Interview: Attia Taylor (performing at The Key Studio Sessions Live 12/16 at Johnny Brenda’s)
Attia Taylor’s recent homegrown projects might launch her into Philadelphia dream-pop stardom. Evocative of Imogean Heap and St. Vincent, Taylor’s music is a jumble of layered effects and repetitive chants that carry the listener in a wistful trance. These electronic ballads are recorded and produced entirely by Taylor herself. Unlike many artists who can barely manage just a music career, Taylor manages to produce music, study at Temple, and maintain a job. At the humble age of 21, she has already released three EPs and promises a full-length release in the near future. However, right now she says that she is focusing on school and promoting her most recent EP, Wild Forest. Prior to Attia Taylor’s performance Friday night at Johnny Brenda’s, The Key spoke with Taylor about school, her new EP, and the future of her music career.
The Key: You just released your Wild Forest EP this past October. How was the recording and production process for that album different than previous projects?
AT: Recording Wild Forest was a lot different. I think I just wanted to release something before I release, next year, a full-length album. So I wanted to release something this year and I had songs that I really liked and I had already recorded. And I thought, “Why not make an EP on Halloween?” The truth is, with Short Stories And Small Glories I kind of knew exactly what I was going to make and I planned it out and I recorded each song on a schedule. But this time around, I just recorded songs when I was feeling like I wanted to record a song.
TK: I read about you playing music as a kid and in grade school and making your own instruments, but that your family wasn’t necessarily musical. Where do you think you got such a passion for music?
AT: [Laughs.] Um, I don’t know. I used to listen to music constantly when I was younger, like around the clock. I went to boarding school; sometimes I would sneak and listen to music while they were sleeping. I don’t really know where I got my musical passion. My grandma really liked soul music from the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s. And I just inherited all her records so I’m just learning a lot of this now. Maybe I picked it up from her? I don’t know. I just kind of fell into it.
TK: Was it ever an option to pursue something else?
AT: No. [Laughs.] Well, I really like writing. I like writing about music, so I guess that kind of ties in. I’ve always liked writing music and poetry. I used to write plays when I was younger. But, other than that, I’ve just never thought about anything else. I’m a Communications major at Temple. I was really into film and that kind of mixed in, because I like making videos, but I’m studying Communications right now.
TK: So do you think you will explore other artistic realms like film or playwriting?
AT: Maybe. I have a blog about music. I like filming other musicians and telling their stories. So I would like to do something with that and maybe make other people’s videos, instead of just mine one day.
TK: You were studying at Temple when you recorded your two previous albums. Did you find it hard to juggle music and school?
AT: I’d like to spend more time on music, but I have school and I have work. So it does play a role. Once school’s over, I think I’ll be able to 100% focus on my music and try to stay there. But school does interfere with music.
TK: You’ve cited artists like St. Vincent and Imogean Heap as influences. What is it that draws you to their music and that particular style?
AT: I really like the innovation that they aren’t afraid to use in their music. When I’m recording I don’t have any rules, I don’t have any limitations. I don’t ever think, “Somebody will think this is weird.” I’ll just do it. I think they kind of feel the same way. Like Imogean Heap, I know she goes shopping for the oddest instruments she can find and decides to put them on her album. And that’s what I kind of want to do. I don’t ever want to think my voice sounds funny. I think I should embrace something like that, having my voice sound weird. [Laughs.]
TK: So do you play several different instruments?
AT: Well I have a keyboard and I play that. I’m learning guitar right now. I’m just beginning, so I’m not that great. Other than that, I make everything digitally.
TK: How do you think layering sounds and different mixing effects contribute to the overall sound of your music?
AT: Sometimes I think that the layering actually makes it what it is. In a song like “Wild Forest”, I realize there’s only a beat behind my voice, that’s it—just one beat and maybe one other bell kind of sound. The majority of the song is my voice and that’s what I initially wanted to do, make my voice an instrument. I mean it is an instrument, but I wanted to make it the primary focus of my music. I think it’s a large factor in making my songs, layers.
TK: How does producing compare to recording? Do you like one more than the other?
AT: Recording is the fun part. Mixing is fun, but it’s tedious. It can be tedious and I prefer the recording part more.
TK: As a completely independent artist, what is it like to have total control and responsibility over your work?
AT: [Laughs.] Exhausting. Booking shows, and planning merch, and finding shows, and making music, and making sure people hear it. It can get very exhausting being an independent artist but it’s worth it, because I have 100% control and I like being able to choose every show I play and the way everything looks. I get to do all of that, so it’s worth it to me, even though it’s a lot of work.
TK: Have you ever really considered the possibility of signing to a label? If so, what are your thoughts on it?
AT: I’ve thought about it. I think after school and I have more time to actually think about it and put effort into the whole thing. Maybe that’ll be something I have time for. Right now I don’t have time—I just need to finish school and focus. So it’s hard to devote my time to something like that.
TK: You’ll soon have a college degree and a larger discography than most musicians twice your age. What are your plans for after school? Do you want to pursue music as a career?
AT: I would like to pursue music as a career. At one point it wasn’t something that I thought could be done, but I know a lot of people who do it and I have a lot of friends who are really happy and they do it. So I think that’s something that is a possibility. Also, writing about music, that’s another possibility for me. Those are all the things I love.
Attia Taylor performs with Pink Skull and Summer Fiction at 9 p.m., Friday, December 16th, at Johnny Brenda’s; tickets to the 21+ show are FREE with RSVP. —Caitlyn Grabenstein