Heart on a Wire: An Interview with Americana Chanteuse Taylor Whitaker

IMG_1725

I sat down with smoky-voiced Americana artist Taylor Whitaker to discuss her debut EP, Heart on a Wire, her inspirations, and how she landed in Nashville. Heart on a Wire is an earnest, hopeful collection of songs that marries Whitaker’s gentle, poetic lyrics with a pop-influenced folk sound. Whitaker’s powerful, rich voice anchors the album in emotional honesty, and her skill with melody is on full display in every song. In person, she’s alternately eloquent and self-deprecatingly hilarious. Take a listen as you get to know Taylor below!

You just released Heart on a Wire in November of last year—was that your first EP?

Yes, it was a labor of love. I’ve had the songs for probably three or four years, and I’ve never had the opportunity to record, so we actually moved to Nashville to record this and start doing music.

From Wisconsin [where she’s from]?

From Washington, DC. My husband was in the army, and he was stationed at Walter Reed Medical Center, and after I graduated I flew out to live with him. That was after we eloped, and didn’t tell anybody. So we eloped, I finished, I flew out there! It was a very big secret, only my roommate knew in college, pretty much.

So you’ve been married a long time now!

Yeah, almost five years. It’s going good!

So what was the inspiration for the songs on the album?

Most of them are about my relationship. There was about two years where we only saw each other for maybe three months, so a lot of them songs are—one of them is “800 Miles,” which is the distance from Wisconsin to DC, driving. And the other one is called, “Frost of Spring.” It’s just a love letter back and forth, asking how you are, are the people nice, you know, like a conversation. It’s been nice to be done with it, just because I feel like I’ve wanted to have these songs recorded for so long, and now I can move on. Like the baby’s done, I can move on and grow in my writing.

I hear several different stylistic elements in your music—how would you describe your style?

I guess to blanket it, it would be Americana folk. But some of them have an alternative edge to them. But I think there’s a lot of—a lot of them are really simple, the melodies and the lyrics, and then the instrumentals are what builds it out. So there’s a lot of 60s folk in my mind when I’m writing it, but also with “Heart on a Wire,” it’s more 40s-50s to me, like watching an old movie or something like that.

How long have you been writing?

Since I was in college. UW Milwaukee has this really great guitar program, it’s fingerstyle, classical, and jazz. So there are guitar players that come from around the world to study there, and I had all these friends that were playing guitar. And so, you know, I knew chords, but then I ended up taking a fingerstyle class, and there’s a picking pattern, PIMA, and I wrote a song to learn the pattern. And that’s when I kinda started writing. We did this show called “Shenanigans” for our opera theater class, and it was really just like a talent show at the college level [laughs]. And so I ended up playing that song, and got really good feedback from it, and just wanted to keep writing.

Have you always known that music was the thing you wanted to do?

Yes. Even my parents knew. I was the kid at the end of a Disney movie that would go sing and dance at the screen after it was over, and they would let me! And I would tell stories to everybody, I would sing all the time, and to be honest I never really did it in school—I went to a Lutheran school and they didn’t really have a music program. And I was getting bullied, and I asked my mom to take me out, probably in like 7th grade. I transferred to a public school, and they had a music program, it alternated music/gym. And the music teacher there, Barry Craig, he’s the one who started it all [laughs]. So he was the one who started giving me arias to sing and putting me in state competitions and he got me voice lessons and it just kinda grew from there. And he was always very supportive, and believed in me. And even my parents, they owned properties, so when they couldn’t afford voice lessons, they would do services for my voice teacher, like change out her windows so that I could have lessons. So I feel like everybody really believed in it. And I just, you know, I love singing, so I went along with it. You know, looking back, I was not as grateful as I should have been. [laughs] I am now!

Since my blog is focused on women, I’m curious what does it mean to you to be a woman in this industry? Are there certain challenges you’ve faced?

