Black Taxi

Black Taxi - January 2014

Black Taxi Session
Violitionist Sessions

Session Date: March 23, 2013
Posting Date: January 13, 2014
Artist Hometown: New York, NY
Links: Facebook,,
Recorded by: Michael Briggs @ Civil

Balloons on Barbed Wire
ONE: How did you come to form Black Taxi? What is your songwriting process like?
Bill Mayo: Well, the band forming is kind of boring. We just met through friends of friends and stuff like that, so there’s not really a story there. As far as songwriting, basically, the ideas for songs either come from me or Ezra, and we bring them to rehearsal, or to a session or whatever, and fill out the rest of the parts. Recently, we’ve been getting into demoing out the songs so that we can actually get an idea of what they will sound like recorded. We’ve always kind of had an issue in the past where we’re always just a live band, and we don’t actually get around to recording all that often. Being in New York, we just didn’t have the time or space to do a lot of recording, so, we’d play these songs like, a hundred times live, and then get into a studio and be like, ‘Oh, well, we actually don’t really like that part all that much,’ or, you know, we’d change some things here and there, so now we’re trying to do both processes at the same time. Recording and playing live…new tunes. That’s where we’re at these days.
DJ: Being a band in New York City, as you’ve mentioned, has its own unique challenges. Do you find it particularly competitive to be a band in one of the country’s culture capitals?
Bill: It is competitive, but not in the way that…I mean, the word competitive is sort of…doesn’t really work in the music industry. I guess it does work in the music industry. I’ve never felt that, anyway. It was always just, ‘Wow, there’s a lot of bands,’ and it felt…just saturated. It felt oversaturated.
Ezra Huleatt: I think ‘healthy competition’ would be more apt. It’s good to be surrounded by a lot of bands doing different things and pushing in so many different directions, and there are so many venues and there’s so much to do and learn. There’s a reason it’s been kind of bubbling for a while.
Krisana Soponpong: I also think, you know, we’ve been around New York for a couple years. I think a good response to that is that…after a couple years, the bands that have the cohesiveness stick around longer, and we find bands that we kind of call our peers, and we want to play shows with them because we like their music. So, that’s really helpful.
Jason Holmes: Yeah, I think there’s a lot more than a competition, where it’s like, teams, you know, like in college basketball. Instead of us all being in it against each other, it’s more like, you see your friend’s band do something really impressive, or like, come out with a song, or put on a show that’s like, amazing…you don’t want to bring them down, you just want to bring yourself up, and be like, ‘Oh, I want to have the same effect on the people who see our shows.’ And so, it’s not really a competition in the traditional sense, it’s more like, just, everybody keeps raising the bar, and that’s what’s so cool about the environments that we try to put ourselves in, such as Brooklyn, and now Austin, and so on. It’s just being around other bands who are trying really fucking hard, you know?
Bill: It’s also 2013 in the music industry, so, nobody actually ever wins.
Jason: We’re not even sure what the rule book— or where it is! There isn’t a trophy.
Krisana: I know who wins! The music listener. The music listener wins! You can either keep playing the game, or decide to go somewhere else.
DJ: The music listener definitely wins, as far as accessibility is concerned. Do you feel that the easy availability of music today devalues the listener’s experience of new music?
Bill: I feel that it does. You don’t get that anticipation for a new…Nirvana record, or something like that. No one gives a shit anymore. Every day there’s something coming out, and everybody has the access to promote themselves— which is great, and we do the same thing. We’re using those tools to promote…a smaller scale band than they might have gotten, but, you know, I kind of miss the glory of the smaller pool of great bands that were doing well.
Ezra: I think, at some point…it’s really hard to make money in general right now as a band. I think listeners will suffer, because it’s hard to be sustainable at all, especially when everything’s going to streaming now, and you’re just making…It sucks that money’s involved, but I think you’re going to lose artists.
Bill: Great bands will just quit, because there’s not enough—
Ezra: I was reading a fascinating article about books on, and the ability to resell something you buy, when you get your e-book…or i-book…or whatever online. They’re trying to set up a program on their site where you can rebuy books that people bought online. So, the author won’t make any money, and the only people who will make money will be Amazon, because they’re hosting it, and then the individual who bought it originally makes some money, too. It’s scary. The article was kind of approaching it from an author’s perspective, how it’s like, getting to that point where it’s getting crazy.
DJ: In the physical world, that stuff has been going on for a long time, with used book stores and used record stores buying and selling media for profit without any of the money going to the original producer. But now, you don’t need a physical storefront. You can do it as an individual, online.
Jason: With that idea, just somebody buying a used record and being like, ‘All right, I dug it, I’m sort of over it now, let me go and pass it on and get a couple bucks for it,’ it’s like, now that has really moved into the digital realm. So, that, on top of being able to download so many things for free, it’s just taking that little bit of potential revenue that would go to supporting bands like us and just diluting it that much more. But, that’s just the way of technology.
TWO: Given this new situation in the musical economy, bands often have to seek sources of revenue outside of the traditional ‘album + concerts + merch’ strategy. I noticed that Black Taxi has done some TV and other licensing stuff in the past, for example with Virgin Air. Do you see this as a part of how bands will have to make money in the future if they want to be conventionally successful?
