Taylor Kelly Is Letting Go Of Over-Complications
Written by Vocalo Radio on October 18, 2023
Philadephia funk-soul artist Taylor Kelly is embracing simplicity and staying true to herself.
After her newest single “Let You Go” was featured on Vocalo’s “Poised To Break Through” playlist, she virtually sat down to discuss her sonic evolution and releasing the need for perfection.
Taylor Kelly’s musical journey began with a deep-rooted passion for the arts that she inherited from her parents, as her mom was a dancer and her dad was a trumpet player. Growing up in Rochester, New York, Kelly started playing trumpet and singing in school bands and choirs in the fourth grade. Though she started out in music early, she never truly delved deeper into her craft until years later.
“I had no idea I would be writing my own music and leading my own band and doing all of the things I’m doing now,” she reflected. “Growing up in Rochester was merely a precursor to all of that — which I really uncovered in my college years.”
Learning to write her own songs while studying music theory and Berklee College of Music, Kelly’s early music was rooted in jazz and complex melodies in effort to sound more “sophisticated.” Over the years, her sound and writing skills have evolved into her deeply personal spin on jazz, funk and soul as she’s focused more on authenticity and less on trying to prove herself as a musician. She no longer feels the need to overcomplicate her music, but rather focuses on crafting meaningful songs.
“It’s pretty wild how tangible my growth is, both as a vocalist and as a musician and writer,” she said. “I’ve gotten much more comfortable with simplicity and much better at lyric-writing and, well, not trying so hard.”
Kelly’s music is deeply rooted in personal experiences, and her songs serve as a way to process her thoughts and emotions. Her August 2023 single “Let You Go” (featured on Vocalo’s September “Poised to Break Through” playlist) outlines her journey toward healing from a past relationship. Originally written five years ago, with strong thematic influences from Mahalia, the track marked a shift in Kelly’ songwriting as she began moving away from heavy and sad themes to a lighter tone.
“It really helped me see the situation differently and was very healing for me to write about them in such a way that felt lighter and more hopeful that I’d be able to move on,” she reflected.
Since the release of her sophomore album Up Up and Away in 2019, Kelly has spent much time evolving her sound and stage presence over the past few years — outlined by the release of several singles throughout 2020 and her 2022 EP All I Need. Recorded when she opened for Alabama soul band St. Paul and the Broken Bones, her June 2023 release Live in Philly exemplifies her live performance energy in comparison to her in-studio releases.
“I… take so much pride in my live performances and have always wanted to be able to share that with people who may not have seen me live… yet,” she expressed. “I have different arrangements of songs live than what’s recorded, so it felt important to me to share that with the world.”
Looking to the future, Kelly hopes her music continues to evolve and surprise both herself and her listeners. Whether it’s rock-leaning moments or other musical experiments, she’s excited to take her audience along for the ride.
Tell us a little bit about your musical journey! How did growing up in Rochester, New York, influence your music, if at all?
I knew from a very young age that I wanted music to be a big part of my life. My mom was a dancer back in the day and my dad played trumpet up through college. Although neither of them pursued dance or music as a career, they had a real passion for the arts and supported my curiosity … and my incessant need to be in the spotlight. I began playing trumpet and singing in bands and choirs in the fourth grade, and I was lucky to go to schools that had thriving music programs and allowed me to really hone my craft and deepen my passion.
That being said, I had no idea I would be writing my own music and leading my own band and doing all of the things I’m doing now, so growing up in Rochester was merely a precursor to all of that — which I really uncovered in my college years.
Your song “Let You Go” was featured on Vocalo’s “Poised to Break Through” playlist for September. Can you share the inspiration behind the song? What do you hope listeners take away from it?
I wrote “Let You Go” almost five years ago at this point, and it was the last song I had written about somebody that I was pretty addicted to — for lack of a better term — for a little over a year. Before “Let You Go” came about, I had written an insane amount of songs that were just so heavy and sad about how I loved this person and how they couldn’t give me what I needed.
I couldn’t bear to write another sad girl song about my situationship, so after listening to a whole lot of Mahalia — “I Wish I Missed My Ex” was a big influence on this one — I ended up writing something really light and refreshing. Although the hook is literally, “I still love you though, I still miss you so, I can’t let you go,” it really helped me see the situation differently and was very healing for me to write about them in such a way that felt lighter and more hopeful that I’d be able to move on.
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Are there any personal moments/experiences that have informed or influenced your songs? If so, can you share a little bit about those songs and/or experiences?
All of my songs have been influenced by personal experiences, which is why I don’t write all that much, but rather after enough has happened, and I’ve processed it all, and then I kind of just write a bunch at once. Before I found myself in a healthy relationship (yay!), I definitely wrote about failed relationships and heartache and heartbreak and all that messy stuff. But with the pandemic and growing in a relationship and growing up in general, I’ve been able to write from a more introspective, and sometimes existential, place.
