Making Hiss-story

M.C. Taylor, who goes by the stage name Hiss Golden Messenger, focuses on poignant lyrics, bolstered by aching steel guitar, and more familiar sounds of guitar and mandolin.

M.C. Taylor is constantly searching, but not for answers.

The singer-songwriter who goes by Hiss Golden Messenger instead finds that questions are the most genuine starting point for his lyrics. But even then, he’s not after a solution. “It’s usually something that seems unanswerable,” he says. “It’s bothering me.”

Taylor occupies an enigmatic genre drawing from folklore and Americana, but not settling there. His songs are often personal – he has called them documents of his thoughts and emotions in a particular moment in time. From his early work through the recently releasedTerms of Surrender, there is a curious faith weaving through the lyrics, as if words and music provide a way toward salvation.

There’s something almost Southern – a gospel tone – in the way he reckons with the toil, trouble, foibles and everything else that makes up a life.

“There is a lot of spirituality in my music, although I do not consider myself Christian,” Taylor observes. If there’s a biblical quality, it’s something he uses because the language brings context. Taylor connects that faith that life goes on to the unknown, to all the fretting and hope that he refers to as mystery.

“Mystery asks you to work on faith that the human experience is going to unfold in the way it needs to,” Taylor says.

And so he probes questions, creating songs that are often personal and introspective. In “Katy (You Don’t Have to be Good Yet),” for instance: “If you turn from the world / There are colors you’ll never see.” He leaves us to ponder what becomes of us if we fail to save what we have.

Taylor tries to say things as simply as he can. While he constantly eludes definition from the outside, Taylor considers his storytelling pretty straightforward.

“If it has layers of meaning, that’s cool,” he says. “If there’s any progress I’ve made [as a songwriter] it’s offering people points of access.”

Taylor says he used to expect listeners to grasp what each lyric meant to him, whether it was about his family or some personal dread. Over the years he learned to allow fans to forge their own meaning. Songs for Hiss Golden Messenger’s sixth album, Heart Like A Levee, were written after Taylor stepped down from a folklorist position to concentrate full time on music. The transition left him worried about the future, and that fear haunts the album. And while Heart Like A Levee struck some as bleak and desperate, others saw it as cheerful.

“That’s what art is,” he says.

HISS GOLDEN MESSENGER 7pm (doors 6pm) Monday, Oct. 7. Folktale Winery, 8940 Carmel Valley Road, Carmel Valley. $30-$40 (ages 21+ only). 293-7500, krml.com

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