Songwriter Spotlight: Dave Woods interviews Tim Taylor
Tim Taylor started his professional music career playing the Ontario bar circuit in the late seventies. In the eighties, he formed an award-winning duo with Anita Perras. The nineties saw his relocation to Nashville to focus on songwriting. The result is his massive “Cavalcade of Hits” song catalogue, which includes cuts by many of Canada’s top country recording artists. The songs include singles by Jason McCoy, Aaron Pritchett, Gil Grand, Steve Fox & Beverley Mahood, The Good Brothers, Thomas Wade, Duane Steele, and Jay Semko. Those singles and many others have placed on the charts and won industry awards. Tim writes regularly with established and up-and-coming artists, including Ontario’s Elyse Saunders. Elyse’s brand new country single “Just Like Mama” was composed by Elyse Saunders, Tim Taylor and Peter Linseman. The following interview with Tim was done exclusively for the CMAO Newsletter.
DW: Tell us a bit about one of the first songs you wrote and what you think about it now.
TT: I wrote a song called “Country Flower” for an English project in grade twelve. We did a tape of it with the band I was in at the time. It’s got a few embarrassing lines because they’re so much of that era, but all in all, it still sounds pretty good to me. I think I got an A.
DW: What are some common ‘mistakes’ that new songwriters make, and what are your suggestions to help avoid them as they continue to write?
TT: One common mistake, or at least something to be aware of, is when you lose track of what the song is about. When songs start to veer off on a tangent, or reach a point where they could go in different directions, I like to always remind myself of what the title or main focus of the song is and try to hammer at that. One of the strengths of country music (in my opinion) is that the lyrics are so carefully constructed, even if the subject matter is not always particularly to your liking. Sometimes new writers come up with a line that sings well and sounds good but doesn’t necessarily support what the song is about.
DW: Any tips on how to get past the dreaded writer’s block – when ideas seem in short supply… or that next line can’t be found?
TT: The easiest way to get over writer’s block is to set up a co-writing session. Sharing creative energy with another person will always result in something being written, and even if it’s not always a hit, at least it gets the ball rolling. As far as writing alone goes, it’s still about getting the creative juices flowing. Maybe look at your list of titles and see if any of them call out to you. Maybe play your instrument and hum some melodies just off the top of your head that might lead to something. Maybe listen to some of the music that made you want to write songs in the first place, or watch some of your favourite artists on YouTube.
Tim Taylor with Elyse Saunders
DW: You must enjoy working with new artists as their songwriting and their style develops. What does it feel like to see that journey begin?
TT: It’s inspiring to work with new artists because they bring so much energy and enthusiasm to a session. Come to think of it, those qualities are inspiring in older writers, too! Quite often I’ll write with a new artist and they’ll show up kind of shy and tentative because they don’t have a lot of experience with the process. Then I’ll go to see them perform live somewhere and they’re a different person up there. That’s fun for me.
DW: Take us through your memories of writing one of your award-winning songs – the CCMA song of the year in 2002 “Ten Million Teardrops” written by you and Jason McCoy (this year’s CMAO Awards host) – and recorded by Jason.
TT: I remember we were in this very room I’m in now! Jason and I both love that “walking bass” style of older country and we got the idea from the title of an Elvis album I’d seen in a store window as a kid (50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong). We just took it from there!
Tim Taylor with Steve Rivers
DW: How many opinions should someone listen to when they’re looking for critiques on their song? And when do you know a song is complete?
TT: Obviously family and friends are a little biased (hopefully in a good way!). I don’t really believe in taking one person’s opinion too much to heart (the phrase “What do they know?” comes to mind), but if you start to hear the same thing from two or three people you respect, maybe you should give it some consideration.
As far as when a song is complete goes – you just seem to know. Still, I always like to go back to a song a few days or weeks later, especially if it’s going to be recorded. That objectivity seems to tell you if there is a line or something that could be better.
DW: Is there an artist on your dream list that you hope to get one of your songs recorded by and why?
TT: I always thought it would be awesome to hear George Jones singing one of my songs, but sadly, that isn’t going to happen.
Tim Taylor with Cadence Grace
DW: Your latest CD “Music from Big Beige” (named after your own recording studio) is said to “combine your love for country music, sixties British pop and American rhythm and blues and showcase your unique lyrical style which has been described as accessible and witty.” Tell us about some of the influences that have shaped the artist and songwriter you are today.
TT: Oh boy. Mostly fifties rockabilly and blues, sixties pop with the emphasis on the British Invasion, and the many great country writers from the fifties right up until now. Beatles, Stax R&B, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Rick Nelson, Gram Parsons, Emmy Lou Harris, Jesse Winchester, Nick Lowe, John Sebastian.
DW: Is there a genre outside of country music that you’d like to try writing a song for? Any artist from another genre that has caught your ear these days?
TT: I’ve written with co-writers across the board from straight bluegrass to pop and rock. It’s fun for me because I love a lot of styles of music. Funnily enough, the rock and pop writers who come to me are usually trying to break into country, so it’s not like we write heavy metal or anything.
Personally, I love melodic sixties-style pop music as much as country and I try to combine those styles in the songs I write for myself as a performer. Nick Lowe is probably my current artistic inspiration. He had a good career in pop back in the seventies and eighties, but now he mixes all my favourite musical influences in perfect proportions and is still a great writer. Check out some of his recent music on YouTube!
Tim Taylor with Michelle Wright
DW: You’re from Ontario and moved to Nashville in the nineties. How important do you feel it is for an artist from Canada to at least visit Music City? To move their career forward, what should they plan to do while there?
TT: I think it’s very helpful for anyone who aspires to be a mainstream country singer or writer to visit Nashville for a number of reasons. It’s affirming to realize you’re not alone – there are tons of people sharing your dream and working really hard at it! There’s also a musically creative energy in the air that almost everybody comments on when they first come down. It’s a fun place, too!
I don’t recommend trying to accomplish too much business on the first trip down. I call it reconnaissance. Check the city out and go to some writers’ nights, etc. Take meetings if somebody you know helps you set them up. There is a sort of etiquette regarding the proper way to approach people in the business and you can burn bridges if you come on too strong too soon, or if you set up meetings you’re not quite ready for. Establishing relationships takes time and the people offering shortcuts are probably out to get your money. Get the lay of the land and prepare for your next assault!