Originally published in the October 29, 2012 issue of Country Weekly magazine.
Ensconced in a comfy office on Music Row where she’s been doing interviews all day, Taylor Swift looks casually chic in a sleek pair of black pants and sleeveless black top with white accents. Bestowing a hug before she settles back onto a black leather chair and puts her bare feet on the footstool, it’s easy to forget she’s a global superstar.
Though polished and poised, Taylor exudes a disarming girl-next-door charm that makes
an interview feel more like a fun conversation with a friend than a celebrity promoting a new project. There’s talk about clothes, hair and girl stuff before settling into the topic at hand—the Oct. 22 release of her new album, Red.
The project has already made history as the first single, “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” spent three weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 all-genre chart. The song’s debut sales of 623,000 downloads made it the biggest opening week for a song by a female artist in history.
“‘We Are Never Ever Ever Getting Back Together’ was a song that just said something that I hadn’t said before,” Taylor tells Country Weekly. “[It’s about] the moment where you’ve been in and out of a bad relationship and you are so done. You are so done in fact that it feels like a celebration to talk about how done you are.” Though there was speculation in the press about who Taylor wrote the song about, she prefers not to name the ex-boyfriend who inspired it. “I’ve never named who anything was about. People make their assumption and then it becomes fact,” she says, obviously a little frustrated by the misinformation that swirls around her life and career. “One of the things that I always keep with me is the ability to be the only one who knows who these songs are really about.”
Taylor followed up the feisty break-up anthem with a new single, “Begin Again.” “Putting out ‘Begin Again’ was something that we felt was the right thing to do from the perspective of the story that we’re telling,” Taylor explains. “We started with ‘We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,’ which is like ‘we’re done,’ and ‘Begin Again’ is much more of an introspective look on the fact that you don’t get to a point of being done with a relationship without experiencing some sort of hurt. This was a song that I wrote much later on after the relationship ended and I looked back at it and thought, ‘I really lost myself there.’ That’s a hard thing to come to terms with, realizing that you’ve changed something about yourself every day, little by little, and woke up and really didn’t recognize yourself anymore. So to have that song go to No. 1 on iTunes, within hours of it being put up, was really gratifying because you’ve got a song that’s dealing with all your insecurities and it’s sitting at No. 1.”
Though she refuses to name names when it comes to her relationships, Taylor is known for opening up her
heart and pouring all her emotions into her songs. The whole world is listening, but that hasn’t caused Taylor to censor herself or become more guarded in her writing. “Writing songs is something
I’ve done since I was 12 years old. I’ve always done it for the same reasons and it hasn’t always produced the same result,” she explains. “The songs that I wrote when I was 12 ended up being played in coffeehouses when I’d sing them, and then they would just kind of disappear when I outgrew them. The songs that I write now end up all over the world for everyone to hear, so I think it’s the fact that I’ve been writing since I was so young that my motivations behind it haven’t changed. I haven’t started to guard myself in the form of songwriting. I’ve learned to guard areas of my life that I have to keep for just me, like my personal life.
“I’d so much rather sing about it in songs than have it be me talking about what’s going on in my personal life all the time or ever in the media,” she continues, “but I somehow feel like it’s OK and actually helpful for me to write about it. People read theories from gossip blogs as to what’s going on in my life and there’s something really fun about knowing that they don’t really know what really happened from my perspective until I put out an album and there are songs about it.”
It’s no secret that much of Taylor’s inspiration comes from relationships, and whether she’s writing a song or chatting with strangers, love is always a favorite topic. “I end up in conversations about relationships no matter what,” she says with a smile. “When I talk to fans and I see them in public or I run into them at Starbucks or at the airport or something, they always ask me about their boyfriend issues and I love it! It’s like my favorite thing to talk about.
I was in the park the other day and I ran into these two 16-year-old girls and one was talking about her boyfriend. We got into this whole conversation about him and I just love talking about love. I love writing about love. I love thinking about love because it’s so unpredictable.”
