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Taylor Hollingsworth’s Magic City

Tragic City firecracker. Dude is awesome.

Taylor Hollingsworth, Birmingham’s resident acoustic genius, will get his folksy nasal on (TM) Friday night at Standard Deluxe out in Waverly, opening for the north Alabama tag team The Civil Wars (of Gray’s Anatomy — and a million other shows –fame). He was kind enough to take time out of his recovery from a life-threatening intestinal illness (rare for someone his age– “but you’re an old soul,” I said) to pro/con his friend-of-a-friend turned share-a-stage relationship with indie darling Conor Oberst and to share his thoughts on life as a 30-year-old native of the Magic City just trying to make it in this world with a 31-year-old native of the Magic City just trying to make it in this world. (Yes, I, too, once called – briefly, as a child – Mt. Brook home – Zaremba, represent).

Tell me about Birmingham. Tell me all about it.

Well, you know… uh… Birmingham, I’ve always loved it. I mean… I tend to reflect on lots of just pretty much every day life and for some reason always look back into that as a happier time maybe, prepubescent life. So… I have a certain… I guess I like it for that reason, but it’s an interesting town because of it’s history. It’s the Magic City, was once the Magic City, during the Industrial Revolution and all that. It’s old iron ore businesses then everything failed through the Depression. Now you go through it and it’s just this run down mess, but for some reason kind of beautiful to me that way. I’m real into the rustic buildings down town and Sloss Furnace [ed. note: the ghost is my quadruple great Uncle Theophilus] and the furnace in the Thomas Project and Ruffner Mountain. I just totally love Ruffner Mountain. Been going to Ruffner Mountain since I was 7 years old probably. I still go there all the time.

What’s the Birmingham scene like for someone like yourself?

It’s really weird because it’s like Birmingham is like the like the scene of musicians who want to have a scene, but I personally I don’t believe I belong to it really… but at the same time, I’m friends with every band who does. Well not every band, I’m sure there are tons I don’t know. But bands my age group and with somewhat similar musical tastes. I guess that makes me a part of it. But it’s weird. Because I don’t really feel like I’m a part of it. I always feel like I’m sort of slightly cast out. Maybe everyone feels cast out. It’s nothing I’m upset about or anything, but that word ‘scene,’ it’s hard to know what that even means. I mean, you’re naturally going to be friends with other musicians when that’s what you do, because you hang out with people who have similar interest, you know what I mean. I think there is a huge talent pool. But you know, I feel like the more notable scenes in the world are more than the bands being connected together, it’s more like the city, and respecting it. And supporting it, you know. More like the people coming out to the shows. And as far as that’s really concerned, I don’t feel that very much. It’s weird because I feel like there’s a reputation out there that I’m like a bigger artist in Birmingham, but I never feel like it. I don’t feel like I pack out shows. I know that I don’t. I play small crowds and probably play more than I should but that’s what you do in your hometown. I guess a lot of bands don’t for appearances. I understand that method, but the more you play, to me, be it to a ton of people or none, the better you’re getting. You’re working at what you do.

So how did you and Conor Oberst meet?

We met years ago. I think Bright Eyes played in Birmingham and he used to date a girl from Birmingham that I was friends with (Azure Ray’s Maria Taylor) and who is actually my current girlfriend’s sister. And their brother Macy used to play with me in my band so through all that I was always in contact with Conor and we became friends. I was a struggling and broke musician and he had come to my show and he let me use his extremely nice studio and he paid for it completely, like out of his pocket, and that was years before I even played with him. But yeah, then he asked me to play with him. That’s kind of how it came about.

That relationship seems to dominate a lot of the bios and blurbs I read about you online. As a solo artist trying to make a national name for yourself, has playing with Bright Eyes been a blessing or a curse?

I don’t even know. It’s kind of like, I don’t mind it and I respect him as a songwriter and I think it’s cool, but at the same time, it’s like, I’ve made a lot of other music, too. It’d be nice for people to hear it. It has been a slow going thing for me. It’s weird because I did have a lot of local success quickly at one point, but as far as a real national success, I haven’t had any, except for the Conner Oberst thing pushing me along. When somebody bigger puts you out there, that helps, but after that, I mean, I’m still struggling.

Alabama or Auburn?

I’ve got to say Alabama. I grew up an Alabama fan. Both my parents went to Alabama. They met there.

I’m sorry. What do you think about Auburn?

I don’t even know… I haven’t really spent much time there. Seems like a nice college town. I like that it’s pretty woodsy and out in the middle of nowhere. I’ve always been attracted to that. I really love the Waverly shows. I’ve played there a couple times in the past. The guys over there have got such a cool thing going on.

As we recently discussed, you grew up in Mountain Brook…

Yeah, there’s the Mountain Brook thing. I hate the association with it. I never really felt like I was a part of that, either. Maybe I would have had if I grew up with a family of money. You learn pretty quick as a kid… when you realize when your mom started picking you up from school that her car was a lot shittier, a lot older than the other kids. Not that I hate Mountain Brook. I think it’s beautiful, I think the landscapes are beautiful. But sometimes, when you introduce yourself to people and tell them you’re from Mountain Brook, I hate what they immediately think. I don’t play music because it’s easy for me to and my parents are paying my way. I grew up in condominiums and my grandmother and aunt put the down payment on it so our parents could move in there. They wanted us to go to that school system.

Mine was almost the same exact situation, except it was in a small house.

I will say that as a young kid, when I didn’t know, I loved living where I lived. I loved the street I was on and as I got older, I am thankful for that school system. It was a nice environment to be in. There’ll always be people you don’t get a long with. I always kind of felt like an outcast from there, too. Then you get outside of there.

Who: Taylor Hollingsworth and The Civil Wars.

Where: Standard Deluxe, Waverly – you’ll find it.

When: Friday, September 17,  7 p.m.

Info: $10, I imagine.

About Jeremy Henderson

Jeremy Henderson is the editor of The War Eagle Reader and co-host of Rich and Jeremy in the Mornings on Wings 94.3 FM in Auburn. Follow him on Twitter: @wareaglereader / @jerthoughts / @RichandJeremy

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