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Interview:
Taylor Swift tries some new musical colors with "Red"
 

By GARY GRAFF
for Journal Register Newspapers

» See more SOUND CHECK

Taylor Swift says she made her new album, "Red," "for the sake of adventure."

As if she hasn't been on enough of an adventure since the release of her self-titled 2002 debut.

The 22-year-old singer and songwriter has racked up a record of success that includes 22 million albums sold worldwide and more than 51 million digital downloads in the U.S. -- a number that's grown thanks to the four-song iTunes "countdown" that preceded "Red's" release on Monday, Oct. 22. Swift has also notched logged 17 Top 10 hits on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart and 18 Top 20 hits on the Hot 100, and "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together," "Red's" initial single, became her first No. 1 hit on the Hot 100.

Swift's Speak Now World tour played to more than 1.6 million fans in 2011, and her trophy case includes six Grammy Awards, 10 American Music Awards and a slew of others. Forbes magazine estimates Swift's worth at more than $165 million, and she was the third highest paid woman in show business between May 2011 and May 2012, at $57 million.

And, on top of all that she's dating a Kennedy (Conor, the son of Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.).

"I don't naturally feel like I am entitled to win," Swift says by telephone from Nashville, but she's clearly put together a winning track record. And that, she explains, gave her the confidence to push the proverbial envelope a bit more on "Red."

"Well, the album has 16 songs on it, and to say that it's eclectic would be pretty dead-on because track to track there's nothing that sounds like anything else on the record," explains Swift, who was started writing songs as a youth in Wyomissing, Pa., and moved to Nashville with her family when she was 14 years old. "It was definitely an opportunity for me to push the limits and paint with different colors."

After writing every song 2010's quadruple-platinum "Speak Now" herself, Swift decided to bring some other "painters" into the mix, teaming with hitmakers such as Dan Wilson (Dixie Chicks, Josh Groban, Pink!), Jeff Bhasker (Beyonce, fun., Kanye West, Jay-Z) and the Swedish team of Max Martin and Shellback, whose three hook-ups with Swift include the "countdown" tracks "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" and "I Knew You Were Trouble."

"This time I wanted to challenge myself as a writer. I wanted to challenge myself as an artist," explains Swift, who's also acted in films such as "Valentine's Day" and "The Lorax" and has been pegged to play Joni Mitchell in the upcoming adaptation of Sheila Weller's book "Girls Like Us." "So I called up a bunch of people that I admired in the songwriting/producing/artist world, and I just wanted to see if they would work with me and collaborate.

"And it was such an educational and amazing, adventurous experience being in the studio with people who I'd always admired and people who make music that's different than the kind of music I make and blending the two worlds. I'd come up with an idea and think 'What do I want the production for this to sound like?' and a name would just pop into my head."

The general tone of what we've heard from "Red" so far, of course, has been broader-reaching than anything Swift has done -- from the chirpy pop of "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" to the light R&B flavor of "I Knew You Were Trouble," the gentle balladry of "Begin Again" and the moodier ambience of "State of Grace." "There are so many influences that I have," Swift explains. "I am such a music fan, and that's why you see me doing collaborations with B.O.B. and then the next month a collaboration with the Civil Wars and T Bone Burnett for the 'Hunger Games' soundtrack.'

"I try to operate on an emotional basis which to me meant taking the general emotion I was feeling, writing lyrics that I felt depicted it, and choosing production that I felt like painted the picture even more."

As is Swift's wont, many of those emotions come from her personal life -- and particularly the romantic side. Tongues have been wagging about who "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" is about, though Swift -- who has dated fellow musicians Joe Jonas and John Mayer and actors Taylor Lautner and Jake Gyllenhaal -- only allows that it stemmed from a chance meeting with a mutual friend of one of her exes. "He started talking about how he heard we were going to get back together, and I said, 'We are never, EVER getting back together -- and then we looked at each other and wrote the song in, like, 25 minutes," she remembers.

Swift is used to, and has certainly grown weary of, all the speculation -- though her current Kennedy relationship has made her even greater gossip fodder. But she's intrigued to see what direction her songwriting might take if she ever finds herself in a more lasting relationship.

"I don't know -- I mean, there's no emotion that's simple, not even an everlasting emotion, not even unconditional love," she notes. "There are undertones to every emotion. I've learned that. And I think that one of the things I tend to do is go back to a feeling and revisit it.

"At the same time, I get inspired by seeing my friends' relationships and by watching movies and thinking, 'What kind of soundtrack would this moment have?' So I don't quite know what will happen if I end up actually reaching a general state of happiness when it comes to love, but I hope I can keep drawing inspiration from all sorts of places."

"Red" will be sending Swift to all sorts of places, too, of course. She plans to start touring in the spring and expects to cover the world, much like she did in support of "Speak Now," and she's hoping that the stadium-sized scale of the endeavor will remain the same, too.

"I'd like for it to be big. I really hope it's big," Swift acknowledges. "And, of course, you know the tour will be a big representation of this record. I'm so excited to see what songs the fans like the most and which ones jump to the forefront, because that's the first step.

"We always see which songs are really the passionate songs and the ones the fans are freaking out over the most, and those are the ones that are definitely in the set list. I can't wait for that."

Painting The World Red

To promote her new album, "Red" -- which hits stores on Monday, Oct. 22 -- Taylor Swift will be making the rounds on TV. Her dance card includes:

* ABC's "Good Morning America" on Monday and Tuesday, Oct. 22-23.

* "The Late Show with David Letterman," Tuesday on CBS

* ABC's "The View," Wednesday, Oct. 24.

* "The Ellen DeGeneres Show," Thursday, Oct. 25.

* ABC's "Katie" and ABC's "20/20: All Access Nashville with Katie Couric, both on Friday, Oct. 26.

* The syndicated "Entertainment Tonight" will be celebrating Taylor Swift Week Monday-Friday, Oct. 22-26, and Swift will also appear on "Access Hollywood," "E! News" and "Extra."

* VH1's "Storytellers: Taylor Swift," debuting at 6 and 11 p.m. Nov. 11.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff

 



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