Okay, so I’ve had a long life of being bullied, called names, put down. And I think that in college, really after I met my husband is when I started to get self-confidence. So now I’m like, I don’t care what you say to me, I’m a person and I’m strong. I try to keep myself surrounded by really positive musicians that believe in what I’m writing and what I’m doing, which is why I always send them music before I’m say, let’s write together. You know, I want to make sure that everybody feels strongly about what we’re creating. But I love seeing other women perform in Nashville. It can be very male-dominated. Which is fine! But we [women] have such a spectrum of emotion, you know, we go through so many things that a man can’t experience, and we have so much to say. And so it’s nice to be able to support that for each other.

If there’s a message that you want people to get from your music, what do think that might be?

Well, with “Under Fire,” I get asked if it’s a political song, and it’s not. It was a single release, and it really was written at a time when I’d moved here to pursue this dream and I just felt like I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know if I was good enough, I didn’t know if people were interested, I wasn’t having a good time with trying to find a job, and it was written to say, keep your head up. So even though some of my songs can seem very sad, I feel like there’s always a silver lining, you know, you just gotta stay positive. A lot of the reason why I write is that it’s therapy to get it out of me and into a song, so that I can continue to live my best life. And hopefully if somebody else hears it, it helps them through what they’re going through.

Lightning round! Peanut butter—creamy or chunky?

Creamy.

Wine—white or red?

White, but I’m not big wine drinker.

What do you like instead?

Whiskey. Whiskey and Wisconsin beers.

Vinyl or CD or cassette?

Vinyl. I have a great collection, but my favorite is a Valerie June signed copy of her first release.

Favorite animal?

I’m sorry to my dogs, I mean, they’re my favorite animals, but I would say the elephant.

Ooh! Mine’s the hippo, ours could be friends! Favorite childhood TV show?

Rocko’s Modern Life. Now watching it, like I can’t watch it now, it’s so annoying and I feel bad for my parents, but I loved that show.

If you could have any superpower, what would it be and why?

I have this conversation with my husband every now and then. I’d say invisibility. I’d love to just people watch and move around and have nobody know. I don’t know if I’d want to read other people’s minds. I’m a really honest person, and I’d have to call them out (laughs). Maybe being able to touch something and turn it into something else, that’d be a cool superpower.

[her phone rings] Yeah, that’s the Downton Abbey theme song. [laughs]

Website | Facebook | Instagram | Spotify | Soundcloud

Girl Talk: Heather Hershow

The following is the first of my interview series Girl Talk, featuring talented female musicians in Nashville. If you’d like to be considered for an interview, shoot me an email at kellyhoppenjans@gmail.com!

heather

Heather Hershow is an indie-country singer-songwriter from LA who is currently living in Nashville. Her first EP, Her Show, will be released in February. You can preview Heather’s music on her Soundcloud at: https://soundcloud.com/heather-hershow

And check out her website at heatherhershowmusic.squarespace.com for updates on her EP release!

 

First off, how would you describe your music?

That’s a loaded question. It has a country sound; I write stories. It’s more country with a bit of an indie rock feel, ‘cause I don’t have a country voice necessarily. So it tells those stories, it’s got bluesy guitar, or the slide guitar, but it’s kind of a grab bag, to be honest. That’s my music style, and that’s what I’m sticking with. Influenced by Lady Antebellum, Gavin DeGraw, OneRepublic, kind of all thrown in together.

I know you have a musical theatre background as well, so has that influenced the sort of storytelling that you do?

Storytelling, and structure, and melody-wise. I tend to go off in sometimes different directions with melody or I don’t stick to the same chord progressions because that’s not what you do in musical theatre—you go off on a completely different tangent. And so it’s finding the balance between [going] so far off, like a different melody, and keeping it a little new. But it is all still very new to me. I’ve learned a lot being here [in Nashville], but it is, you know—it’s kind of new territory, being here for about a year, it’s been about learning how to be a better songwriter and storyteller in a different way.

