It's no secret that one of our favourite albums of the year so far comes from multi-instrumentalist and Brainfeeder signee Taylor McFerrin (son of Bobby). We've already given it a 9/10 review, and told you to ignore all words about it. So I'm not going to try reiterate how good it is - again just listen to the stream. But what I will say, is that whatever I thought of it from listening was enhanced when I actually talked to Taylor.

Over Skype from his apartment in New York, Taylor is unafraid to share the anxieties and setbacks that went into the album's creation, as we talk the album recording process, his relationship with Brainfeeder, his work at Lavelle School for the Blind and more...


How long have you been working on Early Riser? I heard that you'd started working on the record before your Brainfeeder deal...

Yeah well I put out like a three song EP that was like 'Place In My Heart' and two other songs, and that was called Early Riser Preview, so that was meant to be like part of the record. But only 'Place In My Heart' from that actually made it onto the record.

I guess that makes it like four years, I think I came out in 2011 sometime. A lot of people don't know that I was in a lot of bands leading up until that time, so there was kind of a period of juggling a bunch of different projects and that was the first point when I was like, "I'm only doing this stuff." But it took me a while to re-adjust to focussing just on my stuff, and I was touring really heavily as well. So in terms of supporting myself I was kind of chilling, and just travelling around doing shows. It took me a while to get focussed on studio stuff.

What made you decide that now was the right time to put it out?

I thought I was going to have it done like a year after that EP, and then I was like, "Alright maybe I need two years." That was like the furthest I saw myself extending it. But then I had a year of like the worst case scenario, where I felt like I wanted to start all the way over. And I kind of did. I started making all new stuff, different approach, and then I hit a wall with that and felt like I was completely lost. So there was two years where I made the instrumentals that are on the record, and then a year after that where nothing I did really was coming into fruition. This last year was like me reaching out to all these guests, sharing the record - getting over playing the record to people - seeing what people were vibing with and just putting together the team of guest artists. Once that process started, everything just started flowing again, and even the stuff that I didn't have guests on, got a lot easier to work on.

And at what point during that process did you sign with Brainfeeder?

I signed with Brainfeeder in February of 2011, I think the music for the EP was done December or January before that and I was in the middle of a music video for 'Place In My Heart'. So I signed right when the video was being wrapped up, so they re-released the EP with the video as well, so it was something new, just kinda like out of the blue, like an announcement that I was on Brainfeeder.

How, if at all, has being signed to them shaped the direction the album has gone in since?

Not very much really, FlyLo off the bat was like, "I don't want you to make a Brainfeeder style record. I just want you to do what you do." We haven't really had that many conversations about the record spanning these years, but he would always tell me that when we talked.

It's interesting because I wanted to sing on the whole thing for a while, but the beats on the record aren't necessarily music I would sing over. So once I realised I was going to take a step back and push towards singing more as I move forward in my career, that gave me a lot more freedom to look back at some of the beats and music that were more interesting and different from each other, and I could put together a collage that made sense as a whole. I really wanted to make an album experience where it was the best listening to it the whole way through, versus individual tracks and when I took that kind of approach it made it easier to look back at my tracks and see what things felt like they were part of the same story. So taking that approach really helped me.

"I grew up playing in bands, so I always had the vibe of playing off other people, the moment when all of your minds meld together and everything comes together perfectly, and then I switched to a completely solo show for the past four years."

Do you think that being in New York when the rest of the label are in L.A. has disconnected you from them at all?

Yeah. I mean, I only feel disconnected in comparison to how close they all are as friends. I'm kind of a homebody and a loner already, so I don't know if I would be at every party or event if I was in L.A. But I would definitely have had a lot of cool nights and experiences with them. When I hang out with them I feel like it's this whole crew of friends. But they're all guys that I probably would just be friends with if I was out there because we're all so similar in what we like to do. I'm also a little bit older than most of those cats though, so I'm getting out of the phase where I feel like I need to be out partying all of the time.

So do you think you'd consider moving over there in future to get closer to them?

