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Audio Autopsy, 1999: What Drove Aussie Band Taxiride To a Grinding Halt?
We've all bought a record sound un-heard, and know the feeling of regretting our purchase. Here's my rare find from around the turn of the century that was pure gold.
The unassuming cover certainly didn’t do it. Maybe it was one name that appeared in the credits. I must’ve run across this CD in the cut-out bin of a local Texas record store in late 1999, and throwing caution (and a couple of bucks) to the wind, I bought the debut album by native Australians, Taxiride, Imaginate.
The Great Taxiride 2-Decade Artistic Through-Thread!
If one is known by the company one keeps, then careful liner note perusing reveals a lot about Taxiride, and their musical influences. Imaginate was produced by Jack Joseph Puig, who (among scads of other acts he’s produced or signed) co-produced the only two studio albums by Jellyfish, Bellybutton and Spilt Milk.
Both albums have been universally heralded as early ‘90s pop and power pop classics with sonic dynamism second to none, due in large part to those albums’ two producers (including Albhy Galuten, whose resume includes producing many Bee Gees hits).
Taxiride recorded Imaginate with Puig in the same L.A. studio as Jellyfish laid down Bellybutton and parts of Spilt Milk. That can’t be by accident. Mystical production providence, perhaps?
Some music critics have asserted that Taxiride have an overall sound (certainly vocally) reminiscent of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. I can’t argue, but whereas CSNY nestled their crystalline vocals into a mostly folksy, folky rock sound, Taxiride rivals the likes of Foo Fighters for sheer guitar-churning drive.
But, as if tipping their hand, they’ve actually covered Stephen Stills’ “Helplessly Hoping,” replete with 3-part harmonies! It was included as one of a couple bonus tracks on a subsequent Imaginate re-issue. So, the evidence mounts as we seek to uncover the soft, white, sonic underbelly of the Taxiride sound foundation.
Impressed? Me, too, but I’d be more impressed if they had tackled “Carry On,” “Wooden Ships,” or even Graham Nash’s “Immigration Man”! Gauntlet thrown, lads!
But, wait! There’s more: According to Australia’s girl.com from 2002, “The tunes from [Taxiride’s] second album, Garage Mahal, emerged either from songwriting sessions in Victoria's Mt. Macedon in early 2001 or from Venice Beach's Palindrome Studio, the creative base of album producer Fred Maher.”
I had to hear a band that was described as “precious.”
I’m sorry….what?! Who? Maher was the drummer (and drum machine programmer) for tasty, British synth-poppers, Scritti Politti, whose 1985 Warner Bros. (US) album, Cupid & Psyche 85, I bought upon release, sound-unheard, precisely due to just one word…one word by legendary L.A. Times music critic, Robert Hilburn, in his review of that LP: “Precious.” I had to hear a band that was described as “precious.” Hilburn wasn’t wrong.
That’s not all, as girl.com continues: “Garage Mahal [was] mixed by David Way and [the late] Mike Shipley. Both guys have CVs that read like the greatest hits of the last two decades.”
As for Shipley, his resume includes having served as mixing engineer on two Prefab Sprout albums, the British band’s 1985 (there’s that year again!) LP on CBS, Steve McQueen, and 1988’s From Langley Park to Memphis.
Both Scritti Politti and Prefab Sprout became (and remain to this day) lasting personal favorites from an otherwise cluttered ‘80s synth-noodling wasteland of Cabaret Depeche Duran and Men Without Simple Minds, et al, and the instantly disposable, plodding corporate “thud rock” of Winger, Warrant, Richard Marx and Bryan Adams.
Now, however much or little Taxiride actually had intentional professional knowledge or previous contact with any of the above (because of who they’ve recorded in the past) is probably irrelevant.
But, the fact that producers/engineers who were involved in critically-trumpeted bands and albums I was enamored with for years chose to work with these particular Aussies must’ve had at least some distant karmic significance. At least, I like to think so.
Had I known all that in 1999, Imaginate would’ve become a more obvious purchase that day, and far less of a figurative roll of the dice.
Of course, the Taxiride-ers themselves may have loved Scritti and Prefab as much as I, and may have chosen those studios and guys (Puig and Shipley) exactly for the their respective musical pedigrees!
Now, Back to Imaginate…But, First, Who’d THEY Influence?
