He’s a Birmingham native who’s toured and recorded with Conor Oberst, Maria Taylor and A.A. Bondy. He’s played on Conan and Jimmy Fallon. He might make the move to Los Angeles, but for now, Macey Taylor is playing bass and traveling the world with Jenny Lewis, one of the reigning American Queens of pop and indie rock.
Weld caught up with Taylor a few weeks ago while in Houston. That night Taylor, Lewis and the rest were opening for a really famous guy.
Weld: Where are you tonight?
Macey Taylor: We’re playing in Houston with Beck.
Weld: What’s the venue?
MT: [Expletive] I can’t even remember what it’s called. It’s something like the Houston Performing Arts Center. I hope I can find my way back. That’s important.
Weld: I believe you. How do you spend your days when you’re between cities like this?
MT: I like to relax or find an interesting place. I went to a museum in Amsterdam. Maybe try to find the best food in town. Real general stuff. I like finding friends from Birmingham who have moved to different places around the country. This is like my 10th year of touring, so there are people I can keep in touch with pretty well. I just keep popping back up.
Weld: How long are you gonna be working with Jenny Lewis?
MT: I’m committed to whatever she’s doing in support of this record, which is probably gonna be about a year. That started back in May. There will be a few things in 2015, but the bulk is kind of winding down. We have a run in November where we do New York and some bigger headlining stuff. But we’ve covered a lot of ground at this point.
Weld: What are some of the recent notable gigs?
MT: Maybe my favorite so far was the first time we opened up for Beck. Colorado at Red Rocks. That theater — that’s just kind of a bucket list place. Everybody wants to play there. That was kind of cool, just seeing it from the stage perspective. The Wiltern in LA was fun too. I’m looking forward to the Terminal 5 show in New York. We also played Conan and Jimmy Fallon.
Weld: I saw you guys perform on Conan and the iTunes fest. The stage costumes and decorations really reflect the album artwork. But one thing: everybody is dressed in white with light pastels all over the place. How is it you’re the only that gets away with wearing gray pants?
MT: Ha, jeez. I don’t know. That’s what I showed up with on the first day and Jenny gave it the thumbs up. Been wearing it ever since. Actually, I’ve switched to black pants. That’s a little better. There’s some black in the artwork. I think the idea at some point was white and black. For some reason I rebelled or just didn’t care to get white pants like everyone else was wearing and it remains that way.
[Note: other band members have been wearing all black at recent gigs.]
Weld: You come from a pretty musical family. When did you start playing?
MT: I’ve been playing music my whole life with my family. My dad had a studio in the house. I started playing bass in the sixth grade. I was 11.
Then I studied some at the Atlanta Institute of Music in a pretty intensive program for a year when I was 19. It was a mix of performance and theory. We would focus on learning tough jazz tunes — mostly jazz theory and then private lessons and reading classes. It was a lot of fun. Lots of people were playing six string basses and getting super complicated, but I kept it simple. College didn’t work out for me right off the bat, but when I decided to really study music, part of it came natural, but part of it took a lot of hard work. I’m glad I got into the more academic side of it for a little while. It opened me up to a lot of other stuff.
I went to UAB after that, kind of coasting along with the knowledge I had acquired in Atlanta. Then I started playing with Taylor Hollingsworth [Dead Fingers, SDX] around 2003 and we started getting out of town a little bit here and there. That led me to playing with Maria Taylor when she started making her solo records in 2005.
We recorded her stuff in Nebraska. I still play with her a lot. I spent the first part of this year on tour with her and I’ve played on all her solo records. She’s on Saddle Creek Records, and that’s how I got hooked up with Conor Oberst on some Bright Eyes tours and the whole Mystic Valley thing. That included Taylor and we did that for a couple of years.
This thing with Jenny Lewis [formerly Rilo Kiley, also a Saddle Creek band] started just because she called me up. We had played shows together with the Mystic Valley Band. She’s always in a different band and she called me back in March to see if I would sign up for this whole deal. It’s been good. I’m in LA for now and it’ll be a good transition to be out here because she’s a big LA person, at least while I’m in her band and traveling around.
Weld: What were some of your first performances? What were your early bands like?
MT: My first time playing on stage with a band was in 7th grade with the Animal Crackers in a school talent show. We played “She Don’t Use Jelly” by the Flaming Lips. Throughout high school, me and my buddies had a kind of back house jam band where we pretty much hung out, smoked weed and sort of learned how to improvise and communicate as musicians. I was sort of a punk/hardcore band in high school as well. We played one show at a placed called the Q Ball. We were called Decline of Suburbia [Laughs]. That was really the first set I played at a bar.
Weld: Not everybody gets to be Jenny Lewis or Beck or somebody really famous like that. For the rest of us who just have to make a living somehow, what is your experience or advice on how to make it work despite not being the face or the name of something big?
MT: You just kind of take every opportunity you can get and just stay open. I think that’s been my thing. There have been times when I haven’t been making a living playing music, you know? Downtime between gigs in Birmingham, I spent a lot of time just delivering Chinese food. More than I would like to admit [Laughs]. Just hanging around doing stuff I’m not supposed to be doing. But whether it’s in a cover band at a bar just trying to make your money or taking a chance and going on tour with an original band, just stay open and be cool with everybody. And practice.
MT: Right. But I feel like my saving grace has been not getting pigeonholed in one style or scene. I’ll go to Tuscaloosa and play at weird bars on the strip and then the next night at Bottletree. Those are kind of conflicting worlds, but it’s important not to shoot anything down until you’ve really tried it. Meet people and try playing with as many people as possible. You never know when someone is gonna need a player or want your band to be around. You gotta be open to weird gigs, unless you want to work some job instead and then maybe play one gig a month. Some people do that.
Weld: What other instruments do you play?
MT: Obviously, I get around most on bass. I’ve been known to play keyboards, guitar and little banjo here and there.
Weld: Can we expect any solo material, or is songwriting something you’re into at all?
MT: I write very little, but hope one day to put things together for a cohesive project. It would be nice to put my name on something eventually. For now, I’ll spend some time in LA trying to be around more musicians. I’d like to get more studio work. There are other venues I’d like to do. Play with more people. Branch out wherever I can, whether it be jazz stuff or working with more songwriters. Just try to stay busy. I just want to stretch out as a musician and see where else it can take me.
Jenny Lewis with Macey Taylor and the rest will be at Buckhead Theatre in Atlanta on 11/14. Go to jennylewis.com to find more tour info.