Rob Taxpayer is an artist’s artist. This is a man who continuously creates. Whether it be the many exciting, volatile, and ambitious records he’s made with The Taxpayers, or the accompanying novel to God Forgive These Bastards: Songs From the Forgotten Life of Henry Turner, Rob Taxpayer is constantly busy making something. He’s punk in the most classical sense—an individual with a developed perspective and DIY to the bone—following his muse in and out of the strict boundaries punk sets for itself, and redrawing the borders as he sees fit.
Rob’s latest project is the Song of the Week Club, in which he releases a new song every week. August 20th, today, is the anniversary of this insane, impressive project. To commemorate this event, we’re premiering the video for “Gary, Indiana”—a song about Janus, the Roman God of Change “taking Gary, Indiana into her car and carrying the city towards whatever new birth is coming for the post-industrial midwestern city.”
As an added bonus, Rob sat down with us to talk about the Song of the Week Club, songwriting, his new video, and everything else he’s doing. Check below to see the video and read what Rob has to say about all the cool stuff he’s working on these days.
We’re joined here together to celebrate and talk about something pretty cool: the one year anniversary of The Song of the Week Club. Can you tell us a little about the project? How did you get started doing this?
Sure thing. So, some time around 2012 I started trying to keep in the habit of writing a song every week. I’m not terribly disciplined in other aspects of my life, but writing tunes is something I enjoy and end up doing compulsively anyway, so I figured it would be a good habit to get into. I wasn’t always successful at finishing a song each week, and not every song was very good, but it helped me understand how the process works for me a little bit better. It’s like poking around in your brain and seeing how it makes connections.
So, after a few months of doing that, I had a whole boatload of songs, but nowhere to put them. 10 or 15 of them would end up going onto a Taxpayers’ record here and there, but there was a whole bunch that were only ever heard by me and my cats. Not necessarily a bad thing, since lots of those songs weren’t all that great, but there were a handful that I was really proud of.
Then, after the Taxpayers started slowing down due to life, physical distance, whatever, I decided that it would be nice to have a place to put all those tunes. Thus, the Song of the Week Club was born. At first, I tried to make a website for this idea, but I am a complete idiot when it comes to computer technology, and ended up using the Patreon platform since it served a similar purpose and made the technological end easier on me.
So far, the club has been one of the most rewarding and enjoyable routines I’ve ever subjected myself to. And the people that the club has attracted are some of the most interesting folks I’ve ever encountered from all around the world—songwriters from countries I’ve never been to, teachers with decades of experience, artists and weirdos of all shapes and sizes. It’s been an absolute blast.
So, are you writing a new song every week, or do you have a bit of a backlog? Do you ever struggle with the turnaround? Have you learned any creative songwriting strategies to pushing a ‘difficult’ song towards completion?
These days I tend to average about 3 or 4 songs per week, and can pick my favorite to share with the Song of the Week Club. But some months are trickier than others, so I try to keep a few on the back—burner for the weeks when life gets too hectic to find the time to write a tune.
But yeah, definitely, there are times when I struggle with the turnaround. At the end of the day, though, it’s something that I love doing, and when you love something, it’s not a burden.
As far as strategies for pushing a difficult song forward… it kind of depends, you know? I mean, I’m starting to get the feel for what is going to work and what won’t, so sometimes I’ll just hit the brakes instead of trudging along with it.That said, sometimes there is one that I REALLY like that becomes a bit of a problem child. In that case, I will set it aside for a while and try tackling it again from another angle. A different key, different time signature, different instrument. Taking a step back can give you a fresh perspective.
With so many songs written by this point, what are your standouts? What songs are you most proud of?
I don’t do a lot of autobiographical stuff, but one of my favorites is about my buddy Jeff, who committed suicide a few years ago. The song’s called “Nobody is a Lost Cause“, which is something that he told me when I was in a moment of pretty deep despair. Jeff was a middle aged guy with a thick New Jersey accent and a heart of gold, and the song is kind of a tribute to him and his outlook on life.
One of the piano tunes that I really get a kick out of playing is “Revival Day“, which is one of several that are about the world of Billy Hayes, a fictional preacher/cult leader.
Around of June of this year I finally saved up enough to buy a used Macbook, which meant I was able to record multiple tracks for one song. One of the first tunes I did with that new technology was “Where To, Captain?“, which was a song that was commissioned for someone who had recently gotten sober. I think it turned out to be a pretty fun one.
“But Stocks are Skyrocketing!!!” probably would have ended up on a Taxpayers record if it had popped out closer to a recording session. It has a lot of potential still, I think.
But mostly, I am excited to debut the video for “Gary, Indiana“!
