INTERVIEW: Shawnee Taylor (2012)
With so many releases, it’s clear that Shawnee Taylor is the first lady of Subliminal records. Her powerful voice, strong writing, and fresh point of view come across with every performance- recorded or live. Following her back-to-back international club hits “Live Your Life” and “Stronger,” Shawnee recently released her uplifting solo single “Colors,” produced with Sympho Nympho (Erick Morillo, Harry Romero, & Jose Nunez.) After chatting with Shawnee Taylor, it’s easy to see that her energy is just as colorful as the video is.
RS: So where are you today?
Shawnee Taylor: I’m actually in New York.
RS: Is that where you’re based?
Shawnee Taylor: Yes.
RS: Okay, because I follow your tweets and it looks like you’re traveling everywhere all the time.
Shawnee Taylor: I know it’s very weird that I’m home, but I’m home today and then tomorrow I’m going to Miami.
RS: What are you doing in Miami?
Shawnee Taylor: I’m actually going there for a wedding; it’s not even related to performing. It’s a nice short little trip… Yes, I travel quite often.
RS: Do you spend most of your summer in Ibiza?
Shawnee Taylor: I go there about four times during the summer season. I’m going to be traveling mostly to Brazil and Europe and then dropping off at Ibiza every chance I can get.
RS: How did you get started as a singer?
Shawnee Taylor: I started singing when I was very young and I didn’t really enjoying performing in front of people. I was very shy as a child. When I got a little bit older I became more comfortable with performing and I felt like I could relate and people could relate to me. It made it a lot easier, and when I was sixteen or seventeen years old I was discovered in a record store with my mother and I made my first record that same year.
RS: Which record was that?
Shawnee Taylor: I was discovered by a gentleman named DJ Romatt, he was a house producer as well and he got me in the studio. We did a couple records; I believe the first release was “In the Sunshine”.
RS: Okay, and from there you’ve worked with Richard Grey a little bit, right?
Shawnee Taylor: Yes, from there I worked with Todd Terry, Roland Clark, and Sandy Rivera. Through Sandy I met Erick Morillo, and through Erick I met Richard Grey and it went on from there. I’ve been with Erick since about 2000.
RS: Wow, you’re like the premier singer of the Subliminal camp. You’re on all the best records from that label. How does it feel to be the queen of Subliminal?
Shawnee Taylor: I know; it’s interesting. It’s great, I love the guys, and I’ve been with the label for many years. Working with Erick and all the other Subliminal producers has been great. I guess I could be considered the queen of Subliminal. I don’t shy away from that. It’s great; it’s like a little musical family.
RS: When you’re working with the producers, do they usually give you a track that you write to? How do you collaborate with them?
Shawnee Taylor: It depends on the producer, sometimes they have a track already that they give to me and then I write. Sometimes we create the track together and then go from there. It really depends on the situation, the producer, and the project. Either way I enjoy it, either circumstance is fun for me. I love getting in the studio and writing, singing, and arranging.
RS: I read one of your Tweets yesterday that you’re about to back into the studio again.
Shawnee Taylor: Yes, I’m about to go in the studio actually next week to work on some more tracks for my album- which will probably be released next year. Right now, the single “Colors” is out, so we’re promoting that. That’s really been getting some great feedback, from you as well, and I absolutely appreciate that. I’m pretty much in the studio all the time, if I’m not working on my own stuff I’m writing songs to submit to other artists. I try to keep the creative juices flowing.
RS: Usually you are someone featuring Shawnee but on your new record it is Shawnee featuring someone else. How does that feel?
Shawnee Taylor: It’s fantastic and really great. I’ve been doing this for some years and I’ve always been a featured artist, and that’s great but now it’s my time to shine. As an artist I appreciate that recognition. But yes, it’s fantastic, it really is.
RS: I love the video for “Colors”, it reminds me of the Dayglow parties. Have you ever been to one of those?
Shawnee Taylor: Oh gosh, many years ago. Yes, the video is great, it really turned out beautiful. I really liked the final result.
RS: Did you make it through the day without having paint splattered on you?
Shawnee Taylor: I did! They painted my face a little bit, but I didn’t get any paint splattered on me. I said “listen, I draw the line.” It was a lot of fun to make it.
RS: When you recorded “Live Your Life Be Free,” did you have any idea it would become as big as it did?
Shawnee Taylor: Well, it’s interesting, when Duane Harden and I made and wrote that record, we went in the studio and the minute we finished recording it we looked at each other and said ‘wow.’ It touched us, and we hoped that it would touch other people. To have it come out and be such a great success, it was really a wonderful moment for me in my career and musically. To know that you can reach so many people on that level is really gratifying and I’m so happy that the record was well-received. When we did it, I had no idea it would be as big as it is now. I just knew that I loved the record very much and I hoped that people would get it, but I had no idea it would be this big.
RS: I’ve talked to other singers and they’ll travel to other countries where English isn’t spoken very well but the people will still sing along to the song and know all the lyrics without really knowing what they mean. Have you hit that with “Live Your Life Be Free?”
Shawnee Taylor: Absolutely, at every show that I’ve done in the past year and a half, everybody sings along and they know the words. I don’t even have to sing the song to be honest, I can just go up there and they hear the first chord. They sing the verses, chorus, and they know all of the ad libs… It’s just amazing; I always look forward to performing that song because it’s so much fun and people really enjoy singing it. It’s true, I can’t even have a conversation in another language but they know the words to my song. It’s phenomenal, it really is.
