Catch up with Doreen Taylor and watch the video for her single "TOY" off her upcoming album, Happily Ever After, to be released October 13th.
What first got you interested in music and songwriting?
Doreen: I think singing was earlier than songwriting. I didn't realize I could song-write until later in my career; I always liked to fool around with it when I was a child, but I never thought that I could actually make songs that could do something or could be "hits". Singing, I found out, probably, in third grade. There was this pivotal point where my musical teacher - he did everything but we were doing a Christmas concert - and he took me out and isolated me and he said, 'look, I really want to showcase you and I want you to sing "The First Noel" A capella. This was like third grade, I was 6/7 years old? Maybe a little older? [Laughs] I remember the first time I sang it took me back because I sang the note and I covered my mouth real quick because my voice made natural vibrato but, as a kid, I didn't know what the heck that was! It was a weird feeling. I didn't know what that was even supposed to be, I thought there was something wrong with me. I was embarrassed and my teacher was like, 'no, no, no, that's great!'. He was the first one to see in me that I had this talent and I sang "The First Noel" without any accompaniment and I stayed on key and it sounded very good, apparently. That was the moment where I think we all kind of knew. I remember my teacher going up to my parents and saying, 'I think you need to get her lessons,' and my mom was like, 'well what is she going to do with that?' [laughs]. My mom's very blunt and very open and honest about stuff, she didn't know that you could even have voice lessons or any of that at that age, so it was news for all of us.
I sort of tabled it for a while but did school productions. I always loved it, I absolutely loved music in any capacity. In fourth grade, I started playing violin, I did the New York state All States and All Area and All Counties, so music was always a part of my life but then, right around 16/17, I really decided to just take a leap of faith and go for it so I found this really great teacher. I always wanted to be a doctor and I was applying to undergrad schools as a doctor but, all of a sudden, my voice teacher at this point said, 'look, why don't you just go out and audition to schools for fun and humor me?'. So, I auditioned for three top schools that came through Buffalo, New York that were touring schools and I got in all three and the best school gave me a full scholarship. I threw out the dreams of being a doctor and embraced being a singer and I've never looked back. It was amazing.
Which musicians have you been influenced by?
I am extremely eclectic, so when I grew up, the music that I really liked to listen to is probably not, per se, the best example of who I am, but they all influence me. I was an '80s baby, so the grunge era of the '90s was very important to me and I loved all that dark, heavy, depressing kind of music. I loved Nirvana, I loved Alice In Chains, I loved Tool - things that no one in this world would think that I really liked, those are the kind of songs I gravitated to. I loved an emotional song, I loved darker songs, I liked minor keys versus major keys; there was something in my ear that liked that darker quality and, actually, that has translated through. When I write a song, it's much easier for me to write a song about pain or anguish or something negative, rather than something that's happy or bright and shiny. I can do it, but it's just not what I naturally gravitate towards. And, I love writing songs in minor keys because it's what I gravitate to immediately so, sometimes, I have that sad, melancholy sound right away.
Is there anything you can't stop listening to now?
Honestly, it's like I listen to stuff, but I never try to wear things out. I think the biggest problem with music is overplay and I think that, when we hear something too much, it becomes too familiar. Even my songs, after a while if I write my own and listen to them over and over and over again, I learn things, but I lose that bit of excitement from that first time you hear it. I gravitate towards the classics and I go back to the ones I grew up liking. If I were to pick a station in my car for Sirius, I like the BPM station; I really do, I like EDM and listening to dance songs because they're unpredictable and maybe I haven't heard them a million times. Or, I like to go back to the Lithium channel where you've got the grunge and the more depressing kind of music, [laughs] for lack of a better term, but it brings back my childhood and remembering what I liked. I don't listen to modern music much. I listen more for benefits of my own music writing and production and stuff like that, but I don't really like a lot of what's out there right now. I really don't think it's produced well, I think it's mass produced - especially the stuff from the major labels, independents are a whole different story - but major labels, they have this formula they won't break away from and they keep regurgitating the same type of music over and over to make a fast buck, especially since they're hurting, and they fall into this trap where there's no more classic music. There are no more Celine Dions out there; there are no more Rod Stewarts; no more Barbra Streisands and Frank Sinatras and these people who are icons to this day. I can't think of anyone today who has that kind of staying power. Back in the day, music was created to touch people, it was created to enhance people's lives, and now it's more - I like to call it - fluff, because it's great fun, you can dance to it, but it's not going to cure cancer or be something that you hold for the rest of your life in your heart and it just touches you where it's with you forever.
What words would you use to describe your sound?
