Taylor Swift: ‘I have this feeling of sort of quiet conclusion and sort of this weird serenity’

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Taylor Swift joins Zane Lowe on Apple Music to discuss the surprise release of her new album ‘evermore’ and being awarded the Apple Music Award for Songwriter of the Year.

Taylor Swift Tells Apple Music About How She Feels After The Surprise Release of ‘evermore’ Compared to the Feeling After Releasing ‘folklore’…

It’s amazing… we just put out ‘evermore’ yesterday… so I’m in this state of like exhaustion but relief but very proud.

I feel differently today than I felt the day after releasing ‘folklore’ because even the day after releasing ‘folklore’ Aaron and I were still bouncing ideas back and forth and we just knew we were gonna keep writing music. I didn’t know if it was for an album of mine or Aaron and Justin Vernon have a really amazing projector called Big Red Machine, so… we kept writing thinking maybe we were gonna do some Big Red Machine stuff but the things that we ended up writing really sounded more like a continuation of ‘folklore’ so… when I put out ‘folklore’ I remember just feeling so proud and happy but still like foot on the gas, like ‘let’s keep going – this is fun – I’m not finished with this’ – and everybody, all my collaborators, we all felt the same way about it so we just kept going. With this one I have this feeling of sort of quiet conclusion and sort of this weird serenity of we did what we set out to do and we’re all really proud of it and that feels really really nice.

Taylor Swift Tells Apple Music About Moving Away from ‘Diaristic’ Songs and Creating a Mythology…

Zane: Was there a sort of melancholy to the end of ‘folklore’?

Taylor: Not really, I was just so happy that my world felt opened up creatively. There was a point that I got to as a writer who only wrote very diaristic songs that I felt it was unsustainable for my future moving forward. It felt like too hot of a microscope… it felt a bit like I was like ‘why am I just like… if I’m writing about my life and all it is’… on my bad days I would feel like I was loading a cannon of clickbait when that’s not what I want for my life. And i think that when I put out ‘folklore’ I felt like if I can do this… this thing where I get to create characters in this mythological American town or wherever I imagine them and I can reflect my own emotions onto what I think they might be feeling and I can create stories and characters and stories and arcs and all this stuff but I don’t have to have it feel like when I put out an album I’m just like giving tabloids ammunition and stuff… and constantly kind of like examining yourself in a way that feels like… I felt like there would be a point in my life where I could no longer really do that and still maintain a place of good mental health and emotional health and all that. So what I felt after we put out ‘folklore’ was like ‘oh wow, people are into this too, this thing that feels really good for my life and feels really good for my creativity… it feels good for them too? Oh my god! I saw a lane for my future that… it was a real breakthrough moment of excitement and happiness and I kind of referred to writing these songs as a flotation device because obviously this year is hell on earth for everyone and seeing what your fellow humans are going through…

Taylor Swift Tells Apple Music About Opening Her Album With ‘willow’ and feeling ‘witchy’.

I liked opening the album with that because I loved the feeling that I got immediately upon hearing the instrumental that Aaron created for it. It felt strangely, I say witchy and I stand by that. It felt like somebody standing over a potion, making a love potion, dreaming up the person that they want and the person they desire and trying to figure out how to get that person in their life. And all the kind of misdirection and bait and switch and complexity that goes into seeing someone, feeling a connection, wanting them, and trying to make them a part of your life. It’s tactical at times. It’s confusing at times. It’s up to fate. It’s magical. It’s weird. It felt a bit magical and mysterious, which is what I wanted people to feel going into an album that was a collection of these stories. That we’re going to take them in all kinds of directions, so I wanted to start them with sort of a setting of the vibe. But what you say about closure is really, really profound because with folklore, one of the main themes throughout that was conflict resolution, right? Like trying to figure out how to get through something with someone, or making confessions, or trying to tell them something, trying to communicate with them. evermore deals a lot in endings of all sorts, shapes, and sizes. All the kinds of ways we can end a relationship, a friendship, something toxic. And the pain that goes along with that, the phases of it. So it’s cool that you noticed that.

