metal detector. Weird stuff that people always say, “we wish we had it.” We have it, we always have it.
When you are out there on the road, what do you see it’s all about? Why are you even out there?
We’re always learning about ourselves. I had things happen, a relationship went bad and I realized that for years I was closed up. I think my heart was kind of closed up. Just this last summer something happened and it was an experience that was just out of this world. My heart just opened up and it was like, there you are, dude.
Since then, every day has been glorious. Just thinking with my heart instead of thinking with my brain. I realized a lot of my mistakes and behaviors of growing up as a person. I’m taking these lessons and connecting with people with the heart. I think that’s what I do. The music is really beautiful and I enjoy singing songs, but I enjoy hanging out with the people the most.
You’ll be hanging out with Will Carlisle on this tour. What’s your attraction to what he’s got going on?
We were on the road last year and we met up in Wyoming. I still barely know him, but I like his jams. It just lined up to go out with him and he’s an outstanding person, just from what I’ve met. I’m going to get to get to know him, that’s the fun part. Then I get to watch him play music for free every night, it’s a pretty hot deal (laughs).
I saw John Craigie here in Nashville. I saw him for two hours and didn’t remember anything. He just took me away, dude, with his comedy and songs and his whole deal. When you can live in the moment like that and you can bring everyone on that level, there’s this healing that can take place. All the cortisone levels go down. If you can be in the moment, that’s the best part of live music, especially storytelling and songwriting. For me, that’s where I get lost and I realize that I didn’t worry about anything for two hours. It helps relieve a situation in someone’s life. That’s what it does for me.
Is there anyone you’ve come across recently that you love having a good conversation with?
Too many to tell. My tour manager is Dr. Jared Scott, he’s a microbiologist. He’s a fascinating dude and we sit and talk and drive around all the time, that’s our life. There’s this other dude Jeffrey Martin. Just dive into him and don’t look back. He evokes some crazy emotions with his stories and his conversations are just absolutely incredible.
All my friends are all over the place, we’re just a part of this giant tribe of troubadours. Very Lord of the Rings. It’s nomadic people with like-minded goals coming together. We rarely get to talk to each other cause we’re all over the place. But we’re doing just what we’ve been talking about: meeting people, loving people, spreading inspiration. It’s cool man.
I guess you are calling this loose band of friends and musicians The Fellership for this new album coming out. It’s called The Great Western Hangover, which is a great title. It struck me. I don’t know if I’d call it a hangover, but I just got back on the east coast after 10 years in the west. I just couldn’t do it anymore, it was time to move on.
I moved to Michigan last year, but for 45 years I was out there. It’s kind of like a hangover. I got to Michigan and was just breathing air and not almond dust. It’s crazy, I was so excited, I felt reborn. I love all my people and I love that state but something is off about it for me. I don’t like the almonds, there’s no bugs. They’re all dead from pesticides and there is dust in the air. I’m happy to be traveling around and hanging out.
My two older kids are in California but in Michigan I have a six year-old and two year-old. I’ve missed a lot of things in their lives growing up, but in return I’ve created these families and friends so that whenever they want to travel, they have a home anywhere. It’s the only way I can look at all the traveling. I don’t like missing graduations and stuff, but I do.
I hope they question it one day and understand and want to see the world because it is pretty amazing. There is so much kindness everywhere, there are wonderful people everywhere. When you are watching TV, the world seems very small and scary. But if you are just watching that, you are turning your back on all the magic.
Is there anything on the album that’s very resonant to you?
There’s one I really like, called “Dangerous Beautiful.” It’s about drinking, the beautiful parts that you love about yourself when you are having a good time with friends, and the dangerous part if you take it too far (chuckles). I really like that one and I got to record with my friends in Portland, with The Turkey Buzzards and The Holy Know Nothings. We did 11 songs in two days live in this schoolhouse Taylor Kingman’s mom lives in, it was his childhood home.
How’d you link up in Turkey Buzzards? They just moved to North Carolina.
I know them from California. It’s a crazy beautiful story and once we met, it was over. They are my soul brothers till the end, we just vibe. They are such great musicians and have such a great outlook on life. It’s a true fellership. They are fun to travel around with because they are just good people (laughs). They always are and it’s cool.
Boogixote is all about music and enjoying life outside. I heard you are a big sauna guy and like to build them outside. What are the best tips for the sauna?
One, heat that fucker up. Then get in the ice and get back in. Then everything starts to open up. That’s a shortcut to glory. There’s something to it, like a flow state; something taps into it quickly. I’m Scandinavian and Irish and Scottish and English. When I was in Finland I felt right at home, there were saunas everywhere there. Minnesota is a bunch of Scandanavians that stopped in and said, “shitty winters? Let’s stay here.”
I don’t go hiking anymore. I like to sit in really beautiful spots, I’m a chill seeker (chuckles). I built a sauna up in Michigan I didn’t quite get to finish; I’m going to build one out in Carolina with the Turkey Buzzards. I would go find some farms in northern Sweden if you want to do a hard chill. Then a neighbor lady brings you cookies and stuff. Yeah, that’s life right there. That’s the life for me.
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