So this is your first EP… what was the recording process like—where did you record?

So I recorded the first three tracks that I had written for the little record—[laughs] that’s what they’re called these days! I recorded those in California through a family friend. He’s got a studio out there, and this was when I had decided to move to Nashville but I hadn’t done it yet. I spent a year still in California, just kinda preparing. And we recorded three tracks; it was “Whiskey,” “Playing with Fire,” and “Tool Shed” [that] were all done back in California.

And then I came out here, and I ended up meeting with one guy who had a studio—super cool, I’ve continued to work with him since. He recorded “Dance Another,” and it had a very Nashville sound—a little more raw, a little more rock and roll, it was very cool. And then I worked with a friend of mine who’s actually my guitarist and friend in California’s brother. [He] has a recording studio, and so I did “Smile We Say Goodbye,” [there]. That was an incredible experience because I sent them a rough demo of it, and I said, “I trust you—go nuts.” They came back at me with this incredible instrumental track, had me come in to do vocals, and then that was it. They were really on top of their stuff.

So those will be what’s on the EP, it’s just five songs, and they’ve been well received. I’ve only recorded the ones that have been well received on live performances. You know I’ve written a bunch but I feel like if you play the record in order, you kind of see the progress of the storytelling and the writing, I think it’s interesting how you kind of go from where I started with “Playing with Fire” and moved into the Nashville way. I hope it’s a testament to what I’ve learned here.

When is that gonna be released?

Working on a release sometime in February… You can hear all of these on SoundCloud, they’re just not downloadable yet.

I wanted to ask you about the inspiration behind “Smile When We Say Goodbye.”

So “Smile When We Say Goodbye” was a co-write with a good friend of mine back home who’s kinda like a big brother to me. And he always asks me to tell him stories, and we fit them into a song. So “Smile When We Say Goodbye,” I was getting ready to leave California and move to Nashville. And it was kind of a mix between, you know—I’d heard so many break-up songs that were like “I hate you!” and “Tool Shed” [one of her other breakup songs] and whatnot, but sometimes breaking up with someone has nothing to do with anything going wrong—it’s just timing and circumstance, and things don’t work. But it doesn’t mean when you say goodbye, that you’re going to be upset, or angry—there’s a sadness, but it’s a different kind of sadness. It’s knowing that I’m gonna smile at what we had… and I don’t leave out the fact that I’m gonna miss something I left behind. But the point is that I’m gonna smile because we had something good…

Well, speaking of the other kind of break-up song, what’s the story behind “Tool Shed?”

That actually—it’s funny, you know you write what you know, but that’s not a personal story at all! I was in a songwriting class, and we were doing phrases. And oddly enough, my mom and I have always had this phrase that, he’s not a tool, he’s the whole toolshed. And my mom came up with this idea of “Can’t find love in a toolshed,” and well, there’s a song there! So I started, and my first draft sounded like I was going through the halls of Home Depot, just picking things up into my cart, and the teacher was like, “I like it, but it’s almost too, look here’s a hammer! Here’s a nail!” And he said, “You gotta find a way to be tongue-in-cheek, but like, [laughs] tone it down a little.” So it’s about that guy that—he’s a jerk basically. He’s a tool.

That is a clever song with a lot of wordplay—are wordplay and humor things that are important to you as an artist?

Thank you! Yes, that’s how I am. I’m a comedian, I like to make people laugh. And if I can do it in a way that incorporates songs as well, I’ll do it.

What’s the next step after the EP release?

I’m playing more shows. After the EP release, I’m going to begin writing more. I’d love to do a raw, not as produced album of just acoustic stuff. But truthfully, the next step is just to get out there more—figure out who needs to hear the EP, and keep writing for people, and not really worry about what my next step is. I told a friend of mine, who asked, “Why do you stay in Nashville?” I said, “Well, to be honest, every day I find something or I meet somebody that makes me need to stay for at least one more day.” And when I think about it, that’s kind of all we have is just one more day. So my next step is just to be here and not wonder what the next step is yet.

