The Dead & Down
Brian Ripple | Wednesday Feb. 1st, 2023
If you haven’t heard THE DEAD & DOWN you owe it to yourself to check out this gang of space cowboys waging holy war against silence and overpriced breakfast. The band envelopes the thoughtful and inscrutable songwriting of Taylor Burlage in a blanket of sound descended from outlaw country, psych rock, and a few too many beers. The Dead & Down will take you on a journey; moments of psychedelia and pure, unadulterated rock and roll balanced with a classic country feel
Formerly known as Not James Taylor, the Dead & Down was started as a duo project between songwriter Taylor Burlage and guitarist James Burne. After a year of gigging they amassed a solid local following in their hometown of Bozeman, Montana. Through a series of chance mishaps and lucky breaks they added Josh Higginbottom on drums, Matt Angelo on keys, and Dave Efries on bass to create a truly Montanan sound that combines elements of country, rock, and psychedelic music.
Bozeman Magazine’s Brian Ripple recently sat down with Taylor Burlage for an in-depth chat.
Brian Ripple: Hello, Taylor; You play guitar and sing in Dead and Down; when did you first pick up music? When did you start playing guitar?
Taylor Burlage: I started playing music when I was about 10. I got a little acoustic guitar from my dad and went from there. It took some time for me to really get into it, though — my attention span was pretty limited, and learning to read music on my own was a bit of a challenge. I really started playing and writing more in high school. I suppose it all starts the same way for everybody… you get heartbroken at age 15 and think you’ll never recover emotionally, so you write some god-awful song about how lonesome you are, and how you’ll never love anyone ever again. It’s hilarious and painful to look back on where it started, but, that being said, it was an important step to take — just knowing that I could write songs and interpret my feelings through music. I haven’t stopped since. I definitely see myself as more of a songwriter than a guitar player, but I’ve certainly learned a thing or two over the years, so it works out well.
BR: Who are a few of your current favorite artists to listen to?
TB: I’m all over the place… my current binge is the new album from the Dead Tongues, called Dust. I can’t get it out of my head and it hasn’t gotten old yet. I also love TK & the Holy Know Nothings (seeing them live was definitely an inspiration for James and me to start this band and go in a similar direction). Sturgill Simpson is an obvious go-to for a lot of people, myself included. Hiss Golden Messenger is a constant inspiration for songwriting, and their sound is incredible. Such a good blend of genres. I’m also absolutely in love with Sylvan Esso. They’re so damn good. I grew up on an eclectic, but well-curated list of artists. I don’t think it was forbidden for me to listen to the top 50, but my dad definitely had nothing good to say about it, so I grew up on Radiohead, Tom Waits, John Prine, Josh Ritter, The Raconteurs, and a bunch of other great artists. Really influential, but it also meant that school dances and parties in high school and college were a little awkward, because I had no clue what was playing.
BR: If you could see any bands/artists, living or dead, perform live, who would you go see?
TB: This is such a loaded question. Sturgill Simpson, for sure. I would love to have seen The Band play live. The Last Waltz is a go-to film that is just so wild to see, and those guys were definitely a musical phenomenon at the time.
BR: Can you fill us in on the backstory of Not James Taylor?
TB: Yeah! James came to my birthday party a couple years ago, because we needed a bass player for a show at the Filler four days later with a summer project I had. So we met there, and he showed up to practice the next couple days (keep in mind, James is not a bass player by trade, but he dove in headfirst and crushed it at that show). Then, we played that show and we hit it off. Eventually, I asked him if he would want to come and play guitar with me at a solo gig I had at J and Co downtown and it went well, so we figured we’d keep doing it. The Not James Taylor name is sort of self-explanatory, but it started as a joke when we would introduce ourselves at gigs (“this is James, I’m Taylor. We’re Not James Taylor”) and it just kind of stuck. People got a kick out of it even though it was a little silly, so we kept it.
BR: What was the process like transitioning from a duo into the band Dead and Down?
TB: It was so refreshing, honestly. We spent so much time playing heavier sorts of rock songs that were just begging for drums and bass, so it was a pretty natural transition into playing with a full band. It took some time to get the other three guys added to the band, though. It started out with James, Josh and me just starting to play a handful of tunes; then, we slowly added Matt and Dave. We had met Josh Higginbottom in the summer of 2021, and he actually played guitar in the project we had then. He’s kind of a virtuoso. He makes good music with any instrument he touches — it’s infuriating in the best way. He has such a creative mind, and the way he plays anything is incredible. We met Matt Angelo at a jam session with some other musician friends, and it was such a lucky thing. We didn’t know any keys players who weren’t already in another band; this one night, we were all playing music together and Matt was tearing it up on the keys. I was convinced I knew him from somewhere. Still don’t know how I recognized him, but I asked him; ‘What band do you play in?’ He said, ‘I don’t play in a band,’ so the obvious next question was; ‘Do you want to be in a band?’ Now, we’ve got one of the best keys players around.