Ezra: It’s the future. We’re still in a position where a lot of these offers come up, and because we want to get ourselves out there…I mean, that’s the crazy thing. There’s so many bands, and there’s not a lot of payment. So, when your friend’s like, ‘Hey, write a score for my movie. There’s not money involved, but it’ll be a good experience.’ You get to a point where you’re like, ‘Man…!’
Bill: You can have all the exposure in the world and still not have revenue streams. Also, there are so many bands that have access to these licensing opportunities that the actual payment that you get is going down and down all the time. People would sink, maybe 20 years ago, maybe $20,000 or $50,000, over the course of a few years, and now you get, like, $3,000, or a few hundred bucks, or something.
Jason: That’s basically supply and demand, you know? Anybody can have a home recording set-up, and record CD-quality and sell it, you know?
Ezra: But we’re definitely trying to push that. That is definitely a revenue stream we’re trying to maximize.
Jason: Yeah, the whole thing is, having all of the rules change while we’re in it and while we’re trying to do it has forced us to be creative in different ways. Not only are we trying to create the songs, and cool videos to go along with them, we have this whole other thing of being…creative like business people, really, and trying to figure out, like, ‘All right, how the hell do we perpetuate what we’re doing?’ It’s an interesting creative challenge that I’m not sure if we all anticipated when we got into it, but it’s sort of fun.
DJ: You mentioned how people will often ask musicians to provide their music or other services for free, in exchange for the privilege of ‘exposure’ and thus a chance at future returns. Have you personally seen any of this ‘exposure’ pay off for you?
Jason: Well, we sort of do the same thing. This idea of sort of working together for exposure, you know, working with other artists, we’ve benefited from it, too, because we have filmmakers who want to make music videos, artists who are willing to put in a lot of time and energy to create a video or something that maybe they didn’t necessarily get paid for, and it benefitted us and it benefitted them. So, though we say a lot of times what we’ve just been saying, where we do these things but we don’t get paid for it, we do also benefit from it. Artists and other folks we’ve collaborated with…
Ezra: I just think you never feel like it benefits you enough, and that you end up feeling like the music industry is actually really kind of depressing. There’s always good stuff going on, but you’re just like— you want the process to go faster. Say you’ve been doing this 5+ years now. You want to be rocking stuff out. You want all these things to make a splash faster, and it does take time. And then, things do come around, but just never at the speed you’d like them to. But, you learn, and you learn not to be too naïve and to be smart about things. When you hear you’re going to open up for the Rolling Stones, you just don’t believe it, you know? [Laughs] Yes, that happened.
Jason: Yeah, that did happen.
DJ: You were told you were opening for the Rolling Stones?
Ezra: It was just this guy…
Jason: Long story short, there were some promises made with this old record industry executive…
Ezra: He was on his way…he was on his deathbed, pretty much.
Jason: He didn’t have a lot to lose, but he had a few things to gain…
Ezra: …Which made it all the more believable, because he was like, ‘I’m gonna…’ you know, do such-and-such, ‘I believe in you. I’m going to be really pushy with my last little bit of money,’ and, just…we’ll leave it at that.
DJ: That kind of disappointment seems like it would be symptomatic of a place like New York City, where creative and powerful people with big ideas are moving in and out all of the time, and everyone is trying to use whatever they can to really pull something off…
Bill: Definitely. What happens to be hip at a certain moment comes and goes really quickly. You just kind of do your thing, and eventually the timing will just line up, you know? The things that were doing really well there five years ago or four years ago are just…dead, or were vastly different than what’s coming out of there or being successful now.
Jason: That’s a good point. You can’t chase the trends so much. You’ve kind of got to be into what you’re into, and just hope that enough other people are into it, because, as much as you want to be influenced— and are, it’s hard to avoid being influenced by your friends’ bands and stuff that’s on the radio right now, Bill makes a good point. By the time you figure out how to do it yourself and come out with it, it’s sort of a little bit passé. So, I think that’s influenced our songwriting in general. Our whole approach is like, yeah, you’ve got to pay attention to what’s going on in the greater context of music and new music in whatever city that we’re in, but you’ve also got to be true to your ears on what sounds good, and what elements of pop songs and good songs have really proven themselves to be timeless.
THREE: Where would you like to see Black Taxi in two years?
Bill: We’ve been headlining a lot of tours, and doing our own tours and playing small clubs as a headliner for basically the last year or so, and our booking agent has been doing a great job of getting us much better shows than we were ever doing before. Kind of the next step would be to get on tours with some bigger bands and…get some more fans that way. Play bigger shows opening for bigger acts…I think it would do us a lot of good to do that. Playing at bigger and better venues…I’m not going to bring money into it, because I know it’s a very complicated thing to actually make a ton of money, but you know, it would be nice to kind of be in the company of larger acts, and hopefully making a better living as we go. And, coming out with great recordings, you know. Coming out with a great single or a great EP, and if it catches on, that’d be great, too.
Ezra: Yeah, that’s the best way to do it. I mean, two years is really too far for me to know, but, it’s great, we’re on the trend for at least this year of putting out an EP every few months, it looks like, which I think is a great way to go. To constantly have content coming out, and fresh ideas. And new environments, too, which I think influence your sound, even if you pretend they don’t. You know, we’ve been in Austin for a couple months. There’s a chance we might be doing the same thing out in LA, or maybe even Australia, all within the coming year. So, we’re excited.
– Interview and transcription by Dale Jones.