Steve Taylor/Squint

[Image: Steve Taylor/Squint - 7 Ball Magazine, July/August 1998 Page 36 Thumbnail]
Page 36

[Image: Steve Taylor/Squint - 7 Ball Magazine, July/August 1998 Page 37 Thumbnail]
Page 37

7 Ball Magazine
July/August 1998
© 1998 VoxCorp, Inc.
Pages 36-37

by Brad Caviness

There's a sense of panic coursing through the hallway alcove of offices Squint Entertainment occupies in the Word Records building in Nashville. It seems Squint is about to lose the lease on their Los Angeles office due to a paperwork snafu and the whole staff is on full alert, making frenzied conference calls and sending rushed faxes to the coast to try and prevent their L.A. colleagues from becoming homeless.

In rushes Squint founder Steve Taylor--decorated artist, record producer, video director and now entertainment mogul. He's running late. In the end, the L.A. staff gets to keep all their stuff in the same place. But, Taylor admits, this hassle was not something he expected when he decided to start a record label.

He didn't really know what to expect; starting a record company was never a "life-long passion or dream, by any means," he says. He just wanted to build a home for Christian artists who don't feel they have to be on a general market label for quality and wide exposure. Taylor's background--which included a short stint with general market rock band Chagall Guevara--gave him perspective about both sides of the marketing fence.

Many think moving into the mainstream means more artistic freedom, but Taylor found out differently. "The alternative scene is as restrictive as the Gospel scene," he says. "What's strange isn't just the musical constraints--because the whole idea of alternative music was supposed to be that there aren't any, but of course there were--but there was a political agenda you were supposed to buy into as well, which was absurd."

Taylor was advised by his A&R person at MCA to not mention his pro-life beliefs in interviews with the press. "Then the blinders came off," he says. "I thought Oh I get it, I've traded in one set of constrictions for a whole other set."

The highest satisfaction for an artist who is a Christian, Taylor says, should be when their artistic pursuits and their pursuit of God come together. So he set Squint out with the ideal that artists shouldn't ahve to pick between being a Christian artist or a mainstream artist. "If it's good, you can bring those things along."

He believe it important to have employees intimately familiar with the workings of both the Christian and the mainstream, "not someone that you pass the record off to at Atlantic or Virgin or wherever and hope they like it," he says. "You find out really quickly that other than getting records out to a few other stores, it really doesn't do much of anything. Our question was, How do we do something so the buck stops with us?"

So far, Squint has made an impression. Sixpence's first single aimed at the mainstream, "Kiss Me," has gotten routine play at college stations, adult alternative and modern rock radio. Their song "Easy to Ignore" was featured on an episode of the Steven Bochco cop drama Brooklyn South. Sixpence None the Richer was recently invited to take part in the Lilith Fair tour.

Sixpence None the Richer recently returned from Paris, France where they filmed the new concept video for "Kiss Me." The video, directed by Taylor, was inspired by the classic French film, Jules and Jim.

Records and music videos, however, are not the sole purpose of Squint. Just as essential are plans to venture into feature films. "I wouldn't be here if film weren't part of the agenda," Taylor says.

Of course, films take serious money. Therefore, Taylor partnered with Word Entertainment, who also felt the need for getting into film art. As one Word executive put it to him, "How can we as Christians say we want to affect culture and not be involved in film? It's an essential medium."

Squint's first film is St. Gimp, directed by Taylor and co-written by Taylor and long-time video collaborator Ben Pearson. Taylor won't comment on the film except to say it's a drama. "I don't know I've ever seen a short paragraph description of a movie that made me want to go see it," he explains. "Probably the biggest reason I'm uncomfortable talking about it is I haven't done one yet. I'm happy to talk about music; I'm a lot more confident about that. But if I was reading this, I'd be thinking, Yeah, what does he know?"

A position where Taylor displays a good deal more confidence is in the producer's chair, where he has guided projects for the Newsboys, Guardian and, most recently, Sixpence None the Richer. For Sixpence's Squint debut, he took a step back, content to guide the creative process without contributing as much to it. "With Sixpence the package was complete. It's interesting because it was a different dynamic in the studio. Especially with the idea that I was not going to be working on any of the lyrics at all. The only thing I was going to do was be really hard on [guitarist and chief writer] Matt [Slocum] and just keep pushing it further. What was cool was that he was never bummed out about that. He was always keen on making it better."

For their part, Sixpence None the Richer deeply admires Taylor for the work he did producing their record. "He was really respectful of what we wanted and didn't want," singer Leigh Nash says. "He stretched everybody. What was really cool is we knew we really loved what we'd done before. It was a nice feeling that he had faith we were going to come up with something good."

The second Squint release was the ska praise & worship album, The Insyderz Present Skalleluia. Taylor saw the Detroit band in concert and they told him about their idea of doing ska upgrades of praise & worship choruses. "They had been doign it in concert for a while; people really liked it. I went out to California and heard them in the studio. They started playing me the tracks and I lit up from ear to ear. I took the tape home and it's like it just brought me joy every time I put it on. I thought it would be great if we got to spread this to other people."

Because of legal obligations to their previous label, The Insyderz could only sign for the one record; they have since signed with KMG. But the band members are excited to have worked with Taylor. Skalleluia was always an important project to The Insyderz, trombonist Mike Rowland says. "Even if no label wanted to do it, we would put it out independently. But Squint shared the same vision of ministry we had for this album."

Squint's third act, acoustic art-rockers Burlap to Cashmere, is actually signed to A&M in the general market, but available in the Christian market through Squint. "We saw them in New York at a place called the Bottom Line. Burlap does their set and it's very overt, lyrically. Surprisingly overt. They finish their set and I heard from the next table, What were those lyrics about? There was some sort of spiritual Christian thing going on. And the other person says, How can anyone sing about this Jesus stuff with a straight face? I realized why this band needs to be on A&M and why they need to be in New York City. I feel privileged that we get to be a part of it."

For many of Taylor's fans, the formation of Squint means the probability of a new Steve Taylor record. He has started work, but he's in no rush; he has a company to run, a movie to shoot and records to produce. "In 10 years, if there's not a lot of bitter ex-Squint artists running around, I'll be a happy man."