- 19 Feb 20
There are times, as the poet said, when even the President of the United States has to stand naked. But there are also moments when the best antidote to the peculiar horror induced by that particular prospect is to work as hard as possible to spread the joy. That’s what Hudson Taylor do. And aren’t we the better for it?
Outside, it’s an almost perfect, sunny winter’s day in Dublin. The kind of day when you might just forget about your worries and your strife. Except this is 2020 and things have been getting rather out of hand. For far too many people across the globe, even the bare necessities are hard to come by.
Cocooned in the comfort of the old world atmosphere of the Gaiety Theatre, close to Stephen’s Green in the centre of the capital city, we are talking about the state of the world – and Alfie Hudson-Taylor is looking perplexed. “I’m genuinely terrified for what’s to come,” he tells me. Truth be told, he isn’t the only one.
ALL YOU NEED IS LOVING
Flashback to an hour earlier. Walking through the city centre streets with brothers Alfie and Harry, who together comprise Hudson Taylor, I catch several furtive looks of recognition. A young woman points and waves at each brother in turn and says: “I love your music!”
Someone unfamiliar with the band might dismiss them as surface-level pop performers. After all, they are two attractive young men who might seem to have had things relatively easy, in both life and art. From a well to-do middle class family, they rose to prominence through a combination of busking and YouTube videos, at a time when indie-pop was the flavour – or sound, if you will – of the moment.
There was no overarching plan. In the wake of the recession that hit Ireland officially in 2009, the boys had taken to the streets with guitars, the way countless others have done over the years, with the prospect of earning a bit of spending money in mind. Whatever their original intentions, they steadily gained a following. Through 2012 and 2013, a series of EPs – titled Battles, Cinematic Lifestyle and Osea respectively – were released by Polydor, establishing them as serious contenders.
They are not huge stars – not yet, that is. But they have been on a consistent upward trajectory. Their debut album Singing For Strangers, released in 2015, and produced by Snow Patrol and Niall Horan collaborator Iain Archer, peaked at No.3 in Ireland and No.24 in the UK.
Their first release via the RubyWorks label, in the autumn of 2018, was an EP, Feel It Again. Produced by Ryan Hadlock, who has guided The Lumineers to numerous hits, it battled its way to No.4 in Ireland, confirming their popularity on home turf. Individual tracks garnered lots of radio play and it was a hit on Spotify too, amassing over 10 million streams, and 1.2 million monthly listeners, for the duo.
2019 saw them release the Bear Creek To Dame Street EP, recorded at Hadlock’s Bear Creek Studios. Located in a barn, on a farm, in Woodinville, Washington, the likes of Foo Fighters, Modest Mouse, Eric Clapton and The Lumineers have all recorded in the studio. They subsequently toured the US supporting Hozier and, most recently, hit the road with new first-time Grammy winners, Rodrigo y Gabriela.
Throughout, their progress has been steady and unassuming. Then, before Christmas, they returned to Dublin to play a five-night residency in Ireland’s most legendary venue, Whelan’s. And now comes their second album, Loving Everywhere I Go. The hope has to be that it will become their breakthrough record. But with storm-forces accumulating on all sides, a whole new set of hurdles have to be negotiated. The big question is: how ready is the world for Hudson Taylor? And then there’s the flip side: how ready are Hudson Taylor for the challenges that lie ahead? It is, for any artist or band, the 60 million dollar question...
GIGGING FOR FIVE YEARS STRAIGHT
Loving Everywhere I Go is a deeply humanist album. Its title alone waves a banner of positivity and hope, in a world that is far too often full of reasons to despair. Alfie’s favourite song on the album is called – with someone’s tongue firmly in someone’s cheek – ‘Favourite Song’. “It’s a fun concept,” he shrugs. “The lyrics weren’t difficult to write.”
It’s this signature breeziness that has gained Hudson Taylor their reputation as lovely, humble boys who sing feel-good, catchy tunes. But amidst the apparently carefree sounds on their second album, I can hear more than just flashes of uncertainty and anxiety. The lead single ‘What Do You Mean?’, for example, makes use of a sunny production, while lamenting the inevitability of growing up and dealing with – or having to deal with – whatever heartache the future might bring. Sometimes, the only antidote to the onset of anxiety is to manage it. Hudson Taylor seem to be good at that. “If I’m going to listen to the news in the morning,” Harry confesses, “it won’t be the first thing I do. Because if that’s how I set my day up, I will become anxious.”
