Taylor Kingman

Interview: Taylor Kingman of TK and The Holy Know-Nothings


Taylor Kingman of TK and The Holy Know-Nothings
Taylor Kingman

There are still three months left to the year, but already the latest album from Portland’s TK & The Holy Know-Nothings is sitting comfortably atop my Best Of 2021 list. Chock-full of tracks that lift you up only to bring you down in the most gratifying of ways, The Incredible Heat Machine churns with a never ending propulsion of momentum, taking the listener on a front-to-back quest that inspires you to hit replay and start all over again.

The Incredible Heat Machine is due October 15 on Mama Bird Recording Co.

I recently sat down with frontman Taylor Kingman to discuss why the album is an extension of their first, drifting between extremes, and the reason some of their lyrics cut so deep.

Americana Highways: The Incredible Heat Machine is a killer album. I think I’ve already worn it out. I’m curious what you set out to accomplish with this one that would make it stand out from Arguably OK?

Taylor Kingman: Well, in a lot of ways it was the same approach we did with Arguably OK, but I think we got a lot better at it. We still recorded it in the same space, at the OK Theater in Enterprise, Oregon. It’s Eastern Oregon, kind of a cowboy town. It’s a really old theater. My buddy Bart Budwig – he’s another bad-ass songwriter – lives in there, and the sound of the theater… he records tons of projects. Our drummer, Tyler Thompson, recorded our project, but we used some of Bart’s gear and he does a little assisting with helping us with the initial setup, because he knows the space so well.

AH: What’s cool about that is that a space has a life of its own as well, so just its presence breathes life into a record like this.

TK: Totally. And we’ve found that it’s really nice to go somewhere else to record. It’s nice to be isolated, no distractions. We also do it really, really cheap, which we love. (Laughter)

AH: (Laughter) That’s always good.

TK: Yeah, cheap and fast is how we’ve been doing it, but it’s been working out. We basically toured Arguably OK. We already had that whole sequence in our heads and we were touring the exact order. We would do that almost every show, and then we laid that down.

With this one, we were writing songs while touring. So we had this collection of songs and didn’t have it as planned out, but I think we’re a much tighter unit and knew that space better. We got to try a few different things. I think it sounds better. To me, it’s an extension of the first record, but also it’s its own journey.

AH: The band has this way of dropping a fun, singalong party song one minute and then giving the listener this dark-slice-of-life tune that takes them to an entirely different place. Does that make it difficult to sit down and decide how these songs are going to work cohesively on an album in terms of order?

TK: For sure. Yeah. Those are all aspects of myself and ourselves as a band. We do go between those extremes a lot, and it’s been nice in this band to be able to really embrace that, to go back and forth between all these different perspectives within the same kind of world.

AH: And especially in a day and age, TK, where so many bands and artists are focused on singles, you guys have created a classic album that is a front-to-back journey.

TK: Very much so, yeah. That definitely breaks my heart if folks weren’t listening to it that way, but I know that this day and age attention spans are pretty shot, and you can’t count on that, but that’s how I’ve always listened to records, even if they weren’t meant to be that way.

AH: As you look at The Incredible Heat Machine now that it’s ready to go out into the universe, what are you most proud of with it?

TK: I think that we got better at knowing exactly what we wanted to go after with the sound this time. At least maybe me, I feel like I got a little bit better at communicating that, and I was listening to a lot of 70s’ Willie Nelson and Michael Hurley. And I think this record, we toned it back on the reverb and stuff. We used this gigantic space that has natural reverb. We ended up actually turning a lot of it down, because I wanted this drier 70s’ sound. But I think this one’s a little bit more on the fun side than the first one. It still has its dark places and its tender spots, you know, but also with the album title, I wanted it to be a little more boogie this time.

AH: Beyond the songs themselves, I’ve always been drawn to your lyrics. I’m curious where they come from. Are they personal journeys? Are they more of a storyteller’s approach?

TK: I’d say it’s a mixture of all those things. With whatever you’re writing about, whether it be yourself or someone else or some composite character, if it’s going to land, if it’s going to be real and authentic and honest, it has to come from your experience. So, my personal experience is the thread that goes through all the songs, but it’s not necessarily autobiographical.

