Can you give us a little background about your music? How did you initially get interested and what sorts of inspirations did you experience?
I’m almost embarrassed to admit that I was one of those girls who closed her bedroom door and looked in the mirror while singing into my hairbrush. My .. was I something!! My cheeks flush at remembering how stupid I felt when my mother walked in during one of my performances! That led to the dreaded “Glee Club” and then I became one of the even more dreaded “Lounge Singers.” After going into the military and being deployed, I started being invited to sing with touring USO shows .. some country, some pop, a little of this and a little of that. It wasn’t until I got out and joined a musicial theatre and got taken to a jazz club one night and .. instantly .. I was in love with the sound of the American Songbook and then I was invited up to sing. I called the one song I knew the lyrics to and I was hooked. I was suddenly back in the 40’s in a smoke-filled jazz club with ice clinking in glasses and an audience as interested in the music as in each other. I still enjoy the country and the easy listening and even lullabies but .. my heart .. with the old standards crafted so beautifully both musically and lyrically.
The Lullaby Project is your current passion. What is the project’s aims?
You shouldn’t have asked me about The Lullaby Project. I’ll be impossible to shut up!! I’ve been asked for years to do a CD of Lullabies. It seemed there was always another project that required attention .. or .. sometimes .. it was my own life situations that did. Regardless of the reason, universal timing is perfect and I began work on Lullabies “officially” on October 14th. All the music tracks were layed down and it was time for me to do the final vocal tracks and .. I roughed up my vocal cords. That meant silence and rest and I wasn’t able to get back to work until the 29th. At that point, it was still “just” a CD of lullabies .. .. then .. the news broke on November 4th about the torture and beating death of a wee little red-headed 3 year old named Scotty McMillan simply because he didn’t want to eat his breakfast.
I, like so many others nationally, was shattered by Scotty’s story and it made it almost impossible for me to walk into the studio and open my mouth because his face would flash to the front of my mind. I took a couple days off and while away I decided that while I could not help Scotty .. I had to consider this CD a way of returning something of beauty and positivity back into the universe on his behalf and I did what I’ve never done before .. I dedicated a CD to a specific person .. in this case .. Scotty McMillan. And, in his honor, I also created The Lullaby Project.
The purpose of The Lullaby Project is two-fold:
First and foremost it’s to provide something that can offer soothing and comfort to people, primarily children, in high stress and displaced situations, such as shelters or hospitals. I’ve also been asked to consider Nursing Homes and Assisted Living Facilities, Hospices and VA Hospitals. And there’s been some interest by first responders and CPS to have something available. This will given be in the form of a gift bag that contains a small mp3 player with a built-in speaker that has Lullabies loaded on the the player’s MicroSD card, a pair of ear buds and a USB cable. Additionally, it will come with a small wall charger since so many people do not have access to a computer in order to keep it charged.
By using my personal savings and some help through a GoFundMe account (http://www.gofundme.com/lullabies), I have just received the first 300 units. Now, a dedicated portion of the commercial sales of Lullabies through my webstore (https://denataylor.bandcamp.com/album/lullabies) will be put into a savings account specifically for The Lullaby Project. Whatever funds are remaining after the Player Gift Boxes are secure will be donated to a national organization that focuses on child abuse. It simply must be gotten under control. The children are the future of this planet! Our first recipient will be Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA).
It seems that charitable work is very important to you personally and as an artist. What is Spencer’s Fund and how do you choose the charities you support. Which other charities do you feel are successful in their goals?
My motto, as it were, has always been, “It’s not enough for music to BE good, it also has to DO good!” That doesn’t necessarily mean funding or donating money but using the music to reach out .. I enjoy singing at nursing and assisted living facilities. Doesn’t pay me anything in currency but I don’t leave without gratitude for having gone. The same with the non-profit organization here in Austin, Swan Songs. They arrange personal 1 set acoustic concerts for patients nearing the end of their lives. The artists range from VERY well known “stars” to unknowns. Everyone volunteers their time & skill and there is no cost to the recipient. Last time I was called it was for a client in a hospice, her two adult sons and her best friend of 50 years. Afterwards, I went out and sat in my truck and cried knowing that I’d never used my voice for a more sacred purpose.
As for my charitable support through the sales of my music .. I pick those who have rankings as using the highest percentage of donations for services rather than administrative costs or professional fund-raising services. I support a number of animal related causes as well. I use Spencer’s Fund as the respository for any of my charitable donations and then I rotate through them. Obviously, The Lullaby Project is the current recipient of the money deposited into Spencer’s Fund.
