TimeSlip’s Mark Taylor at Birdy’s Live. (Credit: Jonathan Sanders)

In honor of tonight’s first of three “Battle Royale” second-round bouts at Birdy’s, in which TimeSlip will be participating, Hear! Hear! brings you four new videos, interspersed amid this fascinating conversation I had with the band’s lead singer and songwriter Mark Taylor. He had a lot to say about the band’s songwriting focus, their disinterest in being “mainstreamed” and how much he loves their southwestern sound being compared to the cinematography of Breaking Bad.

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Can you tell us a little about how you started the band?
That’s something of a long story.  I guess you could say it began when I was watching my granddaughter, who was about 4 at the time, playing with other children out back.  It was clear she needed to learn some social skills in a structured environment.  We couldn’t afford pre-school but Fishers United Methodist Church was nearby and I started taking her up there for Sunday school. There was a regular service during this time so I would hang out and listen to the message.  I filled out a guest card and mentioned I played guitar and was subsequently hounded until I gave in an joined their worship band.  Immediately the two people running this band bailed and left me holding the bag.  I had to quickly assemble a group of musicians and that’s how I found Curt Grasso, who is a wonderful classical guitar player by the way.  I got my friend Mike Haemmerle to run the sound board as he had deep experience.  Once I learned he had played sax and bass clarinet in high school and could read music I hounded him to buy a bass.  I knew he was a natural bassist – and he is!  Eventually the worship band thing started getting old and they phased that service out.  I wanted to form a secular band anyway because I had left a very good jazz band back in Tempe, Ariz., when we had to leave to come to Indianapolis for family reasons.  We found drummer Tim Baumgardener through Craigslist. Tim has been very active on the Indy music scene, especially as a radio host.  I met Brad Moore at a Christmas party and hounded him until he gave in and agreed to play keys for us.  I met Guy Holbert through my friend Allen Stratyner who is very active in the Indianapolis blues scene and the best harmonica man in Indiana, hands down.  TimeSlip in its present form has been together since last summer though some of us go back a couple of years playing together in that church band.

Tell me about your writing process and what you think makes a well crafted song?
First I have to tell you about our music and my overall approach.  I write almost all the material we play though Curt is coming into his own as a song writer and has penned a couple of songs.  Many of my songs originated as little motifs I created that were intended as instrumental pieces for that jazz band in Tempe I’d mentioned earlier.  Timeslip started off playing covers to get a sense of one another and learn to work together,  but my aim was always to get to originals using a sound that people would enjoy.  I’m not a good enough guitar player to make it in the Indianapolis jazz scene but have a genuine love for jazz, artists like Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, John Coltrane, etc.  I got the idea to write music that would appeal to a rock audience but incorporate a lot of jazz elements, my stealthy way to get the typical pop/rock listener to listen to something like jazz.

But seriously, I want to learn something when I write and play, using jazz structures pushes me to increase my understanding of music in general.  Other well known artists have done similar things — Steely Dan, Spirit and Zappa come to mind. The Police, who were very crafty in their writing, are probably the group with the most success.  Anyway, most of the stuff I write comes from little instrumental motifs that I composed for the Tempe band.  I simply expanded and added lyrics.  Lyrics are the hardest part of what I do.  I cannot write lyrics that are not genuine and from the heart so I refer back travelling in my earlier life, growing up in Colorado, living in the Arizona desert, and honoring people who have been important in my life.

