Singer – Songwriter Opens Up About Break-Ups, Depression And Writing A Spiritually Uplifting Album During Her Most Vulnerable Moments
Who is Taylor Rae?
That was the burning question on the mind of the fierce 27-year-old, self-described–soul and roll–singer-songwriter from Ben Lomond all throughout last year. It’s also the main theme of Mad Twenties, a collection of songs written over the last seven years. A record that formed into an autobiographical concept album during the height of the global, Covid-19 pandemic and directly in the middle of a life-altering break up. It’s an emotional landscape of blossoming and withering romance chronicled from start to finish.
“I went through some incredibly dark moments in 2020,” Taylor recalls in a somber voice over the phone. ‘I remember asking God, ‘Why is this happening?’ But now I have this beautiful representation of the journey I went through.”
She recounts cancelling all her shows because of the shutdowns, casually estimating she lost somewhere around $20,000 in just four days. But for someone who says she could “live on an airplane” the blow was devastating beyond the financial hit.
“I couldn’t travel anymore and all my distractions were stripped away,” she says. “And what I was left with was a person, myself, who I was not happy with. Who am I without my band, shows and plans?”
What she discovered is that Taylor Rae is an independent, spiritual and often vulnerable person. Someone who is willing to bare her heart to strangers and show up for herself. Values woven throughout the new Americana album recorded in Nashville for Charlotte Avenue Entertainment (CAE), who also did the music video for the album’s first single, “Fixer Upper,” which drops online June11th.
It’s an incredibly exposed song. Taylor’s dreamy vocals float over a romantic landscape of California mountains and canyons. Written just six months before the split with her five year partner and possibly the most personal track on an already unguarded record.
“It’s one of those songs that I sat down and wrote in 20 minutes. I honestly have such a hard time taking credit for it because I feel like it didn’t come from me, I was just a vessel.”
Much like “Fixer Upper,” Mad Twenties as an album was a serendipitous endeavor.
Fortuitously meant to be because—originally–Taylor wanted to release an entirely different record of acoustic, home recordings. She explains Charlotte Avenue Pictures CEO, Michelle Robertson, wanted to work with her several times previously, but their scheduling just never clicked. That’s when Robertson offered to match finances for studio time in Nashville, along with finding a full band and producer, CAE’s Will Gawley (and Robertson’s husband).
“At that time I also had a sponsor who offered to fund an album,” Taylor states.
With these offers on the table, she decided to test the waters with CAE, initially heading into the studio for only two songs.
“Literally 20 minutes into that recording session I realized, ‘Oh, this is my producer, this is the band and this is how I’m going to do my full-length album. No questions asked,’” she cheerfully says. “Two months later I went back and we recorded nine songs in one day.”
But to understand Taylor Rae the artist we need to know who Taylor Rae the person is.
Growing up in Ben Lomond and spending her days in the Santa Cruz Mountains was a “pretty magical” experience for Taylor, remembering she basically “lived outside.” Part of the Little People’s Repertory Theater (LPRT), she was a natural performer and found the stage as a second home. She’s part of the generation of LPRT graduates who have made waves for themselves–locally and beyond–including Henry Chadwick, Jesse Daniel, and more.
“Everyone says maybe there was something in the water during that time,” she jokes. “But there was always a supportive feeling of community and a genuine love for the arts.”
She says it was never a question of what she wanted to be when she grew up. By the age of 15 she had already studio recorded her original songs and multiple demo EPs.
“I was always a singer. That’s just what I was and will be forever.”
It was so obvious to everyone around her that even her San Lorenzo Valley High School guidance counselor told her not to worry about traditional college. Instead, Taylor was determined to go to Hollywood and attend the infamous Musician’s
Institute (MI). Her family supported the decision until her senior year, when Taylor was caught with the rebellious choice for most teenagers, marijuana.
As punishment, she was forced to apply to several other colleges and was accepted at Azusa Pacific University, a Christian school in the Southern California city of Whittier.
She recalls being at orientation, dreading her life at Azusa, angry for being there and instantly knowing “this is not my vibe.”
That’s when fate–God, the universe, whatever you want to call it–stepped in and re-directed her back onto her true path. When it came time to collect schedules, Taylor didn’t get one and when she inquired about it, received some startling news.
“Somehow I missed an email and they told me I wasn’t registered for the fall semester” she says, adding her mom was there with the rest of the parents in another room. “She and my dad were so mad for a minute but eventually said ‘Ok, it’s not too late for you to go to MI.’”
Ever fearless, she jumped into her new life and classes. She soaked in all she could, spending countless hours working on vocal techniques and learning new ways to quickly and efficiently memorize lyrics. However, it still took Taylor a while to find her niche, friends and eventual bandmates.
By the time she graduated she had a nine piece, southern soul and rock band complete with saxophonist and three back-up singers. They played throughout California and recorded an EP in 2014, Gettin’ High to Stay Low, but Taylor says the band fell apart because of drama and egos. Their final show was in 2015 at the now defunct Don Quixote’s in Felton.
“I remember being on stage and we all hated each other at that point,” she laughs.
