Jeff Taylor and I are jetting up 6th Ave. in Manhattan in my car at 10:30 p.m. on a Wednesday evening, in search of a pick-me-up before we sit down to talk about his intense, powerful, weird, colorful rock band Dumpster Hunter, whose debut CD, Frustration In Time Travel, is being released at an upcoming Rockwood Music Hall show.
The New Jersey-born, Brooklyn-based Taylor says, “If it’s beer, you’ll get an existential discourse. If it’s caffeine, you’ll get my deepest, darkest secrets.” Caffeine it is, I say. Taylor’s tall enough to play center for the New York Knicks if he wasn’t making music, and I have to semi-jog to keep up with him after we park and look for a place to sit down. He’s a little jumpy even before caffeine, bouncing from subject to subject, and it’s easy to see where the explosive, mouth-open-as-wide-as-the-sky character he displays onstage comes from. Taylor speaks easily and freely over our hour-long coffee shop interview, though, doesn’t seem to edit himself, and is clearly enjoying the ride from obscure musician to budding star.
I saw you completely by chance two weeks ago at Rockwood after my friend’s band played. I stayed for your whole set and decided that I needed to tell people about Dumpster Hunter. In fact, you’re the reason I decided to get back into writing about bands. No pressure!
(Laughs) Thanks, man.
When you first started playing, did you play your own stuff, or did you do the usual cover route?
I got into my first band when I was 12—we were called After The Fall. We were based in North Plainfield, NJ. It was all original material, but I didn’t start writing for that band until I was 14. I really wrote my first proper song when I was 15. Since then I’ve always written in bands with names like popheAd, bBoozehound, GADU, SightFromAView, and then Jeff Taylor from 2004 until now.
Your current band is called Dumpster Hunter, which is pretty unique. Your brothers’ names are Shane and Logan, which are also unique. How did you get the name Jeff?
I’m named after a stillborn Uncle. When I was born, they named me a couple different things—Adam, Scott, something else. I think I might have been Shane for a moment, but I didn’t look like a Shane. But I love my name. Jeff Taylor is the CEO of monster.com, another Jeff Taylor has a bodybuilding website, and Jeff Taylor [is also the name of a] number of famous musicians already. I’ve had more success with this name than in any band with a name I’ve been in. Dumpsterhunter.com has been where you go to find my stuff for so long that it doesn’t seem like a huge change to most of the people who know me.
You said your record is going to be an actual record. Tell me about that.
Oh, I’m pretty much a total Luddite. I got raised in an age of Selectric typewriters, licking stamps and rotary telephones. When I finally got old enough to have a desk and a file cabinet, none of it applied any more. I like the thought of sitting around at a desk with a stack of papers and your guitar, by yourself, and some books that you’ve been putting off and one that you’re in the middle of. I want this thing to be on 12”.
What’s your preferred single on the album?
“Cooped Up,” I want to say. On the vinyl record, that’s the first song on side two. If you listen to the album one more time, take a pause before you listen to “Cooped Up.”
For me, when I saw you live, it was “Heart Hard” that completely knocked me out. When you sing “Heart Hard,” do you improvise that middle section? (“Heart Hard” has a rapid-fire vocal part in the middle)
A little bit. It’s a minute thirty-seven, that song. I can fuck around with the rhythms. [Drummer] Mark Guiliana and I have a pretty tight connection. I’m always chasing it, and I’ll always be on my toes with Mark.
I listened to the CD all the way through, twice. And I laughed and I cried—twice. Especially “Bastard,” because it reminded me of my own relationship with my older brother. We didn’t get along when we were kids, but I just love him so much. He’ll never know. And we’ve never talked about it.
Son of a bitch! This song goes out to you from now on, bro! But you see what I mean? You owe him everything you are—that’s the lyric in the chorus. I can’t even begin to describe how much I love my brother. We’re best buddies now, we train Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu together.
After checking all there was to see about you on the net, I want to say there is a stark difference between the videos I see of you two years ago, and now. Do you feel a difference between then and now?
I was terrified two years ago. I was on Atlantic fucking records and it was the center of hell. Leslie Dweck was the A&R arm of Atlantic at the time, she came to see us, and she was close with some of the higher-ups. She’s definitely got the eye and ear for some of the cool music, and I don’t mean just because she found me. There was some big board meeting with all the higher-ups, I wasn’t there, and she played my song “It Swell”—an old version of it recorded by Steve Wall along with John Siket who recorded a bunch of Dave Matthews and Phish records and who engineered half of what’s on my debut album. I ended up signing with Atlantic in November of 2008, went down with my lawyer in my suit and tie and did it, then stayed up all night, just so excited. I was also working on the Obama campaign, so when he got elected, it was a pretty wild few days.
Fast forward two years, Atlantic drops me, Ken Rockwood calls me to a meeting near the club and tells me the news. The label I was signed to was Rockwood Music Hall Records, an imprint of Atlantic, an experiment, really, and spearheaded by Leslie Dweck. If that whole thing had gone great, I probably would have been releasing on Atlantic and I was super excited about that, obviously. The relationship with Atlantic was not good, I’ll be honest. It’s not so much about individuals as Atlantic Records was never going to fuckin’ release this album and they knew it from the very beginning. They saw something they liked, or they saw a scene at the club that they wanted to grab onto.
Just before I got signed to Atlantic, I was really about to hang it up. I was like, “If I’m gonna be a teacher, I’m still in my late 20s, I can go back to college.” I wasn’t going to stop playing music, I was just going to stop pursuing a professional career and I was gonna focus on my new passion, that being the American Revolution and the War Of 1812 and the Civil War. I just love American history. I still read about it but I’m rockin’ and rollin’ because of Ken Rockwood, and now we’re sitting here.
Ken sat me down at that café in late 2010 and told me Atlantic was dropping me, then he reached his hand across the table and says, “I want to continue with you. Atlantic said they’d give all their rights back to you. I’ll put a budget up that rivals theirs, and you can go in the studio and make the record you want to make.” And I was like—who is this angel of a man? I had a meeting with Leslie as the Atlantic deal came to an end, but it was a really cool meeting, she knows and I want her to know that I am super grateful for her Herculean attempt to try and better the quality of music that’s coming out of Atlantic Records.
Rockwood Music Hall has been instrumental in your development and I’ve been spending a lot of time there. What I notice about Rockwood is the sheer quality of the acts. You can go there and know whatever they’re presenting is going to be worthwhile, as opposed to some other clubs where anyone books a band and the club owners don’t care what kind of act it is as long as they bring people.
Ken Rockwood deserves some kind of medal. He rented that space, fixed it up and refused to open the doors until he was satisfied that he was presenting a unique sonic experience. They hand-pick every band there. Those guys work their asses off to present the best music.
Dumpster Hunter will be at Rockwood Music Hall, in NYC, on June 9. For more information, go to dumpsterhunter.com.