TimeSlip – “Sad Joann”

Is it difficult to find songwriting inspiration?
I have found that I have to MAKE myself sit down at the piano and write, inspiration doesn’t often just appear in my head.  I sit at the piano and begin experimenting with various chord-leading concepts with my left hand and then fiddling around with scales over those chords with the right hand – this is referred to as “key of the moment” where the scale is constantly moving based on the chord being played.  I use very deliberate constructs like the V7 to the I chords to add tension and release at just the right place.  I also experiment with various tried and true progressions like I IV V, ii V7 I, I vi ii V and look for different ways to mix and match these.  I use a lot of chords with bV and V7 sus 4 because these seem to create a real sense of spaciousness and mystery.  Those kinds of chords fit that kind of desert jazz rock theme I like to use in my writing.  The band pokes fun at me because nearly every song has a Major 7b5 or a minor 7b5 somewhere in the chart.  Eventually progressions and melody lines will shake out of that experimentation and I have things I can stitch together to make a song.  My writing got much more interesting when I learned music theory concepts.  They aren’t necessary for writing but as an analogy, if I’m going to build a house I want as many tools at my disposal as possible.

For the lyric writing I sort of meditate on what does this music lead me to within myself, and then I’ll take that and run through memories until I find the appropriate story that goes with the mood.  Now the problem with this approach is you have to remember that the listener needs to be able to relate the song to their own life experience. But that is essentially the process.  Zappa used to drop little “doo dads” (his words) in his compositions like poodles, tweezers, etc.  I have a couple of those too.  I have successfully incorporated the word “ghost” in nearly every song I’ve written.  Don’t ask me why because I don’t know.  It’s just something I noticed cropping up in my lyrics (Jung would have loved this I’m sure) and now it’s very deliberate.  I write the lyrics and think “how can I get the word ghost” into this song.  It’s just something fun I’m doing.

Timeslip – “But You Weren’t There”

How has your writing shifted recently as you work on new material for the band?
Recently I have been experimenting with telling stories of a non-personal nature in a couple of recent pieces.  I wrote a kind of “fractured fairy tale” book a couple of years back — shameless self promotion, it’s available on under the title MOOSE LIPS. So I just tried doing the same thing, tell an entertaining story but over a rhythmic form. “Day of the Dead” is based on a true story that happened in the old West near Prescott, Arizona.  I took those events and added a ghost story.   The song “Dos Cabezas” (Two Heads) refers to a ghost town in Southern Arizona, I added a supernatural bar (“where nobody cares about your name”) that appears if the visitor to the town is in the right state of mind, a kind of Twilight Zone story.  I recognized a need to get away from introspective moods in my songs because so much of what we do is cerebral in nature and, you know, when people go to a club or a festival, they want to have some fun.  I think the finest song I’ve written is SAD JOANN and there’s some pretty serious stuff in that song (child prostitution and exploitation).  In order for me to write a song that is “cheerful” I have to sit down and say “lighten up Mark, write something that it fun already!” 

I rarely write in straight up major/minor chords.  Once you get that extended harmonic pallate that jazz is built upon under your skin it is very hard to think in major/minor (I iii V) terms – and that’s a problem because your typical listeners haven’t had their ears conditioned to accept those sounds. A quick story about this:  I recall sitting in a parking lot in Salt Lake City while traveling with friends.  They put on Miles Davis at Fillmore East and I said “I will NEVER like this shit!”  Boy was I ever wrong.  Miles is one of the key people I draw inspiration from today.  His music informs almost everything I do though most listeners likely won’t make that connection.   Miles is also all up inside Joni Mitchell’s music. Much (but not all) of what listeners respond to comes from conditioning by guys in suits who decide is “marketable” and “air-worthy”.  That’s changing with the advent of the Internet.  Jack Bruce is an artist I admire who has successfully bridged playing “pop” with a lot of pretty sophisticated musical devices.  Most people know Jack as the bassist and lead vocalist of Cream, but even in that band, Jack wrote almost all of their music, he was able to bring elements of jazz into a wildly successful band. 

