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Interview with Lily Taylor

img  Tobias Fischer

Is singing, to you, akin to acting?
I don’t have a theater background, so I am not really sure. I guess it is like acting because I am recreating the emotions that the songs bring to me. It is like I keep those feelings in my songs, so I can access them at any time. To me, singing is the most genuine thing I can do. I use effects on my voice to create dimension in the sound, and create a dreamy feeling, but I strive for a real-life experience, so I am going through the emotions of what I am singing about, not acting.
Some of my songs come from situations or conflict with other people. I use things I’ve said, and also used ideas I thought of after the situation was over. I believe that the song tells you if the words fit. You can’t force too many lyrics into a melody line. For me, lyrics are poetry, not a casual phone conversation. I try to create images and feelings out of just a few words or lines. The general idea is edit, edit, and edit again. 

What are fundamental constituents of your songs?

They are my own experiments. I pick and choose elements, ideas, tones, melody, a word- to grow a song. It could be any shape or size. I don’t care if it is not radio friendly, because it is pirate-radio friendly. I want my songs to be accessable to people, but not predictable. I know when I go to an experimental show that I need to bring earplugs or a cup of coffee, but experimental doesn’t have to be loud and or hard to sit through. I think of my songs as little paintings, and I think of them as experimental because I am litterally experimenting with compositional strategies, timbre, and performance experience. 

How do you find the right vocal colour for these paintings?

I love treating my songs like they are my personal jazz standards. I will play the same song with different keyboard settings, or different delay settings to see how the song reacts. I might change the arrangement, too. This brings out the strength and weaknesses in a song. I think the audience likes it, because they can identify the piece, but it sounds fresh. I don’t always do this, but if I am feeling adventurous, I might. It is a similar process in the privacy of my studio when I am trying to pull a song out of the air. 

Do certain words suggest very particular chord progressions, sounds and melodies and vice versa?

I work from the chord up to the melody. In other words, the melody comes from the chords, and the lyrics have to fit into the melody. Some times I will scat on the melody to come up with the right word placement, sometimes I have the words, and the melody is molded around the syllabols. It really depends on what the song needs and how it grows through the compositional process. 

What did your classical education teach in this regard?
I see it in my rehearsing habbits. I would rather spend an extra hour rehearsing, than not. Also, by starting with a classical musical education as a first soprano, I learned about technique and breath support, which I could later apply to other genres and styles of singing, making my lower registar just as strong as my upper register. But also, it made me a little sh*t. I have a streak of rebellion that I can not shake, and I see that as a possitive thing. 

Could you imagine going entirely a capella at some point? 
There are times when I feel very safe behind the keyboard. I don’t always perform with it; sometimes I just use my looping pedal. The truth is, I am not a pianist. I use it as a tool. I went through music school focusing on training my voice. I am most comfortable when I am singing, so I wouldn’t mind going a capella, but I think audiences would be bored by that kind of an act. You can’t sing three sets of a capella music at a club and expect to pay your bills. 

How did this set-up of „a looping pedal, ‘89 Casio played with a delay pedal“ develop over time?

It was a matter of necessity. I needed something portable to take to performances - a simple set up, where I could explore the limitations of the equipment. It is not easy to bring equipment with you all over San Francisco and the greater Bay Area! The equipment I use was mostly gifted to me, or found at sidewalk sales. In my newer songs, I have incorporated a drum machine and live percussion. 

I am sometimes under the impression that the electronics will create a sort of landscape for your voice to navigate through ... 
That is exactly how I think of it. That is why I use the term „soundscapes“. I think of songs like a topographical map of frequencies. I like to use the synth sounds because they are full, beefy sounds, but there are many wonderful instruments out there to use.  Music has the ability to allow our minds to travel through time and location. I hope that I am able to bring the listener on a little journey. 
In New Mexico, where I went to school, you can see for 200 miles in some places. After seeing views like that, I started to relate waves of frequencies within the landscape, like the topographical map I was talking about before. I find that this image is related to a conductor’s score of music. If I can aproach my compositions with this „map“ in mind, then I am more aware of how I am composing through the frequency spectrum. That is music nerd talk for „filling in the gaps“.

Apart from building these maps, what else are currently things you are working towards?
My solo music is just one of the projects I work on. I sing very differently on other projects. I feel that my classical training gave me tools from which to build, but the real training I went through was in college. I learned to sing many differnt styles, Balkan, R&B, jazz, folk, neo classical, to name a few. To get the feel a particular style, I am focusing on breath and tone, phrasing and attitude, among other things. I guess it is more like acting! With my solo songs, I tend to approach the singing style like a folk or jazz song. I want to tell a story. The focus becomes pointed on the delivery of the story, whether or not it is believible and a genuine experience. Many of my songs send me to an altered state of mind. I try to bring the audience with me. 

Do you like the idea of learning on stage?
Oh yes. Once you invite the excitement of performing live into the mix, it is  a whole new beast. I’ve had equipment fail, wardrobe malfunctions, all sorts of things happen at a show, but once you’ve experienced that, you start to feel like you can handle anything. The other part, is that I am a working artist, and performing is part of my income. I don’t really have a choice, I have to learn by testing new material on different audiences. 

It took you three years to complete your debut album. Do you feel one should only sing something, when there is really something to say?
Yes. Edit, edit, edit those lyrics!! And don’t move across the country in the middle of recording, unless you have to!

By Tobias Fischer

Lily Taylor Discography:
Overtones 2009

Lily Taylor

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