Pepperdine and NYU. You’d think this week’s interview was with someone who holds an engineering degree. Instead it’s with a musician named Taylor Casey. He’s California boy who has managed to make the south and the east fill like home, because no matter where he is – as long as the music is playing, he’s totally fine.
With a guitar in hand, this guy who hasn’t even hit his mid-20’s has done more in his lifetime than most twice his age. Taylor’s gone to some of the best universities, but early on realized that life with a business degree wasn’t what he wanted out of life. So he traveled down a different path and that’s where he remains today. There with a debut EP and a whole lot to say, so let’s get to it.
Kendra: We have to start from sort of the beginning because you were going to Pepperdine for Business Administration and then headed to NYU for songwriting. What sparked that change in study direction? Also, you then went to Juilliard. Have you always been somewhat of an over achiever?
Taylor Casey: Haha, it’s funny, I wouldn’t call myself an overachiever. In school I always figured out how to do less work in order to achieve similar results. I’d make friends with the smartest kids and get their notes, I’d end up with about eight different study guides for each test, and I missed a fair share of classes. That way I had more time for surfing and music. Close to graduation, I realized that I really didn’t want to be working some office job, and the opportunity to go to New York kinda just fell into my lap. A friend of a friend on the board for Juilliard was starting up an artist development pilot program at the school and asked if I’d be interested in trying out to be the “guinea pig.” Nobody gets an opportunity like that – so I had to say yes. A few months after graduation I was living in New York taking classes in the same building as some of the best up and coming musicians in the world. I was learning a lot – but not all too much about songwriting so I signed up for a night class at NYU. It was just a two month long class – it met once a week, and was pretty mellow but it allowed my creativity to take off.
Kendra: All the education aside, you just released your debut EP at the end of April. On it you worked with a Grammy nominated artist. Was that intimidating or were you cool, calm and collected throughout the whole process?
Taylor: It wasn’t really intimidating at all. I took that night class on songwriting at NYU and the teacher was Larry Dvoskin, a Grammy nominated songwriter, so it seemed legit. I watched a YouTube video of him talking for a bit and I figured what the hell, I’ll sign up for the class. He ended up loving the songs I brought in and eventually he kinda took me under his wing as a songwriting partner and eventually a producer. It was really natural, it was more about making good music than just trying to write whatever we think would sell. I was more excited to get input on the songs that I was writing than I was intimidated. Having a Grammy nominated songwriter tell me that I was a natural writer did loads for my confidence in my songwriting.
Kendra: When you wrapped on the record, was there one or two tracks that you wish had made the final cut that you’ll likely release on a later album? If so, why didn’t they make it this time around?
Taylor: Yeah, there was this song called “Washington Square” that never made it onto the record. It’s the song that I first played in that NYU class that sparked Larry’s interest in my songwriting. The song deals with what I thought Greenwich Village would be similar to what it was in the ‘60s/’70s during its folk years and the reality of what it’s become. I thought that it was as strong as the other songs on the record, but it’s an acoustic folk song, and I figured that I’ll just record it myself instead of using studio time.
Kendra: You may or may not be an overachiever, but one thing’s for sure – you have an old soul when it comes to music. You’re not putting out what other 23-year-olds would. Where does that love for classic Americana come from?
Taylor: My first musical memory is listening to Neil Young’s Harvest Moon album in my dad’s old suburban when I was growing up. Neil Young and Tom Petty were on repeat in his car. Going through grade school I listened to everything, literally everything – rap, emo, hard rock, Jack Johnson type-stuff – nothing was off limits. In college I discovered Dylan and it changed the way that I thought about music. He had stories to tell, statements to make, and he brought so much emotion into each performance. That’s when I stopped listening to whatever was popular at the moment and started discovering music for myself. It led me to artists that’ve been around awhile like James Taylor and Jim Croce, and newer artists such as Jamestown Revival, Houndmouth, The Felice Brothers, Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros, Dr. Dog, The Alabama Shakes, and the Tallest Man on Earth.
Kendra: Having lived everywhere from Santa Barbara to Spain and now Austin, Texas – what place has felt the most like home so far?
Taylor: I’d have to say Austin – it’s definitely what I was looking for. There’s so much music, and it’s basically all good. There’s so much talent in this city and the people are much more open than say, New York.
Kendra: If you had to make a mixtape for someone who was going to die tomorrow, what five songs would have to be