Needless to say, many of the 16 songs on the new album are about relationships. Taylor penned 10 of the tunes by herself and co-wrote the remaining tracks. “Trouble” is a song about a guy who’s bad news. “I came up with that melody months before I went into the studio with [songwriter and producer] Max [Martin],” she says. “I walked into the studio and I was like, I want to write this song about how I felt this different kind of heartbreak recently where I’m not like, ‘Shame on you, you broke my heart’; I’m thinking, ‘Shame on me, you broke my heart. I knew the red flags. I saw them. I saw the warning signs. I walked right past them, right into your arms and then I got absolutely tricked.’ The feeling of being tricked is almost worse than being heartbroken because you knew better. You’re not blindsided. You saw this coming, but you let wishful thinking get in the way, and that’s what I’ve been guilty of a few times.”
Among the album’s many highlights is a song titled “All Too Well,” which Taylor cites as the hardest song she’s ever written. “It’s about this relationship that I had and it tells the story of it from start to finish, so it’s all these pieces of memories, one by one listed off. It’s one of the most vivid pictures that I’ve ever gotten to paint with a song,” she says of the song she co-wrote with Liz Rose. “It’s the first song I wrote for the record a year and a half ago. I called her and said, ‘I’ve been working on this song and it’s going to be nine minutes long if I finish it the way that it is. You’ve got to help me edit this down, make it more concise and make it a story that can be told in the form of a song that isn’t going to be an hour long because I’ve written so much.’ She came over and we sat down and wrote it and it became one of the songs on the record that displays the most amount of hurt. It starts off with the innocent beginnings and goes all the way down to the bitter end and follows the relationship as it’s crashing down, and the hook of it is, I was there. I remember it all too well.”
In recording her first three albums, Taylor worked with producer Nathan Chapman and the two still collaborated
on Red, but she also reached out to some different producers this time, including Nashville producer Dann Huff, whose credits include Keith Urban and Rascal Flatts. She also worked with Max Martin and Swedish writer/producer Shellback, well known for their work with Britney Spears, and Butch Walker, an acclaimed musician/writer/producer who has collaborated with P!nk, Avril Lavigne and All-American Rejects. “I’m really excited about the lyrics and the stories told on this record, but I’m also really excited about the different people that I reached out to who painted the picture in a different way productionwise,” she says. “I’d always been curious about working with Max Martin, so I wrote with Max Martin and Shellback and did some production work with Jeff Bhasker, who does the band Fun who have that song ‘We Are Young’ that’s so good. I worked with Dan Wilson, who is amazing. He was in Semisonic. . . . I did a collaboration with Ed Sheeran and did a duet with Snow Patrol and then had a song that Butch Walker produced, so there are a lot of collaborations.”
Taylor is a big fan of British-born singer/ songwriter Ed Sheeran and is excited about him being on her new album. “His music video was playing in Australia when I was on tour there and I loved his voice and the way he sings and the way he crafts his songs,” Taylor says. “I came back to the States and I said to my management company, ‘I really want to work with this guy,’ and they said, ‘That’s really funny because we just got a request from him to write with you.’ It just worked out perfectly. I met up with him at one of his shows and we wrote some songs that day. He came to California and we wrote some more songs. The one that made the album is a duet called ‘Everything Has Changed.’”
Taylor says it’s hard to pick a favorite song from the new album because they are such an “eclectic bunch,” but she chose “Red” as the title track because it anchors the collection. “‘Red’ defines what this album is about,” she says. “I called the album Red because when I started really thinking about what red is as a color, it defines the most intense emotions, whether you are dealing with love, passion, intrigue or you are dealing with anger, hurt, jealousy. It also is a color for adventure and that’s what this record was. It was a big adventure.”
Beyond the recording process, most every aspect of Taylor’s life these days is a big adventure. Two days after this interview, Taylor was flying to Paris to shoot a video for “Begin Again.” She has lots of traveling in her future as she’ll be promoting Red all over the world. “I will be in Japan for Thanksgiving, so I probably won’t be having the traditional Thanksgiving dinner at all,” she says with a smile. “Directly after that, I’ll be in Australia.”
When she is finally at home, Taylor says she likes to unwind by ordering food in, catching up with friends and simply relaxing. “I love my own space! I love it,” she says of life in Nashville. “I have an apartment that overlooks the whole city, which is nice because I get to look out and see my favorite place.
“My life is spent having people surrounding me all the time, either hair and makeup or walking into the next interview or . . . there’s an audience and I’m signing autographs,” she continues. “It’s a very social experience living my life, so when I get home, it’s so nice to live alone. It’s so nice just to collapse into bed and watch TV for a few hours.”
