Bubbly singer-songwriter Danielle Taylor joins us at Dripp in Chino Hills, CA to discuss how her latest album release Colors challenged her as an artist, why she believes full-length records will never die out, and the importance of staying humble.
So you recently released your new album Colors. Wanted to say congratulations!
Danielle Taylor: Thanks girl!
For those who have yet to discover its amazingness, care to share a little bit about the songs and the instrumental elements that you showcased?
Danielle: Yeah! So for this record, I wanted to showcase my voice more. In order to be able to do this for a living, I end up doing a lot of cover shows. That’s my bread and butter while my original music is slowly starting to make me money. But when I perform other people’s songs at shows, I tend to do a lot of different stuff with my voice. I figured, ‘Why don’t I do that more in my own stuff?’ I was also thinking more about the audience this time with what I wanted to do, like, how I wanted them to feel or how I wanted their head to move as such. I wanted to make this record more groove-centric and wanted to incorporate more electronic sounds because it’s just fun to be able to experiment with what’s out there. It’s not too crazy of experimenting and I still really love real sounds, like, a real drum kit and a real piano, but it’s still very fun, bob your head, groove along kind of stuff. It’s the same themes that I always talk about in my songs, but the vibe is definitely more eclectic, especially in terms of what my voice is doing.
And there’s nothing wrong with experimenting. Sometimes we just need a little change in our lives!
Danielle: Totally! *laughs*
And how was this recording process similar or different than that of the stuff that you had done in the past?
Danielle: It was pretty much the same in terms of getting to the brass knuckles of it. The process is to always record it on the piano, and then record the drums, and then record the band around it, and then finally once the band is layered around it, we’ll do the vocals. That’s pretty much been the process every time, but this time I did a lot of demos on my own. When I write a song, I write it completely by myself and then record the demo of it, which has pretty much been just the piano and the vocals up until this record. This time I was more concerned with how the listener was going to feel when they listen to it. I built in the drums for the demo, I built in the guitar parts, I put all the stuff together for the record. When you listen to the demo and then you listen to the record, the main difference is that one sounds professional and one sounds like a demo. *laughs* But other than that, they’re pretty much the same exact song. I like that I had way more control over the process than I did before. Before I was totally fine with having someone writing the various parts and taking control. It was almost like, ‘Here’s the song. Let’s work together to bring it up to what it can be.’ But this time it was more me and I’m very much happier with that.
Yeah! And which song was your favorite to write and record?
Danielle: Oh man, that’s so hard!
These could separate songs too! I know the processes are different.
Danielle: My favorite one to record was “Countdown,” which was the first song on the record, and the reason that it was my favorite to record, like vocally record, was because it has this amazing guitar line in the bridge of the song where it just goes crazy. I wrote it into the song on the piano as like a slide thing, and I told my guitarist do it for the recording. When I was listening to it for the first time in the booth about to record the vocals I was like, ‘Holy crap, this is amazing!’ He did such an amazing job! I was so into it! I think it terms of performance, like playing piano and recording it, “What I Like” would be my favorite. It’s a fun song that’s not that complicated on piano, but it changes a lot throughout it. I used a lot of seven chords to make it a little jazzier and funkier. I don’t play like that that often, so that was a little challenge for myself for this record. So yeah, “What I Like” would be the recording favorite, and “Countdown” would be the favorite for the writing. The beginning and the end, that’s funny, the very first song on the album and the very last one. *laughs*
So modern music listening has been focused on the streaming aspect, and also the EP and singles-style releases. Do you feel that these types of releases will eventually take over as opposed to full length works? Or do you think that there’s still a market for listeners that are like, ‘I need this full thirteen song album’?
Danielle: I want there to still be people who want records. I mean, I think they’re still out there. I’m definitely a person who still likes records. And not to disparage artists and writers who are out there, but I think because the focus has been on those one shot types of works like the single and the EP, or even just releasing one song at a time on the EP or whatever, everything is all about your numbers, specifically your streaming numbers that focus on one song at a time. They’re not making records where all ten, twelve songs are amazing, they’re making records that are more what you call an ‘album cut,’ where they have the ‘whatever’ songs that were made for the artist that are a little more artistic mixed in with the big hits. You know what I mean? They’re making records more geared towards money than music. I think there are some artists that are making records for the sake of doing it because they love music and they happen to have the amount of songs to make a record, but I also think there are super successful people that are very calculated who end up coming out with songs that have like four writers. Of course, that’s usually what ends up being a smash hit, so I’m definitely not knocking it, but I think they’re always going to go in that direction because they’re going in the direction of money. For me, I’m still going to go in the direction of making records. I just love doing the record style, and I think it’s because it’s hard for me to just pick one song to focus on. For this one, I had fifteen songs written and I had to bring it down to ten when we were recording for money reasons. I’m broke girl! It sucks! *laughs* But I was like, ‘I love all fifteen and I have to cut it down by five?’ It’s just awful!
