There are a lot of things in the universe that is not certain. There’s no way for us to know exactly how many stars there are. We’re sure that there are other lifeforms in the galaxy, yet we’re not sure where and we’re not sure how similar and different they are from us. But there are also things in the universe we are certain about: everyone will experience emotions like love or loss or growth for example. We’re also certain that arts and sciences and everything in between has the power to influence the way people live and understand life—whether they’re doing the work or engaging in it.
Taylor Grey is one of those people. A singer-songwriter from Northern California, Taylor’s music is cognitive of her interests in exploring and understanding all of these subjects. Having developed a love for music at a young age, she knew what her passion was from the start and when we talk on the phone, it’s even more evident that she has the drive to back up the talent.
This summer, she released her sophomore EP, Space Case, a 12-track look into her world at the time. “As a whole, the album is a reflection of the feelings and emotions of growing up and being more independent. Specifically to me, it is a snapshot of what it is like going away to college especially because these were the first songs that I wrote while I was starting college,” she explains what the title and tracks mean to her.
Exploring the themes of growing up, love, loss, independence, and female empowerment were all important to Taylor when writing for Space Case, “As an album, that’s kind of what it is for me; a snapshot of who I was at that time and who I am because I’m still a college student.”
“Something that’s really crazy to me is that I will write a song and it’ll obviously be based in the truth of an emotion but I think sometimes people think you have to write word for word what experiences have happened to you,” she begins when I ask her how she’s grown in the past year since she first recorded the songs. Writing songs about her own stories has proved beneficial in terms of processing her life experiences. “But also, it’s fun to write about stuff that maybe happened to your friends or create scenarios that are based on emotions so what’s kind of funny is that I’ll write songs and then like a year later I’ll be like, ‘Whoa, that exact scenario happened in my real life, actually.”
As a whole, [Space Case] is a reflection of the feelings and emotions of growing up and being more independent.
One song in particular on the EP, “Miles Away” stands out to her in this aspect since she’s started doing a lot of touring and traveling over the past year, “It’s really cool to see the meaning of ‘Miles Away’ kind of come true in my life because I am away a lot and that does put a strain on a relationship or stuff like that.”
“But, in terms of meaning now, I’ve grown so much in the past year just in terms of doing live shows and getting to meet people and travel across the US,” she continues about how she’s grown since. “It’s been pretty amazing. Songwriting is my love so I’ve been really excited.”
During the production of Space Case, Taylor had already written and thought about thousands of songs and song ideas to consider. After cutting them down to around 20 songs, she worked with Josh Abraham and Nico Stadi to produce the EP and narrow the songs down to twelve.
“I picked the 12 [based on] a mix between what fits well and the production. And then with the arc of the album, we wanted to create sort of a different genre. It’s very much pop but I like calling it space pop because there’s something different about it. Like with each song, there are different elements,” she explains further about how Space Case came to be what it is. “With ‘Impossible,’ it’s very deep lyrically and it has very cool spacey popped out vibes. ‘Open Road’ has a lot of country influences while ‘Miami’ definitely has EDM influences. So, we definitely wanted to take all these songs that seem versatile and create a consistent narrative by creating this space element with vibe-y stuff that goes on in the production.” Deciding which songs would make the final cut also depended on the connection she had to each song.
She explains that she knew immediately “Impossible” would go on the EP because of how much it meant to her, meanwhile, she knew ‘Miami’ would also be on the EP because of the fun, playful nature the song has. “As a songwriter first, you’re always so excited about the new stuff and then you always have more and more stuff that you can always want to keep sharing music. So I think this body of work is more representative of me now,” Taylor reflects on where she hopes Space Case falls in her career. “Of course, I think for people who have known me before hopefully, they’ll see a growth especially in terms of the meanings behind the songs and the production. I’m kind of coming into my own style.”
I wanted to create a song that was about empowerment and was for people who have dreams that aren’t as understood.
