Finding My Identity: Body Meat's Chris Taylor Interviewed
At the beginning of the video for Body Meat’s 'Ultima' - a hyperactive rush of mutated pop with dextrous, dense rhythms - a woman’s voice speaks out over the footage of a rundown trailer that’s battling subsummation from the surrounding woodland undergrowth. This dusty steel box is situated outside the tiny Maryland, US town of Elkton and was home to Body Meat’s Chris Taylor, alongside his sister and mother, for two years of a childhood that was punctuated by repeated upheaval, financial and emotional hardships.
The woman speaking, however, is positive about that time. “That trailer thing was beautiful” she says in the clip. “It was about the energy of the space that the building was on.”
She returns after the song has finished. “It was free… right?” She reminisces. “We slept with the door unlocked.”
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The voice is Taylor’s mother, Carol: an environmental scientist who at that time was part-powering their temporary home with a self-invented renewable energy machine, while being a single mum with two kids. “That woman, I don’t how she did it” Taylor sighs back in the present day, pausing to look away from his laptop camera in his apartment in Philadelphia. “'Ultima' was meant as a thank you. Because I knew that she had done the best she could. She found this energy to help us survive.”
With an emotional fragility that contrasts with the kind of beat complexity you might hear on a Jlin track, Ultima is arguably the centrepiece of the latest Body Meat EP 'Year Of The Orc'; but it’s far from the beginning and end of Taylor’s attempts to re-connect and re-conceptualise his past on record.
Over five years of output on his Bandcamp page he’s signposted this direction, from the skeletal beginnings of the synapse-snapping flurry of rhythms and breakneck changes in song structure, via lo-fi instrumentals that gradually become more digitalised with each release. Now he’s arrived at 'Year Of The Orc': a culmination of an internal battle and attempt to find peace with his childhood.
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It’s a journey that took the Utah-born artist from trailer homes in Maryland to Philadelphia via San Francisco and Denver. In particular, he credits moving from Denver to his current home as kickstarting what he was doing musically, finding kindred spirits in artists such as mercurial art rockers Palm – who found him his apartment in Philadelphia and even gave him and his partner a hand moving in - Saddle Creek three-piece Spirit Of The Beehive and Infinity Dance Complex’s Matt Anderegg, the latter of whom Taylor has also played alongside in the equally idiosyncratic guitar pop group Mothers.
“I have great friends in Denver still, but I’d gotten to the point where I had pretty much locked myself away in my room working on my music because there weren’t too many opportunities” he explains. “Because of that people there can be very, like ‘well whatever, we’ll make music and party and work some jobs. Which is totally fair! It’s just that I don’t party.”
Taylor suffers ongoing anxiety issues that he’s had to seek help for over the years, but music has also been a way to channel it. He frequently describes borderline obsessive behaviours around practice and production of music during our conversation – from spending hours working on a vocal take for just ten seconds of a track, to rehearsing all day in the build up to a live show to the point where he was exhausted before he’d set foot on stage. He manages that better now, he says, but he’s also keen to point out the healing qualities such a focus on his craft has provided for him.
“Music doesn’t come easy to me” he says modestly. “I turned down a lot of stuff in Denver, and maybe people thought I was stuck up, but I just needed to be inside working on stuff 12 hours a day when I could before and after work, coming home and only making music, only practising. Then when I got to Philly it was like everyone was doing that all the time as well! If my friends and me see each other, it’s when we’re showing each other our music. What makes the Philadelphia scene so good too is that we’ll call up on each other and be, like ‘I have this part that sounds wild, I don’t know if it’s too extra or not’ and most of the time people are like ‘that’s insane, keep going keep going’”.
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Listening to Body Meat, it’s no surprise that an atmosphere so conducive to a maximalist way of thinking has been fertile for the project. 'Year Of The Orc' is a rush of endorphins; opener Twigs is early 90s R&B sped up to warp speed, pitch-manipulated and left to fend for itself among its creator’s insatiable appetite to twist and change rhythmic direction. This Is Something mixes trap with early 00s pop production, vocal samples that spring up like a jack-in-a-box and vocal melodies that fall over cliff edges only to find the energy soar back upwards on impact. Even on Ghost, which features veteran American musical shapeshifter Laaraji, is constantly prodding and probing at the track’s lolling balladry until it fragments into scuttering beats.
What sets Body Meat apart, though, isn’t just instrumental acrobatics transposed onto Ableton – as impressive as they no doubt are. It’s the thought in which he allows before hurling his genres together; the depth of understanding behind a drum pattern that wouldn’t sound out of place on Nyege Nyege Tapes; the use of autotune on his vocal that allows him to indulge his unironic love of Boyz II Men to full effect. This is no technical demonstration, and the largely self-taught Taylor talks a lot about “weight” in his music, as opposed to time signatures, key changes or chords.
“I don’t just put something in to show people that I’m good at drums or bass. Everything in my music is for storytelling, so I think of every single sound that’s in the music” he says. “A sound will need to feel lighter here, but then maybe I’ll condense it or loosen it up here in the rhythm depending on where the story’s going. I think of it as, like, light moments, heavy moments and that’s how I write music. I don’t care what the time signature is, I don’t think about the count, it’s really just a feeling.”
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Something also instilled with him from an early age has been to look outside western music for inspiration. It partly comes from an early love of Anime, and Taylor remembers vividly drawing characters, collecting bootleg Dragonball Z cards and immersing himself in the seemingly otherworldly soundtracks that encompassed them. It also came from his father - also an environmental scientist - with Ethiopian heritage, who once played congas for Earth, Wind and Fire and brought back records and other musical trinkets from frequent business trips to Africa. “I think it ties into that idea of trying to find identity through music, so me looking towards African music and Ethiopia and learning from those things is trying to tap into where I’m from, where some of my identity lies,” Taylor says.
Identity, heritage, re-connecting with his past. These are the themes that we keep returning to – and it’s clear that you can place Taylor the artist in two camps. There’s Body Meat; absorbed in the sounds of his local and global community, extracting and re-moulding them to push a futuristic strain of mutated pop. But then there’s also Chris Taylor, embedding these forward-thinking ideas into folk-like stories of identity, finding his personal and cultural past. It’s perhaps a far simpler message than the music that carries it, but it’s the beating heart of this exhilarating project.
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Words: Simon Jaycatling
Photo Credit: Beth Town
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