The writer has to fashion the music and lyrics in such a way that it sounds familiar but has unexpected twists and lyrically you want the listener to apply the story to his or her own life.  An example of this is found in our Song “But You Weren’t There” where the singer is telling someone that they waited all day but that someone never showed up.   It could be a lover, a drug dealer, God, even a dog!  Whomever, the listener gets to decide who that is.  At the same time you want to expand that listener’s experience.  They should feel:

1.  I know this, I’ve been here (in this feeling) before

2.  There is something different about it this time… oh! there’s a surprise I hadn’t expected

3.  I know what this guy is saying!  I can relate to it

You see, it takes both a musician and a listener for music to appear.  This is why I shake my head when I attend a concert and see someone continually snapping pictures throughout the show.  That camera is getting in the way of the process needed for music to appear.  I hope that doesn’t sound pretentious but it is absolutely true.  My goal as a song writer and performer is to make the hair on the back of the listener’s neck stand on end at least once during a show.  There is an energy that arises between a musician and someone who is really listening.  I saw Ralph Towner and John Abercrombie many years ago in the Paramount Theatre  when I was hanging out in Seattle.  After the first piece they played you could have heard a pin drop in that crowd.  That was so powerful of an experience.  I want to make music that facilitates that kind of participation in the moment by listeners.  And also to have a rockin’ good time too!

Does the band ever write songs together?
No, I typically come armed with a chart for the players.   Curt is doing the same.  It’s rather like creating a blue print for a home and then leading a group to build that house.  I bring that and then the band builds the house together and each member gets to add their own ideas about how we decorate that house, colors, are the shutters, etc.  The guys do whatever they like as long as the ideas stay true to the function of the song itself.  Brad and Curt have been very helpful in arranging the songs I bring.  Occasionally someone will make a little mistake and new ideas will grow from that.  A good example of this is my song “Ajo Way”.  I was listening to a rehearsal recording and the bassist made a mistake.  That little flub inspired me to put together what we call the Ajo Interlude in the middle of “Ajo Way” where we have all of that beautiful, soaring guitar weaving going on.  A real sense of setting out on the open road in the Sonoran Desert was inspired by a bass guitar flub.  

What song by another artist do you wish you had written?
Depends on context.  It’s always about context isn’t it? From a pure musical perspective it has to be Jack Bruce’s “Out Into The Fields”.  There are several versions of Jack’s tribute to the great Otis Redding out there and they all make the hair on the back of my neck stand on end.  I need to take the time to analyze that song and figure out how he’s doing that, it’s lightning in a bottle.  The West Bruce and Lange version is literally Wagnerian in scope – you can find that on Youtube.

From a lyric stand point it would be words by Pete Brown (Jack Bruce’s writing partner)  The words to “White Room” are so amazing  “Silver horses ran down moonbeams in your dark eyes” Are you kidding me?  Jesus that’s incredible stuff in that song – look up those lyrics!  I’m also very fond of Brown/Bruce  Theme for an Imaginary Western.  Those lyrics are cinematic in scope.  I’m also a big fan of just about anything Adam Duritz writes – “Round Here” will always make my hair stand on end, especially his version with The Himalayans.

From a cash perspective it would  be “Born to Be Wild” by Steppenwolf or maybe “Frankenstein” by Edgar Winter. Can you imagine the royalties those two songs continue to pull in after decades?  Comfortable retirement for writing a song!

TimeSlip – “TimeSlip”

What do you wish someone would ask you but they never do?
Why do you feel jazz music is so important in American culture?

What would you do with your songs if given the chance to do a proper studio recording? is it difficult to get the spontaneous nature of a live performance into a recording?

I like to hear a lot of layers and small nuances in recordings and would like an opportunity to hear our songs produced with that in mind. I would also welcome the creativity of a producer outside of the band. I think you can get too close to your music and become somewhat possessive with little room for creative “evolution”

I think the live experience will always be more dynamic and organic  in nature compared to studio work and that’s the way it should be. Recordings are simply reference points to navigate by when you are playing live. I’m not particularly interested in rehearsing the band to sound exactly like the recording. In my mind there is no creative growth in that approach. I don’t look at songs as being static in nature. It may sound a little mystical but I think songs appear and then take on a life of there own.  Every performance of a song SHOULD be different. I’ll quote the late great reed flute man Eric Dolphy here: when you hear music it is lost in the air; you can never capture it again.

How have fans reacted to your evolving sound? Are you happy so far with the band’s progression?

