“With this album, I wanted to become a complete artist,” says Taylor McFerrin. “I’d never really written and sung my own lyrics and vocals before, but I saw doing it as an opportunity to discover myself all over again. It was a chance to grow and mature and develop from scratch the same way I did as an instrumentalist and a producer.”
McFerrin’s remarkable growth and maturity are on full display with ‘Love’s Last Chance,’ his brilliant new studio album and first solo release in five years. Recorded in his recently adopted hometown of Los Angeles, the record finds McFerrin working with more freedom and spontaneity than ever before, tapping into the moment with captivating performances that blur the lines between old-school R&B, classic funk, experimental electronic music, and progressive jazz. Vintage synthesizers and keyboards dominate the sonic landscape, propelled at every turn by hypnotic percussion grooves and breezy melodies, and an adventurous sense of improvisation infuses the songwriting with an air of infinite possibility. It’s McFerrin’s voice that steals the show here, though, warm and tender with a gentle confidence. His vocals convey both deep intimacy and unsparing self-reflection, and their very presence on the album signals the start of a brand new chapter in an already-impressive career. “Something deeper happens when you sing, something that lets listeners feel like they’re truly getting to know you,” McFerrin explains. “Over the years, I’d learned how to convey myself well through my instrumentals, but singing brings me closer than ever to being able to share everything that’s going on inside of me.”
When McFerrin released ‘Early Riser,’ his 2014 debut for Flying Lotus’ Brainfeeder label, he largely focused on instrumentals, relegating the occasional vocal part to special guests (including his father, the ten-time GRAMMY Award-winner Bobby McFerrin). The collection—which also featured appearances by Hiatus Kaiyote frontwoman Nai Palm, bass/production wizard Thundercat, and R&B titan Robert Glasper among others—earned praise on both sides of the pond, with Pitchfork hailing it as “an album built for slow weekend mornings spent in bed with a loved one” and The Line Of Best Fit calling it “superb” and “one of Brainfeeder’s most memorable releases in recent years.” Tracks from the album racked up nearly 20 million streams on Spotify alone, and McFerrin landed festival dates everywhere from Glastonbury to Central Park Summerstage.
Despite the success of ‘Early Riser,’ McFerrin couldn’t help but feel that there was still more soul he could bare in his music. “When I started off in high school, I was making beats everyday, mostly by sampling the 60’s and 70’s soul and funk in my parents’ record collection,” he explains. “I became obsessed with Stevie Wonder around that time, both for the groundbreaking sounds he was creating and for the emotion he was able to convey with his vocals. I knew that someday I wanted to play all the instruments and sing on my records, too.”
The process of capturing vocals was at first a frustrating one for McFerrin, who performed, engineered, and produced nearly every element of ‘Love’s Last Chance’ on his own. Unlike instrumental and programming work, which came naturally to him, it seemed that the harder McFerrin pushed himself to sing, the unhappier he grew with the results.
“I live in a really quiet apartment complex where you can’t be super loud at night,” explains McFerrin. “The breakthrough with my voice came at 3am when I was recording scratch vocals almost at a whisper so I wouldn’t wake my wife or the neighbors. When I listened back later, I started noticing that the rough tracks with those late night vocals sounded better than anything else because I was relaxed. I have a naturally quiet voice, and when I embraced that and stopped straining myself trying to sing too loud or too hard, it was amazing what a difference it made.”
In addition to discovering a new approach to singing, McFerrin also discovered a new approach to recording thanks to his work with the critically acclaimed jazz fusion supergroup R+R=Now, which found him teaming up with Glasper, trumpeter Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah, bassist Derrick Hodge, drummer Justin Tyson, and synth/vocoder player Terrace Martin, who’s produced Kendrick Lamar and Talib Kweli among others.
“Seeing how open everyone in the band was with their talent was really inspiring,” says McFerrin. “I had been obsessed with getting everything on my record absolutely perfect, and it led me to this almost crippling place of self-doubt, but the whole R+R album was recorded in five days. It was all about capturing the feeling of the moment, and there was so much freedom and excitement in that.”
It was an excitement McFerrin recognized well. His father—best known for his timeless mega-hit “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”—was a born improviser who lived for spontaneity, and he gleefully shared that passion with his children at home and on the road. “I never saw him sit down and practice,” laughs McFerrin, whose sister Madison is also a critically acclaimed artist in her own right. “Our father was always just making music and singing, always down to jump onstage with anybody. He was fearless and excited about the unknown, and watching him perform taught us that the purest way to express yourself was to just be totally open and genuine and free.”
McFerrin carried that freedom with him to ‘Love’s Last Chance,’ treating the album like a snapshot, a portrait of a specific time and place in his life. The record begins with the ethereal instrumental intro “Her Entrance,” which finds McFerrin layering up a gorgeous orchestration built out of samples from string wizard Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, who’s performed with everyone from Dr. Dre and Ray Charles to Lady Gaga and Rihanna. The tune captures the rush of emotions McFerrin felt the first time he locked eyes across a room with the woman who would eventually become his wife, and the story of their courtship looms large throughout the record.
“Right away we noticed each other and recognized that there was this intense connection, but we were both in relationships at the time and couldn’t do anything about it,” explains McFerrin. “We both just had to move on. But five years later, we were both single and reconnected, and I let her know how I felt.”
The pulsating “All I See Is You” captures the intensity of desire and infatuation, while the laidback “Love and Distance” learns to slow down and appreciate the preciousness of time spent together, and the dreamy “I Would Still” affirms that, through all the ups and downs, love is worth the work. As romantic as much of the collection is, McFerrin doesn’t shy away from exploring the shadows of doubt and insecurity in his music, too. The trippy “I Can’t Give Your Time Back” imagines the pain and heartbreak that could come from selfishly torpedoing everything you’ve built with a partner, and the driving “Now That You Need Me” reckons with the possibility that everything you’ve built could one day disappear.
“The older you get, the more you realize that love isn’t just about attraction,” explains McFerrin. “It’s about both sides really supporting each other through the good and the bad. Sometimes, when it gets intense, you worry that you could lose it all, that you might just have this one last chance to make it work.”
As anxiety-provoking as those moments can be, McFerrin arrives back to a place of peace and balance by the record’s end, recognizing that sharing your life with a partner doesn’t mean you need to be perfect in order to deserve their love; in fact it means precisely the opposite, that you have the room to be your imperfect self and know you’ll still be loved as you are. Album closer “So Cold In The Summer” tackles that notion beautifully and selflessly, as McFerrin acknowledges the strength and courage his wife has shown in standing by his side, even during times of darkness and depression and uncertainty.
“I called this album ‘Love's Last Chance’ because in life, you don’t get a million opportunities to get love right,” McFerrin concludes. “Sometimes, with both your art and your relationships, you realize that it's now or never. For my first time writing and singing my own lyrics, I didn’t want to be messing around with make believe and fantasy. This record is real life.”