Allen Taylor is a busy guy. He’s a member of the Atlanta based electronica group Roman Photos and just released a new solo record called Botany Charm under the moniker Feast of Violet. I felt Botany Charm was a superb record and it was featured as one of the “Best Albums of 2010 ” by Shot From Guns. I really wanted to pick Allen’s brain after hearing that album. I finally had a chance to sit down with him and discuss Feast of Violet and get his thoughts on niche genres and the music industry.
How long have you been actively involved in the Atlanta music scene?
I moved to Atlanta in 2006 for school and during that time, I met Philip and Caitlin from Carnivores, and David from my band. We were all just record geeks at that point who liked to hang out and go to shows and party. I didn’t really make any music then, just drawings and little sound experiments, nothing serious or cohesive, just trying to have fun.
Then Double Phantom was started by David and Philip to put out early Carnivores records and I was the only one in our little circle who knew how to use Photoshop. I made record covers, put stuff into templates, and stuff like that. Double Phantom was how I got involved in the music scene, met everyone and learned the ropes. I joined Roman Photos almost by chance in the summer of 2009. That was my first time ever being in a band and my first time ever playing synthesizer, so I’m still pretty new to the “playing in a band in Atlanta” music thing (laughs).
Have you always performed electronic music or do you delve into different genres?
I have been obsessed with electronic music for as long as I can remember, starting with video game soundtracks as a kid (laughs). I’m kind of hard-wired towards electronic music. Actually most of my music before I joined Roman Photos was all acoustic, room-recorded noise stuff, and the process was digital and electronic. It wasn’t until last year that I started using synthesizers. I never realized how much a little machine would be such a big part of my life.
Were there any major concepts or themes that you mapped out before recording Feast of Violet?
Nothing consciously…I wanted to make a connection between my drawings and the stuff I was making for Roman Photos, so I kind of set out to make my recordings fit as a middle ground. Most of the conscious planning was an emphasis on texture, rhythm, flow, movement, and atmosphere. The songs were there before I thought about putting out a release.
Feast of Violet sounds very different from Roman Photos. Did you seek a dramatic and new path before starting this project?
Well mainly I consider myself a visual artist as my primary craft, and then music as my secondary craft. My favorite artists are ones that tend to blur the lines between mediums to create this kind of interdisciplinary blob of “art perspective,” rather than just a song or drawing. I just wanted a way to take ideas about drawing and put them into sound, like a certain pattern or color or shape could be translated into different rhythms, synth tones, or effects.
In Roman Photos, the live aspect definitely plays a role in the song writing, so with Feast of Violet, I just explored those concepts that didn’t work with Roman Photos (laughs).
Let’s talk about electronic music and niche genres for a minute – do you label yourself as a niche artist?
I wouldn’t necessarily label myself as a niche artist, no one likes those kinds of limitations, but I have to admit the sound is very specific, with a specific few artists to compare it to. I guess it just ends up being a niche thing.
Do you feel being labeled as a “niche artist” benefits and/or detracts from your general appeal?
I think it depends upon the intent of the music. I think bands, whether they like to admit it or not, consider their audience in their song writing. Personally with the Feast of Violet ep, I didn’t expect anyone to really connect or listen to the songs, so I just considered my friends and other artists I knew as the audience, so I guess for those recordings; it’s totally a limited “niche” perspective.
With Roman Photos, however, we totally think about gaining access to this intangible middle ground to which everyone can relate. We want to tap into that while maintaining full artistic integrity and it is extremely difficult and confusing at times. I know plenty of artists who don’t care about their labeling and placement and make the most amazing music that will probably be unappreciated for years. I also know many artists who give that up to force themselves to be popular and miss something important in the process.
It’s hard to say, really. Being a niche artist is both good and bad, depending on what you want from your art.
In the past couple years, so much mainstream music has derived its influences from “niche” genres. Considering how popular electronic groups like Animal Collective and Hot Chip have become, would you even consider electronic music as a part of a separate sub-genre of music?
Of course electronic music is its own distinct genre of music and that genre goes into the deepest, most esoteric realms imaginable. I believe sounds are tools to achieve a certain end and it doesn’t really matter what genres artists utilize to find their sounds. It totally depends about song writing.
Like “My Girls,” by Animal Collective for example. That song would still be brilliant and totally accessible, no matter what types of sounds were used. Just their decision to use electronics made the song that much better and unique. The barriers between genres are totally breaking down. Genres don’t matter, songwriting matters.
Mainstream artists like Lady Gaga, MIA and Kanye West are placing so much emphasis on artistry, image and craft – the entire mainstream music culture appears to be shifting. Do you feel that we need to redefine what we label as “the mainstream?”
Well the definition of the mainstream changes constantly, just like underground culture. It totally has to do with the complete switch over to Internet and blog culture. So the marketing of huge artists has to keep up, there always has to be something to talk about and share with these artists. There is so, so, so much music these days, pop stars have to be over the top and kind of like Madonna to be able to be talked about. There has to be a story to follow in this age.
What can people expect from Feast of Violet and Roman Photos in 2011?
Roman Photos just put out two seven inches, one on Army of Bad Luck, and the other on Double Phantom. We’re working on our first album right now, so that should be done in the late spring. I’m really excited about the record, we’re really pushing ourselves. Other than that, I’m working on another Feast of Violet EP over the winter, so that should be out in a few months on Double Phantom Digital. The songs right now are very tight and synth driven, very clean. After the next EP, I’ll be focusing my energy on Roman Photos, and preparing for some art shows in the summer. 2011 is going to be a fun and busy year.
To hear Feast of Violet, click here
For Roman Photos, click here