It’s like trying to pick your favorite child!
Danielle: It really is though! When people are like, ‘What’s your favorite song on the record?’ I’ll be like, ‘I’ll tell you what it is today!’ *both laugh* Sometimes I just don’t know! But for music listening now, I think it’s like 60% streaming and EPs and singles, and then 40% of musicians and big people behind musicians who are like, ‘Nah! Records are still awesome! Let’s make one!’
I mean, everybody has a big general idea of what they want to flesh out in a record. Right?
Danielle: Yeah! I think even more established bands have the flexibility to make records because their fans were there back when records were a thing. But when you’re just coming out, or starting to come up, if you don’t establish that as your ‘thing’ and you just come out with singles then it gets a little tricky. It’s cool because it pushes your career and gives it a forward momentum where it’s like, ‘Hey! In two more months, I’ve got a single coming out!’ But like, my record that I just did cost me so much money! It’s just insane how much they cost! I mean, I chose to work with the fancy producer and such, but my goodness, I can’t even imagine having to do that same thing for separate singles. For me, I have to do it all at once and then make payments to my credit card company. I can’t constantly be doing however many thousands of dollars per track and also pay the musicians, like, every three months. I’d go crazy! *laughs* I guess I have a different mentality. I still think that 60% for streaming, singles and EPs is going to grow, but then there’s going to be this niche market where people are like, ‘Oh I definitely still want records!’ I think my fans buy my records because when they see me live it’s like an impulse buy. You don’t see people buying a physical copy of your single, that’s just weird. *laughs* But online, of course they’ll buy singles so that’s why it’s better for streaming.
It’s definitely a tricky situation, especially when you have that whole crowd that grew up with CDs, or cassettes!
Danielle: Yes! The cassettes! These kids now are like, ‘What’s a cassette?!’
‘Is it that thing that has tape in it?’
Danielle: ‘It’s got, like, holes, right?’
‘You use it as a coaster, right?’
Danielle: ‘That’s what I have as my phone case right? That’s a cassette?’ *both laugh*
What’s funny is there actually are cassette style phone cases, and they look really cool.
Danielle: I know! They look like the older, mixtape looking ones with the black and the white label on it. *both laugh*
So apart from streaming and how wonderful that is, social media also plays a huge part in marketing for the modern music industry. Do you feel like social media has kind of been a door opener for independent artists to get their name and content out there?
Danielle: Yes and no. I think if you’re a singer, social media has a lot of benefits for you. There’s just so many apps out there that are available to help. I forgot the kid’s name, but there was this guy who did a duet with Jessie J through this app and it got huge. You just download it for fun, and she’s one of the artists that’s built in and you can do a duet with her. It’s a split screen thing, and you just do what you do, like, six million times until it’s perfect, and then you can post it online. Well, the guy posted it online, and it was really good! I watched it, all of America watched it, and Ellen [Degeneres] was like, ‘Oh my God you’re amazing! Come on my show!’ That was huge exposure for that kid, and he got signed to a record label right after that. They wanted to capitalize on his movement, his momentum, that’s what it’s all about and that’s what social media is good at doing. But at the same time, what’s there after all that? Where is the meat?
Where’s the substance?
Danielle: Yeah! Where’s the sizzle on the steak? *laughs* I just feel like you’ve gotta have something to back that up, and I don’t think that a lot of the people who are focusing on recording these little videos are necessarily doing that. If you do, then it’s going to be awesome! Like that chick Ruth B, she got huge because of Vine. I saw her video a long time ago and I totally thought it was a real song. That ended up not being the case, but it was still a few seconds of a cool hook that she came up with. It ended up becoming so big because people loved her voice so much that a record label signed her and wrote a song around it, or she helped write a song around it.
Shawn Mendes too!
Danielle: Yeah, him too! So I do think it helps when you’re looking to get huge numbers of people to see you. But I also think that if you just toured everywhere the odds are pretty much the same. Whether you do it the old-fashioned way or the new way, I think you’ve got to have something there besides your cool voice on a cover song.
Definitely. And do you feel that social media puts a pressure on artists to constantly have something going on in their lives like tours, new music, etcetera?
