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Taylor Kelly Loves A Good Monochrome Power Suit

Written by on December 8, 2021

The artist makes her mark on the Philadelphia music scene with a funk-filled mix of soul and jazz.

Born and raised in Rochester, N.Y., trumpeter and vocalist Taylor Kelly got her start playing in her elementary school jazz band, eventually finding a love for vocal performance in high school. Fast forward to two years post-graduation from Berklee College of Music when, uncertain of where to go next, Kelly inadvertently fell in love with Philadelphia and has called it home ever since.

On Kelly’s most recent single “Maybe,” which was featured in Vocalo’s “In Rotation” playlist for November 2021, she reflects on feelings of anxiety and uncertainty in the midst of the pandemic. Her silky vocals shine on the track, propelled by a grooving bass line and soulful guitar melodies.

Following three shows on the East Coast in New York City, Boston and Providence, R.I., on Dec. 1, 2 and 3, respectively, we heard from Kelly about her live performances, bold fashion sense and new black cat, Genny.

Photo courtesy of the artist, by Pam Ayala.

For how long have you played the trumpet? How has that instrument and your background with jazz affected the way you write and perform?

My dad was a trumpet player, and when it came time to pick out an instrument in fourth grade, I already knew that’s what I wanted to play. I consider it my first instrument and it was really integral to developing my musicianship and love for music. I didn’t grow up listening to a lot of jazz, but I was in the jazz band at school in fifth grade on and it’s something I really cherished. It wasn’t until my senior year of high school when my jazz band director asked me to put my horn down and sing a song with the band that I realized I wanted to sing jazz. That’s what led me to Berklee [College of Music], studying jazz, writing music, etc. Playing the trumpet has been especially impactful on my melody-writing and horn-arranging in my songs and vocal improvising in my performance.

We saw you recently played several shows, with more coming up soon. How did it feel to get back on stage after all the time stuck inside over the past two years?

Wow. I wish I could describe this feeling but I don’t think I truly can. My first full band show back was a music festival in the woods in south Jersey called Beardfest in June of this year, and it felt like I had been reborn. The time stuck at home really allowed me to process how important performing is to me and I realized how much I thrive off of that energy exchange between myself, my band and the audience. I know I’m not alone in that.

What should new fans expect a Taylor Kelly live performance to be like?

Honestly? Pretty off the chain. I’ve been a performer my whole life, even before I was writing songs — and my band always smashes. I give everything I am able to give on stage, and people really feel that. It’s my favorite part of being an artist — the freedom to express myself with full body, mind and soul, and share that with the world in a live setting. I don’t know, think Beyoncé but a little more rock ‘n roll.

Tell us about your experiences touring. Do you have any favorite memories from your days on the road?

I’ve done a handful of mini tours following early releases, mostly playing in the Northeast — my hometown of Rochester, New York City, Boston, Toronto — but after my album release in 2019, Up Up and Away, I took my band on the longest tour yet, which was two weeks. I spent about eight months putting that tour together and it was the most incredible experience of my life. Montreal is my favorite city so playing there was definitely memorable, but it was also my guitarist Sam’s 24th and unfortunately last birthday here on earth so it holds a very special memory in my heart.

Photo courtesy of the artist, by Bob Sweeney.

In your Vocalo submission, you expressed you spent time in Chicago last year. What brought you to the city? What were your first impressions of it? Favorite thing you got to do while you were here?

My very good friend and mentor from Berklee has been studying for his PhD in ethnomusicology for the last five years or so at U Chicago, so the first time I went there was to play trumpet and sing with his big band, Thinkin’ Big, in 2018 and it was such an incredible time. It is such a beautiful city and I always say that if I didn’t live in Philly, I’d live in Chicago.

Since then, I toured with my band there in 2019 and it was hands down our best show. It was the middle of our tour and we were all starting to get on each other’s nerves — and were pretty sleep-deprived — and somehow we turned all that frustration in to one of the best live shows we’ve ever played to date.

I returned again last year when my partner and I decided to road trip to the Midwest, since we’re both working musicians and had literally nothing to do. It was nice to just spend some time exploring and not having to really do anything or be anywhere. I think my favorite thing to do is drive down Lake Shore Drive at night. And walk the Riverwalk. Or any trail, really. I guess I just really love walking and large bodies of water.

Tell us about your time in Rochester, N.Y. How did you end up moving to Philadelphia?

I grew up in the suburbs and didn’t venture to the city much. Most of my time there was spent going to school and attending my extracurricular activities, so Rochester to me is just that. However, when I go back to visit, I spend a lot more time in the city and I really love it. It’s a small but very vibrant place with a lot of beautiful and talented people.

After I graduated high school, I attended State University of New York at Fredonia for a year and then transferred to Berklee after that. I was two years out of college, still living in Boston and really wanting a way out but not wanting to just move to N.Y., LA or Nashville like everybody else.

My roommate at the time wanted to go to Philadelphia to visit a friend and I agreed to drive. I still remember driving into the city and feeling overwhelmed by the immediate connection I felt. So I got back to Boston and made plans to move. Six months later I was living and working in Philly, and now I’ve been here almost five and a half years. I somehow still fall in love with this city more and more every day.

