Winston-Salem Journal / 06/29/2001
The Evoka Project shine with songwriting
By Ed Bumgardner
When Taylor was growing up in Shelby, he never passed up an opportunity to see The Ladybugs (now Novice), a local band led by drummer Bryan Ledbetter.
The band was, to most people, just another struggling local rock band. Not to Taylor; he thought that The Ladybugs were rock 'n' roll incarnate. "I adored that band," he said. "I was always hanging around. I was a real groupie. I think they got sick of me. I don't think Bryan took me very seriously."
Ledbetter, a native of Lenoir, now lives in Winston-Salem. He runs Hero Records, an independent label that oversees releases by seven bands, and works as an advertising artist for the Winston-Salem Journal.
With Taylor, he also plays in The Evoka Project, one of the newest, and best, of the many good bands to emerge from a suddenly fertile local music scene. Ledbetter laughed when asked about his early encounters with Taylor.
"Taylor wasn't a total doofus, but he was working on it," Ledbetter said. "Whenever we played, he was always there, getting his dad to come over and have us sign stuff.
"So it was a little hard at first when he finally came up to me and wanted me to hear some songs he had written."
Taylor figures prominently in Stranger Than Fiction, The Evoka Project's disarmingly good debut EP mixed by Mitch Easter at Easter's recording studio, The Fidelitorium Studio, in Kernersville. Taylor not only wrote the EP's four songs but also sings quite convincingly and with marketable confidence.
"He'd never sung in front of people when we started this thing," Ledbetter said. "He was kind of tentative at first. Then we played House of Blues, and he turned into a wild man, an insane ADD kid who is transforming into a rock star. Girls were hanging all over him and everything. It was kind of funny - and kinda cool."
Even more remarkable is the fact that the songs on Stranger Than Fiction are, for the most part, Taylor's first batch of compositions. All the songs are intense and catchy, bash 'n' pop fare that forgoes sugar for big-guitar grit at every turn - and is the better for it. The maturity and ingenuity of Taylor's songwriting emphasizes his natural gift for forging and selling the kinds of melodies that once heard aren't easily forgotten.
The Project's first single, "Downer," is the kind of distinctive pop anthem, full of do-it-for-love integrity, that the indistinguishable mass of interchangeable "alternative rock" bands dream of writing, but most likely never will.
"The kid is amazing," said Ledbetter, who, as the head of a record label, has heard his fair share of pop songs, good and bad. "The songs were good - very good - when he first brought them to me to hear. They just needed some arranging. He asked me to help him fine-tune the tunes, and what emerged was really kinda shocking.
"Taylor is one of those rare writers who is very sound- and song-friendly without being a typical verse-chorus-bridge kind of writer. His stuff is pop, but it never surrenders its heavier rock roots."
Taylor said he didn't want to approach Ledbetter until he was sure he had a batch of songs worthy of attention. Once Ledbetter reacted favorably to the songs, Taylor asked him to assemble a batch of musicians who would do the songs justice, and to book time in a studio capable of capturing the songs in a manner that is radio-friendly without losing the edge of fresh performance.
He borrowed $5,000 from his parents, booked The Fidelitorium, and without ever playing live, without even meeting some of the musicians, cut the final disc in four days, amazingly quick by the laborious standard of modern recording.
"By the end of the first tune, all the musicians just looked at each other and told me that they were with me if I wanted to pursue this thing. "Of course, I still owe my father money. I work for him, so I hear about that every day. But it is worth it."
The band, which sounds as good live as it does on album - if not better - has played a handful of shows since January, including high-profile performances at House of Blues at Myrtle Beach and the Philadelphia Music Conference. The band has also licensed Stranger Than Fiction to MTV and to ESPN for programming use in the summer and fall.
"It's funny, everything is happening outside of North Carolina, but here we can only seem to get booked at The Garage and Ziggy's," Ledbetter said. "It gets frustrating, but it's still early." Taylor continues to write songs - he has written 10 and counting. Ledbetter and Taylor agree that the new material is every bit as good as those on the EP.
"We use those first songs as a standard to measure against, which, mentally, can be difficult," Taylor said. "As I continue to write, there has been a lot of measuring going on. We've cut a few songs, which is to be expected.
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