Interview: Hiss Golden Messenger’s Intimate ‘Quietly Blowing It’ Finds Beauty in Fracture, Redemption, Turmoil, & Strength

Hiss Golden Messenger's M.C. Taylor © Chris Frisina
Hiss Golden Messenger's M.C. Taylor © Chris Frisina
Golden and glistening, subtle and subdued, Hiss Golden Messenger’s ‘Quietly Blowing It’ is a heartfelt and sincere reflection of the present moment: Built off inner turbulence, external turmoil, and our shared search for balance amid loss, fracture, and change, it’s an intimate and nuanced soundtrack to getting by.
for fans of Fruit Bats, Lucero, Gregory Alan Isakov, Iron & Wine, Leif Vollebekk
Stream: ‘Quietly Blowing It’ – Hiss Golden Messenger




Making this music became a document and a reckoning, an act of contrition and a cry for change. This is me mourning, and celebrating, and dancing, and crying, and praying, and hoping. And it’s all the same song.

Golden and glistening, subtle and subdued, Hiss Golden Messenger’s eleventh studio album is a heartfelt and sincere reflection of the present moment.

It’s an introspective, resilient record of renewal and perseverance; of both individual and societal upheaval; of making our way through each day with our own burdens, carrying not only the ghosts of the past, but also the weight of the world on our shoulders. Built off inner turbulence, external turmoil, and our shared search for balance amid loss, fracture, and change, Quietly Blowing It is an intimate and nuanced soundtrack to getting by.

Quietly Blowing It - Hiss Golden Messenger
Quietly Blowing It – Hiss Golden Messenger
You can call me the wheel
All I wanna do is roll it
From Tucson to Tulsa
This long-distance love, babe—
What a lonely thing to call it
Don’t be afraid
We’ll be fine in the morning
Food on the table
A body that’s able
We’ll be fine in the morning
Up with the mountains
Down with the system
That keeps us in chains
Hearing our whispering
Baby blue sky
Building a prison
Way back in the way back
– “Way Back in the Way Back,” Hiss Golden Messenger

Out June 25, 2021 via Merge Records, Quietly Blowing It follows 2019’s radiant GRAMMY-nominated Terms of Surrender as a softer, yet nonetheless invigorating and charged sign of the times. With poetic self-expression in one hand and social, cultural, and political-tinted observations or critiques in the other, songwriter M.C. Taylor approaches the latest Hiss Golden Messenger LP with understated grace and remarkable passion. His songs speak to moments of self-discovery and searching; of finding inner strength through moments of personal doubt, and more – all within the context of life in 2020 and 2021: A fragile, worn and weary American psyche embittered by years of divisive rhetoric, an us vs. them mentality, an endless war on foreign soil, and so on.

Hiss Golden Messenger © Chris Frisina
Hiss Golden Messenger © Chris Frisina

Through all that muck, Hiss Golden Messenger emerges triumphantly with a record of daily living within and amongst these greater faulty, flawed and failing constructs.

Reminiscent of Iron & Wine’s Beast Epic and Gregory Alan Isakov’s Evening Machines – and even The Killers’ most recent LP, Pressure Machine – Quietly Blowing It manages to feel vast and sweeping, small and focused all at once: Both from a lyrical perspective, as from a musical one. It’s a strikingly cohesive forty-minute escape, and while its eleven songs may fluctuate in style and scope, the journey Taylor and his bandmates flesh out from “Way Back in the Way Back” to “Sanctuary” is one of redemption, actualization, and ultimately, understanding.

Swallow the sun, practice resurrection
Take the blame, learn the lesson
Say you’re sorry, love ain’t a weapon
Pay your debts, don’t love in vain
Bells on the river, flags of many colors
All this asking, what do you love?
Ain’t the truth just dying to cut you?
But when it’s right, it’s worth the pain
Gimme just a little
Gimme, Gimme
We don’t understand it
Nobody understands it
Until it falls like rain
Same old, day old
Radical changes
Buddy, don’t you know me?
– “The Great Mystifier,” Hiss Golden Messenger

“I went looking for peace,” Taylor shared upon the album’s release earlier this summer. “It’s not exactly a record about the state of the world — or my world — in 2020, but more a retrospective of the past five years of my life, painted in sort of impressionistic hues. Maybe I had the presence of mind when I was writing Quietly Blowing It to know that this was the time to go as deep as I needed to in order to make a record like this. And I got the time required in order to do that… I got way more time than I needed, actually!”


