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Exclusive Interview: Chad Taylor from The Gracious Few
“It was a wonderful moment,” says The Gracious Few’s chief protagonist, guitarist, and co songwriter Chad Taylor of a particular late winters day in Sausalito, California. “As I loosened the grip on my guitar after that final take, I knew the past was exactly that. It can’t come back to haunt me. It can only influence me and our future as a band. Primarily because we’ve all already been there.” Typically Taylor would be back in his home state of Pennsylvania at this time of year, perhaps even shoveling snow, but most likely thinking about his feature film company or other varied business interests, certainly not music. But in that moment warmth came over him as the strings still resonated, “I looked into the control room, and the guys, and thought this very nearly didn’t happen.”
We spent some time with Chad to discuss the formation of The Gracious Few and how several key events significantly added to the amazing story of the band. Not only will you realize how important the music is to these guys, but you will come to a full understanding as to why they are The Gracious Few.
Hey Chad, it’s great to catch up with you. Tell me a little about how you guys got together with Kevin Martin (vocals) and Shawn Hennesy (guitar) from Candlebox to form The Gracious Few.
Chad Gracey (drummer) and Patrick Dahlheimer (bass) had their gear set up in a rehearsal space we have in York, Pennsylvania. They called me about a week out and said they were gonna play some songs and asked me if I was gonna come over. Not to be rude, but I told them I probably would but I really didn’t want to go. We had done Live for such a long time that it had become contrived to me – formulaic. There was a template – sort of a coloring book for the way that a song would work for Live. The musicians had to fill in the colors within that template. I really felt like the last ten years we had just been painting with the same colors. It just sounded like the same song to me, over and over again. I had grown bored with it. When Chad called I really thought we were just gonna hop in some room and do the same thing we had done for over 20 years. That didn’t intrigue me.
They got me on the phone and called me out – I think they called me a dickhead. Our friendship was great. Intact. We all got together and did the whole “catching up with our lives” thing. Once we picked up our instruments a light bulb went off in my head. We don’t have a damn song to play. We don’t have any preconceived notions about why we’re here or what we’re gonna do. It hit me that we could create anything that we wanted to be from that moment forward.
That had to be exactly they way you needed to feel, especially if you felt like you had been stuck in a rut with Live for so long.
That’s right. And I started thinking about the bands I’ve been working with for the past couple of years. I started producing bands and working on metalcore albums, folk records, pop bands and all these different things. I had so many ideas that were far out of the box of what Live would have done – much more riff heavy and just harder music. The first thing I threw out is what became our first single, “Honest Man.” It honestly took us about seven our eight minutes to put the song together. Like a kid discovering a new toy, we played the same song and the same riffs the entire evening. We threw up some microphones in the recording space and recorded it. We lived with it for a day and we were all very excited. On the car ride home I stuck the CD in and listened to it and realized that is the kind of music I want to make. That’s what I’ve always wanted to do. We were all calling each other at two or three in the morning as we all got back home saying, “Fuck, this is awesome!” That’s how it felt for us as young boys in middle school when music was very innocent. We ended up with seven or eight songs when it was clear that it wasn’t just going to be us jamming. We needed somebody to sing. Enter Kevin Martin. We have been friends for almost 20 years. The first time I got to be close to Kevin is when I was producing a band and he was their drummer. He had volunteered to play drums with this really young band and he came in lived in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where I have my studio. He was a veteran like myself. I could lean on him pretty heavily with song arrangements or ideas. He was my sounding board. He is just an incredibly great human being. He’s real giving and concerned about the well-being of the other musicians. That’s something that’s hard to find in a veteran performer.
There are a lot of egos out there that wouldn’t even come close.
Exactly. That made an impression on me. The housing for this particular young band … they didn’t have a lot of money. I think Kevin slept on an air mattress for three weeks. There aren’t many musicians that would show up in my town and sleep on an air mattress! That guy has a cool credo – he’s got a cool quality to him. He took time out of his life and away from his wife to come in.
We were working on a list of potential singers. Most were people we were friends with or someone we knew. During his time in Lancaster, Kevin became friends with a good buddy of mine. I swear when we put that original list together I didn’t even think of Kevin. I didn’t think it was even a possibility. My friend came to me and said he knew who should be the singer in the band. This guy is 20 years my senior and I braced for the worst. He’s a cardiologist, not a musician. He said “You guys need Kevin Martin.” Every hair on my body stood up instantly. That was the green light. I picked up the phone and called Chad and Patrick and told them about my experience working with Kevin. We wanted to make an investment into a person as a human being and not just for their vocal abilities. We wanted to find somebody that had the same outlook on life as us. Next thing you know we’re on the phone with Kevin and he said, “I’ve been waiting on this call!”
