One of the more immediately charming and surprisingly unheralded works to come across my desk of late is Swan Songs, the debut album from songwriter Lloyd Taylor-Clark, which has just come out. Although originally hailing from England’s East Midlands, Taylor-Clark began work on the album while living in London and then finished while in between there and his now-home of Oregon, where he moved to be with his partner.
This gives Swan Songs and interesting sheen, a melancholy and nostalgia for a place he was still living in, as he describes below. Leaning on songwriting greats like Bert Jansch and Vashti Bunyan, Taylor-Clark’s music is timeless. That it was recorded mostly in his home studio is evident in its homespun beauty, but does not detract from the sound of the finished product, which allows his nimble fingerpicking and heartwarming voice to be heard clearly and intimately at the same time.
That these songs are often born out of daydreams makes sense, as they induce one’s own imagination to wander to greener pastures as listening. Taylor-Clark has inserted many other subtly psychedelic elements to aid in these mental excursions, whether warming organs or sudden melodic diversions into instrumental passages. Swan Songs may only be 25 minutes, but listening to it feels like going on a rambling walk through some verdant countryside – making fast friends with the singer along the way.
We wanted to get to know Taylor-Clark some more, so we shot some questions across to the him in Bend, Oregon, where he has now settled. Enjoy it below, after listening to the divine “My Sides”.
Your debut album is called Swan Songs, what inspired the title? Is it a bit tongue in cheek as a title for a debut album and is that indicative of your sense of humour?
So I guess it was kind of a happy accident of being a bit tongue in cheek in terms of the metaphor of a swan song. I had initially called the album that based off of the imagery, totally forgetting that the metaphor even existed. But once I’d realised I did think it felt pretty fitting with the irony of it.
For a debut album, the playing and songwriting is very assured and mature – how long have you been writing songs? Have you had any previous projects?
Thank you! I’ve been writing for about 10 years or so and had the odd project here and there with good friends, but for the most part it’s been songs I’ve kept between myself and few others so it’s been a lovely step out of my comfort zone to finally put some music out.
Who or what first inspired you to pick up a guitar?
I remember I was mainly inspired by a good friend who helped teach me the basics and then from there I was just so completely enamoured by fingerpicking and a lot of the older folk music.
Have your influences changed since then?
I would say my taste has stayed fairly similar with some changes but artists like Bert Jansch, Paul McCartney and so on will always be big favorites of mine.
What’s your ‘ideal’ writing scenario?
I tend to write words separately so I’d say daydreaming looking out of some kind of window whether it’s a bus, train or in my home are my favourite times to write words. With the music I usually pick up my guitar just after getting ready to leave the house and stumble on ideas that typically make me almost late for wherever I’m going.
You recorded the album while travelling back and forth between London and Oregon, how did that affect your songwriting?
I think it created a sense of longing for a place I was still living in, which I’ve never experienced prior to that. Visually it also gave me two equally beautiful landscapes to influence from. During this period I’d also be leaving my partner for prolonged amounts of time. There would be these chunks of time where she’d be over in Oregon and myself in England, which was a really interesting way to live for several years and I think that had a huge impact on my songwriting at the time too.
What was the setup for recording? Was it all done at home?
I had recorded a full version of the album in my bedroom in London just using a couple of cheaper microphones, an interface and my laptop. It had no drums and wasn’t really mixed too well at the time. About a year after recording it, my good friend Nathan Ridley at Hermitage Works Studios helped bring all those same recordings to life with some lovely outboard gear and then added some drums and percussion.
Who else, if anyone, plays on this record?
So, Nathan added drums and percussion to the album and another really good friend Tom Coyne blessed some of the songs with some beautiful guitar parts that are on “Clover To Clover” and “Another Evening” (including that cheeky solo at the end).
I’d love on my next venture to have a lot more collaboration with friends when it comes to the instrumentation of my songs so hopefully there will be plenty more people on the next.
Who are the people in your songs? Are they real, fictional, yourself?
I think for the most part the album is personal experiences whether it’s about myself or just in observation of others around me. It’s fun to write words freely and see where you end up. I had plenty of occasions where I hadn’t realised what I’d written about until after.
You’ve now moved to Oregon permanently, do the songs on the album remind you of England? Anywhere in particular?
Yes 100%. The whole record feels like a photo album of my time and memories back home. I think a lot of them make me think of the bedroom I spent a lot my time in back in London and the surrounding parks like the one featured on the album cover.
Do you miss anything about Britain?
I miss friends and family back there most of all. But I definitely find myself pining for the endless grassy fields, the trees, the birds and the rain. It can be pretty dreamy when you’re away from it.
Have you continued writing after completing Swan Songs? If so, do you sense any change in your approach?
I’ve written plenty of bits and bobs since but nothing finished really, which is pretty typical of how I write. I’ll gather all my bits up eventually and finish the ones up that feel right after some time has gone by.
Has being in Oregon changed anything?
I think it feels very similar I’m just surrounded by different trees this time.
Have you managed to find a local music scene? Any plans on playing live or touring soon?
I’ve never really been much of a live musician, I’m much more comfortable playing by myself or with others in a space that doesn’t have an audience.
Outside of music, what are your influences?
I’ve been really inspired by Louise Glück and Mary Oliver’s poetry when it comes to writing words.
What’s kept you sane over the pandemic that you would recommend to others?
Well I got to spend my days with a dog, so that definitely helped keep me sane.