Well we are really only just building a fan base though a few have been following since the beginning  I think the are hearing the writing getting better and better; more sophisticated but without being pretentious or sterile. A couple of the fans have been to some of the places out in the desert that I write about and it gives me tremendous pleasure when they tell me ‘”Yeah, you really captured the spirit of the desert.”  I’ve received numerous favorable comments about what we are doing so people “get it” even if they don’t necessarily understand the mechanisms we are using to get that wide open, spacious sound

I’m very happy with the band’s progression. We have the right musicians to manifest that sound I’m after. Tim can swing those drums exactly the way I hear them in my head. He’s really getting it together with sensing the power of dynamics instead of just pounding away. Brad is superb on keys and more importantly he keeps me on my toes and challenges me to write interesting stuff. Curt is great at complementing my guitar parts. I’ve never found anyone to play guitar with who really gets the concept of “orchestrating” through inversion of chords Curt and are are never playing identical guitar parts. Mike is a natural bass player. He started about two years ago and he’s rapidly reach a place where he’s doing interesting and sometimes surprising things with his bass lines. He’s worked very hard. He needs more confidence in his playing. Guy brings the soul and spirit to me, nothing is as personal and expressive as a wind instrument. I’ve given up some of my solo space just so I can hear more of his playing.

TimeSlip – “Day of the Dead”

I love the desert imagery you put into the arrangements of your songs. It’s almost like putting into music what Breaking Bad‘s cinematography did for showing the American southwest in a new light. Is that something you’re consciously doing, or is it just a natural offshoot from your time in Arizona?

I love that breaking bad reference!  I write about the desert because I simply feel so connected to life, our planet, God or whatever word you want to use for a sense of the sacred.   The places I sing about are in an area that the Tohono O’Odham people regard as the world naval where Li’Ito created the world. I can really feel that same stirring when I’m out in the Sonoran Desert.  There is something of a deliberate “branding” we are doing with the Southwest. There’s so much to write about and it gives us something I think is rather unique in Indianapolis. We’re that psychedelic jazz rock music from the desert. I like that lable.

Any parting comments?

I only wish more American audiences could appreciate “jazz” music.  When pop exploded in the 60’s,  jazz artists got left in its dust and that’s a shame.  Jazz takes the listener to a place that is very unique in that moment – very Zen in concept.  It is SPECIAL! even SACRED! People are missing out on some wonderful music.  It took me a while to “get it” and it only comes from being willing to open your mind up to new sounds.  Jazz is America’s cultural gift to the world.  It’s very popular in European countries and in Japan.  Many of America’s great artists ended up moving to Europe because they could not find work here.  That’s sort of tragic really but you know that old saying, “A prophetic is never accepted in his homeland.”

THE LIVE WIRE: Against The Clocks – “Top Floor”


Rockville, Ind.’s Against The Clocks perform during Birdy’s Battle Royale. They won, advancing to perform again in April. (Credit: Jonathan Sanders)

When you come from a small town, sometimes half the battle is explaining to fans where your band got its start without having to resort to pulling out the Google Maps app. Against The Clocks, based in tiny Rockville, Indiana, will dispose of that problem when their new album, 47872, comes out hopefully this March. With any luck the album will put them and the town squarely on the musical map, because what this band offers is an ear-catching blend of classic rock and modern pop, heavy on the keyboards and the hooks you won’t find anywhere else.

With two keyboard players sharing vocal duties, the band really hits the ground running, merging the big melodies of Journey with the rock aesthetic of the Allman Brothers, adding the hooks and production smarts of a guy like Ryan Tedder. Everything comes out in the mix to create juicy pop music you’ll want to have on repeat all summer.

The band performed their song “Top Floor” at Birdy’s Battle Royale in Indianapolis this past Friday, winning their competitive round and advancing to perform again this coming April. You’ll want to be there when they do, but you can enjoy the video below. This is the only place to hear the entire song until the band releases 47872 later this spring!

