Written by Maria Arroyo
I had the opportunity to video chat with and interview New Jersey’s rising pop/etc. artist, Taylor Tote. She’s been steadily rising in her success with her new music, and her incredible road trip story that she talks about in her last EP.
“I’ve been into music from the moment I could walk and talk,” Tote says. “And it was always just there, and not something I really had to think about. I always really liked being the center of attention. I would put on shows at recess with my friends at school, I’d get up on the pool deck and start singing for everybody and I’ve never felt really nervous or shy on stage, except maybe when I sang the national anthem.”
We talked about her experience singing the national anthem for our military and how it brings out something special because of the service they provide by protecting our country, she is able to give just a little back in the form of honoring and “representing our country,” as Tote explains it.
We then started talking about her recent EP, 21 Minute Drive, which was followed by a road trip from her home to California.
“My friend, who I’m visiting now, was moving to California and we were helping her, but one of the biggest reasons I felt I needed the road trip was because I felt trapped,” she shares. “I was in this state of being trapped in a box, and I knew exactly what I wanted and what I needed to do, but I just couldn’t get out… I felt like there was really a point where I thought I wasn’t going to do music anymore. I was experiencing imposter syndrome, and it kind of put me in a place of needing to think back on what I was doing. I felt like I was doing nothing, and I wasn’t being productive. I told my producer, Russell, when we were writing these songs, that I really want to have songs that people can apply to however they’re feeling. I don’t really want to center it entirely on love, I really wanted to talk about this mental state that I’ve fallen into that I know others have felt.
I had to tell myself ‘I got really far and I did a lot of this on my own,’ and told myself that I don’t need anybody to validate that for me. I’m not perfect and that’s okay because I shouldn’t be striving to be perfect. I saw this quote that read “We need to stop comparing our behind the scenes to everyone else’s highlight reel” and it really made sense to me. I think social media can be a really great place, but it could also be a toxic place. It’s a blessing and a curse and we have to be really careful about what we’re putting online, what we’re saying, what we’re seeing and how we perceive it all.
So as we were driving across California, my other really good friend had just moved to Hawaii, so I took the $99 flight from LAX, and it was just such a needed thing for me. I don’t know how to explain it, but when you start seeing different parts of the world, you think, ‘Wow, nature has the potential to crush me at any moment, so why am I so hung up on the little things?’ I also learned that we are not invincible and that’s okay. This trip put a lot of things in perspective, which brought me the inspiration for the track, ‘Multivitamin,’ and the two other songs I have coming out in July and August.
When I had the concept for ‘Multivitamin,’ I said to Russell, ‘I want people to listen to this and I want them to be like ‘this is weird, but it’s really cool,’‘ because I wanted to keep stepping out of my comfort zone. What I learned from 21 Minute Drive is this is the most me I’ve ever felt. Now I had been happy with the things that I put out in the past, but when [21 Minute Drive] came out everyone was saying ‘wow, this is so different for you,’ and I would tell Russell, ‘people are saying this is so different, but it doesn’t feel different,’ and he told me, ‘This is the most you, you’ve ever been like.’ I have been waiting for this for so long and now I finally have it. I went to go see one of my friends who I met through the music industry and worked on a lot of videos with her, and when I showed her the EP, we like sat in her car and listened to the EP, and within like the first five seconds she was like ‘yeah, this is like exactly what I thought you should have been doing years ago.’ I still want people to go ‘wow’ because I’m still continuing to grow and I’m not keeping myself in a box.”
“I think what you’re doing (in reference to her jumping out of the societal genre-specific box) is incredible,” I share with her. “You and others are opening the doors for other artists who also want to try new things and maybe bend their original sound to try something different.”
“I write how I’m feeling in the moment and I want to do what feels good,” she explains. “I’m just kind of just doing my thing and doing what feels right.”
We started talking about the genre-specific boxes I mentioned earlier, and how they truly do add to the compartmentalization of artists and their craft. While we are so used to our favorite artists sticking to what they know, it’s not uncommon for them to branch out and try different forms of expression. Whether that’s a different genre from what’s usually “expected” from them or even a new form of media entirely. Either way, that old idea that artists shouldn’t or don’t normally switch over is pretty much out the window, and I highly doubt that most artists are influenced by just one subset of genres and artists, so why would their music be any different?” she says.
“There’s a lot of crossovers happening now,” Tote says. “P!nk is doing songs with Keith Urban, Lil Nas X with Billy Ray Cyrus, even Florida Georgia Line and Bebe Rexha. They’ve been doing all of these amazing things and proving you don’t have to stick to just one thing. Taylor Swift is another example. I definitely admire her and her work ethic, but did people really think that she was going to doing the same music that she was at 15 years old with ‘Teardrops On My Guitar?’ No! She’s in her thirties, and she’s evolving and growing, and what you see is what you get.
I’m not putting on a face or a front, and that’s what I was proving with ‘Multivitamin.’ It’s silly and fun and I’m silly and fun. I make a lot of quirky comments and say a lot of bizarre things, so I like to put that into my music. The stories in my lyrics are always very true to what’s happening to me and my life. I feel like I can’t write about anything else because then it just becomes unauthentic and I really want to be as authentic as possible and represent myself the best way that I can.”
“When the [21 Minute Drive] EP came out, I was nervous about a lot of the interviews that I was gonna be doing because a lot of them were with people that had seen me do the rock stuff with my former band. All of them had nothing but great things to say except this one interview I did with somebody. He made it seem as if what I was doing wasn’t a good idea. That I was doing something easy or doing something that wasn’t as good as it was before, and I’m like ‘This is me. This is what I always wanted but even if it wasn’t what I always wanted, it’s what I want now.’ It’s crazy to me how many people think pop music is just easy music, because pop is, hands down, the hardest genre I’ve ever done.”