Quietly Blowing It represents a re-centering of sorts. While it was by no means inspired directly by the pandemic, Hiss Golden Messenger certainly captures the spirit of these isolated times of solitude and space, where so many have reconnected with themselves and found new ways to soldier onward. In Taylor’s case, all of this finds itself expressed through his band’s charismatic folk-inflected heartland rock – with plenty of Americana and roots influences shining along the way –  and deeply relatable lyrics of small town living, existential crisis having, wandering and wondering, pondering and blustering. Much of Quietly Blowing It feels like we’re listening to an artist in his bedroom, singing songs he wrote there to calm himself down and pick himself up again:

You can live your life like a prodigal son
A wandering ace, you ain’t got no one
To roll the dice, try and keep your hat on
People, get ready, there’s a big ship coming
I felt the fire, now it’s down among us
Walked on wires, tried to be humble
People, get ready, now you know the deal
It’s in high cotton or it’s run like hell
No way to fake it, no way to get around it
Brother, you’ve found it down in Hardlytown
– “Hardlytown,” Hiss Golden Messenger


One could extrapolate Taylor’s lyrics to fit the greater lived experience of many within the modern American canon; one can also take them as one man’s internalizations of his own grief and guilt, hopes and desires, uncertainty and sorrow at the state of the world. “Getting by” means balancing the everyday moments within your control, with the myriad goings-on that we individuals have little to no power over.

Perhaps Quietly Blowing It is a study of hope, healing, and helplessness; or perhaps it’s a series of ripped diary entries from someone trying to cope with it all. Either way, Hiss Golden Messenger’s latest offering dives deep into our shared universal journeys of heartache, pain, and perseverance: Of “getting by” the best we can. As he sings in “Glory Strums (Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner)”: “Out in the fields, looking for silver linings, but just a little taste is so hard to find.”

Atwood Magazine recently spoke with M.C. Taylor about the ins and outs of Hiss Golden Messenger’s new album. Explore the inner sanctum of this deeply spiritual, intimate and raw record via our interview below, and get lost in the breathtakingly beautiful – if not broken and in desperate need of healing – world of Quietly Blowing It, out now. Avid listeners can also read Taylor’s own essay, a prelude of sorts to the album entitled Mourning in America, here.

“These songs always circle back to the things that I feel like I have a handle on and the things that I’m not proud of about myself,” Taylor shares. “When I think of the phrase ‘quietly blowing it,’ I think of all the ways that I’ve misstepped, misused my gifts, miscommunicated. ‘Born on the level, quietly blowing it.’ That’s what’s on my mind there. Always f***in’ up in little ways.”

Despite the fact that the record grapples with all sorts of complicated issues about what it means to be human, I wasn’t really pulling my hair out to write the songs.

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:: stream/purchase Quietly Blowing It here ::
Stream: ‘Quietly Blowing It’ – Hiss Golden Messenger



A CONVERSATION WITH HISS GOLDEN MESSENGER

Quietly Blowing It - Hiss Golden Messenger

Atwood Magazine: Hiss Golden Messenger has been together, in various forms, for a little over a decade now. How do you feel your music has grown over this time?

Hiss Golden Messenger (M.C. Taylor): I’ve become more confident in my musical voice and clearer, I think, about my intentions with my songs, even when the songs feel ambivalent or oblique in what they’re saying.

I know it’s only been two years since Terms of Surrender, but Quietly Blowing It feels like it’s carrying the weight of the world on its shoulders. Can you share a little about the story behind this record?

Hiss Golden Messenger: When I started writing this record in March 2020, it didn’t occur to me or anyone around me that the pandemic would unfold in the particular way that it has. So maybe part of it is that the record feels like it’s bearing a heavy load in retrospect. As I remember it, though, despite the fact that the record grapples with all sorts of complicated issues about what it means to be human, I wasn’t really pulling my hair out to write the songs. I would go into my studio and work on ideas and some of them were good, and those are generally the ones that people hear on the record.

You’ve said this feels like the most personal album you’ve ever made; can you expand on that, and why it feels that way?

Hiss Golden Messenger: I was in the midst of a lot of solitude when I was writing the songs for this record – not necessarily in a bad way, I kind of like being alone – so consequently, I had a lot of time to just sit with my own ideas and arrangements. I had a lot of time to come up with those sort of second-line melodies, the repeating motifs that are happening below the lead vocal melody, that I otherwise probably wouldn’t have. So, I don’t know, I guess this record just feels like one that is very pure, from original intention to execution.

