Musical Artist, Doreen Taylor is Doing It Her Way
by Greg Barraza
“Without music, life would be a mistake.”
― Friedrich Nietzsche
Doreen Taylor is one of the fastest rising stars in music. The award winning musician/songwriter grew up in upstate New York, she has a tremendous background. She is a classically trained opera singer who has appeared on Broadway in Phantom of the Opera and Ragtime. Now she is turning heads in the country music arena. Her beautiful, angelic voice speaks to everyone, and her songs surpass the barriers of musical genre; they speak to people, a difficult task in an art form that so often gets categorized. Her breakout album, Magic, personifies her groundbreaking selfless pursuit. Creating her debut country solo album “Magic” has been one of the most exhilarating experiences of her life. Channeling many of her own personal perceptions, Doreen conceived all of the songs and combined with them her own passions and knowledge of the world. She even plays piano on “Another Rainy Night in Memphis”. Doreen wanted to compose an album which would accurately depict her most honest feelings and emotions and allow the listener to delve into a part of her soul that very few have entered. You will be immersed into a deeply colorful, rich, and melodious journey.
I spoke with Ms. Taylor on a sunny afternoon about her debut album, her philanthropy, and independence as she was preparing for her grand finale benefit concert in Philadelphia, where the net proceeds of the concert will benefit Urban Promise—a charity that benefits inner city youths and adults.
Please enjoy our interview and check out her music and all of her upcoming performances by following her:
GREG BARRAZA – ATOD: Will you explain the concept of “audience interactive performance” like the one you are doing in Philadelphia for the Urban Promise concert? I find that interesting because it seems as if you are at the forefront of artists with this concept.
DT: I have always been a very unconventional artist. I’ve done this industry in an unconventional way. Kind of breaking the mold. I guess I don’t want people to think I am a rebel, but I guess I am sort of in a way. The way I have approached this industry, and I think part of my success is because I don’t follow a manual. So when I recorded my album, Magic, and what I did with promotions after and everything I have been doing to this point, it has been an out-of-the-box approach. When we decided to do a tour, we said, “How are we going to make this idea carry on to a tour.” Because of my eclectic background, I have a Master’s in Opera, I have done tour groups on Broadway like Phantom of the Opera, Ragtime and multiple shows. I was always running away from the convention. It may be seen as taboo to have a classical background or classical training, and at one point, I said why am I running away from this? Why don’t I just embrace this and combine some of the best elements of all the genres and make this crazy eclectic show, which is like rock and roll meets Broadway with a sprinkling of country, a little bit of jazz, and a little bit of funk. It appeals to everyone. So when people come to my show they are shocked. They think they are going to see a regular traditional rock concert and that is absolutely not who we are. Within the first 15 minutes before the show begins, we start the show. We create an ambient kind of world, create an environment where the people are actually part of the show. There are actors who come in prior to the show to begin the show, so the audience is involved from the beginning. We are actually tying in a lot of elements. I created it to tell a story, so it is actually like a theatrical production, where we take a journey because in my album, Magic, it is really my expression, my interpretation of the music industry. I wanted to translate that when we did it live. All the songs speak my journey as an artist, as a woman, as someone struggling in this industry and succeeding. The songs speak about the downfalls that I have had and the successes that I have had. It is really very exciting for the audience member. I wish I can see it like they see it (laughs).
ATOD: The idea of an interactive production is extremely refreshing. Does that come naturally for you or is it influenced by your Music Theater background?
DT: I really believe I am an unusual performer. I am breaking molds all over the place. I think I am the voice of a new generation of artist; the artist that has been held down by a major label by putting an artist in a box, being told that you are an artist; for example, they say that you are country and that is what you do. I always fought to break those boundaries. I don’t like being boxed into some corner, saying this is all one is.
ATOD: With that being said, how does this belief influence your art, both on stage and in the studio?
DT: The most boring music in the world is the music that doesn’t have influences. It doesn’t go anywhere, and the fact that my music embraces different techniques, different styles, it allows us to reach out to everybody. Not only does it reach out to a broad audience, it keeps everything fresh. It lets me keep it interesting, keep it new, keep it refreshing—like you said. I feel like I am The Grateful Dead at times because people travel all over the US to watch my show. They have seen the same show over and over, and they tell me that they see something new every time. It’s evolving; it grows. Like the other day I was at band rehearsal—by the way nobody has ever heard this music more than I have—and yet I was recording with my band, and it was like I was listening to it for the first time. I was still hearing new things; I was still experiencing new feelings. That’s what is exciting about it because the audience will always see new things because there is always so much to see. Since I like to keep it fresh, I like to add new elements to every show. This show I am doing a brand new song; I’m doing a very special song. I’m bringing on special guests who are going to jam with us on stage because it is my birthday show and the grand finale show. We are making it really special so there is always a surprise for our audience. So, yeah, I think yeah a lot of my background does influence my show and personal beliefs.
