Interviews

Q&A: Taylor Noelle

For Taylor Noelle, to say her debut EP has been a long time coming would be something of an understatement. After a few years in the making, “Be Around” — a collection of tracks that charts the emotional & personal journey the LA-born, Nashville-raised singer has travelled — is finally out. Blending modern pop & indie influences with the classic rock icons of the 70s, Taylor Noelle crafts emotive & introspective songs that tie succinct and timeless melodics with compelling and honest lyrics. Lock caught up with the singer-songwriter and discussed her “Be Around” EP, how she’s grown as an artist, and more.

Hi Taylor, what are you up to these days?

Hey! Thanks so much for chatting with me! These days I am thrilled to be vaccinated and back in the world. There are so many little things I took for granted in day to day life that I see as so special now — being able to meet new people, try new restaurants, find new thrifting spots, have some spontaneity with your days. Music has been a lot of fun recently, I feel like I’ve been writing a lot of stuff that stretches the boundaries of what I’ve done before. I’ve been giving myself permission to create a lot more freely and without strict deadlines, which has had some exciting results. When I’m not working on music I work as a bartender, which has been super fulfilling recently getting to really connect to new people every day. I’ve also been getting more into photography and videography, I just bought my first point and shoot film camera and love messing around with my mom’s old camcorder.

Your debut EP “Be Around” is out now. Which song is your favourite from it and what inspired it?

Well, to me my songs are my children and I really can’t make myself pick a favorite child, can I? I suppose the song “Be Around” is like my youngest child right now so I guess I can have a soft spot for it at the moment.

I wrote “Be Around” a few years ago with my good friend Bobby Knepper (Dreamer Boy, Houston Kendrick) after someone close to me was going through a difficult time with their mental health. They were overcome with a lot of despair and felt like they were alone in their struggles. It was hard for me to see someone I cared so much for go through something like that. The song was an expression of the love and care I wanted them to feel surrounded by. I wanted them to feel like they weren’t alone, and that someone was showing up for them — not necessarily to be able to fix everything and make their problems go away, but to just be present and listen and affirm.

A lot of time went by from the initial writing of the song, the final recording, mixing, and mastering to now. The pandemic slowed a lot of my original plans for the song release and this project. As quarantine went by, I found myself struggling with my own mental health. A lot of personal issues that had sort of lurked under the surface for a long time suddenly rose to the surface, and I didn’t have the normal distractions of day to day life to push them back down. I found myself in a similar place of despair and loneliness. Listening back to the song, it started to sound like it was trying to remind me to show up for myself. To offer myself the same love and patience and presence that I offered to others.

Why did you decide to create this EP, and what does it mean to you personally?

It feels like the process of beginning this EP was a lifetime ago. All of these songs are ones that have great personal significance to me, and really tell the story of growing into and truly becoming myself. At the time I was writing and recording the songs, I felt much more emotionally in the middle of everything. It was a processing phase for me. Now, being a little more removed from everything, it feels like a time capsule capturing up all of those emotions and lessons. I am still growing and learning every day, and there are so many things that are different and better from when I first wrote those songs. But it feels nice to think that one day I can be 89 years old and listen back to this project and be brought back to that place. It also feels nice to think that someone out there could listen to it today and maybe resonate with my experiences, maybe feel heard and understood! And maybe it will be a little time capsule for them one day too.

How did you go about writing the songs for your ‘Be Around’ EP? It was a few years in the making, right?

The very first song I wrote for the project was “What Can I Do.” I wrote it alone in a music practice room while studying abroad in London in 2016 — which is now so long ago that now there’s a trend on TikTok comparing 2016 makeup to 2021 makeup. Writing that song felt like a lightning strike to me. It was wildly different from any other song I was writing at the time. It had an energy to it that I wanted to chase.

When I got back to Nashville, I had a fire under me to chase that same energy. I kept writing on my own, resulting in songs like “End of the Night” and “Rely,” and I also started seeking out other writers and producers that could see my vision for my music. I wrote “Prove” with my good friend Andrew Tufano, pretty much acoustically on guitar and piano. “West End” was written with Reed Berin and Rikki Randall. And I believe the last song in the bunch was “Be Around” with Bobby!

Pretty much just as important to me as writing the songs was the production process for each song. At the time I had no kind of technical production knowledge, and today I’m still learning a lot of the basics of working a DAW like Logic, but even as these songs were coming together I was super particular about what kind of sounds I wanted to incorporate. I worked with a lot of different producers and engineers that were each instrumental in their own way in helping my sound find its shape — Boone Wallace, Connor Ehman, and Wes Rodberg pushed my early demos off their feet; Beats by Breakfast helped me fall in love with analog synthesizers and brought “End of the Night” to the finish line; Reed produced “West End” and made my Because the Internet guitar solo dreams come true; Bobby showed me how to defeat ‘demo-itis’ and make changes for the good of “Be Around”; and Ghosthood let me live out all my wildest Fleetwood Mac dreams of recording “What Can I Do”, “Rely,” and “Prove” with a full band in his studio (minus the cocaine). That all might sound pretty sappy but I really do look back on this process very fondly and carry so much I’ve learned from the people I’ve had the pleasure of working with.