“Stay Thirsty” by Dirty Streets has enough classic rock juice to make any listener satisfied

For the old-school fan of classic rock who isn’t afraid to mix plenty of Humble Pie and Jeff Beck into their listening schedule, Blades of Grass by Dirty Streets should be an album on your immediate listening list when it hits shelves on July 9th. Until then, get your fix with a few repeats of “Stay Thirsty” to keep your pump primed, a track which the Memphis-by-way-of-Mississippi power trio recorded at the legendary Ardent Studio with production help from sound engineer Adam Hill, with added power provided by Lucero’s Rick Steff on keyboards. With two full-lengths already to their name along with an extensive touring history, expect big things from these guys in the coming months. To learn more, check them out on Facebook!

Who I Am: Pete Townshend’s refreshingly candid biography deconstructs Tommy and his entire career


Who I AmPete Townshend’s Who I Am proves that a rock autobiography can exist as more than just revisionist history, actually examining in detail what made the music matter, not just to us as listeners but to the artist as creator. That shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, as Townshend built his reputation as a songwriter intensely obsessed with the idea that music needed artistic ambition in order to provide listeners with anything of consequence.

The book is a must-read, if anything for the honest discussion of the creative process behind Tommy, and “Pinball Wizard” in particular. When critic Nik Cohn of the Guardian commented to Townshend that the opera behind Tommy was good, but the music itself suffered from humorless bloat, Townshend reimagined his Meher Baba-esque protagonist as more than just a “divine musician, [who] felt vibrations as music and made music in the hearts of his followers,” [p.161] re-casting Tommy as a pinball wizard, shifting the concept into the realm of potential absurdity. His argument illustrates the need for any artist worth his salt to be willing to trust his instincts, even in the face of potentially profound threats of failure:

I made a huge leap into the absurd when I decided that the hero would play pinball while still deaf, dumb and blind. It was daft, flawed and muddled, but also insolent, liberated and adventurous. I had no doubt whatsoever that if I had failed to deliver The Who an operatic masterpiece that would change people’s lives, with ‘Pinball Wizard’ I was giving them something almost as good: a hit. [p. 162]

Proving his willingness to shift the direction of the title character, Townshend built beyond mere cliché, developing his avatar’s concept of “God playing marbles with the universe,” using the pinball element to echo the theological underpinings of Meher Baba’s message.

Incidentally, though the character drew derision upon the albums initial release from members of the British music press who called Townshend’s creation of a blind, deaf and mute protagonist “sick,” my favorite anecdote from Who I Am illustrates how Townshend’s deft characterization had a profound affect on his listeners. Roland Kirk, the legendary blind jazz improvisationalist, responded dramatically when he first heard Tommy performed live:

After we had performed …, I stood exhausted in the dressing room as Roland Kirk pushed his way in shouting, ‘Where is that little white motherfucking dude that wrote the thing about the deaf, dumb and blind kid?’ I stayed quiet, but he heard me breathing, came over to me and gave me a hug.

‘You don’t know what it’s like man, but you gave us blind folk our own opera thing at last! But I ain’t dumb, and I ain’t deaf.’

Roland Kirk taught me that when musicians pay respects they don’t always do it with claps and hugs or fan letters. Sometimes they merely listen. If they happen to be blind, they listen with acuity. [p. 170]

Who I Am proves Townshend is equally capable of writing with acuity, assessing his career as honestly as one can through fifty years of rearview mirror. It is a distinctly interesting additon to the band’s canon, shining a light on the process behind the songs we’ve grown to love. Of all the amazing rock bios published in 2012, this should top your “must-read” list.