Tote also shares a point that we both agree on, which is the idea that just because something is unfamiliar to you, doesn’t mean it’s easier or any less you. It’s just different. She also shares that it’s okay to change your mind or ideas of what your music sounds like because it happens and we aren’t done growing.
“That same interviewer asked me a really great question, though. He asked, “Okay, you’ve been on tour, you’ve done all these really cool shows, and you performed with these people, etc. What is something that sticks out to you as your greatest accomplishment?” And it wasn’t anything I’d ever really thought about before, but without hesitation and without a beat, I said, ‘I’m releasing music that I am proud of. I’m releasing music that represents who I am, and that’s so important to me.'”
As we continued talking about her work, the biggest thing that stuck out to me, was the pace that she was able to keep to make all of this happen. She has had singles laid out for a while, but even things like photoshoots, music videos, writing and recording the songs, interviews, etc, all take a lot of time to come together seamlessly, which she is executing so incredibly, and with great results.
“I realized I didn’t have to wait on people. I don’t have to wait months or years to release a song I’m excited about. Like with 21 minute Drive, we wrote and recorded everything within three weeks and I asked Russell, ‘How soon can we get this out?’ and he’s like, ‘We can get this out in February.’ Now, I’m able to kind of release things on my own terms and not have to wait on anything.”
“How are you doing it so fast???” I ask her. “I’m so sorry to cut you off, but how are you able to get all of this done so fast? The music video? The photoshoot? The recording? I’m very confused and very interested in how you’re doing it all. I need to know how you’re doing it all???”
We both laughed for a little, and she shared a few of her secrets.
“As soon as we knew we had the songs and when we would be releasing them, I contacted one of my friends who’s a photographer and I told them I have three songs coming out so we need to do an all-day photoshoot to just get all the content done. It kind of ended up being split into two days which was fine, but in the end, it all worked out. I told them I needed the pictures and press items are done for ‘Multivitamin’ ASAP because it was coming up so quickly. We had to get it out to the distributor and Spotify playlists and all that stuff, so I told him if he wanted to put some of the other songs on pause to finish this one up, that’s fine. My producer, Russell, does the mixing and mastering himself, and he’s super fast. He dedicated all of his time to creating. I’ll give him an idea and he will have already written something within like five minutes, that’s just how fast he works!”
I wish I could explain the number of neurons that all fired at once when I realized the sheer talent and drive that Tote has in getting her music out there, and that really sparked something so special in me. It was like for a few moments, everything made sense, and it truly was one of the best ‘Ah-Ha’ moments I’ve had in a while. So Taylor, thank you so so much for sparking that fire in me.
Tote also talked about how important it was that she works with people that she’s friends with, and makes sure that she is completely comfortable around them.
“I really like to work with my friends. I don’t think that it’s possible for me to work with people who aren’t my friends, because I need that sort of friendship. So, Jonny, my photographer for these next few songs, I met through a friend. When we started working together, we clicked right away, and I told him I really liked the work that he did when we were together, and I just felt very comfortable with him. He was really excited about the project, the songs, and he genuinely cares about me as a person and my vision. If you don’t really understand my vision and what I’m doing, or if you just don’t even really care about working together and supporting each other, it just doesn’t work for me. I tell [Russell] literally every single detail of what’s happening in my life because we’re co-writing, so there are times like if he’s writing something for me, maybe he’ll come up with a verse and I’m like, ‘okay, yes, I like that but like we need to change this line because this isn’t what’s going on and it needs to be true to that,’ because like I said, I really try to be as authentic as possible and be really representative of my mind, my situation, everything.”
Another thing about finding people to work within the music industry is finding those who are willing to grow and learn with you, and Tote explains her view on this to a T.
“I’m a firm believer in the saying, ‘Don’t reach up, reach out.’ Don’t reach up to people who you think are gonna offer you opportunities just because you’re reaching out to them, or because they’re doing a little better than you, or because they have something to offer. Reach out to people who are on your level. Reach out to your friends, reach out to people that you can grow with because those are the people you’re gonna come up with. Those people up there? They’re already up there, so we usually don’t have anything to offer them. They might not care about helping you grow as a musician or anything because they are already there. I like to reach out to my friends because it’s important to have people that you can like regularly trust and regularly work with and build something with and grow and evolve with.
But also expanding that network too is really important,” She highlights. “But expanding it in a way that serves a purpose in terms of a genuine relationship. In this industry, it’s important to have a network that you can trust, but you can definitely expand that circle. I think it’s good to work with other people eventually at some point but there is that kind of circle that you know you can always go to.”
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Those relationships that you build with fellow music industry people are so important, and they really carry you through your journey as a musician. I’ve talked about the countless number of people I’ve met at different conferences, and the most important thing to me is that they know me on a personal level, too. I truly care about the lives and well-being of the people I meet, which takes me a long way. Sure, you can just reach out to someone on strictly a professional level, but there’s something special about that personal bond that you can create with those, and those are so much more special than any strict business relationship can ever be.
At the end of all of the great things that we talked about, Tote brings it back to some of the more fundamental things we chatted about.
“Everything that I ever want people to know about me and my music is that it’s authentic. It’s authentically me. I want people to know that they’re not alone. We always feel like we are the only ones going through a certain situation, but then you’ll hear a song or you hear something and you’re like ‘Wow. I really relate to that.’ I just want people to understand that they are not in things and in their feelings by themselves. I like giving people a safe space, I guess. I really hope people can take something away from what I do.”
Connect with Taylor Tote