I’ll Follow Through: An Interview With Attia Taylor

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I was transfixed the first time I heard Attia Taylor’s new album, Space Ghost. The combination of the engaging, melodic musicality and not simply the story she tells on the album but the way she writes and chooses her phrasings is a slice of magic. Every detail is essential, and every word channels something deeper. It’s an exceptional record and has quickly become one of my favorites of 2022 so far.

There is a lot to unpack and dig into on Space Ghost, and while I’ve spent considerable time with the album, I wanted to know more from the source. Space Ghost is out now on Lame-O Records. Attia Taylor can be found on Instagram and via her website. She is also the founder of Womanly Magazine, “a publication dedicated to providing accessible health information to women and non-binary people through visual and literary art.”

To start, I’d love to hear about some of your earliest memories of music and sound. What were some formative experiences when you were younger that have stuck with you through the years?

Around 6 or 7, I listened to hip-hop and r&b a ton on our local Philly radio station. In the car on my way to school and at home when I wasn’t watching cartoons or playing with my sister. I remember feeling really fascinated with certain songs, like Mobb Deep’s Quiet Storm featuring Lil Kim and really any song by Mary J. Blige. I remember the day Biggie Smalls died. My grandma was driving us to school, and we heard the news on the radio. You could just feel the sorrow and disappointment that day. I remember when my grandmother told me she cried when Marvin Gaye died. I was intrigued by that. And I’ve always been intrigued by the way music brings out certain specific emotions in us and how tied to our deepest feelings they can be, whether we know it or not. I didn’t understand why she cried back then, but I do now. 

Like every other kid in the 90s, I loved The Spice Girls, cartoon theme songs, and The Beauty and The Beast soundtrack. Those are my first memories of loving music that felt like it was colorful and light. I had the Beauty and The Beast soundtrack on a fisher price cassette, and I was obsessed with it. Specifically that song, Something There That Wasn’t There BeforeI loved how happy and warm the literal bells and whistles were. So enchanting. And I also loved the first Fantasia. I remember seeing it in theaters and wanting to see it over and over again. I still want to make music that makes me feel the way that movie made me feel as a kid. 

Did you always want to be a musician?

Always. I was a super shy kid, but I always found the nerve to sing, write songs, and get up on stage whenever I had the chance in boarding school. I knew my voice wasn’t traditional sounding, but I felt an urge to be heard at a very young age. I played the french horn in middle school band and loved that warm sound so much. I didn’t put the pieces together for my music interests and tastes till high school, though. 

It’s incredibly lucky that Girls Rock Philly was hosted at my boarding school when I was 17. It was the perfect time for me to feel like I could be a real musician coming out of high school. The GRP community set me up with my first real show at a popular Philly venue, Johnny Brenda’s. And I just kept going from there.  

What impetus pushed you to start writing songs and creating your own original works?

I’ve been writing poetry, songs, and plays since middle school for fun. I’d write short musicals for my friends to put on in our dorm rooms. I’ve always found songwriting to be fun, and it came naturally to me. So I went with it. When I was about 18, I realized I wanted to make music all the time but didn’t have access to a band or any instruments. So I used my mom’s Mac desktop to create sounds in Garageband. I made some very lo-fi, punchy, keyboard-driven songs and had a blast doing it. I was inspired at that time by Le Tigre, The Bird and The Bee, Imogen Heap, Cat Power, Stereo Total, and so many other musicians who were making what I considered my genre. 

Okay, let’s get into Space Ghost because it’s become one of the records I’ve been returning to more often than most in the past few months. Musically, there’s definitely a cohesive thread to it. Still, it’s also all over the place because you’re weaving so many different styles and genres together that it’s become its own thing entirely. When you started working on this record, did you have this overall vision in mind from the beginning, or was it more organic where these different sonic themes emerged during the process?

Thank you so much! Most of the tracks on this record are a culmination of songs I’ve been working on for the last 6 years. I didn’t write any of these songs with the intention of having them on a full-length album. I was busy starting a magazine and writing songs with my band, Strange Parts. So my solo career was slightly out of focus aside from performing here and there in Philly and Brooklyn.

Once the magazine began to walk on its own and Strange Parts put out its debut full-length, I thought it’d be a great time to work on my solo career again. I went back to all the songs I’d worked on over the years: demos, phone recordings, videos of old performances. I worked on the songs, fine-tuned them, wrote new lyrics, and collaborated on the vision with the album’s producer, Jeff Zeigler. And the vision was always to make a really lush sounding, loopy, sonic, colorful, yet dark album that represents many emotional occurrences in my life thus far. I think the album works thematically because while my skills and instrumental choices have evolved over the years, my interest in creating a certain sound and writing about my unique life experiences has remained. 

I think the sequencing is essential, too. At least, it’s an aspect of making records I think about a lot and sometimes gets overlooked, but the way Space Ghost is arranged tells this story – your story. How important was it to you for the album to flow the way it does, and how does that aspect of it help convey the ideas and emotions of the record?

