In October 2010, Cincinnati-based singer/songwriter Kim Taylor was promoting her extraordinary new album, Little Miracle, while balancing home life with her husband and son. Taylor was also making time for classes at the University of Cincinnati as she attempted to complete her science degree in geology, a path cut short by her pregnancy years earlier.
Three years later, Taylor’s schedule may suffer from even more overbooking.
She’s just released her stellar new album, Love’s a Dog, and is gearing up for the local release show, which coincides with the local premiere of the indie film, I Used to Be Darker, directed by Matthew Porterfield and featuring Taylor in a lead acting role.
The difference now is she’s not studying for geology finals.
“I did it for a year and I loved the classes, but I couldn’t afford it,” Taylor says at Oakley’s Redtree art gallery and coffee shop. “I do music full-time now and I literally had to choose — either do music or go back to school.”
With Love’s a Dog, recorded in New York with longtime musical cohort Jimi Zhivago and drummer Devon Ashley, Taylor has maintained her signature Folk/Pop style while infusing it with a slight uptick in swing and propulsion.
“It’s weird because I don’t hear that, but other people have said that,” Taylor says. “I think this record is more reflective of the experiences I’ve been having for the last three years. When I made Little Miracle, I’d never written with anybody, I’d never done film, I was still doing the songwriter thing which consisted of me writing songs in my own space, in my own head, no collaboration, usually in a bathroom somewhere. With Little Miracle, there were a couple of songs that I felt like I was trying to challenge myself, like the song ‘Fruit of My Labor,’ which is a story/song. I don’t typically write folky story/songs, I try to grab images and run with them.”
Taylor wrote a skeletal version of what would become the new album’s title track in the wake of completing Little Miracle, but she didn’t begin crafting new material until after she had worked on I Used to Be Darker.
When the film wrapped, Taylor hit a bumpy patch that she regularly navigates.
“I was going through one of my ‘I quit’ phases,” Taylor says with a laugh. “I don’t say it out loud to anybody. I’ve been with my management for seven years, and I told my manager, ‘I get to call you and quit once a day, if I want to.’ I get to have a brat moment. Sometimes you get so frustrated with the industry or perceptions or whatever and you just want to chuck it.”
Taylor resisted her chuck-it impulse and tapped her experiences co-writing with Nashville songwriters Luke Laird, Natalie Hemby and Jon Mabe (who have written for the likes of Carrie Underwood, Lady Antebellum, Miley Cyrus, Tim McGraw and dozens of others), as well as her acting, to inform her new material.
“It’s definitely been influenced by a lot of co-writing I’ve done,” Taylor says. “It’s taking a little from what I’m learning from them, and I think the experience of the film was a reflection of what it means to be creative — write a song, create a film. I loved the process, the actual filming and what it’s like to take on a character. That’s real intriguing to me, because I feel like I do that with music already. None of those songs are really from me, they’re from different sides of my personality. It’s not a huge leap, but it’s more of a challenge because I can hide in music so much more.”
There’s a synergistic quality to Taylor’s inspiration; she challenged herself as a writer on Little Miracle, which may well have helped her to define her character in I Used to Be Darker, who is also a songwriter.
As a result, Love’s a Dog, which was fan-funded with a Kickstarter campaign, is both a logical continuation and brilliantly subtle expansion of her evocative and moving Folk/Pop catalog. In addition, the performances of Taylor and co-star Ned Oldham were glowingly reviewed when I Used to Be Darker premiered at Sundance — the New York press followed suit when it opened there — allowing her the luxury of considering future film options. (Darker was not Taylor’s film debut; that distinction goes to another indie, Measure, which was shot locally just before Darker).
Taylor has also managed to rewire her songwriting circuitry to enable her to write toward a specific purpose, a necessary ability for someone looking to get songs covered by the industry’s marquee artists.
“Doors have opened in that area so it’s important for me to keep doing it,” Taylor says. “When I first started, it was confusing for me emotionally and now I’m able to compartmentalize it and go, ‘That’s that but I’m not going to put that song on my next project because it’s not really what people would expect from me.’ It’s challenging to write like that; they were trying to pitch the ‘Build You Up’ alternative version to Beyoncé, and it was like, ‘How would Beyoncé sing this?’ It’s helped me to explore, like, Diane Warren, songwriters that that’s all they do, writing for other people.”
Taylor’s schedule is not likely to lighten up anytime soon. She’s prepared to hit the road to promote Love’s a Dog and to capitalize on the exposure from the wider release of I Used to Be Darker. A proposed soundtrack from the film would feature a pair of Taylor’s songs, “American Child” (originally on Little Miracle and re-recorded for Love’s a Dog) and “Days Like This” (from her 2008 EP, The Greatest Story), which could spur interest in her work as both an artist and a songwriter-for-hire. It’s natural to assume Taylor may seek greener and more far-flung pastures, but she makes a good case for keeping a local address.
“Staying in Cincinnati for now is what’s
saving me from getting caught up in the machine,” Taylor says. “If I
lived in Nashville, that’s all I would do. I would probably never put
out my own projects. I think songwriters get caught up in the challenge
of, ‘I could write a song, someone could cover it and I could make a lot
of money.’ You get one song then you want to get another song. I’m
trying to protect myself. The cost is that I’m poor. Ultimately, I’d
rather be poor … no, scratch that, I would not rather be poor. But I
will never have a 401k plan, let’s say that.”
I USED TO BE DARKER opens 7:10 p.m. Friday at the Esquire Theatre in Clifton, followed by a Q&A with Taylor. She also performs Nov. 1 at The Monastery in Walnut Hills. More info: kim-taylor.net.