How has living in Philadelphia influenced your music, if at all?

Tremendously. I mean, without going to Berklee I’m not sure I’d be writing music but coming to Philadelphia has allowed me to grow and evolve in ways that I don’t think I could’ve had I not left Boston. I think the fact that I moved to Philly for me allowed me to really prioritize my artistry and focus more on my writing, creating and band-leading. Not to mention that it is a city full of inspiration and culture, and the music scene is so very rich and supportive. I’ve never felt a sense of community like I do in this city and that’s been incredibly helpful in motivating me as well. Philly forever!

Walk us through the songwriting process of your track “Maybe,” which was featured on Vocalo’s “In Rotation” playlist for November 2021. What compelled you to write that song, and what’s the intended meaning behind it?

Oof. I wrote “Maybe” in the middle of the shit-show that was last year. Am I allowed to say that? I was spending so much time with myself and my millions of thoughts and feelings that I was really able to process a lot of things and move through it all. I’m still a mess, but it was definitely nice, albeit painful, to have all that time to heal.

“Maybe” is me realizing how messy I felt — that I was stuck in this vicious cycle of feeling overly anxious or in my head and not allowing myself to achieve real happiness or joy because I’m just constantly in my own way. On top of that, it was hard to know how I really felt about anything during such an uprooting year when everything was so different than what I was used to, so this was my way of coping with that.

You just released a colorful and surreal music video for “Maybe.” Could you tell us a little bit about how you and the video’s creative and directing team got the ideas for the video? Are there any specific messages you hope viewers take away from it?

Yes! The video is directed by Matt Keppler, who was the bassist in my band for a couple of years pre-pandemic, but then he decided to take up videography over the pandemic when we were all out of work and that’s basically his full-time gig now. As much as I’m a little salty that he’s not making music with me anymore, it’s really amazing to still be able to collaborate with him in some way. He had come to me about doing a music video for a song I released in October 2020 called “I Am” and we did some shooting, but we never released it. So I came to him about doing a music video for “Maybe” instead. I also reached out to a local Philly artist named Holly Simple about working with us because I really liked her style and I knew that it would be perfect for what I was envisioning with this song, which is kind of a like a weird lucid bad dream.

The three of us got together a few times to bounce some ideas off each other and it really felt effortless. We’re all a bit weird, so it was pretty easy to come up with the surreal images that you see in the video. I wasn’t planning on it ending on a positive note, but Holly suggested that it had a happy ending and I think it sits just right. I really just want people to not feel alone in these feelings of self-doubt, and sometimes even self-deprecation, and to know that it’s okay to feel that way and that things will get better.

Spotify Wrapped came out recently! Would you be comfortable sharing with us your top five artists and songs?

Haha, sure! My top artists were:

  1. Myself. No shame, gotta be my biggest fan if I wanna make it in this industry!
  2. Billie Eilish. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve listened to Happier Than Ever, the album.
  3. Lydia Luce, a great friend of mine from Berklee who is an incredible singer-songwriter based in Nashville.
  4. JP Saxe. He really pulls at your heartstrings like no other.
  5. Amber Mark. Probably my biggest musical influence and favorite artist at the moment — and really has been for the last two years.

My top five songs were:

  1. Maybe” [by me]. Heyo!
  2. Cool Me Down” by Janette King. If you don’t know about her, know. About. Her!
  3. When I’m In Your Arms” by Cleo Sol.
  4. Worth It” by Amber Mark. A true anthem, ok?
  5. Maybe in Time by Lydia Luce.

Photo courtesy of the artist, by Pam Ayala.

Judging by your Instagram, you have a very bold and vibrant fashion sense. Do you have any personal style icons you look up to? If so, what do you like about their style?

This is a good question. I am really just in love with late ’80s and early ’90s fashion. I love bold colors and patterns, high waisted pants and big jackets with shoulder pads. I grew up idolizing Ciara and Destiny’s Child and Missy Elliot and TLC. I don’t like to dress too feminine, and I like to be comfortable. My style is always evolving, but right now I just want to wear baggy monochrome power suits. Is that too much to ask?

How do you feel fashion plays a role in expressing yourself?

If I’m not feeling good about what I’m wearing, I’m not feeling good. It really is a part of who I am. I think it started in second grade when I quit the swim team because the bathing suit was too tight. Maybe that was just me being picky, but I do prefer to be comfortable … and I prefer to do it fashionably.

Tell us about Genny, your new little black cat.

It has been a wild ride with this one, especially considering I never grew up with a cat and am also allergic to them, but she really has been teaching me a lot. She was a street cat and my partner spotted her up on the fence of the house behind his. We lured her into his backyard space and once she was in front of our faces, it was game over. She has the biggest golden eyes and the cutest little face you’ve ever seen. She’s scrappy and loves to play with string and boxes — and can also be a total nightmare, but at her sleepiest she can literally bring you to tears.

Do you have anything else coming up you want to promote or want fans to know about?

I am releasing my next single with a music video next month and nobody’s ready for what this is, not even me — it’s truly insane. After that, the EP drops so stay tuned!

Follow Taylor Kelly on Instagram, and stream her music on Spotify below.

Edited for length and clarity by Erik Anderson

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