Maria Taylor (Azure Ray, Bright Eyes) speaks to PopMatters about her new solo record, Overlook, and why going home to the South can be good for the creative soul.
Maria Taylor has been at this game a while. She formed her first band, Little Red Rocket, when she was 15 years old. Since then, she’s performed in Azure Ray and Now It’s Overhead, collaborated with Bright Eyes, Moby, Crooked Fingers, and more, and released five solo records under her own name. In other words, Taylor knows what she’s doing. Nevertheless, even with 20 years of recording behind her, her new solo album, Overlook still feels distinctive and fresh to her. “It’s the first one that I’ve ever fully produced,” she explains, “and I did it all in a week; I usually take way longer than that.” Taylor speaks with a hint of the Southern drawl that reveals her Alabama roots. Overlook has a connection to the Heart of Dixie, as well, as Taylor moved home to Birmingham from Los Angeles to write and record the material. Being in her hometown afforded some easy opportunities for musical accompaniment: “My dad has never played on any of my records,” Taylor says, “and he played on this one, and so did my sister and my brother.” That’s Taylor’s father playing mandolin and singing backup on “Bad Idea”, and those are her brother’s basslines reverberating throughout the album. When Taylor speaks of her musical family, she seems as excited for the chance to work with them as any of her other more famous collaborators. It’s contagious—call it Southern charm.
“My parents gave me this little playhouse when I was three or four, and I turned it into a studio,” she says, laughing. “I put a microphone in there, and they say I’d just sit in there for hours until the tape ran out, just singing and singing.” Music has come naturally to Taylor since her earliest memories, though Overlook took shape only after a long dry spell. Taylor hadn’t written a song in over a year. Then, holed up in her old bedroom in Birmingham, she broke the spell by writing “Happenstance”: “Beginning to end—thirty minutes,” she says. After that, the songs kept coming. “I just sat in my room and literally didn’t leave for two weeks. I had bottles of wine and food and my friends seemed worried ... ” she laughs, trailing off. Taylor recorded Overlook‘s demos straight to her own computer, and you can still hear some of those original backing tracks on the album. When it came time, though, to fill out some of the songs with bigger instrumentation, Taylor drew on Birmingham’s musical community in addition to her own family.