Fatherhood can dredge up a twisted mass of mixed emotions. That’s the inspiration, more or less, behind “Cat’s Eye Blue” from Hiss Golden Messenger’s eighth album, Terms Of Surrender (Merge). “My dad has a lot of qualities that feel sort of endemic to [a certain] generation of American white men,” says HGM’s M.C. Taylor, struggling a bit to gather his thoughts about the song, which you can listen to below. “There’s something rooted in masculinity that has to with not being able to communicate emotionally. There’s this need among older men to hide any sort of sensitivity, which makes genuine communication difficult.”
Terms Of Surrender’s theoretical side-one closer, “Cat’s Eye Blue” unfolds like a pulsing, hypnotic lullaby—perhaps to his own children. “Part of my job as a human is to try and be more emotionally open, because I don’t want my kids to struggle communicating with me as we all get older,” says Taylor.
The 10 tracks that made it onto Terms Of Surrender were among at least 40 recorded in various hotel rooms, a secluded cottage near Charlottesville, Va., and Taylor’s home studio in Durham, N.C. The album features regular collaborators Phil and Brad Cook, Josh Kaufman and Matt McCaughan, along with contributions from Jenny Lewis and the National’s Aaron Dessner. Dessner’s studio in upstate New York served as a recording site, as did Sound City in Los Angeles and producer Roger Moutenot’s Haptown Studio in Nashville. It may well be HGM’s most “produced” album, though it hardly feels fussed over. “We kind of wandered around making this record—and that was intentional,” says Taylor. “I wanted to be able to listen to it and think about the wandering that was happening while we were making it.”
If there’s a recurring theme on Terms Of Surrender, it’s the push-and-pull between aspiration and reality. “It’s me asking myself if I’m prepared to sacrifice in order to live the life I thought I wanted,” says Taylor. “The life I thought I wanted was to play music with my friends, wander around the world and connect with people through my music, and have a deep and loving relationship with my family. That’s easy stuff to say and hope for.”
If only the reality weren’t so messy. “I’ve struggled with a lot of anxiety,” says Taylor. “I’ve struggled with depression. I think part of it is genetic, and part of it is the times we’re living in and my own personal journey of trying to make this thing that I love to do pay the bills, be a good, present father and also be an engaged artist. There are a lot of things I want to do—and do well—in a way that feels genuine to me.”
And you’d hope every father would be on board that.