Today is the tenth anniversary of the death of Tim Taylor. Tim was the frontman, singer, guitarist and Realistic-brand synth beater for Brainiac, a band from Dayton who set the underground/Indie music world on fire in the early ’90s. The band was written about in every major music magazine, performed on Lollapalooza, toured Europe with Beck and seemed on the verge of something even bigger. Then Tim died.
Musically, Brainiac fit nicely into the lineage of Ohio's No Wave/New Wave/Punk history, exploding synths like Devo, unhinged and punked-out like The Dead Boys and slanting in an Art Punk direction (spiritually) similar to Pere Ubu. And the band's evolution was startlingly apparent with every new album, as they dove deeper into the weird electronics that bands like Radiohead and others would soon ride to the charts on (or at least dominate Indie Rock with), while always keeping one foot in the bizzaro experimentalism that kept their sound unique.
On stage, Taylor was a beast — he prowled the stage with a glare in his eye that said, "This is me — you want to do something about it?," trying to make eye contact with freaked-out or enthralled audience members. Brainiac's home away from home when they were in Cincinnati (some members lived here off and on as well) was Sudsy Malone's, then the ground zero of the "alternative revolution" in town. I saw the band play in New York City a couple of times, but those Sudsy's shows were some of the best I've ever seen by any band.
I had the privilege of interviewing Tim on a couple of occasions. Offstage, he was a pussycat, a confident but sweetheart of a person who had this gigantic, disarming smile that rarely made an appearance on stage. I sat with Tim and bassist Juan Monasterio in Corryville dive Daniel's one evening and had a great interview, where Tim showed his sense of humor, his grasp of musical history and his firm, unchallengeable vision for his band.
When Tim died a decade ago, the band was on the verge of announcing their major-label signing with Interscope Records. They were reportedly in pre-production stages for their major-label debut when Tim was killed (whispers suggested an awful scenario — Taylor's gas pedal got stuck in "floored" mode, he ran into a tree or telephone pole and the car exploded). Monasterio now directs videos in L.A. and plays in the band Model/Actress, original guitarist Michelle Bodine went on to form O-Matic and Shesus, later guitarist John Schmersal formed Enon in New York (where he sought solace after Tim's death) and drummer Tyler Trent played with The Breeders briefly.
To question where Brainiac would have ended up is, of course, pointless. They could have been the next U2 or Nirvana, or they could've been the next Seaweed or The Fluid. Tim left the world, but the world still shows sings of his (and his bandmates') creative footprints.
At the time of his death, Tim and Brainiac were beloved by many big-time acts, like Beck, Melissa Auf der Maur (then of Hole, later of Smashing Pumpkins) and Jeff Buckley, whose own tragic death less than a week later somewhat overshadowed Tim's. (Read this chilling recount of one of Buckley's last shows, when he lost it, apparently because he had just found out that Tim had died.) Bands like Tripping Daisy (which featured later Polyphonic Spree leader Tim DeLaughter) and The Breeders recorded tributes or played tribute shows.
The band lives on in cyberspace, showing that a younger generation is still eager to embrace a band as challenging and enthralling Brainiac — a brief skim of MySpace shows fan pages and a whole group dedicated to the band. But one of my great joys in life is when I hear a CD by a younger band that shows the skid marks of Brainiac's influence. Over time, bands like the U.K.'s Bunny and Toledo's Stylex and Cincinnati's Chalk proved that Tim Taylor's star shined on well beyond his short 28 years on this planet.
In tribute, here's "Get Away," one of my favorite Brainiac songs from their 1993 debut full-length, Smack Bunny Baby (featuring a line that makes me laugh out loud every time I hear it: "Give me back my turquoise Albert Schweitzer doll"). Listen and feel lucky to be alive. And please leave comments if you knew or were touched by Tim. I need to remember.
(photo: Touch and Go Records)
— Mike Breen