Danielle Taylor is an emerging AC/Pop artist out of Los Angeles, CA. With a background in classical music and her heart rooted in pop tunes from amazing talents like Elton John and Sara Bareilles, Taylor found herself quickly drawn to the piano. Though she had no formal training, Taylor taught herself the basics and jumped into LA’s music scene with both feet. Her talent, drive and determination have afforded her many great opportunities including an exclusive mentorship with former SVP of Epic Records, Don Grierson as well as countless direct support slots for touring artists such as Ari Hest, Jonny Lang, Steve Tyrell, Leon Russell, Colby O’Donis, Marc Broussard, Marc Cohn, Wilson Phillips, Howie Day and many more. Last week Taylor released her latest EP titled, ‘The Chase’ via SonyRED. The record was recorded and produced by Grammy Winner, Erich Talaba, and has already begun to receive rave reviews.
Entertwine: After playing the clarinet for over 16 years you decided to pursue a career in music as a vocalist and pianist; explain this transition. Did having so much experience already on one instrument ease you into the songwriting process?
Danielle: A My decision to leave the clarinet was a very natural one. I love classical music, but something about it made me feel trapped after a while. I kept being told how great I was and how it would be a waste to pursue anything different – that the clarinet was my ticket to bigger and better things. The more I heard that, the more I felt like I needed to get out. I had a very fancy audition lined up to be a sub for the LA Philharmonic, I was waiting for my turn and I was freaking out. It was in that moment that I really decided I didn’t want to do it anymore. Just because you’re good at something, doesn’t mean you’re passionate about it. So I apologized to my instructor who’d arranged the audition and I left. I have honestly never looked back. After that I kind of sat on my hands a bit. I worked a regular job and left music in the past… but it kept creeping up on me. Eventually I was lamenting to a friend that I really wanted to get back into it, but this time, I wanted to sing. As fortune would have it, she knew a fancy producer and arranged for me to meet him. He told me that I had a fine voice, but so did a ton of other girls. His advice to me was to learn to play and instrument and to write my own songs. So that’s what I did. I tried the guitar but I’m a big baby and it hurt my fingers. The fret board confused me and I just wasn’t into it. I’d remembered tinkering with the piano a bit in junior high so I decided to give that a try. Having both musical knowledge and a strong practicing routine made picking up the piano fairly easy. I at least knew my scales, the notes were already laid out and I knew how to work hard as well as smart. The biggest part of my piano knowledge though was the gent that came to tune my upright every few months. When he was finished attending to the action, he’d sit down and play all the keys to make sure everything worked and sounded right. He was a great pianist. I would literally stare at his hands trying to soak up everything he was doing. When he’d leave, I’d immediately sit down and try to emulate what he’d just played. I’d practice for hours. Once I felt like I could create something sonically interesting, I started to write songs. They were complicated and all over the map, but they were mine.
Tell us about the time you spent with your mentor Don Grierson, formerly of Epic Records; was it during the time you worked with Don Grierson that you really began to see development and progress in your writing and performance skills?
Working with Don was absolutely incredible! I met him at a music convention in LA and I shared my music with him. He could see potential as well as room for growth so he agreed to mentor me. We really focused on song structure, lyrical content and of course, the hook of a tune. Don’s big line was always, “there are basic songwriting rules, but the melody comes first. If the melody is great, you can break the other rules a bit.” His experience with Epic made him the best possible guy to have in my corner. He would listen to my song and essentially tell me if it was a hit or not. It was disheartening for sure because every song I’d written at that point fell into the ‘not a hit’ category. But I respected Don’s wisdom and his ear for greatness so I kept pluggin’ away. Eventually I’d come up with something that he’d say, “that’s good- keep working on it- it has real hit potential.” It was a hard and wonderful time. He really pushed me to be better and progress wasn’t immediate. I had to set aside my ego and do what was best for the song… even if that meant scrapping it altogether. Thankfully though, I did learn and I was able to start crafting songs instead of just throwing cliché lines together.
What was it like growing up in Southern California?