That was the same year Taylor decided to return to the Santa Cruz Mountains, this time with her then partner. Once back home,she passed on day jobs and dedicated music as her full-time career. She recounts a relentless schedule playing 150 to 200 shows a year while driving back and forth between Ben Lomond and Los Angeles to record for herself–and on friends’ songs–whenever she could.
In 2017 she won the Event Santa Cruz NEXTie Award for Musician of the Year, a recognition she says meant a lot to her since she had only recently returned. It’s also an award she almost won for an entirely different category due to a communication mishap.
“Matthew [Swinerton] misspoke at first and said I won Foodie of the Year,” the singer giggles. “I was like, “That makes no sense, I’m so undeserving of that!’”
Confused, Taylor called him back a few days later.
“He said, ‘Oh my God, I’m so sorry. I meant Musician of the Year.’ It was all pretty funny.”
NEXTie in hand, Taylor’s return to Santa Cruz County wouldn’t last long. The following year she and her partner decided to move to Austin, Texas, a city she always wanted to live in since childhood. Of course, Nashville is the place for country and Americana artists to live and play in but Taylor says it reminded her too much of Hollywood.
“It was still too much like the industry,” she explains.
In Austin, Taylor continued her strenuous touring schedule though she recorded less frequently. At the time the music industry was moving away from promoting full-length albums, instead following the online model of releasing and promoting singles, a trend that continues today. Between 2018 and 2019 Taylor Rae released four solo singles–Liquify, Without Your Love, Morning Fade and Steel–each as different and musically diverse as could be. She also continued to collaborate on other artists’ works, recording vocals for every genre from country to electronic.
THE PRESENT OF PRESENCE
Which brings us back to last year.
Before the pandemic hit, Taylor Rae thought she had everything. Living in her dream city, a loving partner, and the perfect career. Unlike Hollywood, she had easily made friends in Austin and felt her life was complete. After the world shutdown, the cracks began to show, splitting into fault lines.
“I was just miserable,” she says. “I always saw myself with my partner so it was very shocking and devastating when it all came crumbling down.”
But out of the ashes bursts the phoenix in a flash and Rae is no different.
She used 2020 to reconnect with herself and practice real self-love for the first time. She started regular therapy sessions, created a daily yoga and meditation practice, explored sobriety and rediscovered her spiritual relationship with life, nature and the universe.
“I had to get real with myself,” she earnestly explains. “Looking my demons in the face that summer was brutal.”
The result of that self work culminated in what she describes as a “shift” in December. After a period when she wouldn’t leave her bed for weeks at a time, she started seeing herself–and her life–in a different light. Most importantly, she decided to become her own best friend.
“I gained such a perspective on the impermanence of everything in this life. At any point things can change and you can’t hold onto ideas, plans or material things,” says Taylor. “Just try to appreciate every moment and be as present as possible in your experience.”
It’s that presence that drove her to construct Mad Twenties as a full album, recording it the way she listens to her favorite artists like Norah Jones, Bonnie Raitt, and Carol King. It’s a diary of self-reflection and stories from start to finish. Along with “Fixer Upper,” other tracks on the record are snapshots of her life at key moments in time, raw, visceral and real.
“Home on the Road,” a paean to her ex-boyfriend’s 1979 Chevy van which he assembled, demoed and subsequently rebuilt, several times. Coated, fittingly, with a greasy, down-home vibe, the tune captures the wandering spirit and occasional perils of touring musicians.
“That was specifically about traveling back from Colorado,” acknowledges Taylor. “It was a million degrees and the van overheated every 20 miles. We were so broke we couldn’t
call anyone to fix it. We just had to wait it out until the weather cooled down. I remember sitting at a rest stop in our underwear, drinking warm Heinekens and thinking, ‘I’m going to write a song about this.”
In the bluesy, “Wait and See,” she sings about being “a hundred miles away,” from opening herself emotionally again, making it clear the love affair is over. However, there is a glimmer of hope. If not for the romantic relationship at least for the singer’s own horizon.
There’s even a hidden cut, “Taking Space,” where Taylor takes stock of her past, present and future. Captured in a live, acoustic solo performance, the tune is the record’s equivalent of a
darkly bittersweet cinematic epilogue. In it, she catches her breath, reassessing the failed
relationship and waking in a world where she’s “changing at the speed of
Staying true to her honesty theme, when the album is released in September each song will be accompanied by paragraph descriptions of what they are about. She will also publish short video descriptions, outtakes and previously unreleased tracks for hardcore fans through her website.
Which brings us back to the original question: Who is Taylor Rae?
Light-hearted singer? Deeply personal songwriter? Introvert in person? Extrovert on stage? The truth is she’s all these and so much more. But most importantly, Taylor Rae is just who she wants to be.
“Own who you are,” she says with unwavering confidence. “Own your story and don’t do anything with the intention of pleasing other people. The most important thing is staying true to yourself.”
Written by Mat Wier
Here is the pre-save link for Fixer Upper
For more info on Taylor Rae, her upcoming album, new music and tour dates head over to https://www.taylorraemusic.com
Here are a couple live videos of Taylor Rae playing her new song Fixer Upper.