I love the retro feel. I love fusing that older kind of retro. Musicians used to actually make recordings, where you were in a studio and you brought in really talented musicians and you had great producers and great arrangers and you sat in the studio, not someone's basement, and you made a real "record" - I know it's such an outdated word, but we still use the word 'record' - and you bring talents together and magic happens in that room because of the quality of people that you're working with. Pro Tools is awesome, I love the ability that we have now to be able to create things and manipulate things, it's so much better than reel to reel back in the day. I never recorded on that but my top engineer tells me stories all the time - he's amazing, he's been working in the industry for a really long time - and he'll tell me stories back when he was working with real top artists on major labels and the hours that it would take to do reel to reel and any kind of edits and now it's just the click of a button on the mouse and it's amazing. So, I embrace the technology, but I also think we fall into the trap that the technology rules music now, it's all about bells and whistles and almost taking the personality or musicality out of the song, because it's all about auto-tune or Melodyne or fixing everything. It's becoming cold and sanitized in a weird way, that's where I think music has gone. That's why when Adele merges on the scene with music like she does, she has soul; it's not even a genre, she has soul when she sings and that's why her music is appealing so much to people, because it's a throwback to when people actually used to make music and that's my style, I try to maintain a modern edge to it, but it has a lot of retro feel. The arranger that I work with, Larry Gold, he's amazing. From The Sound of Philadelphia, he's worked with everybody who's anybody and he has that old-school mentality. Immediately when he comes in, I know I love what he's going to do with my songs. It's just a great marriage between him and me, 'cause it's a great musical connection.
What were your inspirations behind your single and the video for "TOY"?
"TOY" was weird. The way we did "TOY", because I'm an independent artist by choice, it's a little different and we can't do what a major label would do, where we take it and we make a whole album and we release it single by single and everything's in the can already. We had to be very creative with the way we made our album. "TOY" was created last year and we released it as a single stand-alone and it did very, very well. It was a huge departure from the style that my fans had known me for - which was country - and it took this huge leap of faith where I switched from country to this more contemporary, RnB, pop kind of sound. I changed my hair - I was blonde, now I was red-headed - I re-branded my entire image and my entire sound and my entire style, because I just felt that country wasn't identifying with me. I did very well in that genre, but it just never felt like it was truly me and I always felt like I was trying to be something that I just wasn't. When I did "TOY", I really wanted to just show people that I wasn't country anymore. [Laughs] This little girl is not country anymore, she's grown up and her songwriting has changed, her singing has changed, and her entire style has changed. I was sitting around thinking, 'what can I write, how can I write?' because this was totally different for me and, for some reason, somebody had mentioned an acronym of 'thinking of you' - so T.O.Y, t o y, thinking of you. Something about that stuck with me and I thought that was really cool. I started sitting on the couch thinking about, 'hmm, how do I made that into a song? I love it'. I actually heard the background vocals first, I heard the back-up girl part in my head, that's where the song was born, with the echo "thinking of you, dreaming of you, wanting you", and that made the song grow. A lot of times when I write a song, sometimes the lyrics come first, sometimes the actual music comes first. In this case, it came together at the same time and that's usually when I know a song is good, they usually are born at the same time; rather than trying to force one or the other, they actually just grow out of each other. So I just sat down and I loved the jazzy, James Bond feel: when I actually had written it the first time in my own little home studio, playing on the piano, it had very jazzy chords. It was really jazzy, huge departure from the way I used to write country music, 'cause there's nothing really jazzy in country music [laughs]. I really liked it and it was speaking to me. Then, when I took it into the studio and Larry arranged it and started putting the strings behind it, it really just took on a life of its own. It was just such a fun song. It's cute and it's probably not where I'm going to land as an artist, I think I'm more into the very dramatic power ballad kind of thing, that's my thing with the power in my voice, but "TOY" was a great representation of where I'm going and it did very, very well. It was the Billboard Top 100, it reached into the Top 50s, and it was at 31 on the Adult Contemporary charts, which blew us all away [laughs] 'cause we didn't know what to expect when we came out and it just surpassed all of our expectations.
I never did create a real music video for it, I just did a lyric video which came out so great and people loved it so much and we used that kind of manga. It's a sexy song, but it's cute too, it's got that double entendre thing going on throughout the whole song where you don't know if it's dirty or not. You assume it is, [laughs] but that's just 'cause your mind tells you it's dirty. I was like, how do I still create that in the imagery of a video without being kind of gross to people or not speaking exactly what the story was about, so created this whole cosplay kind of thing. It was very cute and it was all cartoon and we tied it with the lyrics and it came out really, really great.