I've been considering moving out there for over two years, partially because I'm originally from California, and I wouldn't mind moving back there now. Now a lot of people around my age that have been in New York ten plus years, the weather and especially these bad winters we've been having is pushing people out to L.A. Especially since the music scene has been really dope right now, even outside of Brainfeeder, a lot of people who are New York heads are moving out there right now.

But it's tough, I have a good living situation right now, my fiancé has a good job here, a lot of things have to align for us to move out to L.A., but we've been considering it. I'm kind of swinging back around to staying in New York though, mostly because me and Marcus Gilmore, the drummer on the record kinda started something, and he's the main cat I want to collaborate with right now, so I'm fine with staying here for now. I might still end up back in Cali on some quality of life type vibe though.

How do you approach the record when you play live? Your press release describes you as 'a one man show'...

It's going to expand a little bit now because I'm trying to get Marcus on gigs with me, we just had our first real show together in Japan, and it was like everything we wanted it to be. I grew up playing in bands, so I always had the vibe of playing off other people, the moment when all of your minds meld together and everything comes together perfectly, and then I switched to a completely solo show for the past four years. That's been really fun, but I also miss the camaraderie of bandmates. So my show is going to be changing over the next few months as I'm testing which songs from the record work in a live setting, and also I have new material that I want to start testing like now.

But for the past four years it's been me, a Fender Rhodes, a synth, an APC40 controlling Ableton Live and in Ableton I have a bunch of drum machines and samples. It's been an improvised show for the last four years, where all I have is like drum sounds, and I make some drum loops, start adding layers, Rhodes, synths and I'll either rap or sing over the final thing sometimes, but it's usually mostly instrumental. And if I have friends in the audience who I know I might call someone up and do a song with somebody. It's something that works really well in intimate settings, sometimes it takes a minute for people to get sucked into the pace of the show, because it takes a little bit longer with the build of tracks. But when people feel like they're part of the creation of the music, it kinda has a special energy around it. And I'm going to keep a lot of that in my show, the freestyle element, but now that I have the songs I'm going to do interpretations of them and maybe a couple of covers and some new things as well. I feel like the show won't be the official version of the show for another three months.

Taylor Mcferrin

Photo courtesy of the artist
"I want to have a long career, I want to make at least three to five solo records minimum."

When did you first start making music, and which instrument did you start off with?

I guess it was in high school, I was getting really heavy into hip-hop and always trying to go to Guitar Center and find out what gear I wanted. I got really lucky because my dad got a new keyboard and he gave me his old studio keyboard, which was a really good one, so I learned how to use midi and sequence stuff on his keyboard and then I bought a little drum machine, a BOSS DR202. So I had a drum machine and then the sounds from the keyboard, and eventually I got a sampler and got into the process of always trying to get new gear. So I started the whole home studio beat making vibe back then, and at that point all I wanted to do was make hip-hop beats pretty much. But I was also really listening to a lot of old Soul stuff. I was lucky because I never had an MPC, I was always producing on keyboards, so that set me down the path of playing all my own stuff. I never had to make that transition later on, I was always playing keys and figuring out chords and stuff. At some point I got really obsessed with getting analogue synths and gear so that I could get that soul sound that I really wanted. It changed through the years at some point I was like a lead vocalist in a couple of bands, then I'd fall back and be all keys, then I'd be a producer for an MC. I've had many different projects where I had different roles to play, and that ended up serving me really well when it came to do solo stuff, because I comfortable being a frontman, or all instrumental stuff.

And when did you first start beatboxing?

I beatboxed since I was really little, I was never obsessed with being the best, I just did it for fun. But when I first started being in bands it was always a crowd pleasing part of the show, so it was like my foot in the door for live performance. Initially I had no chops on keys or vocals really, the only thing I could do live that was impressive was beatboxing, so at a certain point it was like my lead live instrument. I was lucky to always be in bands with really amazing drummers, so I started patterning my style after a live drumming rather than like a standard beatbox show where I'm trying to emulate beats from the radio. I kept beatboxing as a main part of my show up until recently, and it was always like beatboxing supporting a singer or a band where I had to have a pocket and do fills and make it a really musical thing as opposed to, "Check out the beat from the latest hip-hop joint on the radio."