Danielle: Oh yeah. Oh my God, I take so many food pictures I want to murder myself. *laughs* They, the internet, and a bunch of other people, keep telling you what you’re supposed to do and say that you need to stay active, so people don’t lose interest in what you’re doing. They also say to do between one and two posts per day on every single social platform that’s out there, but who can really do that? Like, you have to have a life! I’m the kind of person who likes to be in the moment and experience it as opposed to taking a video of it. I’ll be doing something, and then I’ll be like, ‘Oh shoot! I should take a picture of this!’ or ‘I should be filming this!’ because I’ve got to put it online somewhere, you know? I try to create as much content as I can, but a lot of times it ends up being about how I went to the gym and what I had for lunch or me being at someone else’s show. I’m not always singing. *laughs*
You’re showing you’re a real person!
Danielle: Yeah exactly! And people seem to like it! I don’t know if it’s the way to do it, but that’s what I’m doing because that’s what works for me. And people do it differently. Some people have beautifully curated posts! I don’t know how they have money to do all these photo shoots or if they do them themselves, but they’ll post a bunch of these perfectly polished pictures of themselves online and their profile is super professional. Mine is like, ‘I’m just another girl who just happens to sing.’ *laughs*
It takes so much time and effort to do all that staged social media stuff though. I have no time for that! Unless you get me a clone then maybe we’ll talk. *laughs*
Danielle: I mean, I definitely wouldn’t mind a clone. But then they would have different experiences than me. I’d have to have their brain feed into mine. *laughs*
I’ll just have my clone do all the shit that I don’t wanna do. *laughs*
Danielle: Yes! I’ll be like, ‘Yeah, you go to work. I’ll be at the beach.’ But I’m hoping that my original music will be the full time work soon.
So speaking of showing who you are on social media, you have a little segment called Live In The Living Room where you choose a bunch of different songs to cover. If you could make a five song EP of only covers, which songs would you choose?
Danielle: Ooh! I would for sure do “Chandelier” by Sia, because I love love love that song. I would also do one of Adele’s songs, maybe “Send My Love To Your New Lover.” That song isn’t as cool on solo piano though, so I would have to bring someone in to make it a little cooler. I would do “Breakeven” by The Script. So that’s three right there. I would do “Rehab” by Amy Winehouse. And then the last one would be Queen’s “Somebody To Love.” They’re all over the span of genres, but I feel like these would be the most diverse spaces that I can move into as an artist.
You’re showing a variety!
So being in Southern California, especially in L.A., there’s literally music in every nook and cranny.
Danielle: Oh totally!
Do you feel like there is some sort of unpublicized competition between the local music scene, specifically within the singer-songwriter realm?
Danielle: Not for me. Even though we’re all entertainers and want to be the center of attention, I feel like there’s a lot of support in the community too. Obviously, I’m a part of the community as well, but because I’m performing so often I very rarely get to be a ‘guest’ at someone else’s performance. When I do get the chance to see them, I’m like the first out there to tell them that they were awesome. Not for like any hidden agenda kind of thing, but purely for the fact that they were good. I’ll even try to find something nice to say even if I think they have some rough spots. But if they’re good, I go out of my way to let them know that and I always make sure to tip them.
Tip your bartenders and tip your musicians everyone!
Danielle: Yes! Please do! *laughs* But yeah, I think there’s definitely support in the scene, but I guess it’s hard if you’ve been in the game for a long time and you’re watching other people have successes that you’re not having. That’s more about who you are as a person and being ok with where you’re at, and also just trusting that we all start at a different point on the path. I don’t know where all these people start, so I really can’t compare myself to them. It’s more of a personal journey as opposed to just angst against other musicians. I want to be happy for anyone who’s got something cool going on, especially if they’re really talented, because I believe that they deserve every second of it. Of course, in the back of my mind I’ll be like, ‘Man! Why is that not me?’ But I don’t know why it’s not me, you know? Maybe somebody does something different than me that works for them. I think it’s more of a self-reflecting thing than feeling angsty towards another person, because if you’re good and you keep going, people drop like flies all the time. I’ve been doing music for like ten years , oh my God, that’s such a long time! *laughs* Ten years I’ve been trying, not ten years of being a full-time musician and making money off my music, but ten years since the day I started learning the piano and writing songs. So my worst, crappiest songs still paved a way for where I am now. It really took some time for me because I had a job where I was working forty hours for someone else.
Yeah. It’s definitely tough to follow your passions when you have bills and stuff sitting at the back of your mind.