You have livened up a number of classic songs throughout your career. How do you break free of what Barry Manilow or Tony Bennett has done to create something wholly new and your own?
Truthfully, I don’t know that I (or any other “cover” artist really makes it wholly new). However, I believe that each of us add something in our interpretation of the songs. Our hearts, if we’re attached to the music that we make, resonate because of what we hear musically or lyrically and that show up in how we play it or sing it. I have my own unique way of phrasing and hitting a beat and that’s my personal spin. I have focused on a sadly dying music genre and that’s jazz and American Songbook Standards. I chose those songs to perform that I can step into, emotionally and physically. We might, depending on the musicians I work with, twist up the tempo or introduce more “non-standard” equipment or “takes” but throughout all of my CDs .. I remain the constant. When I sing, I close my eyes and step back into another era .. and my hearts rises or shatters with the lyrics. So .. maybe THAT is how I break free or rather break into a song and sing it “my way.”
How was the creative process different between The Nearness of You and Lullabies?
I have to say that with The Nearness of You and Lullabies .. the creative process began with having a vision for each album and I’m not all that sure there is a different creative process for them. For me, at least, the creative process starts with the vision, supporting it with the songs that are being considered and finally culled and then stepping into the studio with musicians that see the vision and, most importantly, hear it. I’m so blessed with the musicians I work with and then also have an incredible sound engineer who coproduces with me. Nearness started out from the beginning to be an album meant for lovers wrapped in each others arms dancing in their living rooms or standing outside the car listening to it on the CD player or whatever … it was meant for that intimate, close, romantic sensuous time that physical contact AND certain music were meant for. Obviously, NOT the “vibe” you want on an album of lullabies so when it came time to record it, thoughts and spirit turns to sending as much love and gentleness as you can imagine so you approach it with softness. You could literally feel the difference in the studio (since I worked with the same musicians on both .. it was much more obvious)!
What role do the rest of your players have in shaping your overall sound?
While I no longer have a band, I think moving away from my band (for some reason they refused to give up everything and move to Austin just because I had) really forced me to open my mind to evolving and expanding. Since I’m blessed to be working regularly with some of the finest musicians (Grammy winner Redd Volkaert, Rick McRae, Ernie Durawa and Brad Taylor), we’ve established a rapport and trust. I’m much more willing to step outside of my comfort zone to try things because of them. I won’t ever suddenly become a rapper and my approach to the songs I love so very much remains pretty stable .. I always hear them arranged in other ways and with instruments other than just a standard combo of piano, bass and drums. I’ve also been terribly fortunate to work in a fine studio with an incredible sound engineer who nows also coproduces with me.
How has the internet assisted with promotion of your music?
Since I don’t gig regularly anymore and seldom have the opportunity to tour, the Internet has become my stage and allowed me to introduce my music to people who would never hear it otherwise. I have to admit that I’m not the most adept at it and haven’t used it to nearly the full extent it’s capable of. I tried hiring a media company to help but learned a very hard lesson .. RESEARCH, RESEARCH, RESEARCH!! I don’t care whether you’re a new artist, a young artist, a mature or establish artist .. there are plenty of people out there who know exactly the right thing to say in order to get you to sign and once you have .. your money is gone and the promised services are gone with it. So .. I have to honestly say that I have not effectively harnessed the Internet’s power and that is essential for a genre of music that is rapidly disappearing.
How can listeners get in contact with you and hear your music?
I have a website that really lets people get to know me a little better. My primary domain is www.denataylormusic.com But people can also get to my website through my other domain: www.denataylor.info . And while I do get some streaming radio airplay .. it varies so much that I have put full album streams on my site .. they can listen to all 4 of my currently available CD’s and there’s even a few little nuggets buried inside an area called Bits and Pieces. If people scroll down the home page, they’ll find the link to them in the section Where Is Everything. And I can also be found on Facebook at: http://www.facebook.com/denataylormusic .
I love to hear from people who are fans or wanting to know more about my music or my charitable work. For those wanting more information, they can reach me through the email address: [email protected]. If they are trying to reach me personally, they can just put: Attn: Dena Taylor in the subject line.
Do you have any final thoughts for us at NeuFutur?
I do want to thank you for finding value in ALL genres of music and the musicians that make them. The world of music is changing and if we only pay attention to the new “stuff” the foundations of all music will be lost and THAT is going to be a very sad thing. I frequently wonder how Frank Sinatra would do if, as a new singer, he showed up today and far too many of today’s young artists barely know who he was!
Thank you so much for your time.