Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, Saturday, Oct. 8, 7 p.m., Nutty Brown Cafe
Photo and Story by Christine Imperatore
Will Taylor moved to Texas from Dekalb, Ill. as a child with his family in the early ‘70s when his father took a job as a professor of English at the University of Texas. He got his start in music as a sixth grader in the Austin Independent School District where he learned to play the viola.
It wasn’t until high school that he ventured outside the classical realm of string music, when he encountered a very unconventional orchestra director who didn’t play a string instrument. He was a band director with a background in jazz music who somehow got assigned to teach the Austin High School orchestra.
“He would encourage the string players to play jazz and improvise and play by ear,” says Taylor.
The orchestra parents were not exactly thrilled with this style of teaching and even tried to have the director fired at one point.
“But he remained and he was the first influence on me to go outside the traditional route of a string player,” says Taylor.
For 10 years now, Will Taylor and Strings Attached has been entertaining Austin with their unique brand of musical variety. In celebrating a milestone anniversary, they will conclude their current season on Saturday at Nutty Brown Café on Hwy. 290, with a tribute to Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” album, with a few other surprises included. Taylor looks forward to the next chapter of Strings Attached with a few new ideas and approaches to his original model.
After a short stint at UT, Taylor decided to take some time to explore having his own band and to further immerse himself in writing and arranging music. It was during this time that he began receiving calls to arrange music for nationally known singer-songwriters who would be performing with string musicians.
“The fateful day was when Sara Hickman called me up and asked me to write a program for her and a full symphony orchestra,” says Taylor.
The show ended up falling through but Taylor and Hickman decided to perform the music anyway with just a string quartet. The audience enjoyed it so much that he was inspired to come up with a performance model of mixing string quartets with a guest singer.
In 1995 Taylor became a father, which made touring nationally less of a viable option.
“I wanted to find a way to challenge myself creatively without having to go on the road and tour and leaving my kids at home and not seeing them grow up,” says Taylor.
In 1999 he decided to start a concert series that invited famous singer-songwriters to come and perform arrangements that he created. Fortunately for Taylor, he was doing a radio show for KGSR at the time and had contact with a great deal of prospective guest artists.
Another unique element to the formula was the setting of the performances. They decided to do their shows in a church setting, which allowed for a relief from the smoky, noisy atmosphere that musicians normally deal with when playing in bar venues.
“We wanted a place where people could come and sit in an environment that was fun and yet respectful of the music,” says Taylor.
By performing their concert series at St. David’s Episcopal Church, he found they were getting the same respect that classical musicians used to get in concert halls.
From then on, Will Taylor and Strings Attached worked together to bring in great guest artists and create original arrangements of jazz, folk and rock music. Today, the main band consists of Taylor, Steve Zirkel, Jason McKenzie, Charles Prewitt, Brad Evilsizer, Shawn Sanders and Glen Rexach.
Strings Attached has seen its fair share of setbacks in the past 10 years. All along, Taylor has found it challenging to have to take care of the business side of it all while still focusing on the music. He has hired interns to alleviate some of that burden, but still finds he spends a great deal of his time taking care of the business aspect.
The economic downturn in 2008 also proved to be a major damper on what Strings Attached does.
“It became almost impossible for me to do the same formula of Strings Attached with famous singer-songwriters,” says Taylor.
The group began doing classic rock shows, which proved to be a little more popular with the general public.
“I still try to keep the idea of bringing my own creative reimaginations, so it wasn’t just a cover band doing the music the same way it was done before,” says Taylor.
They gave the show their own flair by including the element of a light show and having guest artists. The group produced about nine classic rock shows per year at first, with Taylor and Zirkel writing all the arrangements by hand.
“Every month we were creating, from scratch, an entire show,” says Taylor.
The group has managed to gain a great reputation and a well-established brand in Austin. At their 10-year anniversary, the group looks forward to some exciting new ideas that will help them further achieve Taylor’s vision.
Recently they have introduced an aspect of patronism on their website. The concept dates back before the 19th Century when musicians were commissioned by wealthy families to create music. A man named John Pointer started a website, patronism.com, which brings together the age-old concept with the technology of today to support modern musicians.
Taylor sees this as a great solution for Strings Attached and hopes to see it catch on in the next chapter of the group’s endeavors.
“I know economically times are hard but even with 1000 people at the five dollar level, it all adds up,” says Taylor.
By becoming a patron of Will Taylor and Strings Attached, individuals have access to constantly updated streams of music on the internet that no others have.
“If you support us through patronism, you are supporting the creation of new music that will be played for many years to come,” says Taylor
Patrons can take even more pride in knowing that what the group does with that support helps make the community even greater.
Taylor has committed time to giving back to Austin and the local community throughout his time here. Strings Attached most recently did a fire relief concert for Bastrop and they frequently perform in schools and hospitals to bring music to the youth of Austin as well as those who need some beauty in their lives.
Taylor hopes in the coming years, they can continue to give back to the community even more.
“I get as much enjoyment out of a kids’ show as I do playing for 1000 adults,” he says.
He hopes that through the support of patrons, he can focus less on business and more on music in the coming years.
“The idea is to free up the artist to do what they do best,” says Taylor.
Most of all, he hopes to continue to focus locally, something that has become a necessity with the economic downturn. Touring the world has become less and less economically viable for many musicians.
Karen Mal, an accomplished singer who frequently works with Strings Attached, has spent most of her career touring, but is always grateful to have the ability to perform locally.
She notes the return to an old-fashioned model, “All through civilization, people have had a local bard as opposed to a big, worldwide superstar.”
Taylor and his group also love to do private shows and are available for hire.
“He is a very approachable guy,” says Mal.
She adds, “Lately what we love as much as anything are small, intimate concerts.”
Strings Attached will conclude their 10th season on Saturday with a re-imagination of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon album at the Nutty Brown Café at 7 p.m.
The show features guest artists Dave Quanbury on lead guitar and vocals and Brandy Zdan on lead vocals.
“I am a big fan of David Gilmour and I get to sort of worship him that night,” says Quanbury.
He especially looks forward to the show because it brings back fond memories of the first time he performed the album in his hometown of Winnipeg, Manitoba.
Taylor’s right hand man Zirkel notes that the show is even great for kids.
He remembers in a past performance of the album, “We started playing the slow, sort of dreamy songs and all of a sudden these little kids got up and started dancing. It was just so natural for them and very cool to watch.”
“The Nutty Brown is also a very kid-friendly venue,” he adds.
Through this show, they hope to continue to bring beauty to Austinites of all ages and to bring the community together.
“There will always be a need for bringing people together in a place that is not the internet and that will never be replaced by machines and music is one of the most ancient ways of bringing people together regardless of language,” says Taylor.
Tickets to the show are still available and can be purchased through www.stringsattached.org or by calling 775-2371.