I feel like it’s been great living in SoCal all my life. I mean, I don’t have anything to compare it to, but the sun is almost always shining and I think that’s really rubbed off on me. I have my dark and sullen moments, but for the most part, I’m a cheery, happy go lucky girl. I was born in San Diego, CA and everyone I knew down there was really nice so I started out with great examples of how to treat other people. My mother’s a former military child so she was pretty strict – but also very loving, so I guess a part of my work ethic comes from her. And then moving to LA for junior high and high school was great because it toughened me up a bit. I was a definite loser in junior high and I really had to learn to develop some thick skin and stand my ground. So all in all, I feel like SoCal has done right by me.
You’ve opened for a number of well-known and respected artists over the years; could you tell us about some of the most exciting or interesting live performances you’ve been a part of?
My first national support show was opening for Jonny Lang. I remember loading my gear and seeing his sound check. His set up was huge! He had lights and fog and he was just electric! I was so nervous I could barely breathe. I pretended to be cool and unfazed in front of my band but I was terrified. It was the first time I’d perform in front of a thousand or more people and I wasn’t sure I could do it. I felt nauseous and jittery. It was horrible. When I finally stepped on stage, I could feel my hands shaking. I did everything I could to suck up the fear and just started to sing. After the first few minutes, I felt totally at home. The crowd was cheering and clapping and really into our show – it was the best affirmation ever. So many of the shows I’ve done have made me feel that way; nervous and excited. It’s the up and down of performing I guess. When I opened for Leon Russell it was a packed house and I actually felt confident and great when I stepped on stage. It was a small set up for me – just me on vocals and piano with my guitarist. When we finished, we got a standing ovation, which was awesome, and I started to clear my things off the stage (I don’t have roadies). As I pulled my gear into the wings, I saw Leon sitting there with his long white beard, white Stetson and dark glasses. He had such a straight face I couldn’t tell if he was upset with my having just opened for him or not. I walked up to him, shook his hand and thanked him for letting me perform on his ticket. He laughed, said, “no problem” and asked me why I was pulling my own gear off stage. I told him I didn’t have a roadie, he chuckled and said, “guess you’ll have to fix that won’t ya darlin’?” He then told me that a member from his team mentioned I had a great voice and encouraged him to come watch me perform, so there he was, in the wings, watching. I loved that! It was such an incredible honor that a Rock ‘N Roll Hall Of Famer like him would even listen. Opening for incredible artists is super fun – I get to learn, grow and share my music with a brand new audience, but I also get front row seats to see amazing talent in action!
What life experiences and events influenced the writing and recording of your EP “The Chase”? Could you tell us about each of the featured songs?
After working with Don and starting to open for great musicians, I really started feeling like I needed to spend time on my craft. The only problem was that I had a 40hr a week job that sucked up a large chunk of my time. I tried to stay motivated, I worked during the week and performed on the weekends, but I wasn’t all in. In August of 2013 I got to travel to Italy – it was such a beautiful trip. My soundtrack while abroad was ‘The Blessed Unrest’ by Sara Bareilles. She’s my favorite singer to date. I was so moved by her lyrics, inspired by the artistry and absolutely motivated by her own anthemic song ‘Brave.’ I realized I was being unfair to my music and myself because I was afraid. I didn’t know if I could really make music a full time career – if I could stay afloat – so I hid under the guise of 9am-5pm oppression. Thankfully though, I found the nerve and made the biggest change of my life. I quit my job and jumped into the unknown of full time music. As a writer, I generally tend to pull from past or current experiences – this new EP is no exception. With everything on my mind, I couldn’t help but let my world pour out of me and into my music. Three different tracks on my EP were all written with the same theme in mind: Chasing your dreams, being willing to jump into unknown situations with both feet and being fearless in your efforts. The first track of the record, ‘Fearless’ is all about quitting my job and was inspired by a co-worker of mine. She’s a beautiful woman in her early 50’s and I told her that I was planning to quit. She told me she wished she was still fearless; that she could just pick up and change her life like that. She said that when she was younger making huge decisions was easy, but as she got older, she became afraid of the unknown. Afraid of not having the security of routine. Something about her saying that resonated with me. I wanted to hold on to my kind of gumption, confidence and whimsical nature forever. I never want to be afraid of going after my dreams. I always want to be willing to go for broke, embrace adventure and chase what matters most.
