A conversation with Superheaven’s Taylor Madison about making one of the heaviest records of next year
Superheaven vocalist/guitarist Taylor Madison is anxious. It’s early December, a few weeks after recording wrapped on the Philly-area post-hardcore band’s second LP at producer Will Yip’s Studio 4. The album follows up 2012’s Jar (released under the band name Daylight) and it is currently off in mixing and mastering land for an early 2015 release through SideOneDummy Records. “My anxiety is far outweighed by excitement,” he assures me. “We’re all just trying hard to be patient and waiting to be able to play this stuff in front of people.”
Between his balance of nerves and eagerness, Madison makes clear there are internal expectations on this record as well. With a blunt transparency that has quickly become his trademark as a frontman, he explains how “none of us want to reach our 30s and hoping we’ll be able to pay our rent next month.” Madison and his bandmates are chasing after something bigger, and based on early impressions alone, they’ve found it. Details remain pretty mum at this point (until their label gives the go ahead), but LP2 is tighter, hits (way, way) harder and presents a fully realized and focused vision of what grunge can look and sound like in the mid-2010s. Superheaven doesn’t shy away from a heavy acknowledgment of its influences and instead bolsters every flag flown on Jar.
I was able to have a quick chat with Madison about the process and scars behind what is certain to be one of 2015’s heaviest records.
The Key: What can you tell me about this new record so far?
Taylor Madison: Mostly, I just think people will end up surprised. I feel like [this record] is far more poppy. It’s quite Weezer-y and Pixies-influenced. I think people kind of expect us to be moving in the opposite direction, to become darker and more shoegaze-y or something like that. Every time we record, it feels like a different experience. Writing-wise, [producer] Will [Yip] definitely had his hands in the songwriting a bit more. Everything was written by the time we were ready to record, but we tinkered with a lot after we started with Will, as far as vocal melodies go and making these songs actually feel like songs. On the last one, we told him, “Hey, if you have any notes, please let us know.” But going into this one, he knew he was producing this record, rather than simply recording it. I really like that. Will’s a good friend of ours.TK: Based on what I’ve heard so far, these songs feel both supremely darker and catchier, even than on Jar. Is there a virtue to writing sad music that can easily be sung along to?
TM: Hmm. I don’t know. I mean, I definitely think that the songs are heavier, sonically. And a lot of this is Will’s doing, but the record just sounds huge. These aren’t too poppy though. It’s not like anything sounds like Katy Perry or something. All of us in the band like pop music though. Weezer is probably collectively our favorite band and so I think the songs just kind of came out this way. It’s the same with Jar though. Every record of ours has sounded kind of different. From an outside perspective, it may seem like us or any recording artist is thinking, “Well, it’s time to sound like this now,” but it never really works that way. It’s never a conscious thing. We just wrote this and it took shape on its own, I guess.
TK: I suppose what I mean is: When I listen to something like Jar, which you of course know is a very dark record, I may not completely identify with the subject matter. But singing along to that record feels good because the songs are constructed well.
TM: At least speaking for my own taste, I like rock music with strong melodies and that kind of stuff is important to what makes a song appealing. But sure, it can be a little hard sometimes to find a balance between writing a catchy song that has a pretty heavy meaning behind it, but it’s not something we think about too much. ‘Does this not fit the song?’ I try not to dwell on that. And as soon as a song starts coming together structurally, I know what I want out of it.
TK: And what are some of these songs about? A majority of Jar seemed to revolve around the passing of your stepfather.
TM: I think this one is a little bit broader. There’s less of one theme here. [Guitarist/vocalist] Jake [Clarke] sings a little bit more on this record and he wrote a lot of lyrics and I can’t really speak about what his songs are dealing with. I haven’t really talked to him about it. With one of the biggest songs I wrote here, it’s about my younger brother who got in a motorcycle accident last year and he became paralyzed. That’s been a pretty big thing my family has dealt with since. And you know, he’s going to be in a wheelchair for the rest of his life. And while that was going on, I was on tour a lot and I guess I felt pretty guilty about being away. My dad kept telling me there was nothing I could do even if I was home, so I might as well keep doing my thing.
TK: That’s a pretty personal story and you just jumped right into it. Does that kind of transparency, in your writing or otherwise, create any problems?
TM: I like people to know this. I’m not very cryptic about my song lyrics. I don’t write in a super upfront way but at the same time, none of this is poetic and reads like a Neutral Milk Hotel song or whatever, where you’re like, “What the fuck is he talking about?” This is all just what happens to me and the people I know. I think the worst is talking about this with people face to face because I can tell they’re uncomfortable. I’m the same way with tragic shit in other people’s lives, so I completely understand. So as far as laying this out in songs I write, it doesn’t bother me. I’m happy to.