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Arts and Entertainment

LAist Interview: Maria Taylor

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In 2005, Maria Taylor received national attention when songs from her first solo album, 11:11, were featured on Grey’s Anatomy. Of course, longtime fans of her music weren’t surprised in the slightest. Over the years she’s become known for her layered songwriting and meltingly beautiful vocals in bands such as Little Red Rocket, Azure Ray and Now It’s Overhead.

Following the success of 11:11, Taylor released her second solo effort, Lynn Teeter Flower, to critical acclaim in 2007. Then in June 2008, she and friend Andy LeMaster produced an EP called Savannah Drive, which includes stripped down versions of songs from her first two albums, plus one new track, "Tell Me." LAist recently caught up with Taylor at LA Mill in Silver Lake to chat about her next album, the theft of her instruments earlier this year, and her upcoming one-night-only Azure Ray reunion at the Troubadour on Nov. 30.

LAist: What’s the story behind the name of the album and the final track—the one of you as a young girl singing the words “Lynn Teeter Flower”?

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Maria Taylor: My dad had a friend name Lynn and he had a flower shop called “Lynn Teeter Flowers.” That recording was just me when I was little—I’d always sing and make up words to songs. And the story behind how I chose it as the title is that I had finished the album but didn’t have a name for it. I was with friends and we were trying to figure out the title really late at night. Then my dad e-mailed me the song and said, “Look what I just found!” When I heard it, I thought, “There it is! There’s the title.” I just thought it sounded cool.






Maria Taylor - "A Good Start"

In the song “Irish Goodbye,” what came first—the actual rap in the middle of the song or the lyric about the rap, “How can you rap for all that sunset?”

It’s actually, “rep” in the lyric, as in “represent.” My friends in Omaha are always using that term. I think I’m going to print my lyrics for my next album, because people always get it wrong, but it’s my fault because I never print the lyrics!

At the time, I was living with my friend Ian and he’s a rapper called Rig 1. We’d always talked about collaborating, so I wrote that song with him in mind.

What was the sequencing process like for Lynn Teeter Flower?

I just got my friends to help me do it. It happened the same night that my dad e-mailed me the “Lynn Teeter Flower” song.

That was a productive night!

Yeah, it all really came together.

Speaking of creating new albums, have you been working on your third solo record?

It’s completely done, and it’ll probably be released in early February.

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You said that your goal with the second album was to make it sound like you do live. What’s the goal for your third solo album?

It’ll sound like a studio recording. Since I did the other one that way, I just wanted this one to be more elaborate with strings and woodwind quartets. It’s definitely more produced, and I won’t be able to recreate it live. But that’s fun, too—reinventing the songs to make them work live, so people get two different experiences.

Will you have any special guests joining you on the new record?

Well, there are a couple special guests. I co-wrote and sang one song with Michael Stipe. I’m really excited about that one. Then a bunch of my regulars are on there, like Andy LeMaster, who produced five songs and sings as well. And my friend Nate Wolcott arranged strings for lots of the songs—I had 10 string players come in for it!


Maria Taylor - "Song Beneath the Song"

Since “Song Beneath the Song” was such a big hit, I just have to ask one question about it. Do you see it as sort of a deconstruction or a self-aware song? I know you’ve said that the song itself was written about a conversation you had about another song, but it reminds me somewhat of “Hallelujah…”

Yes, and only one other person has ever really gotten that. I definitely had that song in mind, and it’s indirectly related to the other song I was writing about. So it’s all connected and “Hallelujah” played a part in that.

What was the inspiration for producing your recent EP, Savannah Drive?

At that point, I had finished my new record and had some time on my hands. Lately I’ve been trying to do lots of projects with my friends just to occupy my time—plus it’s fun, too. It was just an excuse to go back to Athens for a week and hang out with my best friend, Andy LeMaster. It was originally just going to be stripped-down versions of some songs from my last record, along with a couple from 11:11, then we wrote “Tell Me” one night after we were done recording.

We just wanted to see what it would be like to give ourselves limitations. We would only use our guitars or our voices, and that was it. And we wanted to do it in five days.

I also love what you two did with “Breathe” on the Saddle Creek Lagniappe benefit CD. What gave you the idea to borrow from your song “Xanax”?

That was actually my demo for “Xanax.” We had been recording in Athens, and Robb from Saddle Creek asked if any of us wanted to participate in their Katrina benefit. But the catch was that he needed everything the following day. I remembered that I had a sketch of what “Xanax” would later become—it was just me singing and playing drums in my room. So Andy added stuff on top of it and then did some countermelodies.

When I write songs, I demo them, then they go through this metamorphosis. There are lots of changes, so “Breathe” was the start of “Xanax.”

Switching gears a bit, this past summer, LAist ran a story about the fact that your gear was stolen in San Francisco. Would you mind sharing that experience along with any updates?

