Monday, March 16, 2015


You can take the boy off the mainland but you can’t take the banjo away from the boy.  
Steve Taylor - banjo player, guitarist, singer, songwriter and producer - a founding member of the underrated Los Angeles alt-pop band The Uninvited - moved his base of operation to Hawaii but was sure to take along his banjo.  He has hooked up with some superb bluegrass players and morphed an island country band, Flat Jackson, into a new musical genre - Hawaiian alt-grass.  This is some major Maui Wowie.  The band has just released their first EP, an amazing 7 track endeavor that takes you on a journey from an alternative bluegrass country folk vibe to head spinning psychological mind games worthy of Cake.  Yes, that’s right, a Hawaiian roots alt-grass banjo-based band.  What makes it work so well? They all can write and they all can shred.  Get the self-titled Flat Jackson EP and listen to this work of art made on island time and inspired by the beauty of the Pacific. Laid back. yes; lazy, no.  Absolutely different, new and interesting.          
I was able to catch up with Steve Taylor in between his naps in the hammock on a slow Hawaiian surf day and he granted me this interview:
Steve, love the new EP.
Q. How did Flat Jackson come about?
A. Like many bands, Flat Jackson was the result of a catastrophic lab accident at a major pharmaceutical company…or was it a jam session? Actually, as I think about it, we did start out as just a group of friends jamming. The lab accident happened later, and I’m really not at liberty to talk about it…
Q. Your work in The Uninvited had a much more folk-pop rock flavor than Flat Jackson which you describe as alt-grass. What brought you to create the unique sound of Hawaiian alt-grass?
A. Well, obviously, living in Hawaii and all, it just kinda rubs off on you. There is a deep rooted culture here, and something else that’s hard to put your finger on. A feeling? A vibe? I’m not sure how to describe it, but Maui resonates at a certain frequency that your soul can just tap into.
The Uninvited’s sound was the culmination of the people involved, and at that time we were all about distortion, loud guitars, blasting bottom end, and gin. We liked gin. Flat Jackson is also the
culmination of the musicians involved who all bring their varied life experience to the sound. Right now, FJ is into pushing the boundaries of acoustic instrumentation – bringing an electric energy to an organic format. And whiskey. FJ is more on the whiskey side.

Q. When did you begin to play banjo? How did that become your instrument of choice?
A. My Dad played banjo and he originally turned me on to the instrument. He would sing old Kingston Trio songs and I would sit there mesmerized. I began playing in the sixth grade and became a bit of a freak. I couldn’t put it down. I took it to school with me and played it on the long bus ride.
Q. Who made your banjo? You also play guitar. What makes do you have and prefer?
A. For banjo I love the Gibson Mastertone. I have a Deering Crossfire electric banjo for when I’m feeling Sex Pistols, but my all time favorite banjo is the one Dad made for me. It’s an amazing work of art.
For guitar, on the acoustic side, you can’t beat the high end Taylors. For electric, I have an old beat to hell 1980 Gibson Les Paul Custom that I LOVE. It will peel your face right off your skull…metaphorically of course. It’s not some kind of horror movie guitar or anything…
Q. Did you have a mentor as a banjo player? Who?
A. My Dad taught me for about 2 weeks, but I drained him like a musical vampire. Then I found some old Pete Seeger records and copped all his riffs. Soon after I discovered Earl  Scruggs, and it was game on. I collected up all the bluegrass legends and did the best I could to emulate their styles. After a few months, I met a banjo player named Woody Zuill, who can best be described as the Jimi Hendrix of banjo. He rocked it. From then on I wanted to be like Woody.
Q. Who are the other band members in Flat Jackson and what are their musical backgrounds?
A. Russell Halverson on upright bass. Not only is Russell an amazing bassist and guitarist, he is also a master luthier who works for Steve Grimes ( Russell’s inventive craftsmanship is reflected in his unique approach to playing and phrasing. You never know what he’s gonna do next, which makes playing with him a true joy.
Aaron Jernigan on guitar and vocals. Aaron is a one-of-a-kind. I love his voice and I love the way he approaches a song. His phrasing, the way he messes with the vocal timing, is reminiscent of Sinatra. Personally, I believe his attitude, his songwriting and his unique vocal approach give him a star quality that I wish I ran into 20 years ago. Flat Jackson is the first professional band he’s played in.
Christina “Stina” Nelson on guitar and vocals. Stina gives Flat Jackson authenticity. Her light southern drawl is not affected, it’s born of her Arkansas upbringing. She is the only person I have ever met who has actually jumped in a box car and road the rails full-on hobo style. Stina brings a depth of experience both musically and real-life that she gives back in her songwriting and vocal performance. Set your coffee next to the speakers when she harmonizes and you won’t need any sugar.
Jonas Troxell on drums. Jonas is a local drumming star having been a founding member of Maui’s premiere jam band, A Kettle Prime. When AKP split up he stopped playing professionally, but we pulled him out of retirement. He has an awesome respect for the acoustic approach, but he’ll beat those tubs like they owe him money when it’s appropriate. We’re super lucky to have him.
Steve Taylor on Banjo and Vocals. I do my thing and try to stay out of everyone’s way.