Alfie is all enthusiastic animation. Harry, the elder of the two, is quietly passionate. Alfie lives in the UK, and Harry in Ireland, although he’s contemplating a move to Berlin – which seems to be a bit of a Mecca for Irish musicians right now.
“Funnily enough, in terms of our relationship, we’ve had the most growth by not living in the same city,” Alfie adds. “We collaborate over the Internet, or by talking on the phone. When we do come together, the time is there to be creative. And then we can have our own lives, separately.” Has there been a moment they didn’t want to continue as Hudson Taylor, the band? They both answer as one, with a resounding “Yes.”
“I think an honest admission, out loud, that sometimes you don’t want to be doing it – even on a certain day – is nice,” says Harry. “There’s no point in pretending that this is what will be happening for the rest of your life – but it would be great if, in 20 years time, we can still do a Hudson Taylor gig.”
“It wasn’t because it got too much,” Alfie adds. “It was just because we’d done it for a long time and we needed some perspective, some time away from it. I left school and Harry left college to do music. We’d not stopped gigging for five years straight.”
“Yeah, poor us,” Harry says cheekily, rolling his eyes. "Listen, we’re in a really privileged position and we always have to remember that. People who are only starting out now ask us ‘How did you do it?’ and I don’t even know where to begin. The danger is in saying, ‘Only when I get to this level of success will I actually be happy’. It’s bullshit. It just doesn’t exist. Every time we’ve ever reached a goal, there’s always another one ahead.” That, of course, is what keeps you driving forward...
Being in a band with your sibling won’t always be a walk in the park. Especially when the individuals in question are as different as the two gents sitting in front of me. “Would you let your sister co-interview with you?” Harry laughs. “Does that answer your question?” Alfie joins in the mirth.
“The key is that we’re going to be brothers tomorrow,” Alfie admits. “If we were mates I could go ‘Harry, we’re not friends anymore’. But we have other people in between us. Family, friends –
“ – Mediators, therapists”, Harry jokes, in typically wry style. “We lived together outside of our family home, for a while. Or we lived near each other, and we’d say, ‘You’re only around the corner, we’ll do this another day’. And then six months pass and you haven’t achieved anything. You don’t discipline yourself enough.”
Something had to be done. “Now, we know what works and what doesn’t,” Harry says. Which is just as well, when you think about it!
GETTING INSIDE OUR HEADS
To acknowledge the fact that it is a privilege to live a musician’s life is important: it is vital, after all, to keep things in perspective. You think things are bad here in Ireland? Or in England? Then try living in Syria! Neither, however, is it helpful to try to minimise the fact that being an artist involves its own very particular set of pressures and problems. Harry gives me a nod of recognition. “A lot of the pressures are made up, in your own head,” he admits. “I mean, you worry: ‘What if we don’t sell-out the gig’?” He riffs on an answer to that question. Implicit throughout is a recognition that it isn’t always easy to see the wood from the trees. “So what, if you don’t?” he says, as if thinking aloud. “You do your best, be as present as possible and enjoy every moment you can.”
If that makes it sound easy, Harry’s expression tells you differently. Outside the music bubble, traditional definitions of masculinity are being challenged. In rock ’n’ roll, however, a kind of taboo still lingers around attempts by men to express their sensitive side, even through their music. “Because toxic masculinity is bred into you from a young age,” Harry muses, “you have to be ‘strong’ and ‘unemotional’. Luckily, music has always given me an access point to being more sensitive. I might share a few things on my social media to help myself, but that also gives someone else a route into their own mental health.”
He pauses to think for a moment. “I find it really helpful to share – about my experiences – with other men,” he confides.
“I cry at the smallest things – music, movies, any of it,” says Alfie. “I’ve always been a very emotional person. I’ve not had trouble talking to people. The main thing is trusting someone enough to talk to them.” In this regard – and indeed generally – social media is both a blessing and a curse. Online, people tend to exaggerate the highlights reel. On the other hand, social media does provide a way of connecting with a community of fans and like-minded individuals.