Taylor Swift Tells Apple Music About Writing Sad Songs With Boyfriend Joe Alwyn…

Well, Joe and I really love sad songs. We’ve always bonded over music. So it was… We write the saddest. We just really love sad songs. What can I say? He started that one and came up with the melodic structure of it. And I say it was a surprise that we started writing together, but in a way, it wasn’t because we have always bonded over music and had the same musical tastes. And he’s always the person who’s showing me songs by artists and then they become my favorite songs or whatever. But yeah, « Champagne Problems, » that was one of my favorite bridges to write. I really love a bridge where you tell the full story in the bridge, like you really shift gears in that bridge. I’m so excited to one day be in front of a crowd when they all sing, « She would have made such a lovely bride. What a shame she’s f-ked in the head. » Like … Because I know it’s so sad. I know it’s so sad, but it’s those songs, like “all too well » performing the song “all too well » is one of the most joyful experiences I ever go through when I perform live. So when there’s a song like “champagne problems » where you know it’s so sad, you know that, but I love a sad song, you know?

Taylor Swift Tells Apple Music About Writing “exile” with Joe Alwyn…

He’s always just playing instruments and he doesn’t do it in a strategic, « I’m writing a song right now » thing. He’s always done that. But do I think we would have taken the step of, « Hey, let’s see if there’s a song in here. Let’s write a song together? » If we hadn’t been in lockdown? I don’t think that would have happened, but I’m so glad that it did. We’re so proud of that one. Also because I do remember the exact moment that I walked in and he was playing that exact piano part. And all I had to do was follow the piano melody with the verse melody. So because the vocal melody is exactly the same, pretty much it’s mirrored with the piano part that he wrote. And we did the same thing with evermore , where I’ll just kind of hear what he’s doing and it’s exactly, it’s all there. All I have to do is dream up some lyrics and come up with some gut wrenching, heart shattering story to write with him.

Taylor Swift Tells Apple Music About The Possibility of Performing The Albums Live With Aaron Dessner, Justin Vernon, Marcus Mumford, and HAIM…

That is one of our daydreams that we talk about often, but it’s not a plan. The conversations happen between me, Aaron and Jack, and doing The Long Pond Studio Sessions, it just made us want to play music like that more. It just made us want to start a band together. And Justin I know, talks to Aaron about it a lot too, about just, « We’ve got to play together. We’ve got to play this music together, because we’ve loved singing it.” And I was actually talking to Marcus Mumford about it too, because he sang backup vocals one, « cowboy like me, » and he was, « We got to have a band. We’ve got to do this. » So I think everybody who’s involved… The HAIM girls are my best friends, and we have… It’s weird. We always end up at parties where there’s a stage and people are, « Go play something. Play something. » And so we’ve played live together so many times, we’ve been on tour together, but this is actually the first album where Este, Alana, Danielle and I, have actually collaborated on a song. And so, these are all people I love. That’s the reason why the daydream feels very feasible, because I would play with these people forever.

Taylor Swift Tells Apple Music About Not Feeling The Need To Reinvent Herself After ‘evermore’…

I think that looking back on my career, there have been so many different musical phases and different things I wanted to wear at different times, and they fit my life at the time. And so I think that you’ve got to allow yourself that grace to put on a certain lifestyle or a certain outfit or a certain creative mantra, and then discard it when you outgrow it. This was weird though, because evermore was the first time I didn’t discard everything after I made something new. It was weird. I actually had to kind of fight off anxiety that I had in my head, like fear that was like, « You need to change, » like, « The demons are here. » Like, « You need to change. You can’t stay in the forest. » I was like, « I want to stay in the forest.”

Taylor Swift Tells Apple Music About Breaking Down Writing “marjorie”…

The experience writing that song was really surreal because, I was a wreck at times writing it. I would break down sometimes. It was really hard to actually even sing it in the vocal booth without sounding like I had a break, because it just was really emotional. I think that one of the hardest forms of regret to work through is the regret of being so young when you lost someone that you didn’t have the perspective to learn and appreciate who they were fully. You didn’t have that. I’d open up my grandmother’s closet and she had beautiful dresses from the ’60s. I wish I’d asked her where she wore every single one of them.Things like that. She was a singer and my mom will look at me so many times a year and say, « God, you’re just like her, » when I’ll do some mannerisms that I don’t recognize as being anyone other than mine. Yeah, she died when I was 13 and she died almost, I think it was when I was on a trip to Nashville to try and make it and to try to hand out my demo CD to record labels and things like that. So there were pretty insane coincidences like that. And I’ve always felt that thing, I’ve always just felt like she was seeing this, because we have to do that. But one of the things about this song that still rips me apart when I listened to it is that she’s singing with me on this song. My mum found a bunch of her old vinyls of her singing opera, and I sent them to Aaron, and he added them to the song. And so it says, « If I didn’t know better, I’d think you were singing to me now. » And then you hear her. You hear Marjorie actually sing, my grandmother. And it’s moments like that on the record, that just make you feel like your whole heart is in this whole thing that you’re doing. It’s all of you that you put into these things.

