Interview: Taylor Jahn

taylor-jahnWith his thoughtful and elegant piano balladry, Oregon native Taylor Jahn is a truly accomplished pop singer/songwriter. His faultless vocals, his gorgeous melodies and most of all his profound and heartfelt lyrics all point to a long and rewarding career in his near future. Following the release of his debut EP Hide Away, I was lucky enough to chat to him about his music:

Thanks for your time! You’ve just released your debut EP ‘Hide Away’; are you happy with the way it’s turned out?
Hi! Thank you for your time. I HAVE just released the album!! I’m super stoked about it. It’s been a long time coming, and has been both a process and labor of true love. I think sonically it’s exactly what I wanted it to be, which was definitely something that evolved over the course of the album’s production. It has heart, and depth, and I’m overall very proud of the piece that I’ve put out there for the world to hear. It’s like it’s a part of me that I’m sharing with others, and that’s just such a special thing to be able to do.

Is the EP a collection of older songs that you’ve been working on for some time or were they written more in the heat of the moment?
The EP is mostly a collection of songs that I actually wrote within a timeframe of about two weeks, believe it or not. I had just made some big changes in my life, and was compelled to emote, specifically through music. I didn’t set out to put a record together, but instead just needed to write. It was after what would end up being the first four songs of the record were written that I came in contact with the guy that would end up being their producer. I sent him probably 30 different concepts when he said he wanted to work together on an album, some more recent and some quite old. The songs that made the cut were the ones that were written in that recent time. Funny how life works out, huh? The final cut on the record, “Keep Moving On,” is the only standout from the mix (in terms of when it was written) as I put that song together a few years ago. It fits really well as a round-out piece on the EP though, and was something I just couldn’t bear going without.

Do you have a particular method when it comes to songwriting? Which generally comes first, the music or the lyrics?
I don’t have a method or rubric that I specifically follow, but it usually works out that I start with the keys. I find it very therapeutic to sit a piano and just play, even if I’m not meaning or intending to write. Simply bouncing around between different progressions and chords can be enough. It’s when I find a group of chords that somehow sound like the beginnings of a song, something with a progressive movement, that I start thinking about writing. I solidify the progression, and then figure out the top-line melody over that, which can sometimes take a while. Depending on how I feel, I’ll have topics in mind that I want to write about, or will just let lyrics come that fit with the vibe of the piece and write around that. Sometimes, I don’t even go into a writing session with an idea in mind, and instead let things grow organically. Not sure if that makes any sense (it sometimes doesn’t even in my own head), but that’s the best way I can explain it. It’s like being lost and then finding yourself on the other end, which I find kind of magical.

The EP deals with some big subjects, with songs to provide solace and instill confidence. Were they written with sharing those messages in mind, or were they more a personal message to inspire you to keep going when times were tough?
I think that’s an interesting and great question, because in my head, the end result of a song, from a true writer, ends up being both. Sia. Sara Bareilles. Adele. Sam Smith. These artists (all of whom I love immensely) write from the heart, mostly for themselves and from their own experiences. Because of the depth and heart that they put into their works, the words come across as almost conversational, which then lends the listener to feel like the songs were written for them in mind. Art, in any form, is the expression of the artist as a way to describe their world, and people outside of that creative process end up feeling their own interpretation of that expression. I wrote the songs on Hide Away for myself mostly, both in times of strife and in times of positivity, but love how they ended up being songs that are relatable to others. The human experience has many common threads that tie us all together, and I strive to make music that allows people to share in that journey.

I couldn’t help but notice some amazing albums lurking in the background of the ‘Hide Away’ music video. What albums would you say have most inspired your sound?
Haha. You have a good eye, and good taste! There are SO many albums that have inspired me over the years, but for this record I’d have to say that more contemporary works were at the helm of my inspiration:  

  • 21, by Adele, is the first that comes to mind. She really brought back the wall of sound concept that encapsulates the listener in a cocoon of a lush sonic bed. Her lyrics alone strike a deep chord in everyone, but it’s the way the album was constructed, song by song, that really hit me. She also crosses genre boundaries with this record, which I find very intriguing.
  • 1989, by Taylor Swift, is another one. Her full-fledged step into the pop world found her with a record that not only speaks volumes lyrically, but which production-wise is amazing. It’s tight, robust, unapologetic and perfect. I love every song.
  • Another album was In the Lonely Hour, by Sam Smith. This man has brought a special tenderness to the world of music. Being a male but singing songs with emotion that only most women can conjure is a talent in and of itself. His voice is obviously flawless on the record, but his lyrics, the melodies and the way the music and vocals are woven together, are unbeatable.
  • Head or Heart, by Christina Perri was other album that really influenced me while making this record. This gal has a knack for piecing together a heart-wrenching song from a simple piano progression (a skill that Sara Bareilles equally demonstrates). Perri’s voice is unique, and sounds incredible, singing her own words, over any kind of production, be it subtle and soft or huge and lush. That dichotomy makes this album a huge source of inspiration for me.

If you could collaborate with anyone, who would it be?
If I could collaborate with ANYONE, I’d have to say right now that person would be Sia. She is far and away one of the best songwriters of the last 10-15 years, and has a personality to boot. I met her at an event a few years ago, and she sang a version of “Titanium,” backed only by a piano, and it floored me. It stirred something in me that I hadn’t experienced with live shows before. Her honesty, her emotive beauty, her powerhouse voice, her presence in the moments of the song. She showed me, right then and there, what a song (which was a runaway hit) could sound like in what was probably the way it sounded when she wrote it. Her dynamic sense of how to structure a piece lyrically and to bring about unique production aspects to balance that concept, is incredible. She’s truly gifted, and special, and I’d lose my mind if I ever got to meet her again, especially in a professional way, such as a writing session.

You have your special EP release show coming up very soon, you must be excited! Are there any more gigs on the way?
I do! And I am! My EP release show will be at Hotel Cafe in Hollywood on Tuesday, February 7th, at 8 pm. I’m still pinching myself that I’m playing there, as Hotel was the very first LA venue I saw live music in when I moved here. I’ve seen SO many shows there, both by professional artists, like Jon McLaughlin and Chris Martin, and unknowns or local LA residence players, like my friends and their bands. It’s truly a full-circle moment for me that my record will be debuted at this historic place. It holds so much meaning for me, and I’m so honored to be given the chance to play there. Following that show, I don’t currently have another gig planned, but hopefully that will change. I also perform the National Anthem for various sports teams (the Trailblazers back in my native town of Portland, the Clippers, the Dodgers), so it’d be fun if one of those opportunities comes around again. 

What else do you have planned for 2017?
2017 is shaping up to be my biggest year yet! I released the album last week, have my show next week, and am currently working on placement opportunities for the tracks on Hide Away. I’ve also started writing for a new EP, which is very exciting. Outside of music, I’m focusing on myself more this year, personally, than I ever have. I’m always trying to give to others, and don’t take enough time for me, and I want to get back to having a better balance there. Having more clarity, presence and scope helps my music, which I hope continues to be something that we can all benefit from for many years to come.

Massive thank you to Taylor! His debut EP Hide Away is out now!