Liver Press Release

May 1995 (liv'er) adj. more live

The pronunciation of Steve Taylor's new album title is, accommodatingly enough, completely optional. The alternative diction that most will choose for Liver is that not previously ordained by any known dictionary, but an appropriate enough colloquialism to coin for that rarest of all beasts: a concert album that in fact really does document a concert, recorded entirely on one night, without benefit of studio overdubs or the other usual cheats.

But would you expect anything besides the honest-to-DAT truth? As the foremost singer/songwriter in alternative Christian rock circles for more than a decade now, Steve Taylor has long been renowned for nothing if not brash honesty. His lyrical punches have gone unpulled, be the target secular, religious or self-directed. And his performances have been known to have a literally bruising physicality to go with the contusive candor.

So--as Van Morrison once said, in titling one of his live albums--it's too late to stop now.

"For better or worse, it's as live as it gets," says Taylor of the new album, his second for Warner-Alliance. "I don't know if most people know that there's really no such thing as a live record these days, because on just about everything that you hear, even an 'MTV Unplugged,' everybody goes back to the studio and fixes things. You do a concert, you get some audience on tape, maybe you keep the drums, but most everything else is fixed or replaced, so the whole sense of an actual live record gets taken away. Of course, the downside of the way we did it is that the guitar player might break a string, or the singer occasionally sings out of tune, though, for myself, I like to think of it as non-pitch-specific."

No overdubs at all here? "None. We recorded most of the shows on the tour, but picking the best performances from different nights seemed like cheating, too, so we just went with one night's concert. I had to be doctrinaire with it, otherwise I knew I'd start second-guessing everything," says Taylor, an admitted studio perfectionist.

Liver isn't the first release to offer a look back at Taylor's career by any means. Last year, a two-CD boxed set compiling the best of his previous work, Now the Truth Can Be Told, was issued by Sparrow. Also in 1994, an independent label released I Predict a Clone, the first non-post-mortem tribute album to a Christian artist, a collection of edgy, unusual cover versions by some of the young alternative bands that have claimed Taylor as an influence.

Both these commemorative issues effectively served to liven up Taylor's '94 tour, as documented by Liver. Six of the new album's ten songs date no further back than the '90s (four from Squint, his 1993 debut for Warner Alliance, and two from Chagall Guevara, the 1991 MCA album by the Taylor-fronted band of the same name), and are a fairly faithful--if messier--indication of his recent, solidly guitar-based direction in the studio. The four older tunes (one apiece from his four studio records of the '80s) are liberated from the shackles of the studio production of their era, tending toward more radical rearrangements.

"The older songs really needed some help," Taylor admits with a laugh. "After hearing that tribute album, and then putting together the boxed set and hearing the originals, I was a little bummed out because most of the tribute versions were better. It made me want to go back and mess with the arrangements in the older songs. One of them, 'I Want To Be A Clone,' is virtually a cover of the cover."

If the familiar Taylor material sounds a little more thrashy here, it's not just in the figurative sense.

"It was a pretty physical tour. You can hear it in the recording, especially the parts where my voice goes in and out from thrashing around. I came home with plenty of souvenirs: a cracked rib in Colorado Springs, a bloody nose in Lancaster, cuts and bruises virtually every night. In Houston, while doing the obligatory cartwheel, I somehow kicked the tuning peg right off of Wade Jaynes' bass. It was a perfect, clean break, and it just sailed across the hall over the heads of the audience. The guys in the band quickly learned when to duck and where to dodge, but I think the night with smaller stages made everyone a little edgy.

"And of course, audiences now are much more physical, too, as far as moshing in the pit. It's actually a lot more fun playing live these days than it was ten years ago. It seems like the wall between stage and audience is a lot thinner these days."

*** (liv'er) n. the largest glandular organ in vertebrate animals: it secrets bile and is important in metabolism

"Bile" isn't the first word that comes to mind in connection with most Christian music, but Steve Taylor's sharply drawn broadsides have gone a long way toward showing that a little corrosiveness is a big part of the spiritual digestion process. Genuinely pious, and agreeably peevish, too (at least on the record--he's friendly enough in person), Taylor has proven an important missing link between the King David and David Letterman generations: a highly visible Christian artist and unabashed ethicist full of both conviction and cheek.

If Taylor didn't exist, as figurative theorists like to say, somebody surely would've had to invent him. It may be hard at this late date to remember just how brash his belly flop into the then-stagnant pool of Christian rock seemed more than a decade ago when, decked out in new-wave duds and armed with a purposeful absurdism, he more or less single-handedly brought "alternative" sensibilities to an earnest but essentially unprogressive genre. Combining irony with intellectual chutzpah, Taylor made the world of gospel music safe for satire, by not playing anything too safe at all. He came armed with the artistically liberating, classically Christian Weltanschauung which would have it that, before the gospel is the famous good news, it's really bad news--news so terribly bad that it's nearly funny in illuminating humanity's awful need for grace, or unbearably sad, or maybe both at once.

Much of the earliest material had the spoofy tone of topical novelty songs, but over time his serious and humorous sides became more subtly entangled. Now you might notice that his most overly comic numbers tend to be imbued with a kind of underlying gravity, and his most dead-sober or even tragic anthems come alive with the sharp wit inherent in his playful love of the language.

All of this is very nearly a moot point, of course, on Liver. This is the album to prove Taylor is not just a singer/songwriter with a word-heavy agenda in the Dylan-to-Costello tradition, but also a guy capable of leading an all-out rock and roll band that can justify its existence even when its fearless leader's lyrics are incoherent.

Thrashing or no, though, Liver still has its share of good bile. One of the inclusions he's product of is "On The Fritz," for which he also directed an accompanying concept video.

"The song's subject matter seems unfortunately to have stayed in heavy rotation since it was written 10 years ago," says Taylor, wryly. "But the 1985 studio arrangement always seemed to me to be a bit lightweight. This version is slower and moodier, and I think the sense of a live audience helps to better portray the contradiction between the public persona of the 'Christian celebrity' character in the song and his 'private' infidelities that eventually cause his downfall.

"Thematically, the song and especially the video deal with the casualties of sin. It's an ugly subject that we don't really want to acknowledge, because the Christian message is one of forgiveness, which is something we all need. But the fact is that in sptie of God's forgiveness there are consequences for what we do. The video--which is almost entirely conceptual, even though it accompanies a live performance--makes the point pretty graphically that for this character, the casualties are his family and specifically his child."

Taylor still faces the pariah-like problems of possibly being too edgy for the gospel music world and too orthodox for the areligious rock mainstream, although a decade-plus of doing this has left a broad number of folks who "get" it in his wake. Lately he's found himself very much in demand as a producer and video director for other Christian music artists, even those much closer to the middle of the road. This year alone he's accrued multiple Grammy nominations and a near-record seven Dove nominations (gospel music's Grammy equivalent). Given all this acceptance, could he still be called--as one journalist once put it--the bad boy of Christian rock?

"Too old to be the bad boy, too young to be the elder statesman," Taylor muses. "And now this Dove nomination business is going to ruin my alternative credibility," he adds, laughing nervously. "I suppose that once an artist runs out of labels, the only hope left is that over time you accumulate a strange enough body of work so they'll eventually have to add an '-esque' to your last name."

To this body, welcome Liver.