ALBUM REVIEW: Silver Tongues – “Black Kite”

Silver Tongues Black Kite

Album Review
Silver Tongues – “Black Kite” (2011, Karate Body)

Louisville’s hidden treasure Silver Tongues, and their debut album Black Kite, serve as a glorious throwback to classic rock bands, where a debut album could freely experiment by dabbling in multiple genres. Today’s bands so frequently have to hit the ball out of the park on the first try and then repeat the success or fail to gain traction in the business, but Silver Tongues seem to take pleasure in twisting listeners’ expectations. There’s nothing taken for granted, and it’s not as if the band’s taking unnecessary risks with their musical direction. They’re just willing to admit that, when a band’s getting its feet wet, sometimes there’s nothing more valuable than pushing the envelope and trying a variety of sounds. And with an independent label backing them up, it’s a safe bet they’ll get the chance to build their musical reputation on their own terms. This is the work of a band which may not find its “hit” until a third or fourth album, but give them that time to grow and the rewards will be immesurable.

Not that I’m saying their songs aren’t worthy of wide exposure, because that would be a mistake. “Wet Dawg” sounds like Kings of Leon if they actually dared to let a song speak for itself rather than burying the lead in a mess of pseudo-pop trappings. What makes it clear Silver Tongues is worth supporting is their ability to transform the song into an addictive live gem. I was lucky enough to catch the band live at Headliners in Louisville back in January and, even as a co-opening act playing before the supposed “big draw,” they immediately roped the crowd in with a live performance which showcased the music above the hype. There’s plenty of pop hook buried in there to keep the songs reverberating in your head, but that the band’s out there working the road and building these songs in a live setting as well proves they’re not happy merely letting the studio versions speak for themselves.

Speaking to the album’s quality, however, is the fact that every song plays its role in the cohesion one finds immediately appealing about Black Kite. “Warsaw” would be perfectly at home on a Coldplay album, with its frantic string backdrop, but the vocals are pure seventies classic rock, with layered harmonies and an arrangement coupled with a slow-build climax which is immediately accessable and repeatedly listenable. The album’s opener, “Highways,” has an unforgettable backdrop of organ drone and handclaps-meet-bass-drum percussion, providing a thunderous reason to immediately fall in love with what the band has to offer. And the album’s title track, “Black Kite,” and the beautifully melodic “Hope For” manage to successfully bridge the gap between bands like Mumford and Sons, with the ethereal vocals and simple acoustic arrangements, and today’s more modern pop-leaning bands where the hook comes first above all else.

The result is a nine-track album which plays well both as a coherent, well developed debut and a template for a band willing to push its exploratory envelope in pursuit of a long-term career. Black Kite came out too late in 2011 to make my list of best albums of that calendar year, but it has already won a place in my heart as one of the most interesting efforts I’ve heard during this one. I expect to hear big things from this band; like the Black Keys before them, they seem destined to build a respectable basis for long term success on their early indie records. And with the right push, they’d seem poised to have a similar mainstream breakthrough once their material has time to develop to its full potential. Put simply, Silver Tongues is a keeper, and their impressive debut has legitimate heft and staying power. You won’t want to miss it!


Radio Moscow

Radio Moscow bring psychedelic rock to a new generation

A recent Rolling Stone article brought to the forefront the horrifying fact that a #1 rock hit reaches only 13 million listeners, compared to 138 million reached by top 40 pop hits. That, coupled with thousands of DJ layoffs across the country and stations switching allegiances, leaving several cities without a rock station at all, continues to prove that rock radio is dying a slow painful death.

That said, Radio Moscow arrives to give us all a wondrous flashback to the prog-rock and psychedelia of the late 60s and early 70s, when bands actually dared to have a rhythm section, an understanding of the blues and the willingness to push the envelope from album to album. Their latest album, The Great Escape of Leslie Magnafuzz, would be a rock radio wet dream if there were rock stations left to give new bands a push. “Little Eyes” is a prime example of what makes the band work, featuring the best elements of Zeppelin, Hendrix and Clapton shoehorned into a song so ear-crunchingly raw it’s positively refreshing.

Without rock radio DJs to help give bands like them the push they deserve, it is up to us on the Internet to show that great rock music isn’t dead and gone. Even with just a cursory listen I think you’ll agree, Radio Moscow’s got its fingers on the trigger of what rock fans need as we head into 2012.