“And for people who this is their first introduction, I’m very happy this is a first introduction. I think it’s fun and hopefully, people find a song they can vibe out to whether it’s a road trip or a heartbreak cry or dancing with some homies,” she lets out a little laugh as she continues.
In the titular song from the EP, ”Space Case,” Taylor tells a story of a girl who wants to go further than she is now from a third person point of view. “That song’s probably one of the hardest songs I had to write for this album just in terms of the fact that I’m saying, ‘Space Case Astronaut’ and trying to make that not sound insane,” she says with a laugh. “But, I really wanted to write that song. Writing songs about love is awesome and it’s relatable and clearly, I do a bunch of that, but I wanted to write songs that were more about not necessarily me.”
“I like to say Space Case girl is more of an alter ego of mine, perhaps someone I aspire to be or parts of me are in her. But ['Space Case' is] kind of about this girl who is just on Earth, a metaphor for whatever environment, and she doesn’t fit in there. She has dreams that aren’t quite understood in whatever environment,” she continues.
The story has a connotative meaning to it as well, “I think people can take that in whatever way they will whether that’s their school, their family, their city…it kind of creates this alternate universe space, quite literally where if you don’t fit in then you can create your own space where your life and dreams are acceptable.” Lyrically challenging herself, Taylor strived to have the song stand out for others, “I wanted to create a song that was about empowerment and was for people who have dreams but aren’t as understood.”
Taylor has felt a connection to space since as long as she could remember, even originally going to college to study it. “I could not tell you what it is, but when I was younger I used to legitimately cry because I knew that I would never know how big the universe was. That was like a genuine heartbreak—that was probably my first heartbreak. I was just so upset that I would never know how big the universe was,” she laughs. “I’ve always been obsessed with that content just because of how small our lives are in comparison to what’s out there, that’s always been interesting to me. I was always clearly a very artsy person, so when I went to college, I go to Stanford and I was like, ‘let me try to do aero astrophysics stuff’ and then I very quickly realized that I would not have any time to do my music anymore if I did that.”
Having to choose between astrophysics and her music was difficult but she knew she couldn’t give up music, “I really liked it but truly my true passion was music so I was like, ‘Okay, if I can’t go to space, like actual space in real life, then I’m going to take my music there.’ So that’s kind of how it came about. I don’t know, I like it! That’s me being very much my nerd self,” she laughs.
If I can’t go to space, like actual space, in real life then I’m going to take my music there.
Aside from space, Taylor also grew up loving musical theater with the first one being Andrew Lloyd Weber’s Cats, ”I did that musical when I was in sixth grade and I got to play Glisabella which was, like, the love of my life; it was the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard in memory. I think that was the first musical I ever fell in love with.”
Currently, she’s a fan of the Best Musical Tony winner this year, Dear Evan Hansen. “It’s so good, I cried listening to the soundtrack,” she exclaims. “I was lucky enough to see it in December of last year and oh my God I have never cried more in my life.” She laughs before adding, “It’s so funny because I saw my freshman RA after the show and I was bawling. It was very embarrassing I was like, ‘Oh hey! Don’t mind me!’ I was literally a ball of tears.”
“I did musical theater because I loved it. And classical voice training and all of that really helped me with learning vocal techniques, but I’ve actually been writing my own songs since elementary school so that’s always been part of my life,” she explains about her musical background. “And I feel like I’m still figuring out my sound and who I am. I feel like the songs I’m writing today are going to be different from the ones I write next year.” While she doesn’t think there’s going to be a huge difference, Taylor explains that she doesn’t look to limit herself to one genre, “Songwriting is really what means the most to me so if I’m feeling a certain way, I’m going to write a certain song.”
Having a foundation in musical theater and opera also helped her develop as a songwriter. “With musical theater, it’s all about telling a story. And growing up in that environment I think really helped me with being comfortable on stage also,” she says as we discuss the influence musical theater has on her. “It definitely indirectly probably influenced me learning what gets a message across, what is meaningful, and what are the important parts to tell or hit on. Like, specific details are an important thing to hit on.”
