By: Shauna Keddy

Maria Taylor, interviewed

Shauna Keddy

Fans of the Midwest duo Azure Ray, made up of Maria Taylor and Orenda Fink, may have been sorely disappointed when they did not make it to Toronto this summer on their brief tour. But take solace in the fact that this tour, of course does mean new material is on the way, and as you read this Taylor and Fink are recording their new album which is set to be released later this year.

Newspaper writer Shauna C. Keddy sat down with Taylor when she came to Toronto in the spring for her album that had just been released “LadyLuck”, and learned about the new Azure Ray album and more:

With her beautiful and delicate voice, lyrics, and features, it is not hard to see what draws fans to Southern belle Maria Taylor. At her show at the El Mocambo, with the LA based band The Whispertown 2000 opening, who are now quite close with Taylor and her band since her recent move to LA, another aspect of the niche that Taylor’s music is a part of was apparent. Many independent and alternative rock musicians today, especially those bands on the record label Saddle Creek such as Bright Eyes and Taylor’s band Azure Ray, appeal to the hordes of groupies because of the sense of community and family between all the bands; who have many overlapping musicians and are constantly appearing on each other’s records and at each others shows.

This was readily apparent at her show with Whispertown, in which the band incessantly teased Taylor and her band as they performed, cracking them up and creating a tight-knit feeling in the crowd of being involved with these two amazing groups of musicians. They were even invited onstage for Taylor’s piece “Song Beneath the Song” (one of her biggest hits which was used on the show “Grey’s Anatomy”) from her first solo album 11:11 released in 2002, and gave a rousing, hand-clapping, tambourine-filled version completely unlike the slow, quiet original.

Of course the overlap between band members can be a problem as well, as I wondered who exactly would be on Maria Taylor’s current tour for her third solo effort released this April entitled “LadyLuck”. Seeing as Conor Oberst, lead singer and songwriter of Bright Eyes, is also on tour for his new CD with the Mystic Valley Band, which is comprised of the majority of the musicians that recorded “LadyLuck” including Taylor’s brother, it seemed she would have to pull something together, which of course she did, and it worked quite well.

Being a musician is definitely a Taylor family tradition—her father is a musician and writes jingles, and her brother Macey Taylor and sister Kate Taylor have played on Maria’s albums and tours. In fact, Macey Taylor has now reached widespread fame as a member of the Mystic Valley Band that Conor Oberst formed for his solo CD that came out last spring, with another album coming out this spring as well. She has sung from a very young age, as can be seen on Taylor’s sophomore effort, in the last track of “Lynn Teeter Flower” (in a song with the same title) when a no more than five year old Taylor sings a precious song that is just little over one minute; afterwards you can hear her dad’s voice saying “Maria is a blues singer, I just knew it all along”.

“We definitely get it from out dad,” Taylor said, “But my mom loves music and the style of music I write and play is inspired by the records my mom would play growing up.”

Bunches of stylish young men and woman hung on her every word at the show at El Mocambo, as her pure, gorgeous voice sung of love lost, found, and the strength she is discovering in herself. A few times you could hear the slightest waver and crack in her voice as the emotion of the song burst from within her. Taylor is one of the rare musicians out there in today’s commercial and corporate filled music industry whose genuine love of the art of music can be felt so deeply in listening to her albums or attending her shows that it is always an emotional experience for the listener.

I think many fans of this music scene would agree that the unexpected connections between two musicians that you are already huge fans of and would not expect to know each other, is still always quite amazing—for instance, the single from her new album entitled “Cartoons and Forever Plans” features R.E.M.’s Micheal Stipe. This collaboration seems huge for Taylor who is still a fairly low profile musician. In fact, Taylor explained that she and Stipe have been “friends for ten years. We were hanging out when I was working on the song and he just asked me if I wanted help on it”.

Collaborations just seem to happen naturally for Taylor. I assumed that moving to LA, she would be eager to collaborate with her musician friends Jonathan Rice and his girlfriend (and former Saddle Creek alumni from her band Rilo Kiley) Jenny Lewis, who live there. Taylor though, in her laid back manner, said that collaborations “just happen” when they do. This go-with-the-flow attitude Taylor has about her career has brought her far. Born and raised in Alabama, Taylor was attending the Alabama School of Fine Arts in Birmingham when she meet Orenda Fink. Taylor was studying ballet while Fink was in theater. The two formed the band Little Red Rocket, but their project Azure Ray brought them more success and they relocated to the neighboring state of Georgia, specifically to Athens. There they meet Andy LeMaster of Saddle Creek, who showed their stuff to Conor Oberst who helped found Saddle Creek Records, thus they were then signed to Saddle Creek and made the move to Omaha, Nebraska. Taylor loves ballet and says she still misses it, but always knew a career in music is were she belongs.

Now, about a decade later, Taylor was ready for another change, this time to some place warm, thus she moved to Los Angeles’ Silver Lake area. “I love it” she gushed, “I have so many friends there, musician friends and other friends as well. I am completely moved out of Nebraska, I had to rent a big U-Haul truck and everything” she explained. This of course leads to speculation about her relationship with Oberst, who she has been on and off with for most of her time in Nebraska, Oberst speaking in interviews a couple years ago of how the two bought a house in Omaha. But with as much as Taylor is willing to plumb the depths of her feelings in her songs, we will let her keep her relationship status to herself.

Fink even moved to LA with Taylor, “We have wanted to make another Azure Ray record for a long time,” Taylor says, “So now that she lives there with me it’s just a matter of getting it going”. In fact, Allan Tanner, a regular with Taylor’s band and one of her closet friends, moved to LA with her as well. The video he directed for Taylor’s new song “Time Lapse Lifeline” shows “a side of me not a lot of people expect, because so many of my songs are so serious but I really love to joke around”. Taylor describes Tanner as “hilarious” and was very happy with the outcome of the video.

Although the song is an intense break up ballad, the video details a day’s adventure where Taylor, complete with a pastel colored vintage dress, fun hairstyle and makeup and converse sneakers, is picked up by a car filled with many of her musician friends; Nelly Jenkins from another Omaha band Tilly and the Wall, Morgan Nagler of Whispertown, and The Donnas. The girls are all dressed similarly to Taylor, as they wreak havoc everywhere you can imagine—from throwing water balloons at a random man whose door they knock on, to flirting with a liquor store cashier (played by Tanner in a cameo) so they can steal some booze, only to end up at a pool where they lounge, drink, and jump in fully clothed. The video ends with Talyor being dropped back outside her house, just another fun filled day passed with her fellow musician friends in sunny LA.

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