Q. The new 7 track self-titled Flat Jackson EP is Flat Jackson’s first official recording. How long has the band been together? How did the band come together?
A. We’ve been together for 2 years now. You can get the story here:
Q. How did you go about choosing the songs that appear on the EP?
A. We recorded about 14 songs, but threw out half of them because it was taking too long to finish things up. We’ve already started planning out the next full-length record.
Q. Who wrote the lyrics? Who wrote the music? What was the process you all went through to create the songs on the EP?
A. Whoever is singing is the main songwriter. Everyone contributes to the songwriting/arranging process but Aaron, Stina and myself usually provide the skeleton that we all flesh out.
Q. The final cut “Everything You Know About Love” you call an “Action Jackson Remix”. Why? The treatment is reminiscent of a few Cake songs. Was that intentional?
A. K, it’s a long story, but everyone in Flat Jackson has a nickname that ends in Jackson. Yes, it’s hard core dweeb, but hey, we live in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and sometimes you get bored. Anyway, I got the nickname Action Jackson, and that particular song is something created in the studio in bits and pieces. Russell came up with a bass riff, recorded it on a voice memo app on his iphone and emailed it to me. I looped it here and there, grabbed a sample of Jonas’ drum work,  did some spoken word weirdness over the track, threw in some banjo, and had the rest of the band come over and put down whatever they wanted. We never really rehearsed or planned the tune in any way. It just sort of happened.
Q. What is your favorite cut on the EP? Why?
A. My favorite songs are the ones between the first and last track. As a child of the 70s/80s, I can’t help but see albums as a whole – it’s just the way I grew up. You dropped the needle on that wax frisbee and escaped to rock land for 45 minutes. Old habits are hard to break….
Q. Aside from Flat Jackson, are there any songwriters out there that you find inspiring? Who? Why?
A. John Taylor, easily the best semi-unknown songwriter on the planet bar none. Anyone who can make you both laugh and cry in the time span of 3 minutes and 30 seconds is a musical mofo. I’m currently listening to a lot of Wood Brothers, whose lyrical genius requires multiple listenings. As far as established songwriters go I’ve really been getting into Mozart lately. The music industry of the 1700’s was just as sucky then as it is today and he got pretty hosed. Despite those setbacks, or maybe because of them, he created work that has resonated for hundreds of years. Now that’s bigger than the Stones.
Q. Your favorite and why? Vinyl, CD or digital download?
A. That’s a trick question because each one has huge drawbacks. Digital is getting better and better and will one day rule them all. However, once you have recorded on 2 inch tape on a 24 track machine, no reproduction of that original recording will ever sound the same regardless of media. Listening to an original 2 inch recording can bring tears. Seriously.
Q. What is your hometown? Do you have a favorite record store in or around your hometown? If so, where and why?
A. Though I didn’t grow up in LA, there was a Tower records on Sunset Blvd. in Hollywood that consumed many of my waking hours. And dollars. Many dollars. The first time I saw one of my band’s CDs in that store I almost had an aneurism right there in the Rock section.
Q. Whiskey, Jaeger, Tequila, Beer or Wine?
A. I have consumed my fair share of all five in the many years I have trudged this Earth, but these days it’s all about beer and wine – Maui Brewing Co.’s Coconut Porter and any awesome Napa Cab will rock my world.
Q. Are there plans to tour the EP? If so, when and where?
A. Hopefully we will be on the mainland late summer of 2015. Keep an eye on our website!
Q. What is next for Flat Jackson?
A. Next up we are all going to get Doctorates in Astrophysics so we can finally solve the age old mystery of where the other sock disappears to when you throw a pair in the dryer and only one comes out. WTF with that?

Q. Where can the Flat Jackson EP be purchased?
A. iTunes, Amazon, CDBaby or wherever fine digital goods are sold.
Q. Just two more questions: 1. If you could be any type of animal in the world what type
would you want to be? 2. As a kid what did you want to be when you grew up?
A. Though it’s a bit of a cliché, I think if I was going to be an animal I would want to be a duck-billed platypus. Nothing says “cool” like a platypus, and they have a hidden poisonous barb if anyone f’s with them.
When I was growing up all I ever wanted to be was a pirate. As I got older I discovered the closest career in modern times was touring musician; you roll into town, burn down the house, take the money and run. Livin the dream, baby.
Thank you Steve for taking the time to talk with me.  Waveriders,check out Flat Jackson’s new self-titled EP.  It is akaw! Primo stuff.

- Old School

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