Although your sound is quite poppy, there’s some really confessional moments on this EP. What was it like navigating these themes and blending it with a more upbeat sound?

I don’t know how often in my life I’ve ever felt purely one single emotion. Life is so complex and emotions can be so complex and humans are capable of feeling so much all at once! You can be in a lot of pain and in a dark place but be able to just laugh at the absurdity of it all. You can be falling in love and the happiest you’ve ever been but have stressful situations outside of that romance. I want my songs to leave room for that kind of complexity and layered emotion. This might be a little corny but I think that’s why I love seven chords in my songs. They contain both a major and minor triad at the same time. The light and the dark all at once. There’s room to acknowledge it all.

Having released the music video for your song ‘Be Around,’ how did you develop the idea for it?

As I mentioned before, I spent a lot of time with the song between recording it and getting ready to release it. When some of my mental health issues came to a head during quarantine, I truly started hearing the song as a reminder to offer myself love and patience. In doing so, I started to actually care for and feel connected to my inner child. The kind of love I was singing about in “Be Around” felt like the kind of love without expectation you would offer a child. The kind of love that a child would offer! It made me think about childlike kindness and innocence. It also made me grateful for my parents, who offered me that kind of unconditional love both as a child and for the rest of my life.

All of that came together and made it feel only natural to make a video using my childhood home videos. My parents were excellent documentarians of my earliest years, so I had quite a lot of source material to work with. I worked with my friend and frequent collaborator Drew Bauml to capture the footage straight off of my family’s old VHS-capable TV set. The video to me is more than just a collage of footage. There’s a lot of intention in the images I used to try to portray this selfless, patient, unconditional love. It also pays homage to the threads of self that connect the toddler on the screen to the girl singing today.

How do you think your sound has grown in the few years that you’ve made this EP?

I think that every day I grow in my intentionality and my confidence in my choices. I know what I want to chase and what I want to create. I’ve also learned a lot about experimenting with collaborators I trust and trying sounds and ideas that might feel strange or awkward or wrong, and pushing through to find what is unique and distinctive. I do my best to forge my own path and be nobody but myself.

As a whole, how would you describe this body of work?

I suppose to myself, like I said earlier, it’s a time capsule. It’s frozen the experiences I have lived through behind glass for me to be able to dig back up and inspect and reflect upon, whether with wistfulness, nostalgia, regret, sadness, or a change of heart. In another way, it’s also a bit of a sonic time capsule. In this project, I’ve collected so many of the sounds and influences that are so important to me, both modern and retro.

 

What are some of the artists (or films or books!) that inspire you & influenced the making of this EP?

Oh, I could go on about this all day. Truly. Musically, some of my biggest heroes are Fleetwood Mac, Childish Gambino, HAIM, Tame Impala, and SZA. There is so much I learn from them every day, even from the songs of theirs I have listened into the ground. I think my biggest takeaway from all of these artists is constant reinvention and pushing boundaries. They live by no one’s rules and no trends can dictate the direction of their music.

I’ve always been a huge fan of Claude Monet’s paintings as well as Impressionism in general. I like to imagine that writing lyrics and building production is almost like painting an Impressionistic work. You’re not taking down a photographic replica of a situation or emotion. You’re trying to capture the sensation. The overall energy and color is what someone walks away with.

You’re also a creative visionary — your visuals are stunning. When you’re writing a song, do you have an idea what the visuals are going to look like?

Well thank you very much! How kind of you to say! I owe so much to the visual creators I have been lucky enough to work with: Joey Brodnax (director of “End of the Night,” “Rely,” and “Prove” videos, artwork for “End of the Night”, and more), Drew Bauml (DP for “End of the Night,” “Rely,” “Prove,” and “Be Around” videos, colorist for “Be Around”, and more), Jessica DiMento (director of “What Can I Do” video), Allie Brodnax (artwork for “What Can I Do / Rely” and “Be Around”), Luke Rogers (artwork for “West End”), and so many other talented visual artists I have worked with and learned from along the way.

When I’m writing a song, I definitely love to be imaginative and visualize what the song is conveying. But I also try not to get too locked into any visual ideas too early. I (clearly) love collaborating and being able to bounce ideas around. I love to see what can emerge when you let things simmer for a minute.

But overall, I’m always aiming for something distinctive and colorful and bold. I want to show you something that is just as catching as the song is.

When someone is done listening to the “Be Around” EP, what do you hope they take away from it?

I hope that someone listening to my EP can find something that makes them feel seen and understood. All of my favorite songs are the ones that speak deepest to me and make me feel like they must be about what I am living and going through. When there is a strange specificity in the universality of it. So I hope that I have created something that not only helps me to process and memorialize an era of my own life, but also helps someone else to do the same.

And finally, what made you want to become a musician in the first place?

In a strange way, there’s never really felt like there’s another option. There’s been this kind of magnetism towards music my whole life that for a season in my life I didn’t even want to acknowledge. I tried to push it down and tell myself I would be happy pursuing another career path with more stability. But it made me miserable to even attempt. Writing and singing and performing bring me so much joy and fulfilment that I am sad I ever tried to stifle it or make it take a backseat. I don’t know what the future holds for me in music but all as long as I can pursue my passion and my vocation, I will.

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