What was it like working with Erich Talaba on this record?
Working with Erich was probably the best, most challenging thing I’ve ever done. Erich is amazing. His ear is amazing and he sets the bar for perfection so wonderfully high. That’s part of what drew me to him. Erich challenged me not only as a pianist and songwriter, but as a vocalist as well – that’s something I’ve never had before. I would be in the studio, singing what I thought was my heart out, and Erich would tell me I wasn’t cutting it. He continuously pushed me to belt it out and pour emotion into every line. Prior to working with Erich, I’d never really belted anything out – so him asking that of me was really tough to deliver on. It challenged my physical abilities as a singer and really rocked the foundation I’d built my ego on. But thankfully, Erich is as kind and patient as he is detail oriented, so he stuck with me, encouraging me to belt out those top notes and really go for it. The result is, in my opinion, a bangarang record that I can honestly say I put every piece of myself into.
Recording ‘The Chase’ was so much fun. It was recorded at my house, Satellite Studios and Erich’s personal studio, Eli’s Place. The piano was recorded at my house and was the first thing we set to tape. I have a beautiful parlor grand at my house and Erich came over, mic’d everything up and spent two days recording and perfecting my piano line for each track. When we were finally good to go, we packed up and headed to Satellite Studios in Ventura, CA to record the drums and lay down basic skeleton ideas for bass and guitar. The band hadn’t really played the songs before so everything we came up with was on the spot and genuinely organic. My band had never worked that way before so it was a fun new experience for everyone. We played with vibes and ideas, went over the top and the reeled it back in. It kept the magic and friction of that first spark in the room so we could capture and record it. Once we laid down the drums and framework for guitar and bass, we headed over to Erich’s studio for the final touches and of course vocals. It was a fun and collaborative process and I think Erich did a great job of capturing the energy and excitement from top to bottom.
How does this new record expand on or differ from your previous releases (including your albums “Don’t Turn On The Light” and “Through The Radio”)?
I’d consider this new record to be a second step from the last. ‘Don’t’ Turn On The Light’ was my first EP and it was my first time having any type of production done to my sound. The theme for that record was more, let’s tell a story, than this new one is. ‘Through The Radio’ was the first track of that EP and it was about remembering a past love in a fond way. The tracks that followed told stories of intentional heartbreak, individualism, wisdom and new love. The ideas weren’t as tied together from song to song. My new EP is very ‘forward motion’ centric. I think it expands on the ideas of individualism from the previous record, but it brings a lot more to the table in terms of strength, optimism and vulnerability.
What went into the making of the music video for your song ‘Fearless’?
Fearless was a really fun video to make. A few friends and I actually made the mirrored backdrops and then I got to go crazy and smash them all with a sledgehammer. It was a blast! We filmed in Ventura and shot at the Majestic Theater as well as Cemetery Park. Besides smashing all the mirrors, I’d say my favorite part of the shoot was climbing into a tree like a little kid. I didn’t realize it, but I’d grown to be afraid of doing that. The crew kept shouting at me, “Just be Fearless Danielle!” [laughs] they were throwing my own words in my face and I had to live up to them in yet another way. It was such a great day.
What has the experience of working with Sony’s RED label been like so far?
So far so good. Being a SonyRED artist has opened a lot of new doors, which is really exciting. My rep works hard to put me out there and every once in a while I get updates about my video airing on MTV or my song being #1 on his roster for Spotify, it’s pretty nice.
What does the remainder of 2015 hold in store for Danielle Taylor? Do you have any upcoming performances scheduled?
A My soonest national show is coming up on Friday April 17th. I’ll be performing with my two beautiful backup singers opening for Lisa Loeb at the Canyon Club in Agoura Hills. (tickets can be purchased at: www.danielletaylormusic.com/shows) I have another music video coming out in the beginning of May for my title track, ‘The Chase’ and hopefully I’ll be touring a bit in the summer. Aside from that, I’m always performing somewhere – just trying to share my music with the world. My website gives the day-by-day details for my performances though. www.danielletaylormusic.com