Lady Luck - An Interview With Maria Taylor

[Photos by Autumn De Wilde]

She’s currently taking on Europe -- for the second time in as many months -- she’s been all over the U.S. and her third solo LP has barely even started to collect dust. Maria Taylor, who you might remember from her work with Orenda Fink in Azure Ray, calls her album LadyLuck, which in and of itself has proved to be pretty charming thus far -- it’s been seen on the Heatseekers Chart, and her video for the single “Cartoons and Forever Plans” has broken 100,000 views. We caught up with her in between legs of her tour, on the day the album hit stores to chat about her crazy schedule, the making of her new album, where she’s been and where she’s going.

You were literally just in Stockholm – you just got back last night, right? Have you even adjusted yet?
No, I haven’t! I feel so out of sorts.

I’m sure – are you in California right now?
No, I’m actually in Alabama, that’s where my family is and that’s where a lot of my band members are, so we’re going to practice here.

So what’s your fanbase like in Europe? How do the gigs there compare to what you’re doing over here?
It’s usually the same, in fact in some places it’s a little better. Like in Germany, I probably do a little better than I do over here. But like this tour I was opening up for my friend Josh Radin, so they weren’t my fans, they were his, which was great.

I know for the next two months you’re going to be kind of on a whirlwind on the touring front. You’re going non-stop. How do you even begin to prepare for a stint like that, mentally, artistically?
Well, artistically you can just practice, but mentally I just have to dive into it. Because I can get really stressed out about if I think about it too much, thinking, I can’t be away this long, it’s too much, I can’t take it. So you know you have to just throw yourself in there. You get acclimated and usually by the time it’s over I don’t know what to do with myself when I’m home. Right now, though, it is kind of daunting, I can’t look at all the dates at once.

Talk to me about the album. First of all, how did you end up working with Michael Stipe?
I used to live in Athens, Ga., I guess that was about 10 years ago, so he and I have been friends for about 10 years. We used to hang out there all the time. So when I was in Athens working with my friend Andy LeMaster on this record, we were just all hanging out and Michael was over at the house when I was just trying to finish up this song. And he just said, 'do you want some help with the lyrics?' I had the melody and the chords and some of the lyrics, but yeah, he offered, and I was like, 'yeah! Of course I want your help, please!' So we sat up 'til six in the morning and he pretty much wrote most of the lyrics. It was a really great, fun night. Memorable.

How does this album compare in your mind to 11:11 and Lynn Teeter Flower?
Songwriting, my approach is the same. Always. I only know how to write songs the same way I’ve always written them. So I feel like every record is just a reflection of where I am in my life, and that’s pretty much how they differ. Then I try with each record to do something a little different production-wise. Like on Lynn Teeter Flower, I wanted to make it more like my live sound, so it was a little more stripped-down, and we just all set up and played it as if we were playing a show. Since I did that, for this one I wanted to elaborate more with strings and woodwinds, so I got my friends who are awesome musicians to just run wild with it.

You said the writing process for you is typically the same, but I know you wrote Lynn Teeter Flower between touring for 11:11 -- was this a more concentrated effort, or was it written more sparsely? How did it come together?
Well I’d just moved. I moved from Omaha, Nebraska, to Los Angeles, so I wrote most of LadyLuck right after I moved. You know everything was new; new apartment, and meeting all these new people, new friends, just the weather, my god! Absolutely different. So it was just everything, all my surroundings were different. It definitely inspired me and I wrote pretty much every single one of the tracks on LadyLuck within probably a month after moving.

I’ve kind of read in a couple of places that it’s sort of a break-up album that’s not a break-up album. I’m just wondering what your thoughts are on that clichéd phrase-ology.
[laughs] I kind of wish that wasn’t in the press release, ‘cause people keep asking me, and I’m like, that sounds so unlike me to ever say anything like that. I don’t know, I mean that’s a part. It’s just about everything, all the changes in my life. That's one small part of it, but most definitely every song is not about that. It’s more just about, I’d say just change and moving. Moving along.

You said you’re at your mom’s house right now, are you from Birmingham originally?

So how does that background, particularly as you move around and find yourself in different places and no longer in the south, how does that background influence the music that you make?
My family is a very musical family. My dad wrote jingles for a living, so we had a studio in the house. And my brother and sister played in my bands lot of times, and they recorded with me on most all my records, so I would say more than the South, it’s just my upbringing. It’s definitely an influence and it will always be. Constantly there was music being played either on the stereo or just by us, my whole life.

Did your dad write any jingles that we would know?
[laughs] Well you might, but I think they're just in Alabama. There’s this one for Milo’s -- it’s a Hamburger joint -- it’s just all over Alabama, and they’re especially known for their sweet tea. So in Alabama, it’s probably like the most well-known jingle, so that was always our family’s claim to fame, the Milo’s commercial.

Kind of on that same vein, you’ve been a working musician, a career musician, since you were 15 years old -- that’s more than half your life now. How do you keep what you’re doing relevant and dynamic, not just to the people, your fans, but also to yourself?
It’s probably why I travel so much. I feel like every four or five years I just get the itch to go live in a different place. But also the touring helps, too, I’m constantly in a different city, a different country, and meeting new people, and that constantly inspires me. I feel like when I play music it’s almost like it’s brand new. It hasn’t gotten old yet. And when it does, I’ll think of something else to do I guess, although I have no idea what in the world that would be.

So what brought on the move from Saddle Creek to Nettwerk?
I had been managed by them [Nettwerk] for the past three years, and I have such a wonderful, wonderful relationship with my manager. And when I moved to Los Angeles I just got to know people on the label side as well. With all the changes in my life I just decided I wanted to see what it would feel like. It’s still an independent label, it’s still the same philosophy, I just wanted to try it out, because I had been with Saddle Creek for so many years. With Azure Ray, and even with Now It’s Overhead and being a part of Bright Eyes record, and all my solo work, you know, I just felt like I owed it to myself to see the difference.

You’ve collaborated with so many fascinating musicians, now with Michael Stipe and also back to Conor Oberst. What’s been the most memorable work that you’ve done with other artists?
The one with Michael is probably the most memorable just because I’ve known him for so long but we’ve never made music together, ever. It’s just always been more of a social thing, going out to bars and having drinks. And with most of my other friends that I’ve collaborated with it’s been something that we always have done. Sitting up for six hours until the sun came up playing music with Michael, it was just really wonderful. I was in my pajamas, it was surreal.

So what’s next? Have you thought that far ahead?
I’m sure I’ll just keep on touring. There’s a couple of things that I’m not sure if they’re going to happen, maybe me opening up for some people. I kind of want to keep touring as much as I possibly can for this record, but then there’s also some talk that Azure Ray, we might work on another record together.

Oh yeah?
Yeah, we feel like it’s been long enough. It’s been like five years, six years. And Orenda, who was my partner in Azure Ray, she actually just moved to Los Angeles, as well. So before it was like, I mean everything was great between us but we just didn’t see each other that much so I didn’t know if it was ever going to happen, but now she lives right down the street and I see her every day, so it just seems like something we should do. We’re both really excited about it.

Lady Luck - An Interview With Maria Taylor