There was a time early on in his songwriting career when Taylor Carson had no idea what he was actually singing about. He’d write his own songs and play them live but he was much more concerned with pumping out material than anything else. Since then, Carson has matured from being a self-described cocky twenty-something into an analytical musician who feels strongly about writing the best songs he can with lyrics that mean something.
Carson has always had a connection to music having grown up the son of an opera singer in New Jersey. While he didn’t favor his mother’s genre of choice, Carson definitely recognized at a young age how opera made his mother feel. “It made her so happy to be on stage and she kind of went somewhere else and I feel that same way now,” he explained.
It would take Carson a bit of time to recreate that feeling but he would finally experience musical nirvana in his thirties. “I didn’t identify with [how she felt] until I got to a certain point with my music,” he said. “I was like, ‘Ah! So THIS is what she was feeling all that time.’”
Carson started out as a vocalist in the seasonal concerts at his elementary school. He spent time as an athlete as well but remembers thinking how cool it was to be in music class. “I remember being like seven years old and watching a song be built and really being fascinated by that,” he said. “I just love the creation out of nothing.”
He went on to pick up the guitar in high school and learned a few chords before performing original material regularly at 20 in Nantucket. After a summer there, Carson moved to D.C. and got a job at an event production company. He’s called the area home ever since, it’s his comfort zone.
He’s got a process when it comes to songwriting. It’s always started with picking up the guitar and messing around until he’s found a cool guitar part. From there, he’ll start sensing a melody and try to derive that ever illusive first line. That first line dictates what the rest of the song will be about so, “it needs to be a really good line.”
“Whether it’s the first lyric of the song or it’s the chorus or it’s just something that thematically shapes the song,” he explained.
Carson draws inspiration from some of the great singer-songwriters from days past to the present including Paul Simon, Lyle Lovett, Martin Sexton, Ray LaMontagne, John Mayer, Amos Lee, Ryan Adams, Brandon Flowers (The Killers), Brandi Carlile, Stephen Kellogg, and Ellis Paul. By following the templates put in place by his predecessors, Carson’s been able to innovatively craft his own music library.
It’s this process that demonstrates Carson’s devotion to and understanding of his craft. “Writing is never forced. It’s never been that way. I could never force writing. That’s not expression to me, that’s work,” he explained. “I write to understand myself. I write to understand the world.”
While struggling with personal demons, Carson decided to take the time to sit down with his dad and flesh things out. “I wanted to learn more about why I am the way I am,” he said. “Why my dad is the way he is, why my mom was the way she was,” and so on. He felt that digging deeper into his family’s history would be more beneficial for him to learn more about his family, himself, and why they all are the way they are.
It worked. That’s how his most recent full-length album, 2010’s “Defending the Name,” came to be.
“Everybody will talk about happy family memories – graduations, weddings, infidelity and the like rarely make good dinner-party conversation. Singer-songwriter Taylor Carson chooses to put everything, good and bad, out there for the world to examine,” Caramie Schnell of Vail Daly wrote. “He delved into his sometimes dark family history for fodder.”
What makes Carson’s story one worthy of note is his desire to learn his family’s past, analyze it, and become a better man because of it. He’s human like the rest of us and uses songwriting as his catharsis and therapy. It’s a first-hand example of how valuable the arts can be.
“I needed that record. For me to continue on loving being a musician, I needed, Defending the Name had to happen. There’s no way around it.”
Unlike his twenty-something self, he now realizes that the music industry doesn’t owe him anything for his work. Instead, he feels strongly about writing good songs and letting the product speak for itself. He’s gone from cocky to confident with what he describes as having no ego attached.
From his wife to his band to his manager and even singer-songwriter Stephen Kellogg (who’s become a mentor and friend after years of Carson being a fan of his work), Carson’s built-up a solid support system that he can rely on no matter what. For everything else, there’s making music with meaning behind it.
“Taylor knows how to push the buttons that make people feel and it’s so good to feel, that we should all send Mr. Carson a thank you,” Kellogg wrote.