Maria Taylor, most known for her work with indie rock band group Azure Ray, is leaving behind a life of group work to release her first solo album on May 24. The CD, entitled 11:11 because Taylor finds herself so often checking the clock at that exact time, develops the lo-fi pop style that Taylor played with Azure Ray. But don’t mistake her for some whiny, self-indulgent singer-songwriter; before the album’s release Taylor has already embarked on tour with Har Mar Superstar and Ben Lee, supported by her siblings, out to prove that being a solo artist isn’t really all that different from being in a band. Taylor discusses her new album and (lack of) future plans with PopMatters over lunch.
PopMatters: How did you start playing music?
Maria Taylor: My dad writes jingles for a living, so we always had a studio in the house as far back as I can remember. When I was 16 I started my first band. I got signed to Geffen [as part of the band Little Red Rocket] when I was 18 or 19. I was also a ballet dancer, but I quit ballet so I could start touring all the time. Then I got dropped from Geffen, which was a blessing.
PM: When did you get dropped?
MT: About a year and half, two years after we got signed. We kept doing Little Red Rocket for a few years after that and then we started Azure Ray. Then we decided to take a break from Azure Ray and that’s where I am now.
PM: Is Azure Ray over?
MT: We’re just kinda seeing where life takes us right now.
PM: How is your solo stuff different than your work with Azure Ray?
Maria Taylor talks about heading out on her own (with siblings).
MT: It wasn’t intended to necessarily be different. I kept writing songs the same way, we just weren’t putting out an Azure Ray album. I think the album sounds poppier because I tend to write more pop songs, and these are all my songs.
PM: Do you prefer solo work or being part of a band?
MT: Well I have a band with me [on tour] so I still feel like I’m in a band. We always wrote songs individually anyway, so it really doesn’t feel that different.
PM: The band you have on tour with you includes your siblings, is that right?
MT: Yeah, it’s been great. I was wondering if we were gonna fight, but so far no fights. When we decided to take a break from Azure Ray I was gonna go to Alabama to see them, but then I decided it was a better idea to put out this album and just take them with me. We’re gonna go to Europe and other places they’ve never seen. This is my sister’s second time ever to be in New York.
PM: Are they in their own bands as well?
MT: My brother’s in a band also, but I’m kinda trying to steal him away.
PM: Generally, when you write a song, what’s the process?
MT: Usually I just play my guitar and when I come up with something it’ll just hit me like, “Okay I’ve got something here.” And the melody pops into my head. And then I just decide what it makes me feel and I try to think of a memory that’s similar to that feeling and try to articulate it.
PM: How long does it take you to write a song?
MT: Sometimes it’s 30 minutes and sometimes it’s two months. I have a hard time with lyrics; they either come right at once or I spend so much time on them. I’ll write a whole song and then throw it away and write all new lyrics. My friends that are really great songwriters will listen to it and I’ll be like, “What lyric really makes you cringe?”
PM: How long did the entire album take you to write and record?
MT: It took me about three months to write all the songs and then I spent two weeks recording with Mike [Mogis] and two weeks recording with Andy [LeMaster].
PM: Why did you decide to use two different producers on the album?
MT: I felt this album just represents different parts of my life. I live in Nebraska now and I lived in Athens, GA, so I felt like I wanted half of it in the Midwest and half of it in the South.
PM: What instruments to do you play on the album?
MT: On the album I play drums, guitar, and piano.
PM: When you recorded the album you had a lot of Saddle Creek people play with you, right?
MT: Yeah, just because they’re there. So if I needed a cello player, I would just call my friend Gretta [Cohn, from Cursive].
PM: It sounds a lot like Saddle Creek is like a family—everyone plays on everyone else’s album and you all tour together.
MT: It feels like a family. It’s a really supportive and beautiful—and inspiring—environment. I feel lucky to have landed there. I genuinely love every artist that’s on Saddle Creek.
PM: By this point I assume you’re friends with all of them?
MT: Yeah, that’s pretty much why we moved to Nebraska. We started touring with everyone and we got so close—like those are our best friends—so it was like, “Why not live with our best friends?”
PM: How long have you lived in Nebraska?
MT: Three and a half years now.
PM: Do you like it there?
MT: I like the people, but we tour so much that I don’t even feel like I’ve lived there that long.
PM: Do you ever get sick of touring so much?
MT: I do, but now that I’ve brought my brother and sister, because it’s so new to them, I feel like their energy is rubbing off on me. The last Azure Ray tour I was so jaded and I was like, “I never want to tour again!” But I feel like it’s all new again so I think I’m going to be able to survive a long, long tour.
PM: Your music is very quiet. When you play in a club is it hard to make yourself heard?
MT: Yeah, it was frustrating with Azure Ray, because it was quieter. We pump up the volume a little bit. You just have to demand people’s attention by volume, I’m realizing, and then they’ll listen. I think if it’s quiet and they can talk over it, they just will.
PM: Does that bother you when someone’s talking over your music?
MT: It does, but I talk, too, over music, so I understand. They’re drunk and their friends are there, but it is frustrating. When you’re up on stage, it’s like why did you pay money to come to a show when you could have just gone to bar and talked. But I do it, too…
PM: Now that you are technically a solo artist, do you find yourself being labeled a singer-songwriter?
MT: Yeah, I hear that term being thrown around, but I don’t feel like that really applies to [me] because my whole point was to have a band and not be a singer-songwriter. I guess when you have your name—“Maria Taylor” is what I’m calling it—and some of the songs are kinda folky. I’m a singer and I write songs, but that’s not how I would define myself.
PM: What are your future plans? More solo work?
MT: I don’t know, I have no expectations and no plans either. I’m kinda gonna let everyday help me decide what will happen the next day.
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work as independent cultural critics and historians. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times. Thanks everyone.