The first three tracks were shockingly riveting, and by themselves easily justified my “blind” purchase: Decidedly rock with guitars up front; but, the sophisticated melodies and impossibly close 2-, 3-, and even 4-part harmonies were gripping, and handled far more deftly than the turn-of-the century boy-band fare of, say, The Backstreet Boys or even Hanson, who, to be fair, played their own instruments.
In fact, Taxiride, in 1999, seemed to be the transitional conduit between candy-floss boy bands (the prevailing genre of the day) singing and dancing over backing tracks, and a fresh new era (too-sparsely populated, as it turned out) of equally handsome lads like BBMak, who played their own instruments in a rockin’ format, seemingly content to just stand absolutely still while doing so!
Exhibit A: BBMak, in their exuberant, awash-with-thrilling-harmonies acoustically-led driver (with chiming gold-top Les Paul in tow), #25 2002 US hit, “Out of My Heart” (they disbanded the following year).
Here, they master, as Taxiride consistently did, the ever-elusive captivating bridge, with more than one singer taking the lead, as Taxiride was capable of doing, also. Whether Taxiride ever shot a video on a flooded soundstage is unknown (but, they’ve seen their share of deserts!):
Imaginate’s lead-off track, “Can You Feel,” kicks off with a synthesized didgeridoo before taking you on a quick-tempoed, acoustic-guitar-driven ride, with their trademark glorious harmonies, including a breath-taking mid-song 4-part acapella break. Taxiride’s first fare in your delirious trip to Earworm City, three years before BBMak’s “Out of My Heart”:
We’ll get to Imaginate’s next two tracks shortly, but introductions await: Formed in 1997 out of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, the original Taxiride was bassist/pianist/vocalist Dan Hall (from whom we’ll hear more a little later), lead singers/guitarists Jason Singh and Tim Watson and vocalist/guitarist Tim Wild.
All were veterans of the mid-’90s Melbourne cover-band club scene before forming Taxiride, named because they had given an early demo tape to a taxi-driving friend, who was playing these songs for his passengers.
“They were a real band, and I don't think the [Sire] marketing made it clear that Imaginate was a power-pop album.”
During a brief social media convo with me in December 2021, the heralded former rock scribe (‘70s and ‘80s), Bud Scoppa, zeroed in with more precision on the genesis of the band’s name: “I was a VP of A&R at Sire's Santa Monica office 1997-99, working alongside Andy Paley (of Sire’s 1977 Paley Brothers duo) and Gregg Bell (Product Management and A&R for Sire),” Scoppa began.
“They were originally called Taxi, but had to change it for copyright reasons. We tore our hair out trying to come up with a strong new name, but came up short. Jack (Joseph Puig) was Pete's (producer Dacy, and Sire A&R), choice (for producer), but I don't think the guys were aware of the Jellyfish connection till I pointed it out.
“[Imaginate] came out in the midst of the boy band era,” Scoppa continued, “and they were good-looking guys, but they were a real band, and I don't think the [Sire] marketing made it clear that Imaginate was a power-pop album, so they fell between the cracks.”
Scoppa concluded his remembrances of Taxiride: “Talented youngsters from Melbourne, developed by Pete Dacy and signed by Seymour” (Stein, legendary founder of Sire Records and former VP of Warner Bros. Records, still with us at 79).
Release the Sounds!
The band produced a proper demo at a Melbourne studio, and used it to land a contract with Australia’s Warner Music Group (Warner Bros. Records in the US). Meanwhile, another friend passed this demo on to Stein, who signed them despite the group being completely unknown, certainly in the states. Sire released the album on June 1, 1999.
Imaginate saw its Australia release that October (where it reached #1 on the Aussie album chart), while Japan saw the album some four months later in February. It was issued throughout Europe via WEA (Warner/Elektra/Atlantic) in April 2000, nearly a year after stateside release. One wonders about that jockeyed worldwide release timeline.
Imaginate’s next two songs (“Get Set” and “Everywhere You Go”) were the album’s first two singles, with both peaking in the Aussie Top 15. “Get Set” (like “Can You Feel,” was written by Tim Wild), won the 1999 ARIA (Australian Recording Industry Association) Music Awards Breakthrough Artist—Single of 1999.