AH: Right. And that’s what I love about them – the honesty. One of my favorite front-to-back lyrics of any song from any band is “The Devil’s Point,” which from an outside perspective seems like it might have been a painful one to breathe life into, regardless of if it was coming from you or coming from somebody you knew. You could feel the pain in it.

TK: Right. And I know that pain, I know that feeling, and that’s in that tune. I’m glad that it lands the way that it does with you.

AH: From this record I was instantly drawn to “Hell of a Time,” which is the latest single leading up to the record’s October 15 release. What made you choose this song – especially after saying you wanted more boogie in this one – as one of the singles?

TK: Well, I think what we do informs what we put on each record too – the fact that we do have all of these very different almost contradicting types of perspectives in our songs. So, I think it’s important to have that full spread, especially on these first couple of records, so that we’re not pigeonholed into one specific type of thing. We do have those different types, different facets of ourselves. So, I wanted to have that with three singles, I wanted to include that side of ourselves. Also, I finished that song while we were recording, so it was the freshest. I liked that it was. It felt both very classic, but also very strange and unique to us.

AH: Are you somebody who is generally happy with how a song comes out, or are you tweaking constantly before you send it out into the world?

TK: I guess it all depends on the circumstances. For example, that one (“Hell of a Time”), those words were locked for that song. Those are what I still sing. There’s other times that in live shows, I’m tweaking lyrics and trying out different things until I settle. But that one is trippy for me to hear now, because I finished it and then we recorded it the last night, and that’s what’s on the record, which is really rad. I’ve kind of tightened up the phrasing and rhythm of singing it and stuff, but it’s also pretty special to have that first shot, raw take.

AH: I’ve not had the pleasure of experiencing a TK & The Holy Know-Nothings show yet. How different is the experience from what I hear on these records?

TK: Well, you’re definitely going to have the same experience that you have on the record, because it’s all live. But I would say that it would be more alive and more wild – more intense – because we’ve always been a live band, and we stick to forms but it’s also always alive and changing. And we like to be a band that is living and breathing.

AH: You’ve written and performed as a solo artist, but what do you get out of being in a band, particularly this band, that you can’t achieve going out and creating on your own?

TK: Well, I’ve been in lots of bands, and it’s really, really rare and special to find a band that’s, to me, actually a band, rather than just a collection of people that decide to play together. This very much feels like that. These are all my best friends. We did tons of stuff together, but we always had separate main projects. We always played for fun whenever we could. And then this band came about. It was never really supposed to be a band. We figured out that we all were in town for five months on the same day and we decided to do this three-hour gig at this small honky-tonk in Portland called Landmark Saloon. But it’s just overtaken us. We’ve just been cutting out more and more time to make it a real thing, and we’re incredibly invested.

I think a big part that’s different from playing solo is I love the back and forth. I love whittling things down. Everyone in the band really, really cares about everything. The way we always think of it is there’s other songwriters in the band. So, whoever is writing the song, I like to think that they’re the mamma of the tune, and the rest of the band is invested, and they know they’re all the dads. We all want to raise the kid right, so the dads are invested too, but at the end of the day, mom’s got the say. It’s good to have a democratic unit, but also still have a leader with each song.

AH: When young Taylor dreamed of being a musician, is this what he envisioned? How close to the dream are you living?

TK: Well, that’s a good question. It’s hard to say. Little Taylor that first wanted to play music, I would say no, because he couldn’t think of what he exactly wanted to do. He just wanted to do it. At that point I just wanted to play guitar, but I do think that if Little Taylor saw what I’m doing now, I think his mind would be blown. He’d be very, very excited. I’m very grateful to be doing what I’m doing. I’m very grateful to have these people that I’m surrounded by that I get to make music with. It’s incredibly special.

To pre-order The Incredible Heat Machine or find out where the band is on the road, visit www.tkandtheholyknownothings.com.

























Taylor Kingman of TK and The Holy Know-Nothings

Taylor Kingman of TK and The Holy Know-Nothings

Taylor Kingman of TK and The Holy Know-Nothings

Taylor Kingman of TK and The Holy Know-Nothings


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