So that kind of helped me have my own approach to it, but it always felt like a diversion from what I really wanted to do, which was studio recording. That's why on this record there's no beatboxing, I wanted to be like, "This is what I actually do." I was becoming known as a beatboxer, which was bothering me because, even though I love to do it, I think there's people that are way more passionate about beatboxing and trying to take it to a whole new level. For me it's just been something that I enjoy doing in certain contexts but not as my main thing.

"I feel really comfortable with this record. It's not initially what I set out to do, but once I shifted my focus, this album ended up being something I'm really proud of."

Are you still running the Beatrockers program at Lavelle School for the blind?

Yeah, I had my final class of the semester yesterday. I've been teaching at this school for four years. It started as a beatboxing class but it turned into me bringing my show equipment, my laptop and synth, and making an original song every class, giving the kids the experience of recording and making songs. Sometimes it'll be beatboxing, sometimes they like to sing. Some of the kids have real disabilities and they can't necessarily add to the track, but they're part of the process or some kids just love to dance. But it turned into a music class where we can do whatever we want and we just record it, then by the end of each semester we have a mixtape of songs we've made.

So it's not even so much a beatbox class anymore, but that was our foot in the door, because working with blind kids it's just a cool thing that they can do without needing to see or touch, or have any actual skills with equipment. So every semester there's new students we start off teaching them how to beatbox, teaching them how to think about music in a rhythmic way and that warms them up, and then that always turns into, "Lets make a song."

How would you describe your recording process?

One thing I'm trying to change for the next process moving forward, but I did for this project, is to just turn on my equipment and start messing around. I'll have an Ableton session open, I'll make a quick beat, add some synths, but it may be like three hours of trying things out before I capture something that's actually cool to me, and that can be a keys loop or it could be rhythmic or just sounds that I start chopping up. I made everything with a collage approach where once something sounds cool I just start fitting other pieces around it to support it. Usually I just listen to the track and at a certain point I start hearing what it needs and it moves in that direction, but the initial spark is just from basically jamming with myself for a few hours until something cool happens that I can build on.

And sometimes nothing cool happens. I have a lot of little beats that are not that dope! Another thing is sometimes if I make an original sound on my synth and I did something cool, but I don't realise it was cool until weeks later, it's hard for me to recreate everything that happened to make that sound, so sometimes I get stuck. But usually it's just a matter of just sticking with it and evolving the tracks. Pretty much the whole album is the same instrumentation. I have pretty dope gear but not tonnes of it, so I try to use everything in my studio to some capacity in various ways.

And finally, what do you hope to achieve from Early Riser?

I want to have a long career, I want to make at least three to five solo records minimum, and my goals for this record were to establish that I'm a producer first - not really a beatboxer - and I wanted to sing a little bit so people won't think I'm taking too hardcore of a left turn when I start doing that more moving forward. And I wanted to establish that when I put out a record I'm going to take the time to make it an album that's worth listening through from beginning to end, with some diversity of sound where it's not going always going to be one type of beat. I feel really fortunate that I've made so many amazing fans that are all over the map in the musical world, so hopefully their fans will hear about me. I feel like this record was just setting a tone that when I put out a record it's going to be a full album experience, but at the same time you might not know what to expect.

I feel really comfortable with this record. It's not initially what I set out to do, but once I shifted my focus, this album ended up being something I'm really proud of. And I'm glad I took this long because right now I'm so appreciative of all the love I'm getting from people. I definitely had a year there where I thought I really might not finish a record and I'm going to regret it for my whole life. So now every little thing that's happening surrounding the record I'm really grateful for. It's so much better to finish stuff and put it out, and sometimes you just need to get that feedback. I know so many people who hold onto their art for so long that they hate it, or people just never hear it. So just the experience of letting this stuff go and putting the work in to have it be something I'm happy with, I feel like I've set myself up to at least have the opportunity to put something else out that more people will be checking for than were checking for me before. That's all I can really ask for at this point and I'm looking forward to the next few years really.

Taylor McFerrin's new album, Early Riser, is out now via Brainfeeder. Listen to it by heading here.