“Get Set” was featured on the 1999 film soundtrack of Election, starring Matthew Broderick and Reese Witherspoon, scenes from which appear in the Taxiride video for the song, which itself features a rare sighting of an electric sitar:
“Everywhere You Go” shows up third on the album, written by Tims Watson and Wild. First, the official music video, followed by the band’s stunning live performance at the 1999 ARIA Awards show, just after receiving their award for “Get Set.”
Here, they’re performing this complex arrangement live, no less tightly than in the studio. Before hearing this challenging live arrangement, even I was skeptical they could pull it off, but actually seeing and hearing them do it in the moment? To quote Rod Serling: “Submitted for your approval”:
“I occasionally think about what was, what could have been...what now is, and what now definitely isn't.”
Sometime in 2018, I wrote the following on the YouTube page for the live video above. Quite unexpectedly, Taxiride-er Dan Hall actually responded, with his reply, also seen below:
Me: “No one would dare say it (certainly not the band themselves!), but Taxiride is the great, lost power pop band! Shamefully overlooked and underrated, to a wall of sound, add impeccable harmonies, enough hooks to fill a tackle box, with bridges so devastating, they were doubtless constructed by civil engineers!
“I guess with more plodding instrumentation and less imaginative singing and arrangements, Taxiride could have become Bon Jovi! And, great as it is, ‘Everywhere You Go’ isn't even Imaginate's best song! You're sorely missed, lads!”
Dan, sometime in 2019: “Some of the band might say it, to be honest haha. But as the shorter, younger, other guy in the band who was there and then suddenly wasn't... Thanks Bradness. Sometimes (usually when drunk at 4am), one is inclined to surf old Youtube clips and watch funny old stuff... I occasionally think about what was, what could have been... what now is, and what now definitely isn't. Thanks for the kind words pal. ; ) Oh and to my knowledge no civil engineers were involved in the writing process.”
Change in Travel Plans: After Taxiride, Hall Takes to the Air
To clarify, shortly after Imaginate’s release, Dan left Taxiride in 2001 (at age 23), to begin a solo career and refine his songwriting, according to peoplepillcom. Hall said he was unhappy with “the pop direction the band was taking.”
“Quality pop-rock [and] catchy songs, with depth.”
As if on cue, Taxiride’s sophomore release, 2002’s Garage Majal, might’ve drifted just far enough away from Dan’s dreaded “pop direction” to meet with his approval, had he stayed. As it turned out, he didn’t drift away for long…from Taxiride or a “pop direction.”
Hall ended up collaborating again with his former Taxiride-ers to co-write a track for their third album, Axiomatic. Hall's second band, though, Airway Lanes, was formed with fellow songwriter-guitarist Chris Hawker as an acoustic duo in late 2004, then a fully-formed electric quartet who released a well-received EP (in 2006) and an album, called In Vino Veritas, in May 2008.
Its lead single, “Don’t Let Go” was chosen as iTunes’ “Single of the Week” when it exceeded 11,000 downloads that summer.
Hall’s Airway Lanes’ “Don’t Let Go”: Akin to Taxiride’s melodic pop leanings, or a suitable departure from a pop direction? You be the judge:
Rock journalist, Jeff Jenkins, was impressed with Hall's talent and the “quality pop-rock [and] catchy songs, with depth” displayed by the EP.
Prior to Taxiride's release of their live acoustic (and 4th) album, Electrophobia, in September 2006, Hall reconnected with them again to co-write more songs, and in 2008, to tour with them. Sometimes, “pop direction” can be a cruel (and magnetic) mistress, a sultry siren reluctant to release one from her muse (and creative chord changes and harmonies)!
As the late, great power pop maven (and good friend and BOMP! Records and Magazine founder), Greg Shaw, once said, “A few la-la’s and hand claps won’t kill you!”
Taxiride Circles the Block Again
In 2015 the four original Taxiride members reformed and have been performing on the Australian festival circuit and other venues. In July 2017 (after starting the year as part of the band’s sold out Red Hot Summer 20th anniversary tour), Hall elected to take a break from the band to focus on other musical projects, including South Side Rebel and Interlocker.
In August 2019, Taxiride celebrated 20 years since the release of their debut album, Imaginate, with an Australian 'Live in Our Lounge Room' tour where the band sang and related stories behind the writing of their songs.
So, if you missed the first Taxiride around the turn of the century, they’re back and sitting curbside. Whether online, seeing a show, or downloading latest and upcoming tuneage, now’s the chance to hop aboard and join Taxiride for a spin around the block. After all, it’s only fare.