He flew in and his first day in our rehearsal space we didn’t even work on the songs we sent him. We wrote three brand new songs. We knew at that point that we were onto something that was pretty special.
As we were working through one of the songs it came to a point where there should be a guitar solo. I signaled for the band to stop and I told them if this second time around I got to do things how I wanted that I’ve always hated playing guitar solos. I just don’t like it and it’s not the best thing that I do. I told ‘em that we needed a lead guitar player. It surprised everybody. Kevin spoke up and said, “I’ve got your guy. Sean Hennesy. He’s got the love for rock ‘n roll and he’s good at what he does.” We called Shawn in the middle of the night. Actually, we called his mom’s house like four times and woke her up! Where’s your son?! We finally got him on the phone and he was on a plane the next day. He joined us in York and that’s the birth of The Gracious Few.
That is a cool story and I think I understand the name of the band now.
If this was an interview for Live I could close my eyes and do it. Right now I really feel innocent and vulnerable and happy and excited. It’s a strange bag of emotions and feelings. Live put out the first record in 1991. It’s been a really long time since my new band put out it’s first record! I was up at the crack of dawn for our release date. When Best Buy opened their doors at 10AM I was through the doors and I even helped the manager unpack the boxes to get my damn new record! It’s been a really long time since I’ve been that excited. I stood in the store and had my wife take my picture with my record in front of the new releases stand. I’ve put so much into this record – we all have. I’m curious to see if people like it as much as I do. There are also going to be people that it won’t meet their expectations. It’s not Live and it’s not Candlebox.
You being that emotional has got to be good for rock ‘n roll. People are realizing that there are a lot of ungrateful assholes in the music business. Not to mention artists that depend on software to fix their mistakes or make them appear to be talented.
Patrick’s a producer and an engineer in his own right and I produce and engineer all the time. I own two recording studios. We could have made the record. Instead, we called up Jerry Harrison (Talking Heads) and Tom Lord-Alge and Ted Jensen. We called up the most “A-list” guys that we know and trust with our music. We wanted to do it the right way. We wanted to invest in this project because we want the fans to feel that we cared enough to move outside of our comfort zone. We’re all capable of making really strong records but we needed someone in the room that was capable of being a leader among guys who are good at being leaders themselves. There’s only one guy in the room that’s in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame – and that’s Jerry Harrison. Pay attention, ya know? He did a great job getting strong performances out of all of us.
Jerry Harrison was in The Modern Lovers and Jonathan Richman broke them up and went off on his own. He was in Talking Heads and David Byrne broke them up and went off on his own. For us guys from Live, we were sent reeling from our loss of what was our childhood innocence. We started Live when we were 13 years old. It lasted a very long time and it didn’t end the way we would’ve had it end. It was very hard to get over. In Jerry’s eyes he realized that we got what we wanted. We got to make the music we had been dreaming about for the past 10 years. Ed (Kowalczyk, ex-Live vocalist) finally got what he wanted and got to make the music he had been dreaming about for years. Kevin even got a chance to begin again in a band where he could share and not feel like he had to be defensive or pretend like old battle scars weren’t there when they still were. Things are amazing. We’re living, breathing and eating every single day together. That’s something I haven’t experienced since high school. We’re all focused and we’re all working.
You’ve got a string of live dates scheduled. I’m sure you’ll do as many new songs as possible. What other material will you guys perform?
We made up our minds that we’re not going to play any Live songs and we’re not going to play and Candlebox songs. Both of those bands deserve their own space. We don’t want to do anything that’s disrespectful to the fans. We worked up some cover songs that a band of our genre normally wouldn’t do. We’ve been playing around with a Depeche Mode cover. A lot of those keyboard lines sound like guitar riffs. Maybe an Otis Redding song. Maybe a cover from one of our contemporaries, like the Black Keys. We’ve been doing acoustic versions of some songs, like a delta blues feel. I think that will really showcase the heart and soul of the material.
Chad, thanks for taking time out for this. I’m looking forward to seeing you guys out on the road. What would you like to tell everybody to wrap things up?
This is it. This is all I have. As much as I’m doing it for myself, I’m really doing it for the spirit of rock ‘n roll and the spirit of music. If you can’t get into that then you can’t get into much!
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