Taylor Swift Tells Apple Music About Collaborating With Jack Antonoff, Aaron Dessner, and Justin Vernon…

The Long Pond Studio sessions was the first time that Jack, Aaron, and I were in the same room and I still haven’t been in the same room with Justin Vernon who has now collaborated on two albums heavily and we’ve talked but we’ve just never been in the same space together. It’s pretty wild.

Taylor Swift Tells Apple Music About Finally Collaborating In-Person With Aaron Dessner and Jack Antonoff…

It was such a strange thing because we’d been on group chats, and it just wasn’t … It wasn’t ever the combination yet. So the combination of the three of us was like this strange feeling of … I remember I walked into the studio, they were already rehearsing. And I walked in and it was just like, they were a band. It wasn’t that feeling of awkwardness between them, because I guess they’d had their moment. I walked in and I heard them playing « august » or something. And I was just sitting there thinking, « This is exactly how I would’ve wanted it.” I would have wanted this reunion or union at all to happen in a moment of me walking in on them creating music and rehearsing and playing instruments. And it just, I just started rehearsing too and it was such a vibe. And it couldn’t really have been … I couldn’t have asked for more under the circumstances. It’s so fun to make a record when you’ve got people in the room and you’ve got that energy that’s bouncing off the walls. But if you can’t do that, this was a pretty close second.

Taylor Swift Tells Apple Music What She’s Learned Writing ‘folklore’ and ‘evermore’ in Quarantine…

It has changed everything about the way that I do what I do. It gave me a perspective of … I was pretty upset when my shows all got canceled and I realised I wasn’t going to be able to connect with my fans in the way that I’m traditionally used to, just a normal human interaction I couldn’t do anymore you know. And I think we all felt that way. I think the fans felt that way too, where we were just sitting there going, « Wow, that would have been … I think that would have been fun. » But what it did was, when you plan a live show, I guess, at least when I do it, I’m writing interstitial music. I’m planning. This set piece goes off while this goes on, while we distract them over here, and this song calls for this and this song calls for that. And that’s all creating. And I don’t think I really assigned very much merit to the fact that that is creating, when you’re taking music you’ve already made and an album that you’ve already made and you’re choreographing and you’re setting up a live spectacle that is taking up so much emotional, creative, and imagination based bandwidth in your brain. So if you take all of that away, what happens, and I guess I learned that it’s very possible for me to write more music with that creative bandwidth. As musicians, we’re so used to immediately touring, immediately putting together the show, immediately going into rehearsals. And then we always feel that we need a pretty big break or at least a significant gap of time where we get to rest afterward.And I guess I learned that when we’re on the road, it’s not just that we’re sweating and we’re meeting a million people and we have all this back and forth of just energy of meeting this person, trying to get a surprise guest to surprise the crowd and all this stuff that happens on tour. It’s also the creation of the show itself that is taking up a lot of your brain space. So without that, this just happened naturally on its own.

Taylor Swift Tells Apple Music About The Role Nature and Seasons Played in ‘folklore’ and ‘evermore’…

I think that working with Aaron, the music that we were making, he was writing instrumentals and I was writing the melodies and the lyrics. And what ended up happening was I think we just gravitated towards what both of us simultaneously felt, made us feel cozy, which was nature. So many people during the pandemic just were going on hikes and trying to get outside because it was … nature symbolized this strange comfort all of a sudden where everything was completely off-kilter and nobody could really figure out how to get their bearings. And so we all went outside or we all tried to go camping or tried to go hiking or go on drives. And it just, I think that Aaron’s music and my music both reflected sort of that feel with … Aaron’s such an amazing instrumentalist and his instrumentals that he was writing were all very kind of dreamscapes. It’s not that this album is all about like the forest and the woods and stuff. It’s got hints of that. And there’s a lot of kind of the lyric … One thing I wanted to do with folklore is I wanted it to represent spring and summer. And when I made evermore , I knew that I wanted to fill in the rest of the seasons of the year and have it reflect fall and winter. So that’s another element that nature came into it. But also it was the easiest way that we could do a photo shoot. You can’t have … I haven’t had a haircut by anyone except for myself since lockdown started. And that’s kind of how it’s been, like how can I make art and make visuals that go with this art where I can’t ask my hair and makeup people and my stylist to quarantine for two weeks away from their families. I’m not going to ask them to do that, and ask them to fly and expose themselves to the virus. So how can I possibly make a cover on my own? Could I just sort of DIY this?So I asked my friends if I could use their field and their woods. And I used a photographer who works alone. She doesn’t have assistants. She shoots on film. So we were carrying bags of film out in fields. And I’d be touching up my lipstick and then I’d run out into a field and she’d take pictures. It was really fun.

