All About Strings Attached
Who am I?
I'm Will Taylor. I arrived in Austin in 1973 and spent summers swimming at Barton Springs, played shirtless in the garden of the infamous Armadillo World Headquarters, lived two blocks from the Rome Inn where Stevie Ray Vaughan played the blues weekly.
I graduated from Austin High and studied viola performance at the UT School of Music in 1987 while playing jazz fusion in 6th street clubs on the weekend.
The music scene has drastically changed since I was a kid growing up at UT's married student housing next to Tom Miller dam.
My jazz string quartet, an early incarnation of Strings Attached, was invited to play at the keynote of the 1988 SXSW music festival.
I've lived briefly in other places, but I'm still convinced that Austin is one of the coolest places to make a life.
What is my past musical background?
I play the the viola, violin, guitar, and piano, more or less in that order. I started on the viola when I was 10; I was intrigued by its lack of popularity. I asked the orchestra teacher which instrument is the most ignored, and that was that. I took up the guitar a couple years later because my Dad had bought 6 months of lessons for my brother, who pretty much quit after the first couple lessons. I didn't want the remaining 5 months' worth to go to waste. The violin and the piano just naturally followed.
I've played for 21 years in the Austin Lyric Opera Pit orchestra, played with orchestras all over Texas, toured the U.S. and Canada with my own Jazz group in the 90's, and the Turtle Island ( jazz) String Quartet.
If I had to choose just one hat to wear, I'd call myself primarily a jazz violist. Which is funny because I was such a reluctant jazz student initially. I kept bringing in all these folk and classical guitar pieces to my teacher. Around age 15, and without warning, my high school orchestra teacher forced me to improvise a blues solo with the stage band before a live audience. I broke through the wall, and was on fire about jazz from then on.
Musicians or persons who have heavily influenced your musical style and abilities?
These artists especially because they never wore the straitjacket of any particular genre...
Pat Metheny, Oregon, Stephane Grapelli, Igor Stravinsky, Leonard Bernstein, Jean-Luc Ponty, The Beatles and Led Zeppelin.
Why Strings Attached? I wanted a vehicle for my composing and arranging that wouldn't require being on the road all the time. I wanted to be around for my kids, and of course to be able to support them. I didn't have any idea back then how much work it would be to produce a concert series from the ground up. But the idea of collaborating with amazing, locally popular folk artists in a way that would intermingle with my jazz and classical sensibilities was really exciting to me. Strings Attached has become a musical playground for me, where folk and jazz and rock and classical all collide. It's like grafting the best of two or three plants together and coming up with something new, but traditional at the same time.
Who are the other members, their musical backgrounds? What each is their little spice that adds to the Strings Attached mix?
The common thread of the founding members was everyone was a serious jazz player. We wanted to get away from the sort of jock playing mentality of straight ahead jazz; play more simply, with more space and dynamics. And put the focus on the song and the impact of its meaning. It was a nice change to face the audience more and perform more externally as opposed to approaching music more individually, and more inwardly. These days we have a core of 10 or 12 players who are Strings Attached, in different configurations for different shows. This works well in a number of ways: we can play to each person's strengths by rotating them in and out specific shows. We stay fresh and absorb input from a bunch of members, and very importantly: it helps us navigate trying to successfully schedule our very busy in-demand players!
Here are the founding members:
Steve Zirkel is a monster on bass, but started off as a trumpet player. His muted jazz trumpet sound slapped up next to say, an early Joni Mitchell song, is a really defining element of our sound. He's so fluent with his instruments and in general with the musical language, and thinks as fast as anyone I've ever played with. I've known him for 22 years and we've developed a stage chemistry between us that is really satisfying. We don't even have to speak- we just follow each other intuitively.
Jason Mckenzie plays a traditional drum kit with Billy Jo Shaver, but he helped create the Strings Attached sound with his exquisite hand percussion style. His tabla and Indian Kanjira are an integral part of the recordings we've done.
Shawn Sanders and I were enjoying a beer on the front porch of my south Austin home when he suggested we remove the "no" of "no strings attached." He has a PhD in cello performance, and has been with the Austin Lyric Opera about as long as I have. He shows up to the table as good of a reader as anyone I could have asked for, and has been solid as the "other" primary bowed player of the group, allowing me to challenge my arranging skills.
Glenn Rexach - In 1988 I served barbecue and beer to bikers for the C.B. Stubblefield. I first heard Glenn Rexach's guitar and vocals tearing up the blues at the Sunday Stubbs Blues jam hosted by B3 player Dee Dee Purkepile. I hired him to play bass for a jazz fusion bar gig and soon after discovered that Glenn had real experience playing Latin music, country, traditional and modern jazz, be-bop, funk, folk, hard rock, held a minor in music composition and was a rock solid fretless electric bass player in the Jaco Pastorius tradition. Glenn's multifaceted guitar work makes it possible for me to present a vulnerable acoustic folk show one night and the music of Zeppelin the next.
What artists (National and local) have we worked with, and which ones have you especially enjoyed working with?
We've worked pretty regularly with both Eliza Gilkyson and Slaid Cleaves, who were the first big local artists that helped get Strings Attached started. Also (in no particular order) Shawn Colvin, Sara Hickman, Jimmy LaFave, Dar Williams, Darden Smith, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Ian Moore, Patrice Pike, Abra Moore, and most recently Pearl Jam for their Austin City Limits taping.
What venues do we perform at? What type of atmosphere do we wish to perform in?
Like a lot of Austin musicians, we perform at a huge variety of venues in order to stay busy. We love to play to a listening audience in a concert or festival setting, where people come specifically to focus on the music: inspired solos and mistakes and all. But we also enjoy the casual, low-pressure shows where we're more of a backdrop. You can literally feel people unwinding from their work week. We play at private parties and weddings, on rafts on Town Lake, in hospitals, around campfires, you name it.
About our audience?
We have a pretty big mailing list, and work hard to entice people to the shows. The hard part is always getting them in the door the first time: once they see a show they tend to show up again, so there's a fair amount of consistency in the faces we see. We also have several season ticket subscribers. A large percentage of our fan base intersects with the opera/ballet-going audiences, who tend to be an older crowd and seem to respect the careful planning and heightened sense of event that we try to carry off with our formal series. Then again, I've been noticing a lot of mixed ages at our classic rock shows, and we definitely want to cultivate that. All our albums are listed on StringsAttached.org
More on Strings Attached One thing we get asked a lot is why we're doing so many tribute shows this season. Some of our die-hard fans worry that we'll become more of a cover band. But for us it's never about recreating the music the same way your'e used to hearing it. It's about taking classic folk and rock artists- brilliant artists, and breathing something slightly innovative and interpretive into their music. Exploring implied musical possibilities with a team of stellar players. What a thrill! I've gotten a lot of comments to the effect that our arrangements help people to really get the words of a song they've "known" forever. There's something about taking a song and putting some different jewelry on it, dressing it in a slightly different color, say, that can really shine a spotlight on the lyrics. When you don't hear the expected piano hook in John Lennon's "Imagine", you kind of perk your ears up in curiosity, as if you're hearing this practically sacred song for the first time. Lennon provided the genius source material; we're just giving it some different shadows and light. And maybe a string of fresh water pearls.
I'm the luckiest guy in the world because I share a home with my sweetheart and music partner Karen Mal in a great little community in South Austin we call Woody's Place. For optimal family harmony I recommend back and foot rubs daily.