Danielle: Exactly! You totally get where I’m coming from! *laughs*
And if you could choose three artists to go on a world tour with, who would you choose an what would you name your tour?
Danielle: Ooooooh! I would choose Dave Matthews Band because I love them so much and because they’re so eclectic and use so many different instruments. It’s almost like classical music but in a modern form for me. I would choose Elle King because she has so much attitude and I love it! And then it’s a toss-up between Pink and Kelly Clarkson. I don’t know which one I would choose out of the two out them. *laughs* And it would be called, hmm, I would want to use our names as an acronym or something. *laughs*
Sometimes that’s the way to go! *laughs* So as a female singer-songwriter, do you feel that women in the music industry need to portray themselves in certain ways in order to have a successful career?
Danielle: Absolutely not. I feel like people think that they do, but we really don’t. The best thing a woman can do is to, of course, be herself, but to also focus on the music as opposed to the aesthetic. When I think about people building their career on sex appeal, at least for women, I assume that that’s because they want to. I’m not going to judge them, like, if they feel hot then they should be able to go and do their thing if that’s what they want. But I don’t think that’s necessarily wise because I don’t think there’s tons of longevity in that. We’re all going to get old and wrinkly, and then end up wearing Spanx to try to suck it all back in or getting plastic surgery because it’s just impossible to stay young and beautiful forever. Say whatever you want and look however you want, but don’t make your career based purely on how you look, you know? Carol King for example, she’s very beautiful and she’s aged wonderfully and has a great selection of songs. She focused on the music, and I know it’s different genre to genre, but if you want to stay in the business for a long time, you have to focus on the quality of the work you’re putting out. The same with Annie Lennox. I remember there was some article about her where they were like, ‘She’s still doing it!’ or ‘She can still do it!’ and she was like, ‘I’ve been doing it this whole time, what are you talking about? It doesn’t matter how old I am, it matters what I’ve been saying in the music and what the music sounds like.’ I think that anybody who’s stood the test of time, the ones that didn’t die young, those are the artists that have all made good music because they make sure to focus on that aspect. That’s the way I think it should be, not focusing on your sexy body, even if you’re bangin’, but focusing on the music because the music is what will carry you through.
Music really does stand the test of time.
Danielle: Yeah! Especially if it’s good! *laughs*
And if you could give your younger self some advice in regards to what you’ve experienced so far in your music career, what advice would you give her?
Danielle: Oh man!
You’re like, ‘Where do I start?’ *laughs*
Danielle: I know! *laughs* I would probably tell her, ‘You’re not that good. Calm down.’ I had such a big ego about myself when I was starting out because I’ve always been in music and understood music. Because I thought I was the best, that actually translated to not only my songwriting but my singing as well. I thought I was like the bee’s knees and the best singer ever because all I got was awesome feedback from people. I mean, not to try to put myself down, but I really was just ‘alright.’ I wasn’t like ‘amazing,’ you know? But hearing the growth from my very first record to the one I just made is like, ‘Oh dang!’ The only way to get better is to realize that you can get better. If you think you’re amazing, there’s just no way that you’re going to get better because you don’t think there’s anything to work on. So yeah, I would tell her to chill and to be a little humble. But then on the flipside of that, I would remind her that, ‘You’ve been through stuff, you’ve learned things, and you’re not wrong because someone else is fancier than you.’ That was actually really hard for me to learn. At one point I was going through this teeter totter of thinking I was right about something, like, feeling very passionately that I was correct. I was very much like, ‘I am the writer of this song. I know what I want it to be.’ But on the other hand, I would also be like, ‘Oh, well he knows more than me because he’s been around longer and has more experience. He’s worked with famous people, like, who am I? Maybe I should listen to him.’ That internal push and pull that I had made me less fun to work with for sure. I think because I was very scared the whole time, it made me not very open to suggestions. I had to apologize for being crabby. *laughs* But at the same time, I was also going through that thing where I thought I was the bee’s knees, only to have people be like, ‘Eh, you’re not really cutting it.’ There was just a lot of push and pull for me at that time, and it’s such a hard line to walk because the only way you can get better in a recording or music environment is to be placed in that environment more often. For me, that kind of environment costs a lot of money to be in, and when you don’t have the opportunity to be in that environment all the time, you have to learn quick. I’m not trying to be a jerk, I’m genuinely trying to be a nice person, but I also want to be true to myself and put out what I believe in. It’s totally a balancing act that I wish I would have learned earlier.
What one word would you say defines you as an artist?
