Maria Taylor faces challenges head on

Becoming a mom and returning to her native Alabama shaped Maria Taylor’s Something About Knowing
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Maria Taylor sounds off on the things that enquiring minds want to know.

On touring with a toddler: “I’m going to take a lot of pictures so I can remember that he wasn’t always trying to break out of the car seat and throwing food in restaurants.”

On missing Alabama: “My favourite season is fall. In the fall, Alabama—and the South—is the most beautiful place in the world. I missed that, and I missed my family a whole lot.”

On moving around: “I like living in a place for five years, and then trying another city. There are so many amazing cities in this country, and also outside of this country. But my heart will always be in Alabama.”

As wonderfully as things are going at this point in her life, Maria Taylor eventually lets it slip that she’s facing some challenges, this coming after enthusiastic ruminations on everything from the joys of motherhood to the beauty of Alabama.

Things get serious when the veteran indie musician talks about what it’s like to be making music in an era when no one buys CDs, mostly because it’s cheaper to get records for free on the Pirate Bay. Taylor has been in the business for a while now, as a member of the ’00s-spawned duo Azure Ray, as a prolific solo artist, and as a collaborator with the likes of Moby, Michael Stipe, and Bright Eyes.

As she embarks on her latest tour, to support her excellent recent outing, Something About Knowing, she can’t remember a time when it was more challenging to make a living as a musician.

“The only thing that’s a bit depressing is that I’ve been working at it really hard for 20 years now,” Taylor says, on the line from outside of Omaha. “It’s just sad that it’s hard to make a career anymore. It really is—every year I make less and less money, to the point where right now I’m like, ‘Well, what else can I do where I can still make music?’ because I really do love it.”

Big changes have occurred for the 37-year-old musician over the past couple of years. The most major one was the birth of a son named Miles Taylor Dwyer. Something About Knowing, which walks a smart line between electrified folk and dreamy pop, was written during the glorious insanity that is having and then caring for a baby, and the whole experience coloured the record.

To get a sense of how much Taylor has loved being a mother, proceed directly to the album’s second track, “Up All Night”. Over fuzzed percussion and loping country guitar, she sings straight-from-the-heart lines like “You’ve taught me so much in just a few days/I’m a better woman in so many ways/And I swear I’ll give it back to you.” It’s a gorgeous song, one the singer calls an unexpected gift that made her realize her muse was still strong.

“It’s so much, having a baby,” she says. “It takes all of your time and all of your energy, to the point where it crossed my mind, ‘Oh my God—am I ever going to have time to write music again?’ I also thought, ‘Am I going to want to, because this is so all-consuming, in the most amazing way?’ So I was planning on taking off as much time as I needed or wanted, but then I wrote ‘Up All Night’.

“I’d play my guitar to stop him [Miles] from crying, and that song just came right out of nowhere,” she continues. “That sort of planted the seed in my head, like, ‘Maybe I can do this.’ Once I had three songs, I was like, ‘I’m going to push myself to make a record.’ It became a job where I’d have to work out time for writing and also get myself into the zone, which is really hard to do. It was challenging, and took a little longer than I thought, but I did it.”

In addition to motherhood, a move back to her native Alabama also influenced Something About Knowing, which was released on the influential indie Saddle Creek. Taylor had been away from home for nearly a decade and a half, moving first to Omaha and then to Los Angeles. That the singer is happy to be back in the South is abundantly clear in songs like “Saturday in June”, a pedal-steel-swept bit of mellow gold featuring such lyrics as “Let’s go back to where the open sign is turned off till noon.” Still, moving back was in some ways bittersweet.

“I felt like I left Los Angeles prematurely,” she admits. “I’d only been there a few years, and I loved it—I was having the time of my life. But something made me move back—I felt like it was time. Maybe part of it was that my grandparents were dying, and I knew that my mom needed help with that, emotionally more than anything.

“There were also other things. I was 35 and thinking maybe it was time to buy a house instead of blowing all my money in bars and restaurants. A lot of my last record, Overlook, was also me trying to figure things out, like ‘I’m 35—I’m not getting any younger, so what am I going to do with my life?’ ”

During all this change, Taylor has remained an admirably ambitious songwriter, with the tunes on Something About Knowing all celestial softness one minute (“This Is It”) and symphonic grandeur the next (“Tunnel Vision”). The singer comes off as an artist who’d be as comfortable putting down roots in Muscle Shoals as embracing her inner space cowboy in Austin, Texas. And if that sounds all over the map in the best of ways, that’s exactly the point.

“I’d love to be able to say that I buy records and listen to them from beginning to end all the time, but I’ve been a mixed-tape girl my whole life,” she says. “I take the songs that I love and I make mixed CDs. I listen to a whole mixture of different songs, so I like my records to sound that way.”

As for getting those records out into the world, that’s required some thinking outside the box. Taylor reports that she has some much-needed support on her current North American swing, namely her mother, who’s not only riding shotgun in the tour vehicle, but providing free babysitting when it’s showtime.

“I’ve been touring since I was 18, so to take a year off was strange,” Taylor explains. “There’s this whole new part of my life, which is being a mom, and it’s incredible. But travelling and playing music is such a part of me that I didn’t want to lose that part of myself. So I was kind of antsy to get back on the road.

“I’m exhausted all the time, and he’s not very good in restaurants,” Taylor continues with a laugh. “But he’ll adapt. At the same time, this tour is kind of testing the waters. I want to do what’s best for him, so we’ll see how this works.”

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