Catch up with singer-songwriter Maria Taylor and listen to her new single "If Only" (featuring Conor Oberst) off her upcoming album In The Next Life, set for release December 9th on Flower Moon Records.
What first got you interested in music and in songwriting?
Maria Taylor: Oh man, going way back. Well, my dad is a musician and so, growing up, pretty much, music was the most prominent thing in my household; my mom and dad are both music lovers so they were playing records all the time and then my dad was in bands, so I would go to soundcheck and go see whatever shows of his I could see and he always had a guitar in his hand, no matter what he was doing. It was just such a huge part of my childhood. We had a little studio in the house and so I have so many recordings of me when I was little just singing and singing and singing, so it was just kind of a no-brainer. And then, writing songs, I got into, I guess, in my later teen years. It was a natural evolution, because I had been listening to songs and then, one day, I started to write my own.
Do you remember the first song you wrote?
The only ones that I really remember are the ones that Orenda Fink - she's the other girl in Azure Ray, my other band - and I wrote when she and I started playing when I was 15 and she was 16. We started a band together and the first song we wrote together was called "Follow You For Now" and I remember every word to it [laughs]. It was just a terrible little folky song but we were so proud of it and we sang it to anyone that would listen, even if they didn't want to listen [laughs]. We would just always have our guitar handy and we would play it. I did write songs before that, but I don't really remember. When she and I got together and we started our first band, I think that's when I really started to take it seriously and it wasn't just a hobby anymore; I knew it was what I wanted to do with my life.
Which musicians have you been influenced by?
So many of my friends. My first boyfriend - who is actually a really great friend of mine and my husband's now - he was an excellent songwriter and he's a great, great drummer and he taught me a whole lot; and the band that he was in at the time was called Remy Zero and they were from Alabama where I'm from and they really just taught me a lot about work ethic and songwriting and the importance of lyrics. I think my peers along the way have really taught me the most. I have a lot of really talented musician friends. I've played with them and we've all worked together and I've learned so much from that. [Laughs] I'm trying to go back over the past 40 years, but it seems like I've surrounded myself with a lot of musicians, just because of my work. I meet other band members on tour and then we become friends, so I just have so many musician friends and I have just learned so much from all of them.
How would you describe your sound as a solo artist now?
I don't know if this is a curse or if this is a good thing, but I feel like I've sounded the same my whole life. When I listen to some of the first songs I was writing when I was 15, even though my songwriting has gotten better because I've worked on it for 20 years, just my sound is so similar, so I think that's just inherent in me. I guess my sound is just 'me'; kind of folky, kind of pop-y. Because of the music my parents always listened to, lots of Beatles and things with a lot of pop sensibility, I just think that comes really natural to me, melodies that are just really hooky and pop-y, that's my thing. So, I guess just pop/folky [laughs]. I love harmonies. Also, I was a ballet dancer growing up and I think listening to classical music and dancing to it, that also influenced my music and, probably, my love for harmonies and string arrangements over my songs.
What were your inspirations behind your new single "If Only"?
I wrote it looking back at my life and it was hard, at first, when I wanted to write a new record, because I felt all this inspiration, but I didn't know what I wanted to write about. I'm married and I have kids and I live this really content, way more normal life than I ever had before, so I decided I was going to think back about my life and write from the perspectives of different times in my life. So, with this song, it's kind of how I dealt with a lot of things, like the death of one of my boyfriends and the breakups of others and friendships that have moved on and just the way I've always dealt with it: I've never been a sad person and I always just think, well, in the next life, maybe this will be better. I feel like we'll all have second chances from now. So, that's where it came from. I went back and was scouring through my past and all the things that didn't work out and that was the common theme of how I felt after all of these huge life [experiences].
Could you tell us more about your upcoming album In The Next Life and how it compares to your earlier work?
I guess, like I said before, I feel like all my records have this same - not that they all sound alike - but I definitely have my style and my voice and I feel like, even if I try, that never changes, so I think there is some continuity there. But, I don't know what it is, I feel more connected to this record than, maybe, any record I've ever put out. I don't know if I want to say it's my best one, but it feels really, really inspired to me and I feel like I took a long time off from thinking about music or writing - I've just been focusing on being the best mom I can be to my kiddies [laughs], my kiddos - and so I just feel like it was building up inside of me. When I was writing it, I felt like it was really charged with emotion and I think that did have a lot to do with that I was thinking back on my past and writing from different perspectives. And, just, the music was building up in me.
I guess that's the difference. I'm 40 and I've been doing this a long time and I just feel like I'm getting better at it [laughs] I'm really proud of this one. I feel like the songwriting is good and I also got a lot of help from friends. Like, one of my best friends, his name is Brad Armstrong, we went to high school together, and he's a great poet and I would just send him all my lyrics and be like, 'just read through these and tell me if something gets on your nerves or if you think that some part should be better,' and he really was so thorough with writing me back and saying, 'you know, maybe this line, you could go deeper, I don't really know exactly what you're saying,' or 'maybe don't say the word 'love', say something else that makes you think of love'. So, I felt like, because I'm always tired all the time and I'm trying to be a mom and do all these other things, that that just really helped me, because it was a challenge for me to have focus to finish a complete thought, so it was good for him to give me that feedback. And my friend, Nik Freitas, he and I produced it together, but he engineered and recorded it at his house and I love what he added and I had lots of friends come in and put little parts down or sing on it. So, I think it's just a really big reflection of my life and my friendships and where I have been and what I've become.
Is there one track off this record you would say you were most excited to share?
I was pretty excited about "If Only". That one, I had a skeleton of that song for a long, long time - for years - and I always, just for some reason, I wouldn't finish it and I would just put it back and then, when I had decided I was going to write a record, I just happened upon it. I was going through an old hard drive and it said, like, 'bedroom idea' or something and I was like, 'what is this?' and I listened and I was like, 'oh my god!'. I tried years ago to finish this and it just wasn't the right time and I knew, as soon as I heard it, that this was the time to finish it. I don't know, I think that one's a really good one - and I really love Conor's vocals on it. He wasn't even going to sing on that song, he was going to sing on another one, and he heard that one and he goes, 'I wanna sing on that one!' like, alright [laughs]. I wasn't really even thinking there was going to be a male voice and now I just think that that adds so much to the song. But, I really like all of them, I'm excited for you to hear all of them, for anyone to hear all of them.
How would you sum up In The Next Life in one sentence?
In one sentence, I would say that it is a reflection of my past and my present and maybe a glimpse into what my future will be. And, if I can make it two sentences [laughs], I also just think that it is a product of 20 years of working and learning my craft.
What do you hope listeners are able to take away from your music?
I just like for people to have an emotional response. I want them to let it ring true or I want them to relate to it. I want it to make them think about something in their life - or forget about something in their life, for a moment. Music is therapy, at least for me, I just hope that it can be the same for someone.
Is there anything you want to add?
Another thing that I'm very excited about with this record is that I've started my own record label and so it's going to come out on my own label, which is Flower Moon Records, and it's just another endeavor that my husband and I are doing together and I'm real excited about it.