“If someone reaches out to you to tell you how a song affected them, that’s beautiful,” Harry says. “You write a song, release it and a few months later you get all these messages about how it helped people to open up emotionally, or gave them some kind of release. These stories are healing for me.” It’s clear that for Harry and Alfie, music has become their most important ally in relation to their own mental health. Do they use it to escape what’s going on in the world? “It’s not an escape,” Harry says, “so much as a way to find pure, absolute presence. In this magical flow-state, you might be writing, and find that something happening in the world is coming through you emotionally.”
“The best songs happen when I’m writing about something that genuinely affects me,” Alfie says. “Other people might cling on to it and say ‘He’s writing about me!’ – but really it’s just that, if you write about what’s going on with you, other people will relate to it. I’m a musician and someone else is an accountant – but we’re all going through the same shit. We all have to worry about the environment – and the bills.”
HOW TO CHANGE THE WORLD...
It would be a mistake to be fooled by Hudson Taylor’s characteristic happy-go-lucky exterior. Mentioning the dreaded Brexit fiasco lights a fire that I didn’t know existed. “I’m angry about British politics and how that will affect me,” Alfie says, thinking of his London base. “We’re an Irish band who lived in England for a while. The EU has been such an amazing benefit for us. This country, whether we like it or not, is also very influenced by England.”
And what’s their take on the Irish general election, then? “If it’s Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael, it’s essentially the same thing,” Harry throws his arms up as if to admit defeat, before soldiering on. “They’re both centre-right parties, and no big change is going to happen with either of them. No investment in public infrastructure, no social housing. The main parties here just talk the talk – it’s all populist bullshit. It would be great to see some actual social change occurring in Ireland.”
Without action, words can seem hollow. For their part, Hudson Taylor, have been regulars at the Christmas busk for the homeless, on Grafton Street. “We do what we can,” Alfie says. “What I love about Ireland – that I don’t see in the UK – is that there is a community of musicians, who get together to try to tackle social issues.”
“In the UK, it’s each out for their own,” Harry smiles. It certainly feels like that, in a lot of ways, at the moment.
“Obviously songwriting about political issues is something that you have to get right,” Alfie adds. “Songs used to change the world. Back in the ’60s and ’70s, songs would change votes and start protests. We have amazing artists and poets over here that could say it way better than me.” It doesn’t mean Hudson Taylor won’t try. It is a question of finding their own particular groove. “My favourite song ever is ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ by Joni Mitchell,” continues Alfie by way of example. “I would write about climate change.”
“What else could you prioritise?” Harry asks. “That’s clearly the most important issue. We can’t speak for women, specifically – but we did write a song for our sister, who is a lesbian. It was pre-the 2015 referendum for gay marriage.” This sparks a thought: having toured extensively with Hozier, their labelmate and a contemporary artist who is strongly – and effectively – political in his work, I’m curious as to whether or not they’ve noticed a change in the way women are treated in the industry.
“Hozier is super-conscious,” Alfie says. “But we’ve done gigs in this country where there will be seven Irish bands on the stage and there’s not one woman. On the crew or in the bands. It doesn’t make me feel good, even being on stage when there’s no women around.” It’s Harry’s turn to be the optimist. “There is a shift in consciousness, at the very least,” he argues. “Which is the early stages of a bigger movement. It’s not enough. It’s slow. We need more feminine energy, all the time. To help the bloody environment,” he adds, by way of afterthought. And I am back to what Alfie said about being terrified, and thinking: aren’t we all?
In the meantime, a dash of the kind of hopeful pop music that Hudson Taylor make is more than welcome. Not every musician has to be a harbinger of doom – or not in their music, at least. Hudson Taylor have an important job to do, which is to deliver joy to the widest audience possible. If they can heal a small corner of the world by doing so, then that is enough to be going with.
Right now, we need all the joy that we can get.
• Shot on location at the Market Bar, 14A Fade St, Dublin 2, marketbar.ie. Loving Everywhere I Go is out on February 28 on RubyWorks.
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