I gave a lot of thought to the placement of each song. I love curating playlists and arranging songs based on how our moods shift within them. I wanted to open the album in a way that immediately made you feel heavy and emotional. Because that’s what the album is about. The weight I’ve carried and where I’ve placed it in my art. And while the vibe lightens up rather quickly with songs like Basic Economics and Space Ghost, the subject matter remains deeply personal. I try not to beat down on the listener because it would be easy to do that, and I don’t like making sad music all the time. I lean toward those bright and colorful sounds, so the way this album is arranged hopefully gives you some breaks to laugh and take deep breaths. I don’t look at my life as this long sad essay. I look at my life like a storybook with lots of colorful illustrations. One that is intentional, meaningful, and respectful to my journey.  

Lyrically it deals with a lot of heavy themes and emotions – there’s such a vulnerability to it that, for me, adds so much to the experience of the album. The description mentions how the record deals with childhood trauma and the different growth and healing periods in relation to that. How has this music – or even music and art more generally – been part of the process for you?

I don’t think I know what else to use and write about other than my life. I have so many stories baked into this that aren’t just sad and traumatic but sweet, loving, funny, warm, and hold a lot of nostalgia for me. I wrote about my mom doing my hair before going back to school on Sunday nights and many moments trying to connect with her in a deeper way. I feel lucky to have held on to all of these memories. And yeah, a lot of the content is heavy and about my loneliness and fear as a little kid, but ultimately, that little kid (me) made something out of all that pain and dysfunction. 

I’m excited to see what memories come up for me next when I sit down to work on my next project. It’s been my way of recollecting and using music, poetry, and my work as a magazine founder to build complex narratives of not only what it’s like to be me but what it’s like to be a Black girl from North Philly with not a lot of support or money. That’s an important story for me to tell. 

What was the most challenging part about making the record? And what surprised you the most about the whole thing?

It took so long to get this record done. The pandemic really threw my timeline off quite a bit. It took, I think, three years just to record. I recorded it in Philly and lived in Brooklyn, so I traveled back and forth to Philly for the sessions. I knew that I wanted to work with Jeff on this record, but I was surprised at how well he understood this sound that I had in mind based on really scratchy demos. 

Another hard part was finding and trusting a label to work with on the release. It took me a lot of years and a lot of dollars to make this happen, so I wanted to make sure people actually heard it. I also wanted to ensure that if I did work with a label, the record would be respected and given a real chance. I’m super grateful to Lame-O, who did all of those things and continues to be supportive throughout all of this. 

One thing that makes it so engaging and accessible is that these songs are beautiful and catchy while carrying these heavy, sometimes harsh themes. It kept reminding me of this Tom Waits quote, “I like beautiful melodies telling me terrible things,” and this dichotomy is at play where the music and meaning seem divergent. Still, it really heightens the impact of the work as a whole. I’m curious about your mindset when writing about difficult situations or emotions and if it’s a conscious thing to wrap these messages in this inviting package.

That’s such a great quote. One of my favorite quotes about music is by Hermann Hesse from his book Demian, “I like listening to music, but only the kind you play, completely unreserved music, the kind that makes you feel that a man is shaking heaven and hell.” 

I’m not always conscious. Sometimes I’ll sit down and start playing and writing, and something will come out that is totally unexpected. A line about being gaslighted in a relationship, “This sounds beautiful, play it for me again.” Many times I’ll listen back and realize where I’m drawing inspiration for the sound. I’ve been listening to Mirah, PJ Harvey, Feist, Nina Simone, Billie Holiday, Aretha Franklin, and Etta James so much over the years for their ability to put their whole self into the performance and sound. Speaking from the soul and the gut to tell you what they’ve been through. I’m super inspired by that. Billie Holiday and Etta James specifically have given us so much of their personal pain in the form of song. I feel gratitude for that. I try to throw my whole self into this because I know it matters to the listener, and this does feel like my life’s work. 

Seriously though, it’s such a special album, and it feels like a genuine culmination for you – a big deal. Can you tell me a little bit about how important having this record out in the world is to you?

It’s everything to me to have a full-length out. I put many lo-fi experimental EPs out in the past, but this is by far the most work and care I’ve put into a solo endeavor. I’m super proud and humbled by all the nice things people have said about it so far. I adore this group of songs, I love listening to it, and I’m so happy that people also get to experience some of the swirling ideas in my head mixed with stories from my life.

I know I read somewhere the title is a reference to Space Ghost Coast to Coast, but I wonder why did Space Ghost feel like the right title for this record?

The one memory of my lonely little childhood that links me to right now is my love for cartoons and being up all night watching Space Ghost Coast to Coast into the evenings. I love dark comedy and Adult Swim now, so I really wanted to give the album a title that felt fun, quirky, but also intriguing. I wrote the track Space Ghost before I named the album, actually. And once I finished the track, I loved how much it felt like the net for the entire project. And so it was.

Now that the album is out – what’s next for you in relation to Space Ghost (any tours, etc.?) and beyond?

I’m playing a bunch of shows this summer and through the rest of this year. Mainly across the North East. I’ll be writing and traveling a bunch for some self-reflection to inform what’s next. The best way to stay in the know is to follow me on Instagram

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