Interview: Taylor Locke, on good times and misdemeanors … and his new video for ‘Dying Up Here’

Taylor Locke

Taylor Locke is releasing his first new song in five years this week, and by the time the dust settles, he might be: 1) a new father, 2) appointed an emissary for the City of Burbank and 3) wanted by the law.

We’ll start with the latter: In filming the DIY video for “Dying Up Here,” Locke secreted his way into two Southern California music venues, put on clown face paint, set up his phone camera and mimed his way through the song. Multiple times. “What’s the statute of limitations on a breaking and entering?” Locke asks with a smile on a recent afternoon on the patio outside his backyard studio, the Velveteen Laboratory in Los Feliz.

Locke’s derring-do somehow fits both his return as a recording artist and the new single, a winking rocker about a performer who’s having a bad time of it. Not that he’s been slacking since his album “Time Stands Still” came out in 2015. A founding member of the Los Angeles band Rooney in seemingly long-ago times, Locke has been busy as a songwriter, guitarist, producer, composer and mastermind of the stage production “Don’t Stop, The Story of Fleetwood Mac,” a musical comedy that has had a run at Largo and toured nationally. He portrays Lindsey Buckingham. And cracks wise a lot.

In recent years, he has juggled the development of the Fleetwood Mac project with producing for the likes of Cullen Omori, Bloodboy and Geographer, collaborating with artists such as Linda Thompson, the New Pornographers and Sloan and composing music for TV and streaming shows. Plus, he did 40 dates as touring guitarist for L.A. legends Sparks.

“Dying Up Here,” a hooky charmer that was co-written with Bleu McAuley and will appear on Locke’s new EP “The Bitter End” (out in October), plays to his comedic aspirations. He discusses that and other exploits in today’s Q&A with Buzz Bands LA. But first, the video’s premiere:

Buzz Bands LA: You know, after this video premieres, there could be a warrant out for your arrest about the same time you become a father.

Taylor Locke: (Laughing) I know. What I need to do is to grow my fan base to a point where I can play these venues, and then reveal the story on a screen onstage.

So tell me how you pulled off this video …

Taylor Locke: Well, most of it was shot at the Starlite Bowl in Burbank. Not a lot of people know that place. It’s beautiful. … I tried to do it at the Greek, because everybody knows that, but there was construction happening and there were a lot of people around. There’s one shot in the beginning of the video of the backstage area at the Greek. I ran in and got that, but when I got to the stage, there was a construction crew and a little administrative team there. They looked at me and I looked at them, and even with masks on, it was weird. I just fled. Then I remembered the Starlite Bowl, so I did a stakeout to see what kind of security they had. Every day at 4:30, everyone left. So I hopped the fence and shot a little bit. Then I went the next day, and the day after, and the day after. The adrenaline of breaking in wore off by the fourth time I went. It was like going to a regular video shoot.

You did not have a helper, you did the whole thing yourself?

Taylor Locke: I had nobody. I pitched the idea of sneaking into a theater to a couple of friends, but they weren’t so big on it. So I did it myself, with Adobe Premiere and my phone. The thing is, it needed to look amateurish. I didn’t want to fall awkwardly somewhere between slick and DIY. So I leaned toward the DIY, getting shots of hopping the fence and putting clown makeup on in a public bathroom. Basically, the video is the making of the video.

For people who only look at discographies, your last major release was 2015. Can you fill in the blanks?

Taylor Locke: Oh, yeah, I guess I should contextualize myself. I’m not a new artist, yet I’m not an established guy with a huge legacy. I was even going to come up with a new band name, yet there are some people who are aware of me. But I view this as a clean slate. I feel like a contractor who has been busy finishing everyone else’s house while their own house is falling apart. When I started producing other artists, my thing got put on the back burner. Maybe I didn’t want to tour as much. Maybe it’s because I have my studio here.

You had the other outlet for live performance, right?

Taylor Locke: I get my road kicks with the Fleetwood Mac production, which expanded into a play that we’re doing at Largo. That got me plugged into a whole comedy world. And I’m producing acts who are young, hungry, really clever on their social media, really have something to say, and they want to go on the road and hit it hard. And if I can help them with sound or with writing or anything in between, I enjoy that. I fell in love with producing. I’m scoring a film before the end of the year, and I’ve worked a year and half for a kids TV network songwriting for a half-dozen different shows. And I took a job touring with Sparks as their guitar player.

