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Paul Taylor: Music after Memphis

Memphis-born multi-instrumentalist Paul Taylor described his prepandemic life as a “gerbil wheel.” For years, he’d worked as a professional musician, playing five or six shows a week, and later he worked with a recording studio and a film-scoring company.

But 2020 stopped that gerbil wheel in its tracks.

“It’s hard to remember now, but that spring, nobody knew how [the pandemic] was going to go or how long it would last,” Taylor said. It was during that period of uncertainty that he and his wife started considering a change of scenery.

He had been visiting Door County since 2007 or so, when he started playing the annual Fishstock concert series with fellow Memphis musician Eric Lewis. Taylor and his wife were “in love with the area,” got married in Door County in 2013 and dreamed of eventually making it their permanent home. 

That dream is now a reality: They’ve been living on the Sister Bay waterfront since late 2020.

Though Taylor loves living and working in Door County, the transition away from his hometown wasn’t easy. For him, Memphis isn’t just a place; it’s also an integral part of who he is, both as a musician and as a person. There’s even a running joke with Frank Maloney, a friend and fellow Door County musician, that Taylor has to mention his hometown anytime he introduces himself.

“I was a Memphis musician,” Taylor said. “That was my identity, so it was hard moving.” 

A Multimodal Musician

Music runs in Taylor’s family. His father was a vocalist, guitarist and recording engineer, and his stepfather was a songwriter, so he grew up in two musical households. 

“It was environmental conditioning,” he joked.

And the conditioning worked. By age 3, Taylor was already messing with old keyboards, toy guitars and a drumset. By first grade, he was recording short, original tunes with the help of his father in his home recording studio. And by middle school, he was adding two more instruments to his growing repertoire: bassoon and bass.

Taylor’s sound now is as wide ranging as the list of instruments he plays – even after his move.

“When I moved here, I kind of thought, ‘All my funky electric stuff is behind me now because I have to do the gentle folk music of Door County,’” he said.

And although he does incorporate some of that “gentle folk” into his repertoire – especially when he plays solo as New Memphis Colorways – it’s far from his only genre. He also plays indie rock with Three Springs, country with Frank Maloney and His Big Country Unit, jazz with the Lindenberg, Lewis and Taylor Organ Trio, and funky instrumentals with Ketchup.

That might seem like a wide range of genres to dabble in, but it doesn’t feel that way to him.

“I always go by that Duke Ellington adage,” Taylor said. “‘There are two kinds of music: good music and the other kind.’”

Paul Taylor. Photo by Rachel Lukas.

Growing New Roots

With so many projects on his plate – including a new, five-track EP, Let the Mystery Be, that will be released in full in late September – it’s clear that Taylor’s move didn’t get him off the “gerbil wheel.” It just pushed the wheel a few hundred miles north.

But he wouldn’t have it any other way. 

“I’m just deeply compelled to do work,” he said. “I can’t stop myself from making music all day.”

As for Memphis, Taylor hasn’t left it behind. In addition to releasing music as New Memphis Colorways, he still visits the city occasionally and also collaborates with musicians from his hometown from the comfort of his Northern Door cabin. 

There, he’s continually surprised by how much his new environment influences his songwriting. The impact of his surroundings was obvious as he polished off his new EP early this year during a two-week home-recording spree – but it was obvious before then, too.

“That first winter, I had my mind blown by looking out at every single sunset over the water,” said Taylor, who had never seen a frozen bay before. “The view is still inspiring.”

Making use of tight space at Hill Street. Photo by Rachel Lukas.