It was so terrible. We were in San Francisco and I’ve been touring for 12 years, so I’m usually good about knowing when we can leave stuff in the van and when we shouldn’t. This time it was kind of in a bad neighborhood, but it was downtown right next to one of the busiest streets, Market Street. We had Pricelined a hotel, so it was a four-star hotel, and there were valet people right there. So I figured there was no way anyone would break in with valet people standing there all night, not to mention all the traffic nearby. At the time, I was really sick with a sinus infection, so I’d even left my suitcase in the van because I felt too tired to bring it in. I left everything in there.

The van was gone in the morning, so I thought someone stole the whole thing. But apparently, in the middle of the night, someone stole almost everything. When the police saw the van later on, there were a few things left, so they towed it to prevent people from stealing anything else.

The remarkable thing was that, thanks to the fans, so many people were e-mailing me and trying to help us find everything. The fans were the ones who found my acoustic guitar on Craigslist, plus one of them works at Guitar Center and he contacted me when someone brought in the Les Paul and my Gretsch.

It was amazing, but the thing that still sucks is that there’s this investigator who was helping me and now I have the hardest time reaching him. I was giving him the leads, such as when people found my guitars, and he would go get them. But now it’s been three months of me trying to call him, and he won’t call back.

Back when we were in communication, he said he had the guitars and that I could come up and get them. Then recently my brother and some of my friends were up in San Francisco and were going to pick up the guitars for me. So we finally got in touch with the investigator and he said they could come by and get it, and that they just needed to call him when they were in town. They called over and over for two days and he never answered the phone. It’s so weird.

That is strange! Did the thieves steal your first acoustic guitar that you usually write music on?

Yes. But the sweetest thing ever is that we played the next day in LA, and I had called one of my friends the night before—crying—and when I got to LA he had bought me a brand-new acoustic guitar just like my old one, and a brand-new hollow-body Gibson. So I had two guitars waiting for me at the show with bows on them. It was so sweet. Then I felt bad when they said they’d found my others because I thought, “Now I’ve come out of this ahead!” But now I don’t know.

The saddest thing is that my guitar player’s acoustic guitar was stolen, and it was a guitar that his mother—who had passed away—had given him. She had painted it and it was just one of those guitars that he always had with him. He would never go anywhere without that guitar, and for some reason, that one day, he left it in the van. He never did that.

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It’s really cool how you made your album and tour a family affair with your brother on bass and sister on keyboards. Often, when I watch siblings perform on stage, it amazes me how much they are in tune with each other—like they can read each other’s minds. Have you found that to be the case with Macey and Kate?

Oh yeah, totally. It’s amazing. When I decided to do a solo project, I was afraid at first, because it’s scary. But when I had them with me on stage, it was ironic because I was so nervous, and then I realized I’d never felt more comfortable on stage. Whenever I go on tour, leaving my family is always a bummer because I’m so close to them. So having my family right there with me means I never get homesick. Touring has an all-new meaning.

My sister Kate is actually coming out with her first solo album, and it’s really great. It’s kind of like my style of music but a little more Southern/rootsy. It’s not released yet, but you can hear her stuff on her myspace page. I’m so proud.

How did the Azure Ray reunion (with bandmate Orenda Fink and special guest Andy LeMaster) come about?

Orenda and I have always been friends and we’d both just gotten so busy doing our solo things that we really didn’t hang out as much as we wanted to, and then I moved here. But recently she went on tour with Rilo Kiley, playing in their band, so she came to LA a few times to practice. She stayed with me and we just had so much fun. Just a couple of months ago she said, “I want to come back and visit,” and I said, “Let’s just play a show. That’d be a reason for you to come and spend a long time—we can practice, go out, have fun, and just play all these old songs.”

What will the set list look like at the Troubadour?

I think we’re going to keep it to only Azure Ray songs. “November” will probably be in there. Then if there’s some sort of encore, maybe we’ll each do a song from our solo projects, and perhaps one Now It’s Overhead song.

You have so many songs to choose from!

I know, and I don’t actually own any of the Azure Ray songs, so right before I came to LA Mill today, I was actually buying Azure Ray songs on iTunes so I can figure out which ones I want to do at the concert. (laughs) I just didn’t feel like waiting for the label to send me the CDs.

Have you and Orenda talked about producing another Azure Ray album in the near future?

That’s on hold. It wouldn’t surprise me if one day we did that, but right now she’s actually working on two records and mine’s about to come out. Plus Andy is coming back to LA soon and we’re going to write more songs together and put out a record. I feel like if Azure Ray ever did another album, it would probably be a couple years from now. But we’ll see.

It seems like you’ve really found the solution to a successful music career nowadays: working with a tight-knit group of musicians, lending your music to TV shows and movies, and touring like crazy. Do you feel optimistic when you think about the future of the music industry?

