Musician Spotlight/Interview – Machan Taylor

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Former Pink Floyd background vocalist Machan Taylor will be joining world-renowned band Gov’t Mule in the Live Nation production of a Pink Floyd show called “Darkside of the Mule, ” in honor of the 50th anniversary of “Darkside of the Moon.” 

Singer, songwriter, performer, and educator, Machan Taylor is an accomplished veteran of the music business for over 35 years. She has extensively toured as a background vocalist with Sting, Pink Floyd, Pat Benatar, George Benson, Foreigner, Gov’t Mule, Bobby Caldwell, Steve Tyrell, and The Glenn Miller Orchestra. She also performed on selected engagements with Aretha Franklin, Billy Joel, James Taylor, Stockholm Syndrome, Toots Hibbert, and other internationally notable artists. As a lead singer, she fronted the Grammy-nominated group Hiroshima on Epic Records. She has also sung on numerous national TV and radio commercials and film soundtracks, including the song “The Moon’s a Window to Heaven,” written by Jerry Goldsmith and John Bettis for the Star Trek V soundtrack. She was also the singing voice of Lieutenant Uhura in the same movie. 

As a solo artist, her 2004 CD Machan debuted at #35 on the Billboard Contemporary Jazz Charts, and she followed up with the release Motion of Love in 2007, which was received with international critical acclaim. She has also written and published over 100 compositions that have been featured on network and cable television shows worldwide, as well as in major films. Most recently, she had a song placed in the Golden Globe-winning, Oscar-nominated movie Boyhood

Gov’t Mule (pronounced “Government Mule”) is an American Southern Rock Jam Band  formed in 1994 as a side project of The Allman Brothers Band  by guitarist Warren Hynes and bassist Allen Woody. Fans often refer to Gov’t Mule simply as Mule.

The band released their debut album, Gov’t Mule, in 1995, and have since released an additional nine studio albums, plus numerous EPs and live releases. Gov’t Mule has become a staple act at music festivals across North America, with both its members and frequent guests from other notable bands adding various Funk and Blues Rock elements to the band’s sound.

How did you start your career?

I’ve been singing since I was a little girl. But I started singing professionally in coffee houses initially as a singer-songwriter when I was 14 years old. By the time I was 16 years old I was in bands and started playing bars. The drinking age was 18 back then, and I was tall at a young age. So, I started making money playing in bars at that point. 

After graduating high school at the age of 16, I was in a band in NJ called “Grover, Margret & Za Zu Zaz”. We were very popular in the Jersey bar scene, and were working 4-5 nights a week. It was a great time in the live music scene in the NYC metro area. It was a great training ground for artists and musicians to develop their craft….something the younger generation doesn’t have in the same way.  I have so many great memories from that time. And hundreds and hundreds of gigs under my belt I did in those teenage years. 

Who are some of the people that you have sung back up for?

I was very lucky to have worked with so many great artists at a very high level; Pink Floyd, Sting, Pat Benatar, George Benson, Bobby Caldwell, Aretha Franklin and several others. Some were big tours. Some were one off shows or limited engagements. But all notable experiences. 

You are going out on tour with Gov’t Mule, what are you most looking forward to?

I’m looking forward to performing this summer doing outdoor festivals. I love the sultry feeling of being on stage on hot summer nights. There’s something special about being in the fresh air, under the stars, and performing in front of big crowds like that. It gives me a sense of connection to people in a very special way. Maybe it harkens back to the romanticism of the early days of rock festivals. I don’t know, but I love it! 

You are in the midst of writing a book, what is the premise?

I’m basically working on a memoir that not only talks about my career history, but is braided with details about my inner life as a Japanese-American in this country. It was a very different time in America when I was growing up. And there was a lot of struggle that I went through that I’ve never really publicly spoken about. It’s taken many years of processing through the emotional and spiritual realities of that part of my life. All behind the façade of the glamorous rock n’roll life I was living back in the day. 

Who are your biggest influences and who were your biggest influence growing up?

That’s such a difficult question to answer, since I have so many influences. 
My mother was a professional singer as a young women. She came from a very musical family. My grandfather was a classical pianist and university teacher. My uncle was a sax player, another uncle was a piano player, and another a composer. So, my roots were planted in jazz and classical music. But as a teenager growing up in suburban NJ, I was listening to the Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, and others of that era, as much as I was listening to Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaugh, Coltrane, Miles, Jazz Swing, BeBop and everything else I could. I just loved to listen to all kinds of music when I was young. I couldn’t get enough. And records were so much fun to spin, and the cover art and credits were a visual treat. It was a whole experience that drew you in. I miss that part of the experience of music consumption now. 

Is there a moment in your life that changed the entire trajectory of it?

I think that everything, everyone, and every experience is a link in the chain of one’s reality. So, to pick one moment is hard to say. But if I have to pick one, I would say when I worked on the Jackson Victory Tour in 1984 as a production assistant. That was a big turning point for me. It wasn’t because I was singing on that tour, which I wasn’t. But because of the people I met. There were so many people I networked with that ended up being game changing connections. And some of them became life-long friends. 

What was your biggest challenge thus far and your biggest triumph in the music business?

I think one of the biggest challenges was making the decision to change my life, and get off the road at a certain point. After touring with Sting in 2000, I decided to start teaching and worked to create a life beyond the road. Eventually I went back to school which was an incredible journey. That lead to me teaching at the NYU-Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music and the New School, which I love now. 

The biggest triumph I would say was touring with Pink Floyd. When I look back on that time in my life, how I got the gig, and what it means to me now, it’s truly a miracle milestone. I’m so grateful to have had that experience.

Have you had your ultimate stage fantasy yet?

I have to say that I’ve had a pretty amazing run. But perhaps playing at the Palace de Versailles with Pink Floyd was pretty fantastic! But who knows, maybe the best is yet to come. 🙂

What is your biggest hopes for your upcoming tour?

I’m just looking forward to having a great time with Gov’t Mule this summer. They’re family to me. And their fans are incredible. It will be the last time Mule does this Pink Floyd show. 

This being the 50th Anniversary of “Darkside of the Moon”, and the fact that the real Pink Floyd will never happen again makes it kind of bitter-sweet too. I really hope everyone will come out and celebrate this special moment with us. And hopefully the weather gods will look kindly upon us at all these outdoor festivals. 

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Photo Credits: Machan Taylor


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