ATOD: I love that answer. Do you choose to be an independent artist because you do not want to be boxed into a specific genre? I use the word “choose” because I know you have a lot of interest from the labels; usually the labels try to scoop up the artist and put their influence into the artist, but you choose to be independent. Yet you have resisted, why?
DT: I am really glad you brought that up because a lot of people see that one is an independent artist and think they are not good enough for a major label. So the artist just says oh I’m an independent artist. That is not what happened to me. I had several offers from major labels; I’ve met with some of the top people in agencies and labels. What always seems to happen is that I will sit in front of them and they will pick me apart. They will say I love you but you have to change everything about you (laugh). They are saying to me you’re gorgeous, we love your voice…blah blah blah; but then they want to change your image. They want to change your sound; they want to pigeon hole you into a genre; they want to change the creativity; they want to get other song writers to write songs for you when all along I’ve been writing my music. That is what my fans identify with; they identify with my voice. I got to the point where I said to myself that I can either sell out and do it because that was an option. I can go and pursue that and get everything a lot quicker or I can really stick to my guns and do it in a really authentic way. So that my fans, my audience, even myself can stay true. Because of my background, I couldn’t just become like everybody else; I couldn’t just dumb it down and water it down just to sell product. I had to see something and if that meant they didn’t want to sign me or I didn’t want to conform to whatever they wanted, I was okay with that. The greatest joy in the world right now is that I am succeeding despite the critics. I think it is ticking some of them off because I can succeed and I didn’t need them. I believe success isn’t about how many records I sell or how much money I make; I believe it is about making great music and touching people’s lives. If I do those things, that is success, not this formula that a major label will do and make me like everybody else. I want to stand on my own two feet and be judged because I have a good song have a good message. But if you would’ve asked me a year ago, I probably would’ve said I do not know where my path is going to go, but now I definitely know that this is my path.
ATOD: Wow! I understand that you write an article for a UK magazine, Moshnews; can you explain what you do for the magazine?
DT: First, I want to start grooming other artists; I want to start taking other artists under my wing; I want to start helping them. So I write a monthly column, and it’s kind of like a Dear Abbey format where other independent artists write me questions, and I pick questions and answer them in print. It helps them by giving advice because I want to give back. I would’ve loved that when I was starting. I would’ve loved someone to take me under their wing and give me advice because I would’ve had it a little easier. But I like the way I did it; with every stumble, you have to get back up because that proves that I belong in this industry.
ATOD: You touched on the dichotomy/conflict between art and marketability. At times that puts stress on being true to one’s self. How do you handle this conflict?
DT: I think you can have both. You don’t have to choose between one or the other. I really believe you can find a happy marriage between them. You can be marketable, but you can also be an independent voice who doesn’t sell out. It’s a fine line and very few people can find that balance. There are people who really do find that balance, like Radiohead; they have found a balance where they can be marketable but they are breaking molds themselves; in essence, they’re able to be true to themselves.
ATOD: How do you find that balance?
DT: I don’t think about it; I just feel. If I sit there and start thinking about it, I will go crazy and my brain will think too much. I already think too much (laughing). I’m already working on the next project or thinking about the next project. I’m always thinking about something. I really just go by impulse. Not everyone has good instinct; my instinct has always been pretty good. I am probably one of the riskiest people I know, so I do take chances, sink or swim. I will take that leap off a cliff and hope there is a net down there. I really believe that is why I am getting where I am getting; I am taking risks. I’m not playing it safe and I think by doing that, I am jumping out ahead of people.
ATOD: Earlier you mentioned your “real voice”; why do you think it is important to emphasize the fact that what people hear is your real voice, no voice manipulation?
DT: Here’s the thing. How many times have you gone to a concert and you’re really excited because you just bought the album, and the person you see on stage makes you say to yourself, “Who the heck is that band?” You hear this studio version of the album, but nothing sounds the same due to the voice manipulation and mixing. It just loses the heart; it loses the passion. When you can get a person who can perform, it makes the concert that much better. I have performed many times where it has just been me and a guitar, and I have sung there with a guitarist. It is really telling if an artist can be onstage by themselves; there is no place to hide. If you sound bad, the audience is going to know immediately and you are going to lose them, and you probably won’t get them back. You either can sing or you can’t.
ATOD: Your confidence comes through in your music. I love how your album emphasizes being a strong, independent person. Can you expand on how you carry that message not only through your album but in real life with your philanthropic pursuits like the anti-bullying campaign?