But with all that, your own voice was getting lost in the shuffle. Did you miss it?

Taylor Locke: I did have time to step back and figure out what it is I would want to say in music under my own name. And I kinda felt that the last record I put out was a more somber affair, and I feel like there are enough guys who wanna be Elliott Smith around here that we don’t need another one. Not that I was ever going to be one anyway.

But then suddenly I had a weekend off, and almost like a painter or a yoga practitioner I would just go into the studio for no project. I didn’t have a band, I didn’t have a record deal … I would do the practice of a person who makes music. Or I would have a writing session with an artist, who would then decide the song wasn’t right for them and I’d reflect on it and think, “Well, that song was coming from me lyrically anyway.”

What was the turning point then?

Taylor Locke: At the beginning of this year, I was out doing the Fleetwood Mac show in Washington state when the virus hit the news. That was a hotbed, and my wife was pregnant, so we decided to quarantine from each other for two weeks. She went and stayed with her folks. There was nothing to do, I didn’t have sessions, so I just made it a habit to go into my old hard drives. You know … Here’s a great song I’d never mixed. Here’s a great verse that I never wrote the chorus for. Or here’s a great idea for a song that I never wrote. I tried some live Instagram shows with looping that people liked. I did a tribute to Adam Schlesinger, who was a friend of mine. And my manager, who reps me as a producer and a songwriter, said, “Why aren’t we putting something out under your name?”

Perhaps thinking that we’re in the middle of a pandemic and you might as well?

Taylor Locke: Exactly. It’s not like I can go on the road anyway, and there are probably a lot of people out there who don’t know any of my records, or the band I was in before, so …

So this is a new project from a person who’s not new to some people …

Taylor Locke: If I could be free of that context, great. But I’m happy with starting something fresh, just releasing a single and an EP and then maybe a second EP. The big shift for me is that having written that comedy show at Largo and being around that world, I want to crack the code of funny songs. Not in a Weird Al way, though there’s nothing wrong with Weird Al, but in the vein of songwriters who have clever lyrics like Ray Davies or Nick Lowe or Father John Misty. I have a clowny side of my personality — the show we do at Largo is like sketch comedy. It’s Mr. Show/Bob Odenkirk kind of stuff.

I realized that if the play that I wrote can be embraced, and people are crying during the music and laughing during the jokes, how do I get that in songs? I go to comedy clubs more than I go see bands play. It’s really an equal passion for me to record-making. Also playing guitar in Sparks — their songs are musically great and yet really funny. Not everything I have done has zingers in the them, but in the past I always felt that a lot of my personality was not showing up in songs. I have enough songs now that do … And I can further illustrate that with a video starring a clown who breaks into places.

Maybe “Dying Up Here” will be a welcome break of the daily onslaught of the world?

Taylor Locke: (Laughing) Yes, now the pandemic has hit and the world is an earnest place and there’s no fun. There’s social unrest and everyone’s outraged, including me. I have no timing.

With everything here at your disposal, wouldn’t you find it easier to just write and release songs, no matter what is going on in the real world?

Taylor Locke: I write all the time, and I have a studio right here at my house. What did John Lennon say about “Instant Karma?” Something like, “We wrote it for breakfast, recorded it for lunch and put it out for dinner.” If I could get in that kind of rhythm and enough people like the songs, maybe we’ll come out the other side of this OK — I’ll be vaccinated and I’ll have some fans to go play for.

At last your household fanbase is about to double.

Taylor Locke: It’s true. My wife is due in 10 days.

You’ve known Bleu for a long time, and he’s done amazing for himself in the songwriting world. What was it like to write with him?

Taylor Locke: He did the artwork, too, by the way. He’s a very conceptual kind of writer. He’s the kind of guy that if you bring him a title, the song will write itself. “Dying Up Here” is obviously from the point of view of a comic or an actor or a musician, and the show is shitting the bed and you’re actually singing about it in real time. I had that much, but you bring something like that to a guy like Bleu and he’s going to fully illustrate the concept in nothing flat. We had the music in like 20 minutes, and then we went to a sports bar in Burbank and did the rest of the lyrics over margaritas. In fact, Burbank is all over this song — my manager’s office is there, we wrote the song there and I shot the video there.

Are you going to break any laws in your next video?

Taylor Locke: Only the laws of green-screen production values.