Out in the fields, looking for silver linings
But just a little taste is so hard to find
You can try and find a job, try and understand numbers
In the lonely line of work of the long-distance runner
Know that there’s good in it
Why’s it such a hard time?
If I can’t feel it, wait ’til the daylight
Here I come again, now I’m so full of wonder
Just me and a friend named Little Jimmy Thunder
It’s a people-catching moon, the gang’s all here
Feel crazy, hazy, stay there, feel it
Know that there’s good in it
Why’s it such a hard time?
If I can’t feel it, wait ’til the daylight

I read your “Mourning in America” essay, and found your words very powerful - that you were already in the process of breaking down. The line, “I’m not sure what the difference is between celebrating and mourning” stuck with me. Would you mind expanding on that, and how these sentiments made their way into your new music?

Hiss Golden Messenger: I can’t really unpack it more, other than to think about being at a funeral. There are a lot of different emotions pushing you around at a funeral. Celebrating and mourning probably share some fundamental notes, but there are also ideas within each of them that are diametrically opposed to the other, and it’s necessary, I think, to be able to hold opposed ideas or emotions at the same time. It’s part of what makes life interesting to me, like there’s some stake in it.

When you describe your music as “fashioned with impressionistic tones,” what do you mean by that?

Hiss Golden Messenger: Maybe that there aren’t any guitar solos that happen during a middle eight?

What was your vision going into this record? Did that change over the course of recording this?

Hiss Golden Messenger: I came miraculously close to achieving the sound that I had in my head with this record. It’s almost never that way, but with this one it was, probably because I had so much time to prepare to make the record.

Why the title “Quietly Blowing It”?

Hiss Golden Messenger: It feels like a phrase that’s part of the zeitgeist of our times, you know? That sort of self-effacing type of accountability. But it also felt kind of funny, which I like, and it just felt real. It felt true to my experience of the world as both an actor and an audience member.

Hiss Golden Messenger © Andy Tennille
Hiss Golden Messenger © Andy Tennille

How do you feel Quietly Blowing It introduces you and captures your artistry?

Hiss Golden Messenger: I mean, it seems like a pretty good place to start. Very pure Hiss. I’m always going to say that my newest album is my favorite because I’ve heard it the least, I’ve played it the least, it sounds fresh to me. But yeah, this one is good, I think.

You want good news / You want sanctuary / But when you try to get real / They break you on the wheel”: “Sanctuary” is a special song – it was both the album’s lead single, and acts as the record’s close. Why did you introduce the album with this song?

Hiss Golden Messenger: It felt like a song people would want to hear at that particular moment in time. And, as it turned out, it seems to have been. Remember, it came out on January 6th, the same day that Republicans stormed the Capitol of the United States, resulting in a whole lot of death and mayhem. I don’t know, I wanted something positive out in the world.

Feeling bad, feeling blue
Can’t get out of my own mind
I know how to sing about it
Ring of bone, a little lonely
I better hit the road, child
We can cry into the phone a while
Jubilee find me
Steady with your hope now
That little light’s gotta last a while
Like an arrow to the marrow
I know it feels like hell now
‘Til we make it to the other side
You want good news
You want sanctuary
When you try to get real
Oh, they break you on the wheel
You wanna move
You want sanctuary
That’s all that I can offer to you
From the bottom to the bone
To the bone

You can call me the wheel, all I wanna do is roll it... Food on the table, a body that’s able, we’ll be fine in the morning... Up with the mountains, down with the system that keeps us in chains...” you sing in your “Way Back in the Way Back.” Why open the album with this song?

Hiss Golden Messenger: The way that it unfolds just felt like a first song to me.

As a lyrically forward artist, do you have any favorite lyrics in these songs?

Hiss Golden Messenger: I like them all enough to put them out in the world, to sing them and be asked questions about them. They all work with enough latitude for them to be interpreted in all kinds of different ways by all kinds of different people, including me. I interpret them differently depending on the day.

In your essay, you write, “Making this music became a document and a reckoning, an act of contrition and a cry for change. This is me mourning, and celebrating, and dancing, and crying, and praying, and hoping. And it’s all the same song.” What gives you hope?

Hiss Golden Messenger: I love my family and my friends. I love making music and listening to music. I love reading. I love cooking. I don’t know, I’m taking it day to day right now. I think that might be the only way.

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:: stream/purchase Quietly Blowing It here ::

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Quietly Blowing It - Hiss Golden Messenger

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📸 © Chris Frisina

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