I don’t know; it scares me a bit. The economy right now scares me. With all the free downloading, it’s hard for bands to survive—unless you tour a lot. And some people aren’t as lucky with getting their songs into TV shows because music supervisors are looking for something so particular.

How did you get that first song on Grey’s Anatomy?

They just called, and they’ve been so nice to me since then. They’ve used three or four of my songs. And that’s how I survive, because otherwise I don’t make much money from album sales, and touring is hard. When it comes to my band, the way I feel is, if people give a month of their time to my dream, I just want to give them all the money!

Then I think about what’ll happen if I want to have children, or if I just get too old to do all this touring, and it’s kinda scary.

You also had an Azure Ray song on the soundtrack for The Devil Wears Prada, right?

Yes, and it was so funny because when we got the e-mail about it, the movie had a different name. These movies will often have a working title until the very last minute. So one day, a friend called me and said, “Your song is in The Devil Wears Prada,” and I told them, “No, it’s not.” Then I went to see the film, and there it was!

And I pretty much say yes to someone using my music in a movie or whatever—unless it’s a porno. (laughs) It’s cool to get your music out there that way. I mean, I love it when I go to a movie, discover a song, go home and buy it and find a new artist.

You’ve mentioned that “Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac is one of your favorite songs. Have you ever considered doing a cover of it?

Yeah, except that the Dixie Chicks and Smashing Pumpkins did it. If they hadn’t, then I would have. I listen to that song every day. It’s always on my mix when I go on walks and I’m slowing things down. That one comes on, and then I want to cry.

What else is on your workout mix right now?

Right now I’m kind of obsessed with “West Coast” by Coconut Records. That song is so much fun and I love walking to it. And my walking mix also has stuff like Leona Lewis and Beyoncé on there. But my non-workout mixes have artists such as Elliott Smith…

What’s your favorite album of his?

They all just kill me. I go back and forth between XO and Either/Or and can’t decide which one is my favorite. But the other day I bought Roman Candle because I hadn’t had it in so long, and I fell in love with those songs all over again. I just love “No Name #3” (“Home to Oblivion”).

I wish I could’ve seen him perform back in the day. There were so many opportunities, but I’d just say to myself, “Oh, I’ll see him next time.”

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Now I have just a few random questions for you. You’ve said that your house had a slew of instruments in it when you were growing up, and you’re a multi-instrumentalist now, but what led you to first take up drums?

I always loved them and my parents got me a play kit when I was little. But I think I really got serious about drums when I got together with my first boyfriend, who was a drummer. I was 16 and he would play drums in a band and I would always go to their practice space and hang out. Then I started playing drums in his band when I was 17.

I haven’t seen much written about your tattoos. How many do you have?

Five.

Which one’s your favorite?

I love them all. I just think they’re so awesome because it’s one of the only things you have a choice with when it comes to your body. I just fall in love with them. I’m about to get another one—I want to get a big orchid. I’m excited. I like to get a new one every time I move to a different city.

Given your background in ballet, do you ever put on your dancing shoes?

No. I think about it sometimes, but if I put on my pointe shoes, I would break my neck for sure. You have to be strong for that and I’m not strong anymore. But I miss it sometimes. I love dancing. Watching ballet kind of makes me nostalgic and sad. I end up crying at ballets, but I want to go see The Nutcracker in LA this year.

Have you ever tried your hand at jingle writing since your dad has done so well with it?

(laughs) I haven't. Maybe when I’m done touring and all that, I’ll try to get into it.

I know you’re super-busy, but do you have any hobbies?

When I have a lot of time, I really just hang out with my friends. Cause that’s the hard thing. When you go on tour, you lose touch. And I’m a terrible telephone person. I like to look at people when I talk to them. As far as a hobby goes, I do love wine, so we just try out new wine bars and stuff.

Since this is a blog about LA, my last couple questions are about the city. Now, you’ve been living here for nearly a year, right?

Yup, in fact, I moved on 11/11 last year.

What led you to choose Silver Lake?

I have friends who live in Silver Lake, so every time I would visit, I’d stay with them. I’m way more of a Silver Lake kind of girl than a Hollywood kind of girl. It’s so pretty around here.

What are some of your favorite places to hang out in LA?

When it comes to restaurants, I love Dusty’s, Hugo’s and Gingergrass.

I also love Glendale. I go there all the time, because I hate places where everyone’s just so trendy; Glendale just seems way more comfortable and laid back!

Thanks for speaking with LAist, Maria.

Don’t miss Azure Ray's Nov. 26 performance on Morning Becomes Eclectic and catch them live at the Troubadour on Nov. 30.

To listen to more of Lynn Teeter Flower and 11:11, visit www.myspace.com/mariataylor.

Photos by Jeff Gros, Casey Scott and via Maria Taylor's myspace page