Finding (bass player) Dave Efries was really incredible, too. We had a friend filling in on bass for a few months in the beginning while I looked for a permanent player, and I figured I would try an ad on Craigslist. I had loads of responses, none of which seemed like a good fit until I got this great email from Dave, who was moving to Bozeman from Austin. I am so grateful we found him. He has become the bedrock of this band. He’s just such a solid player and, as a person, he’s a joy to be around. He’s so soft-spoken and kind, but turns into such a rocker on stage and in the studio. The biggest thing for me about transitioning into the full band is that we’re all friends and we get along so well; it just makes the creative journey so enjoyable and interesting. I have heard so many horror stories from other musicians about bands being difficult to manage; they are full of drama, and there’s always that one person who is a troublemaker. We don’t have that. We’ve never had a fight of any kind, we all like to hang out, we all love making music together; it’s honestly pretty wholesome. I don’t know how we got so lucky to get all of these super talented people who are also just GOOD people, but we did, and I think that’s what makes this band so special.
BR: You guys just dropped your new album on January 27th. Can you tell us a little bit about it?
TB: The album started out as a collection of songs I had written over the past few years, and as we played them live and workshopped those songs in practice, it just felt like the right thing to do. We definitely jumped the gun but, in a way, it jump-started this whole band and pushed us to the next level. Everyone in this band is so incredibly creative; we love to play live, but we were able to jump into the studio and work well together and create a product that I think everyone is really proud of. Recording was absolutely an exercise in finding our sound and giving us a direction we want to go with this project.
The songs themselves cover a range of topics. I write very much from personal experience, so these songs come from a pretty vulnerable and personal place. I’m only 24, so I think I’m still in the stage of my life where a lot of songs I write are about relationships, loss and heartbreak and so on. Some of the songs are less specific… I do try to write outside of my own experience when it makes sense. It’s a wonderful exercise to write story songs. Road Hit Back is absolutely an example of that, as is Colors. They aren’t about me even remotely, so my connection to those songs is very different from songs such as Next Time, or Oacoma, or Changing.
Overall, the album is a reflection of where I am personally now (in terms of songwriting) and where we are as a band. Both of those things have grown and changed — solidified and/or gelled to a point where the next album is already half written. You can hear in this album the different genres and sounds we explored, and it makes for a fun and interesting listen just sonically. We have a bit of everything: bluegrass (sort of), rock, psychedelic music, and country. I think we’ve moved in a more cohesive direction since then, but it keeps it engaging for us to play a mix of genres. Honestly, we’re just over here playing music that we like and keeping our sonic options open.
BR: Where was it recorded, and by whom?
TB: We recorded at Morris Mountain Studios in Butte, with Ben Morris and his partner, Kayti Korte. They are the power duo of the century, by the way. Everyone needs to go check out their band, Desperate Electric, ASAP. It was such a mind-blowing experience to go there and record. They have this beautiful old quirky house with a studio attached to it, so we just spent all four days there recording. The best part is that we got to stay there; each night we would make these big family dinners and hang out, then record until 2 am. We got so lucky to work with them… we’re going back a couple of times this year to start working on the next album.
BR: You released two of the tracks, Switchbacks and Colors early, as singles. What made these two songs stand out as the first two singles?
TB: Switchbacks is honestly the song that reflects the sound we want the most. It’s a little country, a little rock, a little psychedelic. We loved building this song; when we first started workshopping it at practice, it really stood out. Everyone came out of their shell for the first time to really dig in and work on it. Matt, our keyboard player, has such an incredible mind for music; when he started coming to practice, at first he was pretty quiet. As soon as we figured out we wanted a breakdown with a synth solo in it, he totally opened up, and we realized we had accidentally found the best keyboard player in the world. The man has a degree in jazz piano and can run circles around the rest of us, so this song really gave him the opportunity to shine, and he ran with it. Josh, our drummer, is also just such a creative and unconventional musician — he sees things that other people don’t, and it just WORKS. James rips it up on the guitar, and Dave is the bedrock of this whole dang band. It was such a special thing to see everyone really push themselves to the limit with this song. It just felt right, I guess, that this was the first song we put out into the world, and so far it’s doing really well.
Colors was a more conventional choice — it’s a more familiar and conventional sound and it just feels good. During recording, we couldn’t quite land on what it was missing until the very last night before we had to head home; that’s when we added that lonesome slide, almost pedal steel sound to it. (BTW, Josh is also an incredible guitar player, and that was his non-drums addition to the album.) It felt like a good contrast to Switchbacks, and it certainly holds up.
BR: Where can people go to listen to the new album?
TB: We’re out on all streaming platforms, so pretty much wherever you get your music and podcasts. We also have CDs for sale at our live shows, which is where I would HIGHLY recommend you come to listen to our music.
BR: What are the plans for Dead and Down going into 2023?
TB: We’ve already got dates locked in to record the next album, so we’ll likely have a finished project by the end of the year. We’ve started to book dates outside of Montana and it’s looking pretty good for doing a tour through the PNW sometime in mid-late summer. The biggest plan is just to keep playing shows, keep making art, and have a damn good time with it.
BR: Anything else you would like to share with our readers?
TB: The biggest thing I want to emphasize is that we’re a small band from a small town in a state with not a lot of people. I meet so many folks who feel like they have to go to Nashville or LA to really get a foot in the door in the music industry and, whether or not that’s true, we love this place. Wherever we end up, we want to be FROM Bozeman. This is where we want to come home to, and the best way for us to do that is for listeners and fans to SUPPORT LOCAL MUSIC. This is a special place and we need more artists, not more bougie stores that most of us can’t afford. I really encourage people to get out there and support all the local bands and artists in this town and help us create a scene that is sustainable, engaging, and an all-around good time. I strongly believe that we need to support the arts in any way possible in order to preserve and grow the culture in this town (and this state), so get your dancing shoes on and get out to the next show in town!