Taylor Casey on Finishing a Stranger’s Song, 30 Years Later

Taylor Casey

Taylor Casey

A while back, Taylor Casey asked if I’d sing some backgrounds on his EP. All I knew about the project was that Taylor — who grew up alongside my baby brother — was a nice, Southern California kid whose love for music brought him to the big city. One of my favorite singers happened to be staying with me, so I brought her along, and we found ourselves singing oohs and ahhhs between sips of chocolate chai in Taylor’s West Village apartment. I took it for what it seemed to be — a good time making great music. 

A while later, I received a hardcopy of the EP in the mail. I loaded it up and was treated to something remarkable. Taylor’s sound and writing style call to mind Bob Dylan, but through a perspective that is clearly his own. Scanning the liner notes, I was humbled to see my own, obscure name tucked between the likes of Chuck Burgi, Andy Cichon, Hugh Pool, and Larry Dvoskin. Suddenly, my curiosity for the project caught up to my appreciation for the music, and I had to ask him more…

What is your motivation for writing songs?

Writing a new song feels good. Having a new song to sing, that’s sometimes motivation in itself, but I’ve found that the best songs come along when you least expect them. It could be randomly strumming a guitar or improvising with friends. Lyrically, I get my motivation from books, movies, current events, and personal experiences.

Writing a new song feels good. Having a new song to sing, that’s sometimes motivation in itself.

Who are some writers you are inspired by and what makes them great?

I really dig a lot of different styles of writing, but my personal favorite writers are Alexander Ebert, Ian Felice, Bob Dylan, Father John Misty, and John Lennon. Lyrics are really important to me, and all these artists, in my opinion, have great lyrics. They can tell stories, make you feel, make you think, and dance all in the same song. They’ve also all done a great job of matching their soundscapes with the lyrics, but what it comes down to is having a unique perspective. They’re all able to relay what they want to say in a way that hasn’t been done before.

Your debut EP was recently released. What was that process like for you?

It was kind of surreal. I moved to New York after graduating college and was taking a few classes around the city when I decided to sign up for a songwriting class at NYU. The teacher, Larry Dvoskin liked the stuff I was bringing in and offered to help co-write and produce my debut EP. I wasn’t even planning on recording yet, but the opportunity was there, so I said yes. He pulled together a killer group of musicians and we recorded the EP at Excello Recording in Brooklyn. It was my first time in a studio so it was all new to me. It was a blast, but also a lot of work and second guessing.

Do you think the fact that there were so many musical perspectives involved affected the overall voice of the EP?

Oh yeah, definitely. I think collaboration is essential to artistic growth. I had an idea in mind for how I wanted each song to sound and made the calls on what instruments to bring in for each song, but I was really open to everyone’s input. Most of them have been musicians for a lot longer than I, and I trusted their experience. Besides, someone who plays the bass professionally is gonna come up with a lot better bass line that I ever could. Actually, the bassist ended up helping to write a better bridge for one of the songs — a lot of what’s on the tracks were ideas we had in the studio.

There’s a pretty incredible story behind the song “The Kindness of Others”. Would you mind sharing a bit of it with our community?

In the 80s, my producer, Larry Dvoskin, a longtime local of Greenwich Village, NYC met Bruce Paskow, the frontman for the folk-beatnik band, The Washington Squares, and they began to write a few songs together. In the past, Paskow had struggled with heroin use, but had recently got life back on track. He had gotten clean, got signed to a record deal by Danny Goldberg — who would later go on to become the manager of Kurt Cobain and Nirvana. Bruce even met, fell in love with, and then married the woman of his dreams. It was at this point that the song “The Kindness of Others” began — it was an idea that Dvoskin and Paskow had — at the time it was just one verse long, but was full of potential.

Sometimes I think of all the songs I leave half-written and it makes me want to finish them, to record them, so they aren’t lost when I’m gone.

In the early 90s, Bruce was diagnosed with AIDS. Back then, it was a death sentence. He had contracted the virus before he had gotten clean and passed away within the year — the song,  “The Kindness of Others” faded away as well.

Flash forward about 30 years and I was working on some songs with my producer Larry in my Greenwich Village apartment — Larry played me “The Kindness of Others” on an acoustic guitar and I immediately loved it. I asked who it was by and was surprised to find out that it was an original and that it had never been finished. Larry asked me to help him finish writing the song and come up with an arrangement. I agreed, helped finish the song, and the rest is history. It’s on my EP.

What was it like to collaborate with other writers in such a unique way?

I was definitely honored to be asked by a Grammy-nominated writer to help finish writing a song, but the best part was knowing I helped Bruce Paskow to get such a great song out. Sometimes I think of all the songs I leave half-written and it makes me want to finish them, to record them, so they aren’t lost when I’m gone.

You recently relocated to Austin. Musically, how does that experience compare to the time you spent in New York and California?

It’s a bit easier to navigate then say, New York. Tons of opportunity to play and I feel it’s a little more supportive. There’s a ton of live music fans in Austin, and basically any bar you go to will have some sort of live music. New York inspired me to be constantly writing, and there’s definitely a lot more people passing though the city, which could be potential audience members, but I’m liking Austin over NY at the moment— a lot of that has to do with having a place to practice in my backyard here. That may change though. I never really did get into the music scene in CA. Santa Barbara is a pretty small town and I’ve never given LA that much of a chance. That could change too.

If being a musician has taught you one thing about the world, what might that be?

To stay true to yourself, to validate your ideas as legitimate, and to share your passion with others.

What’s on the horizon for you?

I’m putting together a band right now in Austin and basically trying to get some experience playing live. I’m still writing songs, and hopefully in the future will be able to put out a full-length.

For more about Taylor, check out his website or find him on SoundCloud, iTunes, and Spotify.

Elijah Fox at the piano

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