Okay, fun get-to-know-you questions are last. Do you prefer smooth or chunky peanut butter?

Chunky.

New country or old country?

You know, I gotta say, I’m a big fan of—oh gosh, I’ll probably get schooled on this—I enjoy new country. I enjoy 90s country, like Shania and Faith Hill, and I’m still learning old county—I’m still new to the genre.

New Star Wars or old Star Wars?

Well—wait, new as in Force Awakens? ‘Cause the prequels don’t count.

No, prequels do NOT count.

Kay. You know, I—ugh, that’s tough. I had so much fun with this new one, really I did. But I just, I can’t not love Han Solo.

“I KNOW.”

I just—oh [realizes my dorky joke, laughs], nice one! I mean, Indiana Jones, just—Harrison Ford.

Favorite ice cream flavor?

This is very specific—there was a Baskin Robbins flavor that came out in February of like 2011, okay? Maybe 2012, I don’t know exactly when. But it is called Love Potion #31. It was chocolate, and it had everything… it was just brilliant, and I love it. I don’t know where that is now, it was like a seasonal flavor, flavor of the month—but I will never forget it.

Favorite childhood TV show?

Oh, there’s so many! I really enjoyed Lizzie McGuire… but I think one of my favorite TV shows as a kid was All That one Nickelodeon, because it was a sketch show, a kids’ sketch show, it was SNL. And I loved laughing and making people laugh.

One final question: what do you want to communicate to people through your music?

Depends on the song, truthfully. I want people to connect their memories to music, maybe to heal through painful experiences, to bring joy. I wrote a song for a friend who ultimately, unfortunately, lost her battle with cancer. But when she was going through it, it was a song of cheering her on, and she found peace and joy in listening to that. It was great, and that was enough for me. And I also just want people to have fun, you know—for that three minutes, they can be in a totally different head space. For three minutes, you can think about something that may have been weighing on your mind from a past relationship. For three and a half minutes, you can literally just stop and dance your ass off. And for three and a half minutes, you can cry, you can laugh, you can dance—you can do anything. You can be moved to do something that you might not have thought you were brave enough to do.

VAMPing

Welcome to VAMP! This blog is all about supporting local female musicians, music lovers, and YOU.

So what is a vamp? Many things:

A vamp is a repeated musical passage, usually played under a solo or dialogue.

vamplogosmall

Can you vamp that while I take a solo thanks

 

It’s a velvet display for a necklace or a bed of rice for the main dish—it’s steady, reliable, and at least mildly interesting, but it serves mainly to support the primary focus. All good music blogs should be like this; yes, a certain amount of self-promotion is always involved in a blog, but giving a voice to talented local artists and providing resources to help musicians improve is the most important goal. I know so many incredible artists in Nashville, and I want to help them get there music out there as much as I can—simple as that!

A vamp is also a femme fatale—a strong, self-assured female character in literature, movies, opera, you name it.

carmen

Carmen, the original bad-ass opera vamp

 

Women are underrepresented in many facets of the music industry; it’s just a fact. I figure the only way to fix that is to talk about the female artists that I love and that deserve everyone’s attention—and to talk about them A LOT. So, the main focus of this blog is to support incredible female songwriters, musicians, and bands in Nashville and around the country. If this describes you and you want to submit your work to my website, contact me here!

 

According to Google, a vamp is also the “upper front part of a boot or shoe.”

vampshoe

Sooo that’s cool.

 

A VAMP is also an acronym for Voicing All My Passions, which is what I intend to do with this blog. I love music and I want to bring good music to appreciative listeners—that’s why we’re all here! All musicians are voicing their passions every time they make music; it’s my hope that presenting musicians and music issues on this blog amplifies their voices and brings their message to a larger audience. Hear some good music, read some articles and interviews, and raise your voice in a song—I’ll vamp for you while you do.