Could you tell us more about your upcoming album, Happily Ever After?
I am really, really excited about this one. I know I'm biased because it's my music, but I know that everyone who's worked on this - we've had the same team throughout who did "TOY" and "Shooting Star" that we released last year - I came back and said, there was a lot of success here, we have to finish the album. So I decided to write six more, there's eight on the album. "TOY" and "Shooting Star" are included on the album but there's six brand new songs that are on there as well and we remastered the two that we released last year. Since I took a year between writing "TOY" and "Shooting Star" and then wrote the rest of the six, there's been so much growth, even just me as a person, it's just natural that you grow as you get older, you hope that you grow as a human being, that you grow with your experiences, and that usually translates into better songwriting for me. So, a lot of the songs that are coming out, I've really dug deep. I've brought out a lot of the soul inside me and really said, this is it for me. I'm putting it all out there for everyone and you never know what's going to happen tomorrow, so I'm always putting out my best foot today, and that's really what I'm doing with Happily Ever After and I'm so excited. The first single that we're going to be releasing off of it, which is called "Over", is so amazing to me. It's my favorite song on the album, it's so dramatic and emotional, it's pulling from that darker side of me, but it's a song that people can relate to. It's a song that they can feel empowered and they feel like they're not alone. That seems to be the string of my music, is female empowerment but empowerment in general and realizing that there's beauty in strength. The music is very adult contemporary, almost RnB soul feel for this album, and I love where it went. I love the whole tone of the whole album, it's a really nice package; we definitely made it an album, we didn't make eight singles, we made an album - which a lot of people don't do anymore because of digital downloads and stuff, people don't really worry about a whole package like they used to with Pink Floyd where they made The Wall and it was a story. I don't go as far as The Wall, [laughs] but I do try to make sure that there's a nice continuity between the songs and that there's a really nice flow between them; that there's a beginning, a middle, and an end and there's a story that unfolds throughout the music. We do that a lot through the tour. When we go out and we perform, I bring that to life. I try to tie the songs together in some type of format theatrically and that's how I show that and we do very well with album sales, I have to admit, we don't really do a lot of one-hit wonders where people say, 'I really like that song, I'm going to get that one song and screw the rest of the album,' we do full albums and I'm very proud of that.
How would you sum up Happily Ever After in one sentence?
What do you hope listeners are able to take away from your music?
I really hope that when they listen to it they feel something, whatever it is. I believe music is art and when you talk about art, art is the ability to make people feel something. Good, bad, whatever, but they feel something by either looking at a painting or experiencing that sculpture or listening to a song, I really want to create art. I want them to pull something away, that they felt something that they otherwise wouldn't have felt, whether it's, 'yeah I can relate to that song, I've felt that heartbreak,' or, like, in my song "Unstoppable", 'I feel like I've been that person that needs to keep fighting and every time I get knocked down I'm going to keep getting back up,'. I want that message to somebody. People say this about my music all the time - I'm not sure, because it's so closely connected to me - but they always say they listen to it once, then they listen to it twice, then they have to listen to it three times and it gets better and better and better as they listen. It's like a fine wine, it just keeps getting better the more they hear it, 'cause there's a lot in my music. It's simple to the fact that we don't go crazy with a lot of orchestration and bells and whistles but, at the same time, there's a lot of layers in it; there's depth, there's meaning in the lyrics, there's parts of the music that play against the vocals. There's little things that you're not going to hear the first time and maybe not even the second time, but the more you listen to it, the more you get absorbed in what it is. That's what I really want my fans - and my new fans that are going to come out - I really just hope they appreciate and they like it and they feel a little bit of what I felt when I wrote it and sang it.
Is there anything you want to add?
[Happily Ever After] comes out the 13th and I will be selling physical copies as well as digital downloads and you can get physical copies directly on my website, which is doreentaylormusic.com, but I think they're going to sell them throughout the computer, somewhere [laughs] in computer land, I don't know exactly where. And then, the 21st, we're doing this huge concert in Philadelphia to kick it off! We don't wait [laughs], no moss grows under our butts. We'll go right out there and we're going to be doing this huge concert of all the new music, I'm going to be singing the entire new album and I'm going to be adding in some of my country classics that are re-tooled to my new style and even some surprises and some guest artists that are going to come out and it's going to be a really, really exciting thing. We're doing it all for charity, we're doing it for the Boys & Girls Club of Camden County, and all profits are going to go to them. I really think it's just a great way to say, 'hey, here I am. Here's my new music, have at it,' and it's a great way to get our feet wet, all for a good cause, too, so that's always good karma [laughs].