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Interview: Maria Taylor

Last night, I spoke to Maria Taylor backstage before her headlining show at Mercury Lounge. We discussed Maria’s tour memories, the favorite lyric that she’s ever written, and beginning to write again for Azure Ray.

After The Show: The last time I saw you perform was May 2009 at the Troubadour with JJAMZ and Whispertown 2000 opening. Do you look back on any tours as particularly memorable?

Maria Taylor: They all are so different because you tour with different people, especially with me – I have a different band usually every time. Tours are all so special and unique because you’re getting to know these people and you get so close to them, and then you also travel with different bands.

There’s always crazy stuff that happens on each tour. I don’t think I have a particular one that stands out or that’s my favorite…Maybe the first time when my brother and sister came on tour. That was one of the first times I went solo, and they came on tour – they were my band. That was to support 11:11 and we opened up for Har Mar Superstar and Ben Lee. That one was pretty memorable because my sister had just turned 18 and graduated from high school, my brother was 21, and I took them on the most debaucherous tour…Oh God, maybe you shouldn’t put that, my mom might read this (laughs). It was so much fun but I had all this guilt, like I’m the older sister…What am I doing? I did a good job of corrupting them (laughs).

I understand that this tour is somewhat different than any others you’ve done – how?

I’m pregnant! I feel finally not sick (I was throwing up)…It did feel different. It was pretty hard, and in retrospect I probably should have waited to tour until I was after the first trimester just because I had it so hard, but now it’s great and playing sober is something I’ve never done before. I think I sing better and my voice is getting stronger. Everything’s just way more clear – I remember the whole night (laughs). It’s okay – I feel like I’ve conquered a lot of fears by going out and talking to people without having anything to drink because I’m a nervous person and usually I have a glass of wine before I even walk out my door (laughs).

I don’t remember lyrics as well because when you’re pregnant you’re very forgetful – I didn’t know this. So I forget lyrics this time around.

Your songs have been placed in TV shows – “Time Lapse Lifeline” was on Bones, and several were on Grey’s Anatomy. How do you view licensing music and how important is it in terms of exposure and income?

As far as income, it’s the only way that I make any money at this point. I usually lose money on tour and people don’t buy records anymore, so my last two records I haven’t recouped and I haven’t made a dime. So licensing is pretty much my only source of income.

As far as exposure, it’s so great for that too. With me personally, I’ll be watching a show and Shazam songs all the time, and then I buy them, so I think it’s an excellent way to expose yourself to a wide range of people.

Have you seen a measurable jump in downloads the next day after a TV show with your song airs?

Definitely after Grey’s because people almost watch that show to look for music. You get paid a lot less if they announce the song at the end [shows on the CW], but it’s still good.

There was a rumor that you, Orenda Fink, Jenny Lewis, and Morgan Nagler were considering starting a band. Was that idea ever on the table?

Yeah, we did! We formed a band and we had a couple of practices, and they were awesome. And then we all just got busy doing our other projects, and then Orenda and I moved out of LA, so I don’t know if it will ever come to life. But it was really fun for those two practices that we were a band.

Why did you decide to cap your new album Overlook at 9 tracks? Were you concerned that people might think you were rushing to put the album out or that it was too short?

It just felt complete to me. I felt like it was the most cohesive record I’ve ever put out. The whole plan for this record was to write it in a certain amount of time, and that was to see if it would be more cohesive. Because lots of times I’ll start a song and just because I’m lazy I don’t finish it, only because a movie comes on I want to see, you know? So I sat in one place for a long period of time and it just felt complete.

And I also think that people are doing less and less songs because people don’t buy records anyway, so you might as well…Why put your heart and soul into 15 songs? People don’t buy records anymore – you get one or two songs. I think it’s just changing –  I think EPs are going to be what people will start putting out, and it’s all about to change so I’m just experimenting with where I want to go in the future.

Every aspect is more cohesive – thematically, sonically, production – in my humble opinion [laughs]. Usually I use two different producers, sometimes three on records. I’ve always recorded in at least three different studios; I’ve always recorded in two or three different times (like months, even). The goal [with Overlook] was record it at one place; I’m going to produce the whole thing; I’m going to write it all in this one room.

Have you always removed the bottom E string on your guitars? Why do you do that?

For the past 10 years I have, both for recording and playing live. I don’t like high-pitched noises, and it always used to bother me…On my amp I would turn the treble all the way down. And then one day the E string popped off in the middle of a show, and so I finished playing without it, and I liked it so much better without that last “ding” – I hated that last “ding.”

Do you have a favorite lyric of yours that you’ve ever written?

Hmm…I always like, in “Birmingham 1982,” where I say “When love was just laughing with a friend” and “When love wasn’t hurting anyone.” Those are the ones that when I sing that still – and I’ve sung that song for 8 years – it still kind of makes me teary (laughs) – I really feel it. It still hits me…I feel like my best lyrics are the ones that really pull at the heartstrings, even if they may be the most direct and simple.

Is there a song on Overlook that best exemplifies that direct and simple approach?

I think “Along for the Ride” is the best lyrically…maybe also “Like It Does.” I think those are the best ones.

When you’re writing a song, how do you determine if it will be an Azure Ray song or a Maria Taylor song?

We just always will know what we’re writing for. Like, I was writing for my record then, and right now I’m starting to write for Azure Ray, so I have that in mind. It’s not like the song dictates – it’s my mindset going into it that dictates it.

So you’ve lived in Birmingham, Athens, Omaha, and LA. Do you mentally differentiate your songs based on geography? Do certain songs evoke memories tied to a specific place?

Yeah, absolutely. 11:11 was very, very trenched in Omaha. I can tell I was cold – it was in the winter when I wrote it. It’s just drenched in memories from there. Ladyluck was so LA. This one [Overlook] to me sounds so Alabama. I feel like I can hear it sonically as well because I know where I was at with the subject matter. Lynn Teeter Flower…I think I was in my own world in that one (laughs). I was in la la land.

You collaborated with R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe on the song “Cartoons and Forever Plans.” How did you come up with the phrase “cartoons and forever plans” and what does it mean?

He wrote all the lyrics to that, and that line stood out, so Andy [LeMaster] and I named the song that.

I think the phrase only occurs once in the song…

Right. Usually with titles it will just be a no-brainer. One line or one word from a song will obviously stand out. I think it kind of sums the song all up.

Do you have any interest in producing or writing songs for other artists in the future?

Definitely producing  – I really want to produce other artists, absolutely. Writing for other artists, I don’t think so. If I write a good song, I don’t want to give it away (laughs). I don’t write enough of them to give them away – if it’s good, I’ve got to keep that baby.

What about interest in doing session or studio work drumming or singing on other people’s albums?

I used to do that more. I pretty much now really only like to sing or play on people’s stuff where I like it. I don’t think I’d want to do that for money; I’d feel like a whore (laughs)…I feel like I’d just really want to love it. I’d sell some jeans on ebay if I needed money instead of singing backup on a song I don’t really like.

Thank you for sharing, Maria! Stay updated at MariaTaylorMusic.com

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Best Shazam Discoveries

Shazam, a free iPhone application, helps you identify songs anywhere you go. Just hold up your phone to the music, wait 10 seconds, and Shazam tells you the artist, song, year, and gives you links to download it. You can learn more about Shazam here.

Three of ATS’s best Shazam discoveries of recent are:

1. “Back of the Van” by Ladyhawke. Location: NYC Jamba Juice

2. “Why Can’t I” by Liz Phair. Location: LA Movie Theatre

3. “Hey There Ophelia” by MC Lars. Location: Princeton, NJ

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