DT: I’m involved with a lot of charities and mostly all of them involve children. I feel very strong about helping children because of my background; I was severely bullied, not just by students, but by teachers too. And a child goes through such a formidable time of his or her life; they are questioning everything in their life anyway, so to go it alone and have these people that you should be able to run to and cry to also doing bullying put me in a position where I had to rely on myself. My journey could’ve ended up very different. I had a very hard time; I had a battle with bulimia; I tried anorexia; I tried cutting; I tried everything to try to regain control of my own life. I did not understand why everyone was doing this to me. I didn’t understand what was wrong with me. I assumed it was me, and I didn’t have anyone to talk to. I didn’t have anyone to go to; I didn’t want to tell my parents because I was their little girl. I wanted them to look at me differently. I didn’t want them to hate me. A lot of it I suffered silently; there was a turning point in high school where I could’ve went either way, and I could’ve turned into one of these horror stories that you hear about. But I decided that I was going to be stronger; I was going to rise above it, and I was going to take it and use it and let it fuel my fire. It motivated me tremendously; I became everything I could be. I was treasurer of the National Honor Society; I was in every play; everything I could possibly do I did. I think I was on every page of my high school yearbook just because I said I had to do this. It gave me the drive I have in me. Now I love it because I have to have extra thick skin in this industry. I am very soft inside but have a thick exterior; I can be criticized—it hurts—but I can take it. A lot of kids don’t have that opportunity, so when I got that opportunity to be heard publicly, I really wanted to do what I could. Firstly, I wrote the song, “Perfect For Me” for my album Magic which is all about loving yourself and being different and embracing those differences because that is what actually makes us perfect. Because of the success of that song, I was selected as a celebrity endorser for GLAAD. Also, Nick Cannon did an outreach program where he picked several celebrities to take Google Plus into high schools. We would talk to classes that were picked for us, and we would tell them our experiences. To tell you the truth, two weeks ago I got a note from one of the teachers; she wrote a message on Facebook Mail that said: “I have to tell you that you touched our children. You actually made a difference.” That meant more to me than winning any award, selling a million albums. None of that would ever mean as much to me as that email meant to me because that is why I was put on this earth—to help others. If music is the vehicle for me to help others; then so be it, that’s my mission.
ATOD: And your message comes through so beautifully in your music. Will you tell me more about your debut album, Magic?
DT: The whole album is about empowerment; more specifically, female empowerment because it has been difficult doing it independently. As a female in this industry, I have had a lot of negative experiences. But the fact that I am still here; I am still standing strong; I can look at myself in the mirror and know that I am doing it the right way. That is amazing to me.
ATOD: Totally. When your audience listens to your songs, listens to your lyrics, you have no apologies; a take me for who I am message. Do you think that is why songs like “Perfect For Me” has been adopted by the LGBT community?
DT: I do. I really do. While it wasn’t really written for that, it was written from my perspective as a person who has had a very tough life with image and with always having to be perfect. Even today there is always that pressure of you can’t put on weight; you can’t do this; you can’t do that. Finally, you just to say: “Look. This is who I am, and I am the same person on the inside.” I think the LGBT community identifies because the community is like, “Yeah. I get it because we are always having to be something.” The song stemmed from bullying, but if you think about it, the LBGT community constantly gets bullied. The song is a powerful universal message. My live version is a tear jerker; we do a strong video production behind the band. I can’t even look back because I will break down every time.
ATOD: Yeah. I gave the song to my wife, who is director of Senior Services for The Center OC, the local LGBT support center. She has shared it with her seniors. What you have written embodies itself with the seniors’ lives because they tell me that they have lived for 50-60 years, sometimes 30 of those in a straight marriage, trying to be perfect. Now that they are out, they are realizing that they are “perfect” for themselves. They identify with your song. So on behalf of them, thank you.
DT: Oh my God! Thank you for sharing that. You’re welcome. I love that you shared that story with me because that is what it is all about; you just hit it on the head. That is what being independent is all about; nobody told me how to do that song, and I was able to touch people—real raw emotion. Originally, I thought the song would be for little girls but I started getting letters from little boys as well saying we feel this way too. It was amazing. All the people that were writing me saying thank you for the song.
ATOD: Speaking of helping people, how did you get involved in Urban Promise—all net proceeds of your concert are going to benefit Urban Promise?
DT: I like to give back, so when I decided to do my first headline tour, I wanted to do something that nobody else does, something totally unconventional. I wanted every show in every city to give back to that city. A show in L.A. gave back to L.A.; a show in New York gave back to New York. More closely to my heart, a teacher I had lost her son, and her son donated all his organs. So I donated all net proceeds to the local charity in his honor. I always try to help the local community, so when we decided to do a grand finale in Philly, we really wanted to make it extra special. Urban Promise is just a really great organization; it is adult and children based here in Camden, New Jersey, a city that needs a lot of help. It’s one of the top crime cities in the country. The kids there don’t have a chance, and this organization gives them a chance. I love this organization, and its message. I can’t think of an organization that deserves it more. I am not big on giving 2% or 5%. If I am going to do it, let’s just do it; make it special and because of that a lot of people are getting behind it.
As I was sitting and reflecting on the interview, I realized that I just got off the phone with a truly amazing person. She is not only selfless, but she shows a great maturity and grace. I wish her all the great success she deserves with her new album, Magic.
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