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Interview:
Taylor Swfit speaks "Now" on new album
 

By GARY GRAFF
of the Oakland Press

» See more SOUND CHECK

Taylor Swift called her new album “Speak Now” mostly because she sees no reason to hold her peace.

Songwriting, the 20-year-old country-cum-pop star explains, is “how I deal with problems. It’s how I cope with issues — it’s how I’ve always coped with issues. I tend to write about things that really emotionally impact me in an intense way.

“And I can feel like whatever pain that situation may have brought me in my life was worthwhile and justified, because it was supposed to become that song.”

That’s certainly worked for Swift to this point.

She’s sold more than 13 million copies worldwide of her first two albums, 2006’s self-titled debut and 2008’s “Fearless,” launching 11 hit singles and winning four Grammy Awards. She’s the top-selling digital artist ever with nearly 25 million song downloads as well as the youngest artist to ever be named Artist of the Year at the American Music Awards.

And Swift even ranked as the 12th most powerful celebrity according to Forbes magazine.

So not surprisingly there’s great anticipation for the release of “Speak Now” on Monday, Oct. 25 — and not a small amount of pressure, though Swift claims it’s not hard to deflect that.

“I’ve just never been presumptuous about success or winning or anything that might come from my career,” explains Swift, the Pennsylvania-born granddaughter of an opera singer who was inspired to pursue music after hearing another child star, LeAnn Rimes, sing when Swift was 6 years old.

“My parents raised me to believe you have to work for every single thing you get from life, and you can never presume that you’ll have the success you dream about. And I’m glad that they raised me with that idea because every single success that I’ve had has been an unexpected one for me, and ... I think you should celebrate every win and every accomplishment like it’s the last one you’ll ever have.”

The 14 songs on “Speak Now” certainly chronicle a dramatic period in Swift’s young life and career, when she became a bona fide, arena-filling star, magazine cover material and an icon in the country and pop worlds — with the attendant scrutiny all of that brings, right down to her relationships with fellow performer Joe Jonas and actor Taylor Lautner, with whom she appeared in this year’s film “Valentine’s Day.”

The album, Swift acknowledges, “is all about the last two years ... when life was a little bit bigger and crazier and more hectic, and it felt like every emotion I’ve felt has been an intense one — intense joy, intense pain, intense celebration, intense loss, intense curve balls. It’s been a really beautiful last couple of years, but there’s also been a lot that has gone on behind the scenes that I’ve written these songs about.

“So I’ve written about the realizations and lessons and confusion and heartbreak and all the different things that go along with being 18, 19 and 20.”

Just don’t ask Swift to get too specific about what those songs are about.

“I think that speculation on who each song is about is inevitable,” she acknowledges. “I’ve always written songs about my life, so I guess I can’t expect anything else or anything different.”

The chief exception is the track “Innocent,” which directly addresses the 2009 Video Music Awards ceremony when Swift’s acceptance speech for Best Female Video was famously interrupted by rapper Kanye West, outraged that she won out over Beyoncé. Sympathies immediately ran to Swift while West was forced into a kind of self-recriminating exile. But in the song, Swift strikes a somewhat charitable tone, telling West that “who you are is not what you did.”

“It took awhile to put all those thoughts together and to filter it all and to process it all,” Swift says. “And sometimes that’s where music really helps me to make sense of life, and that’s what happened with the song ‘Innocent.’ ”

Swift adds that she was “very grateful” she was able to perform the song at the VMAs, turning into a much-commented upon viral phenomenon. But aside from acknowledging a personal apology from West shortly after the original VMA incident in 2009, Swift is staying mum on the matter these days.

“Y’know, I’ve tried really hard and done my best not to talk about the whole thing, ’cause it’s a really long story,” she explains with a sigh. “It’s a really, really long story. I just don’t want to take up that much of your day.”

She’s also mum on “Dear John,” whose lyrics — “Don’t you think nineteen’s too young/To be played/By your dark, twisted games/When I loved you so” — indicate it may be about a rumored romance with John Mayer (Swift appears on his single “Half of My Heart”).

With other songs, however, Swift reveals what could be considered only specific generalities. For instance, the first single, “Mine,” was inspired “when this guy put his arm around me by the water, and the entire relationship flashed before my eyes, what I thought it could be and what I hoped it could be. It’s obviously a love song, but it’s got these undertones of hurt and how we carry our previous ghosts of when relationships have failed us into every new relationship we go into. You’re living with this constant fear that it will end up the way all the other relationships have — in goodbye.”

“Better Than Revenge,” meanwhile, is “about a girl who stole my boyfriend,” while the album-closing “Long Live” “reflects on the last two crazy years of my life and the joy and celebration that goes with that but also a little bit of fear that comes with that and bracing yourself for whatever comes next.”

And then there’s “Back to December,” which takes Swift into entirely new lyrical territory.

“That’s the first song I’ve ever written that apologizes to someone,” she notes. “The person I wrote this song about really deserved an apology, and after I wrote that song in a New York City hotel room I sat there looking out the window thinking I’ve never apologized to anybody before in music and this is the first time that’s ever happened, but it’s the right time for that to happen. It felt really good to write those lyrics.”

Swift’s pride in “Speak Now” is also amplified by the fact that she wrote all of the songs on her own, without any collaborators. The reason, she says, was circumstantial; “I would get inspired to write songs in the middle of the night or the middle of a conversation or the middle of a meet-and-greet ... and there was no time to call a co-writer and go, ‘Hey, what do you think of this?’” But it does make for a greater feeling of investiture in the material this time.

“I take ownership and responsibility for every single word of every single line of every single verse of every single song here,” Swift proclaims. “When I was a lot younger I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to one day write an album completely on my own?’ I thought one day it would happen, but I didn’t think it would be this soon.

“I’ve been attached to every song that I’ve written because those are my stories. That’s my photo album. So I feel very attached to each album that I put out, but having written (the songs) all by myself this time there’s definitely an added (anticipation), wondering what people will think of it.”

Early indications are positive, as “Mine” rocketed right to the upper reaches of the Billboard Hot 100 and country charts and quickly sold more than a million downloads. And Swift’s handlers are confident enough that they’ve put together a tour schedule that will include 85 shows in eight countries during 2011, starting in the spring and hitting North America during the summer. And, Swift predicts, “I’m sure we’ll end up extending it, because that’s what I end up doing all the time.”

And she’s also looking forward to what the near future has to hold because she knows there will be more living, more emotions — and more songs likely to come from those.

“One of the things that makes me glad to be making music and making music I know people will hear at 20 is there are a lot of options to where life can take you,” Swift notes. “One of the things I’ve learned is I know absolutely nothing compared to what I’m going to know in five minutes or five hours or five days. The experiences don’t stop, and I embrace them all.”



FYI

Taylor Swift isn’t planning to tour in support of her new album, “Speak Now,” until 2011, but she’ll be plenty visible as it rolls out this week. Here’s where to catch Swift sooner rather than later:

*NBC’s “Today Show” on NBC, 7 a.m. Tuesday, Oct. 26, on WDIV, Channel 4 in Detroit.

*CBS’s “The Late Show with David Letterman” at 11:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 26, on WWJ-TV, Channel 62 in Detroit.

*“Live! With Regis & Kelly,” 9 a.m. Wednesday, Oct. 27, on WXYZ, Channel 7 in Detroit.

“The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” 10 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 28, on WDIV.

*ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars,” 9 p.m. Nov. 2, on WXYZ.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff

 



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