Taylor enjoys having time to unplug and relax, but she’s worked hard to get to this point in her career and she’s grateful for all the opportunities. There’s no grousing about her hectic life. She’s gracious and appreciative and remarkably down-to-earth, especially considering her level of success. “I never have a normal day, which is so much fun because my life is never the same two days in a row. It’s never routine,” she says, smiling.
“I’m always somewhere different. I’m always somewhere new. The TV shows are different in every country. The interview is always different. The concert experience is the closest thing I get to a normal routine, but that’s in a different state every day. This job was perfect for me because I love that adventure!” CW
Taylor Swift Fills In the Blanks
I would never . . . sky dive or bungee jump.
I wish I were better at . . . sports.
I’m trying to quit . . . midnight snacks that turn into meals at 4 in the morning. [I’m trying to quit ] eating after 10 p.m.
My favorite hobby is . . . antique shopping.
I always make sure I . . . talk to people politely.
My biggest fear is . . . losing someone I love.
I never leave home without . . . my phone.
My perfect day is . . . hanging out with my friends, going on a girls’ trip to the beach, running around acting like little kids, having a kitchen dance party, laughing, talking, catching up with all my friends that I haven’t seen in forever.
Taylor Swift’s Fans Want To Know
What is the greatest change you see in yourself on Red compared to who and where you were two years ago and on Speak Now? —Amy Curzenski
Taylor: I think the biggest change and the best change is my sense of curiosity when it comes to wanting to learn more, wanting to expand what I do. I think the best thing that happened was a year in [to making this record] my label said, “You’ve made a great record. You’re done. Congratulations! If you want to be done you can be,” and I just looked at them and said, “No I’m not. I need to go and work with new people and learn more than what I know now.”
What are you listening to lately? Any albums or songs you can’t go without? —Yael Spivakovsky
T: Listening to that song [by Florida Georgia Line] “Cruise” and One Republic, Rihanna, Coldplay, Tim McGraw, Jimmy Eat World, of course Ed Sheeran, pretty much everything, Nicki Minaj. It’s all over the place.
Do you think it was important for you to live the normal high school experience before becoming fa- mous? Do you think that’s why your fans can identify so much with you? —Alexandra Behrens
T: I really liked going to school when I moved to Tennessee. It was amazing because I had friends. I went to class. I left class. My mom would drive me downtown. I’d write songs with other songwriters. I’d go home, do my homework. It was kind of a fun balance of things, and then I don’t necessarily feel like I missed out on something big because I didn’t physically go to school my junior and senior year. I just felt like I was doing what I wanted to do with my life. I was getting the best education I possibly could out on the road. I was definitely inspired a lot by being in school and all the social observations you make being there, but I don’t think I needed to go to those last two years to be able to understand what I needed to do with my life. I figured it out pretty early.
If you could relive any moment in your life, what would it be and why? —Anna Caneato
T: It would be the jumping up and down and dancing in the street that I saw my record label executives
and president do in L.A. when we won the Album of the Year Grammy. I had to go straight to Australia after the Grammys, but I stopped by my label party and I saw these seasoned executives just jumping up and down like little boys and I’d just never seen them act like that. To see people act so out of character and celebrating some- thing that happened with me, it was amazing.
What’s your favorite thing to do to unwind after a long day? —Zack Hourihane
T: Order take-out food or delivery food and sit there, watching TV with my cat and maybe call my friends that I hadn’t seen in a while. I spend a lot of time on the phone with my friends.
Where did you draw your inspira- tion from for your upcoming album? —Samantha Matta
T: I drew inspiration from my own story lines, my friend’s story lines, movies, things that I would see happening around me, people, places. I’d watch a movie and think, “If I could write a soundtrack to this moment, what would it sound like?”
What’s one goal you have for your- self that you hope to accomplish but haven’t yet? —Morgan Feyedelem
T: I would love to be in a movie and have me be really proud of the way that it turned out.
What happens to the songs that don’t make it on the album? —Stephanie Orta
T: They either end up being bonus tracks down the line, or they get just shelved.
What’s the hardest song you’ve ever written? —Bethany Polson
T: Probably “All Too Well” [on Red] because it took me a really long time to funnel it down to the story line that it needed to end up being.
How is Meredith, your cat? —Janie Ziegle
T: She’s fantastic. She’s just laying around being a cat.
Does she travel with you?
T: Yeah, except out of the country, but everywhere else she is with me.