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Damien Taylor has this fantasy.
In it, through some mysterious rent in the warp and woof of time, his band, (The Sounds of) Kaleidoscope, has been transported back to that magical moment when the Pretty Things, Pink Floyd, and the Beatles were simultaneously creating musical masterpieces at London’s Abbey Road Studios.
“The Pretty Things were recording SF Sorrow, and Syd [Barrett] and the boys were in the other room throwing down Piper at the Gates of Dawn,” he says reverently, “at the same time the Beatles were doing Sgt. Pepper’s. Everybody was drinking the same coffee”now he has a gleam in his eyes”eating the same acid, smoking the same pot…”
The first thing you should know about D.C. resident Taylor, (The Sounds of) Kaleidoscope’s 24-year-old singer, guitarist, and songwriter, is that he’s an enthusiast: for musical gear, for vinyl, for obscure ’60s groups such as July. (Remember its song “Dandelion Seeds”? I sure don’t.) Five minutes with the loquacious actor and former football player (he was good enough to win a scholarship to Frostburg State University in 1994, but didn’t stick around college for long) and you quickly begin to feel inadequate. Taylor can speak at length on everything from the recording career of Captain Beefheart to rock gadfly/impresario Kim Fowley’s novelty hit “Big Fat Alaskan” to the inverse relationship between the cost of Dave Davies’ amplifiers and the quality of the Kinks’ live sound.
But if Taylor is rhapsodic about all things rock, he has reserved a special blotter-sized place in his heart for the hazy, paisley sounds of the psychedelic ’60s. (Which is sort of funny, given that he’s colorblind. Does purple haze come in Braille?) It’s no wonder that (The Sounds of) Kaleidoscope are so far-freakin’-out; the band’s one extant discself-produced, self-titled, self-releasedincludes eight doses of neopsychedelia guaranteed to melt in your ears, not in your hands. You can hear Barrett-era Floyd in “Oceans of Sand” and “Rabbits!,” the Kinks in “The Parallelogram” and “Galleryplace,” and the Velvet Underground in “And There You Go” and “Living.Somewhere.Different.” You can also hear early-’90s shoegazer acts such as Spacemen 3 and My Bloody Valentine in Taylor’s blanket-of-sound guitar playingand there might be a bit of Thin Lizzy in there somewhere, too: According to Taylor, the studio in Philadelphia where (The Sounds of) Kaleidoscope recorded half of the CD had just gotten hold of “some microphones that hadn’t been used since Jailbreak.”
Taylor has been trying to put together the perfect (The Sounds of) Kaleidoscope lineup for six years now, but it’s only over the past several months that things have coalesced. After playing and recording with some 17 or 18 configurations, including one with indie-rock luminary Kurt Heasley, Taylor finally settled on drummer Alex Hacker and bassist Doug Bailey, neither of whom performed on the CD. Both used to be in mid-to-late-’90s D.C.-area band the Ropers; before that, Hacker played in an early incarnation of Heasley’s Lilys and with Mark Robinson’s Air Miami. The two provide Taylor with a solid rhythmic bottom for his fuzzed-out guitar pyrotechnics and extended experiments with feedback.
Though Taylor would like to add an organist or a second guitarist”to fill the sound out more live; I like the idea of playing against somebody else,” he sayshe’s worried that bringing in someone else might compromise his band’s good vibrations. “I love the guys I’m playing with,” he says. “I used to go to the record store and it’d be like, ‘Holy shit, the new Ropers single! Awesome!’ And now I’m playing with those guys. Sometimes we’ll be playing, and it’s like, ‘Guys, if I didn’t think our girlfriends would mind, I’d make out with both of you right now.’”
Though the band members aren’t averse to wearing their influences on their sleeves every once in a while (“We were happy to play the recent Spacemen 3 tribute at the Black Cat,” Taylor admits. “It was like, ‘How many Spacemen songs can we play in A? All of ’em!’”), the band isn’t eager to crawl into the retrodelic pigeonhole. “I don’t wanna get all Jon Spencer on anybody,” says Taylor. “You start writing a certain way and people expect you to keep writing songs like that. You get stuck.” He acknowledges the danger of being perceived as neopsychedelic but thinks that it’s inevitable: “Everybody’s aped the Kinks; everybody’s aped the Beatles. We’re doing something that’s not necessarily new, but it’s not a duplication, either. There’s no going back, even if we wanted tofirst, because the acid was better then, and second, because the psychedelic thing had never been done before. And the sound was great; everything was recorded on analog equipment. It sounded warmer.”
Taylor, who grew up in Prince George’s County, credits his parentswho now live in Calvert County and come to all of his showswith having a lot to do with his love of rock music. “When they were younger, my dad and his brother drove their motorcycles across the U.S. They saw Blue Cheer, checked out Woodstock. I’ve got a picture of my mom and dad from back thenI’ve used it on fliersriding my dad’s motorcycle. People [have] asked me, ‘They’re so cool. Who are they?’ And I’m like, ‘They’re the people who made me.’” As a child, Taylor spent so much time playing along with Kinks records on his plastic KISS guitar that his uncle finally gave him a real guitar to play; at the ripe old age of 4, Taylor immediately started writing songs.
Unlike most musicians who got an early start, however, Taylor doesn’t have a long résumé of former bands. In fact, with the exception of a one-off gig back in his college days with an outfit called the Rosie Palmers, he has been for most of his career that rarest of all musical animals: the one-band man. He has been single-minded in his determination to make his vision of (The Sounds of) Kaleidoscope a reality. Even the band’s name is pure Taylor.
“I used to have these two Fisher-Price tape decks that I’d bring onstage with me,” he says. “One repeated the word ‘kaleidoscope’ from ‘Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds’ over and over again, all nasally. The other one hadremember AM 1260’s ‘The Sounds of Sinatra’? Well, it played a loop of the ‘sounds of’ part. The combined effect of both tapes was extremely nauseating….People would get frustrated, and they’d be walking out and yelling, ‘Turn it off, please!’ And there’d be some kid outside having a seizure.”
Nonetheless, (The Sounds of) Kaleidoscope continue to play live and have plans to record again in January, this time with Hacker and Bailey. Taylor hopes to follow that up with a summer tour of Canada with Toronto’s Mean Red Spiders. “We’d like to get out there and have people see what we do,” says Taylor. “You knowspread the buzz.” The band is also looking for a record label; Taylor has sent demos to about eight, including his personal favorites, Slumberland and spinART. But he says that his outfit will carry on regardless of label support. “If worst comes to worst, I’ll go back to working two or three jobs and put it out myself. But label backing would be nice. If nothing else, it would make recording a little more affordable.”
Taylor doesn’t see himself ever doing anything other than making music. “I’d love to do this thing all the way through,” he says. “I’m not motivated by money, and I’m wary of commodification. It’s not like I’m sitting around thinking, If I write a song like this, maybe I’ll get rich. I’m not trying to be the Beatles. But goddammit, I certainly don’t have anything against it, either. I would love for there to be a trophy at the end of the process. I have no problem with competition.”
But no matter how reflective Taylor gets about his chances for big-time success, he prefers to remain impulsive when it comes to songwriting. “Bands tend to complicate things that are better simple; they’re trying to Frankenstein a flower. That’s why I love that garage stuff: You had these 16- and 17-year-old kids who didn’t know what they were doing, saying, ‘Hey man, let’s freak out!’” Michael Little