Songwriting is really what means the most to me so if I’m feeling a certain way, I’m going to write a certain song.
Looking at the way musical theater incorporates conversations was one of the techniques she’s taken with her. She cites “Fallen” as one example of a conversational piece she’s written and “Miami” as another because of its duet.
Now a student at Stanford, Taylor decided the university was her dream school at a young age. “I guess in that way I was fortunate to grow up right near it. I’m super lucky I got in, wow [if I hadn't] I would have been devastated,” she reflects. “My personal essay was actually about songwriting and I think that was a big part of my story and who I am so I decided that’s what I wanted to write about. I wrote about the meaning behind the song, ‘When the Storm Comes’ and—fun fact—put lyrics to that song [in the essay]. I think I started and ended my essay with lyrics to that song.”
“I’m majoring in neuroscience right now. Contrary to popular belief, people are like, ‘Oh neuroscience! You wanna be a neurosurgeon!’ I don’t want to be a neurosurgeon,” she laughs. “I’m just really fascinated by the brain. I think it also mirrors my fascination with space because the brain and however many neurons and cells are in the brain are pretty vast like the universe and the unknown fascinates me.” Another reason she chose to study neuroscience was to get a better understanding of others from a psychological standpoint, “It really helps with understanding people and how they interact with their environment and other people and in turn that helps me get a lot of insight into my music: understanding people.”
“I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to do a successful song about neurons and synapses and stuff like that; I don’t know if people are interested.” The two of us laugh bringing up the bone dance from Hannah Montana and Taylor quips that despite having tried, it never worked out as successful as Miley’s did. “I took a class about perception which is literally a class about the mechanics of perception. So taking that and applying it to learn how people view the world and view other people. I think what I learned was about how everyone is the center of their own universe which is pretty magnifying. Just trying to understand people’s motivations and intents and all of that fun stuff definitely helped me.”
[Balancing music and school] takes a lot of sacrifices but I don’t think anything is worth it without sacrifice, right?
Studying neuroscience has also helped her understand her own motivations including using her songs for closure and learning how to deal with that. “[Writing and the brain] kind of just goes hand in hand to me. I’m waiting for a class that I can write a song about, one day I’ll throw a little, like, sly brain reference in there,” she says.
Closing out our interview, the two of us discuss what advice she wants to give any artists currently in school. “First, I would say congrats and keep doing that. I think it’s so important to keep doing school and stay in school and be educated. Especially in the music industry, you want to have a good head on your shoulders,” she starts. “I never saw anyone that was doing or pursuing higher education, as well as, an entertainment career and a lot of people think that they’re mutually exclusive and I don’t think that’s true. I’m trying to help be a part of rewriting that narrative just because being educated is so important if you can and if you’re lucky enough to have that opportunity you should absolutely do it.”
“And I think my advice would be to study something that you’re passionate about. It can or cannot have something to do with your choice of career; I’m doing neuroscience and from the outside, that seems to have nothing to do with music but it really is inspiring to me and helped me with my personal growth which in turn helped me with my personal music,” she continues. Taylor advises that if you’re able to, it’s important to stay in school and make smart choices that benefit in the long run, “I’m proud of anyone who stays in school and does music, it definitely takes a lot of patience for sure. It takes a lot of sacrifices but I don’t think anything is worth it without sacrifice, right?”
Taylor Grey’s Mini-Playlist for Readers [Listen here]:
The Best You Had – Nina Nesbitt
Almost Famous – Noah Cyrus
Belly Ache – Billie Eilish
The Middle – Jimmy Eat World
Havana – Camila Cabello feat. Young Thug
Taylor’s Space Case EP is available on iTunes, Google Music, Apple Music, Soundcloud, and Spotify.
(photo cred: Gray Hamner)