The Song of the Week Club reminds me of a stunt speculative fiction author Harlan Ellison pulled where he wrote a short story every day in the window of a bookstore, on full display to the public. He was trying to get across the idea of what work goes into the arts, to bring it down from its pedestal and present it as blue collar and accessible to anyone as it could be. Do you think we put art on a pedestal? Is bringing humble songs through sheer work a part of your vision for the Song of the Week Club?
That’s a great question. On the one hand, I think that an honest way of looking at art is to treat it comparably to any other trade—carpentry, plumbing, teaching, whatever. That’s how I tend to approach songwriting. Like, here is the job I am here to do, here are the components of it, and if I do a good job, hopefully people will get something of value from it. And like any other job, the more you do it, the better you get at it.
On the other hand, art at its highest form can be transcendent, and among the most unique and extraordinary of all human endeavors. It is something that sets us apart from other species, and when the story of the human race is finally written, it will probably be considered one of our pinnacle achievements.
So, I guess that through the Song of the Week Club, I am shooting for something in between. It ain’t Bach or Picasso, but at it’s best it is good old fashioned honest, hard work that occasionally glimpses something splendid and strange.
So, in regards to “Gary, Indiana”—how did this song come to be and why, for a guy that can write 3—4 songs a week, celebrate an anniversary with it?
I didn’t expect to end up liking this one as much as I do when I started writing it. It began as one of those “Song Commissions” I was telling you about before, and while I usually do try my best to make a good tune when someone puts in a song commission request, I don’t have the same emotional connection as the person who is having the anniversary, birthday, whatever.
But in this case, the person left it open—ended enough that there was a lot of wiggle room to play around with it—”dark, vaguely political” about a person “on the run” who carries with them dice, tarot cards, and an old coin with the Roman God Janus on it. Pretty cool prompt, right?
I tinkered around with it for a while and ended up making it about Janus himself/herself—the Roman God of change—taking Gary, Indiana into her car and carrying the city towards whatever new birth is coming for the post-industrial midwestern city.
So, I figured that it would be appropriate to celebrate this anniversary of change with Janus. Also, it’s one of the first tunes that I’ve been able to utilize some multi-tracking technology that I got a hold of (namely a bootleg copy of Logic, a used Macbook, and a halfway decent microphone), which is something I’ve been hankering to do for a while.
Tell us about the video—what made you decide to take the Song of the Week Club into the visual realm?
I thought it would be interesting to record the process for creating the song on video, which is part of what you see. Also, my partner Elise and I were driving back home to New Orleans from Detroit, and we decided to have her be this maniacal and violent version of Janus. She is a teacher for kindergarten-aged kids and so is pretty good at hamming it up.
A lot of folks know you from the Taxpayers. I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask about the state of the band these days—are you guys still active? And if not, do you see yourself releasing an album solo, or with a new band in the near future?
We did a temperature check a few months ago to see how people would feel about making a record. Not everyone was in a place to do it. That said, I wouldn’t put it outside the realm of possibility that another Taxpayers record gets made at some point in the future.
I am currently working on a few different records, one of which is with some of the Taxpayers folks. In fact, as I write this I am in Portland, Oregon recording a record for a new country band with Kevin, Noah, and Andrew from the Taxpayers—we had talked about doing a country project for years, in the vein of Willie Nelson’s Red Headed Stranger album (which is a fantastic concept album if you’ve never given it a listen!).
There’s a few other things in the works, too: in the fall I’ve got plans to work on an experimental, abstract thing with a buddy of mine, and I’m working on a thing about that preacher I mentioned earlier, Billy Hayes.
The thing about making records is that it takes about a year from the point of inception to the point of the record being released, so while those things may not get released any time soon, I will be sharing bits and pieces of them with the Song of the Week Club.
As for the Song of the Week Club, how long do you plan to keep going? It’s kind of a nontraditional means for a songwriter to share their work, how are fans responding and engaging to a new song every week versus an album drop every year or two?
I will keep it going as long as it remains fulfilling in some way. That said, there may come a point when I decide that sharing these unfinished demos is a little too…uh…vulnerable? Who knows. For now, I am having a blast.
It’s always a pleasure to chat with you, and thank you so much for continuously reaching out to Dying Scene to do cool stuff. Anything else you’d like to throw out there? A message to our readers? Any other upcoming projects? The last word is yours!
Likewise, Carson. Dying Scene has always been a good friend—keep up the great work. I suppose I’ll take this opportunity to tell folks about a new record by my buddy Dakota Floyd of the Wild—it’s called The Midnight Society—he just sent me a copy and it is fantastic!