Taurus isn’t just a truck and an astrological sign: it’s also the band that lead vocalist Chris Morrissey, known mainly as a side-man bassist and jazz player for different songwriters, decided to create based on songwriting that didn’t necessarily fit with other projects he was working on at the time. It was a project that Morrissey had just never gotten around to pursuing—until now.
Morrissey, along with Rich Hinman, Aaron Lee Tasjan, and Mark Stepro, completely self-released Taurus’s debut album, Canon Falls Forever, which came out earlier this year. The album was recorded in the woods of Canon Falls, Minnesota, but the band has been playing shows throughout New York City (sometimes sharing a playbill with girlfriend Ann-Courtney of Mother Feather) ever since their formation in 2010. Morrissey spent the past decade touring with Ben Kweller and Mason Jennings, and learning all about new music along the way. Thanks to Jennings, Morrissey discovered his love for folk music and Elliott Smith. Smith weighed as a heavy influence on his own writing, especially because of the strange coincidence that Morrissey was introduced to his songs the day before his untimely death.
We caught up with Chris Morissey at a Nolita coffee shop, where he spoke about the relief of self-expression, the influence of Elliot Smith, and writing about the hard stuff.
ILANA KAPLAN: How did Taurus get started? You were in a lot of bands before, right?
CHRIS MORRISSEY: I’ve been in a lot of bands as a side man for most of my career. I’ve been a bass player for different songwriters. A guy named Mason Jennings was the first guy I toured with. I was with him from about 2002 or 2003 until 2007. I was on Use Your Voice, Use Your Band, the documentary, Foam Clouds, and I’ve done the “Blood of Man” tour. I met Ben Kweller through him, and I’ve been Ben Kweller’s bass player from 2007 until present day. So basically, the two of them and Andrew Bird and a couple of other people that I’ve notably been associated with… basically, my career has been to play on people’s records and play in people’s bands. I’ve never had the time or the ambition to go after it. Taurus is the second project I write for. I have a quartet that plays instrumental music or jazz music that I’ve been recording with and working with a few years before the Taurus stuff. I had sort of a creative epiphany. I started working on a song for one of my other bands, that he was having trouble with, and the song was about something that happened to me in my life. He was like, “Can you fill in some of the blanks in the story?” I was on a vacation, which is not something I do a lot of, but at this point I was on a vacation with my family, and I was jet-lagged. I had a lot of manic-jet-lag energy. I would wake up completely ready to go at three in the morning. I had all this time and energy to work on this song. It turned into this song that didn’t really sound like this band that I played in. I wrote a ton of songs, started that band, and I have become pretty obsessed with it ever since.
KAPLAN: Do you see your primary role as a bassist?
MORRISSEY: No, I actually see that as secondary, definitely. It was kind of a relief for the first time to record a record and not really care. Not in an “I don’t care” way, but I had the songs to think about and the production of the record to think about. So, the bass playing was kind of an afterthought, which is really opposite of how it usually is. I’m usually hired to play bass, and I had to see the entire picture in a way that I hadn’t before. The sound of the record and the songs getting presented the way that I wanted them to, those were the primary roles in that situation.
KAPLAN: When did you guys form?
MORRISSEY: About a year and a half ago. I started writing all this music almost two years ago. I wrote about 18 songs in about two months. I called my closest friends that are also my favorite musicians and shared with them this plan that I had. It all happened incredibly fast, the way that it got written, sending everybody the music and having them learn it. We put it all together. We played a couple of shows. Then about two weeks later, we flew out to Minnesota where the engineer that made my jazz record lives. We flew out in the summer, mixed it and then put it out.KAPLAN: Are you currently on a label?
MORRISSEY: This is all completely self-released. Through the years and playing with who I’ve played with, I’ve met a lot of people in the music business. But, the music that we make, there are similarities, but it’s very different music. I don’t want to separate it and say that I’m doing one thing and those guys are doing another thing. We both write songs and want them to be representations of our own creative being. But the music-business people that I’ve met through those artists are not the music-business people that will be attracted to this music. I hope that might not be the case. I hope that some of the connections that I’ve made will take to this and help with it. For the time being, it’s all me. It’s definitely lacking someone to pimp it.
KAPLAN: Have you and Mother Feather performed together?
MORRISSEY: We have. A few times. At least three times. Never onstage together. We’ve shared bills together. We’ve sang together outside, just hanging out around the house. That’s never come up. Her (Ann-Courtney) asking me to sub for Matt, the bassist in Mother Feather or me asking her to sing harmonies has never come up. I’m not opposed to the idea with creating with her. She’s my girlfriend. I do. I also like the idea of keeping those worlds a little bit separate. I think us playing on a bill together is cool, but us being in a band together is scary, because I’ve been through things where that hasn’t worked out. We’re happy to play the supportive role. Both of us are fans of each other’s bands and are both happier to keep it that way.
KAPLAN: Who are some of your influences?
MORRISSEY: As far as I’m concerned, and it’s pretty broad when you count all of the members, we all come from different… but there’s a real common passion for music in general. For this genre, as a songwriter, I would say that my biggest influence is Elliot Smith. I was on tour with Mason (Jennings) and I hadn’t heard of Elliot (Smith). I was very, very oblivious to the world of folk music and rock music, because I came up studying instrumental music and jazz. So, I got a real education of folk music and rock music from Mason (Jennings). I remember him, a couple years into us knowing each other, and him getting an idea for what my shit was that I liked, he was like, “I think I’ve got this guy you’re going to freak out for.” And XO had just come out. He put on that record, and I was like, this is like totally falling in love: this is so special. The reason why I think that it’s a story is because the next day he killed himself. It was a very heavy way to come to the music. I fell in love with it, and then the next morning I looked in the paper and it was “Singer Elliot Smith Is Dead.” I think I would have loved it the same, but the day that I was like, “I can’t wait to see this guy play. I can’t wait to hear his music.” It was like, no, he’s dead.
KAPLAN: What are your favorite songs off of the album?
MORRISSEY: I really like “Born a Lion,” which is the second song. That one, if this is any indication of my ability as a music-business person to predict what people are going to like… that one doesn’t typically draw the most… I put it second on the record because I think the second song on the record is often the real place of honor. It’s a very dense song. Musically, I’m very proud of it. The lyrics too, I was able to kind of get away from the easy, longing themes. There’s some of that in that song. That song is about some family stuff. Some forgiveness. There’s a lot of very personal, heavy stuff about my dad. It’s a song where musically without the lyrics, I’m very proud of how it came out. That song in particular, at least to my ear, I got it. Another one, a song at the end of the record, “I Was Here,” I end up siding with the darker and the more dense. Those are the ones that resonate with me the most. Even in the bands that I love, it’s always those songs of theirs that hit me the hardest. I hope there’s something for everyone.