I like to use songwriting as a means to sit with all of my intrusive thoughts — thanks, OCD — and big feelings and write about them in a way that’s non-judgmental. I feel like my songs are me trying to answer questions or become comfortable with the fact that maybe some questions won’t be answered. Did I answer your question?
Give us some insights into your creative process — how do you go about writing original music and crafting your sound?
My sound is ever-evolving, but I do owe a lot of what my music ends up sounding like to all of the musicians and producers I’ve worked with over the years. It’s really wild to have ideas in my head and have them sound better than I could’ve ever dreamed when I involve other creatives.
When it comes to writing songs, it’s not something that’s necessarily a practice. But when I do it, it’s definitely in my apartment after midnight when it’s dark and quiet and the thoughts in my head are loud and clear. Sometimes I’ll have a phrase or a feeling and I’ll write that down and then keep writing and see if there’s anything good in there. Sometimes I’ll start by just sitting at my keyboard and playing until I sink into a chord progression that I like and play that on repeat, and then record myself doing so. The melody almost always comes last for me, but if I can’t do it all in one sitting, there’s a pretty fair chance I’ll probably never finish the song. I know, it’s a lot of pressure!
Looking back at the six albums/EPs in your catalog, how do you feel your music has evolved over the years?
It’s pretty wild how tangible my growth is, both as a vocalist and as a musician and writer. In my earlier projects, I was so caught up in the “jazz” of it all – wanting to sound sophisticated, wanting to implement advanced harmonic concepts, wanting to prove myself as a musician, especially as primarily a vocalist that’s also a woman, which translates to “you’re not a real musician” at Berklee. Since I started writing music as I was learning about music theory, it was definitely a way for me to implement things I was learning. I’ve gotten much more comfortable with simplicity and much better at lyric-writing and, well, not trying so hard.
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You’ve shared the stage with notable artists like St. Paul and the Broken Bones and Moonchild. What have been some memorable moments from those experiences? What are the most important lessons you’ve taken away from working alongside larger artists?
I remember waking up from a nap and checking my phone and seeing an email from World Café Live asking if I wanted to open for Moonchild. It’s funny, because they gave me a whole description of them as if I wasn’t their #1 fan, and as if their first record — and second, for that matter — didn’t completely flip my world upside down and influence all the music I was writing for years. So, yeah. That was definitely a moment I’ll never forget.
Getting the call to open for St. Paul was another dream, because that was truly, and still is, the biggest gig I’ve had to date and was just another way to really see my growth as an artist in regards to my career. Getting opportunities like this have just filled me with the utmost gratitude and just reminds me to stay grateful, stay humble and don’t let anyone get in the way of what you’re here to do.
Tell us about your most popular song, “California” What’s the story behind that track, and how do you feel about it now that it’s been a few years since its release?
To be fully transparent, I’m pretty sick of “California” at this point, but it’s pretty cool that people are still resonating with it and have nice things to say about it. I have a friend out in LA that got involved with the roller skating community out there, and she and one of her friends filmed themselves skating to “California” and posted it to TikTok and it went viral. I wasn’t even on TikTok, so it was pretty cool when I woke up to a huge spike in Spotify streams, especially early-on in the pandemic when I was questioning my life. It was quite the dopamine boost, and put a few extra bucks in my pocket, so I’m grateful for that.
When you’re performing live, what’s your favorite way to connect with your audience?
I just like to truly give every ounce of energy I have when I’m on stage, and hope that people are absorbing it. A lot of the time I’m on stage I’m just kind of in my zone, but I do have a lot of banter in between songs. It’s a really nice way to feel like I’m talking to them and letting them into my world. I have a pipe dream of being a career comedian, so I really like trying to make people laugh and reminding them that none of this is really that serious.
Your latest album, Live in Philly, was recorded live at Brooklyn Bowl Philadelphia. Tell us a little bit about what it was like to capture a live experience! What motivated you to release a live recording, and how was the process different from or similar to your studio recordings?
Live in Philly was actually recorded the night we opened for St. Paul and the Broken Bones, so the adrenaline was rushing, and it was also New Year’s Eve Eve so I was really trying to go out of 2022 with a bang. I just wanted to capture a moment in time, a culmination of everything that got me to that moment. I also take so much pride in my live performances and have always wanted to be able to share that with people who may not have seen me live… yet. It’s hard to capture the energy of what happens on stage in the studio, and I have different arrangements of songs live than what’s recorded, so it felt important to me to share that with the world.
How do you see your music evolving in the future? What should listeners expect from you in the coming years?
I hope my music evolves till the day I die. I hope I continue to surprise myself and find new ways to express myself vocally and musically. I’ve had rock-leaning moments — and covering “Black Hole Sun” is truly one of my favorite things to do — so it’d be cool to have a full-on rock moment. Only time will tell. All I can say is, hold on tight and I’m glad you’re here for the ride.
Listen to Vocalo’s past “Poised To Break Through” picks on Spotify below …
Interview by Blake Hall and Morgan Ciocca
Written introduction by Blake Hall and Morgan Ciocca
Answers edited for length and clarity by Morgan Ciocca
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