RS: Which country around the world do you have the most wild times in? Which crowd is the most wild?
Shawnee Taylor: Wow, I must say Italy is really enthusiastic. They are such music enthusiasts and every time I perform there they love the performances. So I would say Italy. Brazil gets a little crazy too; they really know how to party over there. I think I’ve been to Brazil seven times in the past year and a half. It’s absolutely amazing.
RS: That’s so cool. “Stronger” is another amazing record you did, what was the story behind that song?
Shawnee Taylor: That was again, Duane Harden and I going into the studio, sitting down and writing whatever came first. The track was given to us by Erick and Eddie Thoneick and there was something about the music, I just wanted it to stay on that positive vibe. Following up with “Live Your Life,” we wanted something that also had a strong message. We just sat there and we came up with that song so quickly- it came naturally for us. We thought ‘you know what, this is another one, hopefully people are going to relate to this and it will resonate with the masses.’ It was what we were feeling and where I was in my life. I try to be as authentic as I can in my lyrics and in my songs and how I perform. That song was how I was feeling at the time and how I continue to try to feel. “Stronger” was another one that just came so authentically and so organically, it was like ‘bam’ here we go. It just felt right.
RS: Okay, we’re going to go back in time for a second here and I hope this doesn’t scare you. You sang on one of the biggest records, in my mind, of all time; “Funk-A-Tron” by Robbie Rivera. I just want to know how that came about because that was such a massive club record and then after it was massively huge, your version came out. How did that come about?
Shawnee Taylor: Oh goodness, that was a long time ago. There was a period where I was just writing and writing songs and I remember Erick came in and he played this record for me and I was like ‘what is that?!’ It was amazing, I loved the record. He asked me what I thought and if we should put a song to it. I said ‘hell yeah we can do that’! I just sat down and wrote what came to me and it worked. I love that record. It’s funny; I actually haven’t heard that record in so long. The fact that you bring that up makes me smile because that was a fun record to perform and write. It was great.
RS: Saturday night on my set, prior to the interview, I played that and was like ‘I’m going to be talking to her on Monday, I can’t wait’!
Shawnee Taylor: I’ve got to listen to that record now, gosh.
RS: You mentioned before that you write for other artists, what are some songs for other artists that you’ve written?
Shawnee Taylor: What I meant to say is that I’m starting to do that now because I want to keep the flow going. I don’t want to say who, because we’re actually in the midst of placing the songs and I don’t know where they’re going to be placed right now. I’m in the midst of trying to write for other artists because I feel a creative flow right now and I want to continue to write. Obviously I can’t sing all of the records, I would be completely overexposed and people would get completely tired of hearing my voice. But yes, I’m in the process of starting to write for other artists and hopefully next year there will be a couple songs written by Shawnee Taylor. It won’t be me singing but that’s okay.
RS: Publishing is a wonderful thing.
Shawnee Taylor: Yes it is, I’m not mad at it.??RS: On your website there is a picture with the biography and you have this look in your eyes and you are giving ’60s Motown high class realness. Was that the image you were going for?
Shawnee Taylor: Yes, I think I was. I’m in love with the ’60s and the ’60s and the ’70s are my favorite eras. I really wanted my picture to have a timeless look. Something that really describes how I’m feeling and I feel sexy, strong, and confident and that’s what I try to portray when I take photo shoots. I always love that particular picture because you can’t really tell when that’s from.
RS: As Tyra Banks would say, “you’re ‘smizing’ through the hair.”
Shawnee Taylor: Yes I am definitely ‘smizing.’ I’m looking at the camera and I’m like, ‘come for me,’ just trying to give it.
RS: Is there anything you want to say to all of your fans out there?
Shawnee Taylor: Oh goodness, I want to just thank everybody for all of the amazing support that I’ve received over the past couple of years and, actually, throughout my career. I have people that know the earlier stuff and I have newer fans, and I’m just so grateful that I’m able to do what I love and I hope that that comes across. I’m just really grateful for the support and the kind things and wishes that people have shared with me and all of the messages I get on Twitter about people listening to “Live Your Life” first thing in the morning. I get pictures of people with tattoos of “Live Your Life” and I think wow and it blows me away. All my love to everybody, honestly, and I hope I can continue to keep up the Shawnee Taylor expectation, and I hope that my fans stay with me. It’s going to be a great summer. I’m really looking forward to it, and hopefully people will come out and see me perform this summer, and hopefully I’ll get a chance to meet some folks. We’ll just have a great time, I just want to enjoy it and have a good time.
RS: You just mentioned Twitter; I know you are an active Twitterer, is that the best way to follow you? Is it Twitter, Facebook, your website? What’s the best way for people to follow you?
Shawnee Taylor: I would say Twitter. I was a huge Facebook person before, but you are limited to how many friends you can have so I’ve been mostly posting on my fan page so that I can reach more people. But I think Twitter is the best way right now, because I actually respond to people if I get the chance. It’s really nice to interact with people and they are like ‘wow, she responded.’ Of course I’m going to respond, I’m happy to talk with the people in any way that I can. So yes, Twitter would be great.
Interview conducted June 2012. Special thanks to George Hess for arranging this interview.