Pic by Steven Cox

INTERVIEW: Taylor Rogers

Hi Taylor, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?

Hey there! I’ve been doing well. I just finished up a northeast tour with Corey Laitman and I had my album release show in Chicago on the tail of it. I’m still riding the lift of it all, feeling grateful.

Can you talk to us more about your latest single “BE4U”?

BE4U is the most accessible tune on the record. its a pop song about what is sometimes the simplest expression of love for oneself or another: letting go. The emotionally clinging to something that is already gone is a feeling I think we are all familiar with. As we shed comfortable but constraining layers, we are exposed to the world and to the future in new ways. This song is about a painful trust in that process.

Did any event in particular inspire you to write this song?

This song was inspired by letting go of my past relationship in response to accepting my gayness. It was an incredibly vulnerable process. The chorus sings “take this hope, blow it to smoke, don’t turn back, sometimes love is like that. Fire burns out, river runs through, water runs dry, laying me bare before you.”  

Any plans to release a video for the single?

Right now I’m working on a visual album/film that uses ten of the thirteen tracks from the album. BE4U is not part of that larger project, and I’ve yet to determine whether I’d like to make a separate video for it, but we will see what time and budget allows for.

The single comes off your new album NOA – what’s the story behind the title?

Diving into feelings of grief and loss after a break up, trusting that a brighter future awaited me if only I could make it through, made me feel like Noah from NOAH’s Ark (or like any of the protagonists from the many great flood narratives found all around the world). The lesson that sometimes one must come undone and destroy much of what one knows in order to find a new self and a new life, is an old teaching, but a teaching I was learning in a new way, intimately through my own embodied experience.  And so NOA (femme version of ‘Noah’) is that journey. It is both the darkness and fear of that journey, as well as the new life and beauty such darkness gives birth to. 

How was the recording and writing process?

Tedious. I was recording the album in San Diego with my friend Nate Vaughan while living in Chicago. Most of the instrumentalists were recording from a distance, too. The cellist Shannon Hayden (of Simrit and Lily & Madeleine) was recording from California, My drummer Austin Vaughn (of Molly Sarle and Sam Evian) was recording from NYC, and saxophonist Timothy Bennett (of Possibilities) was recording from Chicago. The back and forth with instrumentalists as we worked to arrange parts together I found very rewarding, but less efficient than would have been preferred.  Communicating with Nate by phone often fell short, and I would find myself booking an extra trip to San Diego so that important details could be executed according to my very strong (sometimes too strong) vision. I learned a lot from the process, but would absolutely arrange for a more efficient and budget-friendly process next go round!

What role does Chicago play in your music?

Chicago provides the context for the album. It has been the boat holding my flood journey. For example, when composing Precipice with Shannon, I described the imagery of looking out onto Lake Michigan just before a storm, hearing the waves hit the rocks, knowing I must dive in despite the danger, despite the fear. I composed a majority of this album looking out onto lake Michigan, with the skyline in view. Cityscapes juxtaposed with the lake somehow speaks to me of the electronic texturing I juxtapose with acoustic elements like cello and saxophone.  For the visual album (2020), all of our movement artists are Chicago-based, and all the cinematography Chicago-based, too.

With the whole album serving as this journal about yourself finding who you are – was it easy for you to open up to an audience made up of strangers?

Although there is a raw vulnerability exposed in these tracks, I always stay grounded in the universality of these emotions, these experiences of loss and love that all of us share, despite differences in contexts. That universality makes me feel extremely connected to others when sharing these very personal stories. Taking experiences of loneliness, translating them into something that resists that loneliness–that is what it means to be an artist. It is not easy, it is sometimes exposing and vulnerable, but it is what is demanded If I want the reward of connection with others, near and far. 

What other aspect of your life did you get to explore on this record?

In addition to being a musician, I’m also pursuing my dissertation in Philosophy. My research examines emotional numbness and how it contributes to oppression. I think about the role of art and music in helping us to feel deeply, and how cultivating emotions like grief can help in the pursuit of justice. The film project is functioning as the last chapter of my dissertation, funded by a grant from Northwestern. Exploring my philosophical research together with my art has been super cool, as both have informed and enriched each other greatly. Bringing art into the academy, and bringing academic research into the public art world, have been really rewarding experiences.

Where else did you find the inspiration for the songs and lyrics?

My biggest musical inspirations are Anais Mitchell, Joni Mitchell, and Bon Iver. The detail of intention found in both the storytelling and soundscapes of these artists is something I strive for in my own work. Making every word and every sound count. Joni’s ‘Blue’ is foundational to all that flows from me musically. The story Anais bring to life with Hadestown (and in her song-writing work generally), marries hope and grief in ways that have been foundational to my dissertation project, and to developing my own song-writing voice. The Staves’ album If I was, produced by Justin Vernon (of Bon Iver), amplifies brilliant melodies and vocal layering with sonic textures that give goosebumps. It was also a huge inspiration for me.

Any plans to hit the road?

I recently returned from a tour with Corey Laitman (a brilliant song-writer from Northampton) in the Northeast. I am planning two other tours this season, one in the Midwest (IL, IN, WI), and one in the Southeast, starting in my hometown of Chapel Hill, NC. You can stay up to date on upcoming shows by visiting taylorrogersmusic.com or by following my instagram @taylorrogersmusic. 

What else is happening next in Taylor Rogers‘ world?

This next year I plan to tour a bit, as well as perform locally with a band I recently formed in Chicago (Timothy Bennett on Sax, Tom Benko on percussion, and Emma Adomeit on cello/bass). I will also be finishing my dissertation at Northwestern, including the film project (in collaboration with Lillian Walker of PictureLuck media). For these next couple of weeks, however, I really hope to soak in what it feels like to have completed this phase of my journey with NOA. Sharing this music with you all feels really, really good.

Listen to the full album here

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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