Danielle: ‘Genuine’ is the word that I would use. I know, it’s a little cliché, *laughs* but it’s because I try to say things in the way that I think. I try to walk the walk and talk the talk whenever I put it in a song. I try to make it inspirational because while I’m making this for other people, I’m also making it for myself. They’re constant reminders of how I’m feeling or what I’ve experienced. I’m trying to do my best as a vocalist and a melody writer in addition to writing real lyrics, and that’s why I say ‘genuine’ as opposed to ‘amazing’ or ‘great singer.’ I guess that last one was two words, *laughs* but instead of trying to say stuff like that, I’m trying to be honest. I hope that people can connect with that in some way, whether it’s through the lyrics or the music or even what my voice is doing. It’s all about being authentic, you know.
Absolutely! And what do you hope that your audience will take away from your music?
Danielle: I hope that they like it and have a good time with it. Music is so weird, it’s so personal, but yet certain songs mean different things to different people in different moments. Apart from liking it and listening to it, I hope that if they’re having a crappy day that it makes them feel better. Or even if you just need to cry while listening to one of my ballads then I hope you can. Whatever you need, I hope that you can get it from my music, or any music that you’re listening to, because that’s what art is about, just expressing life through music or paintings or photographs or dance or whatever speaks to you.
Beautifully said. Music is one of the few things that can connect us all emotionally and it’s wonderful when it does.
And to end us off, apart from the recent release of Colors what other exciting things should we be looking forward to from you in the near future?
Danielle: I’m hoping that this year I will be signing with a label. It’s a little hard to find the right partner, you know? I’m not just trying to find any label, I’m trying to find the right label. So that’s the main goal right now, and I have some balls in the air so I’m hoping everything will work out. I also have a couple songs already written, but I really want to work with some people at these labels that I’m meeting with to make them happen and maybe turn them into singles, even though I don’t really do singles. *laughs* I want to work with people that are better than me so I can see what magic they can do and watch them grow and change. So that’s kind of where I’m at right now. I might do some cover songs this year just to have something out there and see what people think of them. I normally focus on originals, but I think it could be fun to rent out a studio one day and just go in there, do it all in one day, you get what you get and then put it out. And of course, because my record came out in October of last year, I’m going to be doing some music videos. I’ve gotta figure out what songs I’m gonna do. *laughs* But lots of stuff in 2019, I just don’t know how it’s going to shake down because you’ve always got plans and you have to work hard to make them happen. If they work out then you’re like, ‘Yay!’ but if they don’t you’re like, ‘Damn, next time!’ *laughs*
Danielle: Yeah, next year! Well, hopefully not next year, I’ve still got some goals that I want to make for sure. *laughs* But stay tuned everyone!
About Dripp Chino Hills:
When you hear the name ‘Chino,’ it’s hard to not automatically think of The OC (followed by its accompanying theme song). While Chino is not officially a part of Orange County, OC coffee roasters Dripp have found themselves a home in the fabulous Chino Hills Shopping Center. While located at the shopping mall, its steampunk meets diner feel somehow makes its atmosphere immensely more relaxing than your neighborhood Starbucks. A variety of geometric and brightly colored tiles accent the neutral color palette, while the addition brushed metals and tubular light bulbs adds to its vintage look. A huge perk is that the shop provides plenty of space for any sized group to lounge in their choice of cushy couches and armchairs upstairs or weathered washed wooden benches and industrial styled bistro tables downstairs. Its playlist comprised of classic, old-timey crooners (tee hee) playing in the background makes it easy to want to stay there for a few hours.
Now to discuss their menu. I must say, it was pleasant to be able to have a great array of options to choose from for both food and coffee. Pastries and sweets of many forms (including ice cream) are available for whatever your craving may be that day (in this case, the guava croissant was calling my name). Not only do they have a revolving selection of single origins and blends for both their pour overs and espressos, but they feature recipes that you don’t normally see in smaller shops let alone franchise stores. Specialty drinks like the Bru La La as well as the inclusion of cascara (the cherry encasing that protects the coffee bean while it’s growing) and large list of wonderfully named loose leaf teas are eye-catchers, but the drink that is interestingly one of their main specialties is the raspberry jam, cocoa, molasses, and cardamom infused Turkish Latte. Historically described as the ‘first coffee ever made’ with it being served to sultans of the Ottoman Empire, this luxurious recipe was replicated by incorporating the special brewing method common to that region, in which the coffee is made unfiltered with finely ground beans boiled in a special pot (usually a cezve or ibrik) with sugar and cardamom. The Black Goat Turkish Coffee is just one of Dripp’s signature, single-origin coffees that are offered to customers like myself who are looking to try something new.