In dark times, Hiss Golden Messenger tries to deliver hope

Elise Tyler

M.C. Taylor has been in musical operation as Hiss Golden Messenger since 2007, in that time working with a fluctuating cast of characters to make nine albums, including the latest, “Hallelujah Anyhow,” which was released in September. Musically, the album is rooted in country-rock that lopes or smolders, stately folk, and marvelous, grooving nods to one of Taylor’s influences, Van Morrison. As ever, its songs, delivered with the deep emotive force of his rough-hewn singing, are allusive and cryptic, impressionistic word puzzles that offer glimpses of meaning. “It’s the listener’s job to interpret them,” he says. “I don’t really care how close someone’s interpretation is to my own. That doesn’t matter. Once they’re out in the world, they’re fair game.” He offered some thoughts about the new record in a recent phone conversation, in advance of his show at the Sinclair Wednesday.

Q. The title of the new Hiss Golden Messenger album, “Hallelujah Anyhow,” contains a certain tension.

A. Have you seen the movie “The Big Lebowski”? At the very end, Walter, John Goodman’s character, says something to the effect of, ‘[screw] it, dude, let’s go bowling.’ That’s basically the vibe of the title. We can choose to deal with darkness as a complete and total absence of vision and sensation or we can deal with darkness as another type of light that exists on the spectrum of seeing; it’s just a different way of seeing.


Q. That issue seems to be an abiding concern for you.

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A. I feel like with all of my records, and this one in particular, I wrestle with this idea that every sensation that I experience exists on a spectrum of experience, not good or bad, even though there’s a lot of times when I think to myself that everything feels horrible right now. But I’m trying to change that, change my way of thinking a little bit with that. I’m trying to be positive and progressive with my thinking, trying to hold on to this idea that love is really the way forward. The only way forward that I can see is just positive emotional and mental states.

Q. Isn’t that more a position of resilience than hopefulness?

A. I think there’s both. But yeah, I think it is a place of resilience. I think that love is the resilient emotion and counters what I perceive to be the biggest emotional obstacle that so many people are dealing with now, which is fear. If you wear love, that helps. I’m talking personally now. In my experience, I have seen that love — not romantic love, but sort of all-encompassing love — has a way of making fear smaller.

Q. How does that viewpoint manifest itself in your work?


A. If you put me in the right room of a 150 people we will all feel something together and it will be unlike any other show. We’re chasing an emotional mystery together, all of us, those of us on stage and people in the crowd. I’m trying to do a thing that I know music can do because I’ve had it happen to me. The very best music can make me feel something that erases ego in a way that is really important to me. It’s a totally spiritual experience. I think that it is the feeling that people are looking for when they’re calling out in church, that sort of critical mass of ineffable feeling. To me, that is a godly feeling.

Q. You seem to spend some time on “Hallelujah Anyhow” reflecting on your own life as a musician.

A. I have to write things that I feel connected to, and that is mostly what I know from my experience in life. I think that may be why I don’t write narrative songs so much, which create characters that I don’t feel like I know anything about. I’m trying to write poems. Poetry has been more influential to me than other songwriters. When I’m thinking about words on a page I’m not thinking about Bob Dylan, I’m thinking about someone like Wendell Berry or Mary Oliver.

Q. That might account, at least in part, for the elliptical nature of your lyrics.

A. I think so. The second that I tell people that, it’s often like a light going on for them.


Q. Your approach to making this record was a little different from what you’ve done in the past.

‘I think that love is the resilient emotion and counters what I perceive to be the biggest emotional obstacle that so many people are dealing with now, which is fear.’

A. We made “Hallelujah Anyhow” by gathering in a room and playing it like a band. I wanted the record to have the impulsiveness of a group of people playing music in a room together. I was looking for an emotive moment, for a rendition of the song that carried some kind of emotional message above and beyond the words of the song.

Q. You also made it quickly.

A. After we put out “Heart Like a Levee” in late 2016, I had been writing a lot, so I had the songs, and we were starting to think about what we were going to do. Someone said, “Why don’t we just make a new record?” I thought about it, and I thought it doesn’t have to be a painful, drawn-out process. We could just jump into the studio and make a record. Why not go in for a week and do it? If it doesn’t work, then back to the drawing board, but if it does, this could be a whole new way for us. I think everybody has felt totally jammed up with the way their records come out and the long lead times. Press and publicity is great, but that’s not what I’m chasing after right now. We’re a live band that tours, and our proselytizing happens on the stage.

Hiss Golden Messenger

At The Sinclair, Cambridge, Dec. 6 at 8 p.m. Tickets $18, 617-547-5200,

Interview has been edited and condensed. Stuart Munro can be reached at