Taylor Swift Tells Apple Music About The Freedom of Writing ‘folklore’ and ‘evermore’ Without Adhering To a Checklist…

Pure is a really, really perfect word for that because what happens to you as your career builds and builds and builds and builds is that if you’ve accomplished a thing in the past, all of a sudden you’re expected to accomplish that thing plus another new thing, plus this other thing over here. It becomes sort of like I had felt at times when I felt a lot of pressure, I had felt like I was doing some sort of obstacle course. And that’s not how you should feel when you’re creating. You shouldn’t feel like, « I need to make a track list where this one’s for the stadium show, this one’s for radio, this one’s for people who want to get in their feelings. » Check, check, check, and you can end up doing that. And it’s good to have friends who are artists who have similar pressures. Like Ed Sheeran and I talk about this a great deal. This was a time when we both stepped back, and I would say to him, « This is the first time I felt like I threw the checklist away. » Like I threw it away and I definitely could have gone into the pandemic thinking, « I’ve got to wait for everything to open up so I can do things exactly the way that I am used to doing them. » But then about three days in, I thought, « Wait, this could be an opportunity for me to do things in a way I haven’t ever done them before. What would my work sound like if I took away all of my fear-based check listing that I have inflicted on myself? » So I guess – I know the answer now.

Taylor Swift Tells Apple Music The Fulfilling Experience of Re-Recording Her Catalogue…

It makes me feel really close to those songs again. And it also reminds me that obviously I want to keep a lot of cool surprises for the fans until I’m ready to show them fully to everyone. But the reason that I feel so passionately that artists should own their catalogues is because if you are the creator of all of this music, you’re the only one who actually knows the ins and the outs of it. You’re the only one who knows what almost was written. You’re the only one who knows the kind of secrets of the journey of making this music. So you’re actually the only one who has the ability to share it with the fans in the way that can make everyone the happiest and the most excited. So it’s been really fulfilling in a way, that I had no idea what to expect. You don’t want to feel like it’s your homework got destroyed and so now you have to redo your homework. It’s not like that at all. It’s not like that at all, it’s extremely fulfilling.

Taylor Swift Tells Apple Music About The Importance of Artists Owning Their Own Work…

We don’t make that conscious decision. We aren’t given the information oftentimes, and that’s why I’m having lots of conversations behind the scenes with record labels and trying to help them understand this. From a psychological perspective, what you do to an artist when you separate them from their work. You break something and I’m trying to figure out how to put that thing back together in a way that heals what was broken by a system that is not designed for artists to have a chance at … that’s an artist’s pension plan, that’s their retirement, that’s their legacy, that’s what they want to leave to their children. But yeah, I was 15, 14 when I was in record deal talks, record deal negotiations. So you can’t really go back and say, « Wow, what a conscious choice that was made. » You just, you don’t know the music industry until you know it. And because I have learned what I’ve learned, I really just want to make things better for other people. And I want that to start at the record deal in the contract. Artists should never have to part with their work. They should own it from day one, but they should license it back to the label so that the label can make back their money over a certain amount of time. And that amount of time should be what’s negotiated upon. It should not be a question moving forward. And if I can do anything to change that for a young artist in the future or many or all of them, then I’m going to keep keeping loud.

Taylor Swift Tells Apple Music About Being Honoured To Work With Justin Vernon…

He’s always just playing instruments and he doesn’t do it in a strategic, « I’m writing a song right now » thing. He’s always done that. But do I think we would have taken the step of, « Hey, let’s see if there’s a song in here. Let’s write a song together? » If we hadn’t been in lockdown, I don’t think that would have happened, but I’m so glad that it did. We’re so proud of that one. Also because I do remember the exact moment that I walked in and he was playing that exact piano part. And all I had to do was follow the piano melody with the verse melody. So because the vocal melody is exactly the same, pretty much it’s mirrored with the piano part that he wrote. And we did the same thing with evermore , where I’ll just kind of hear what he’s doing and it’s exactly, it’s all there. All I have to do is dream up some lyrics and come up with some gut wrenching, heart shattering story to write with him.

Taylor Swift Tells Apple Music About Recording “coney island » with Matt Berninger of The National…

I’m a huge fan of The National. I love the way they do that downbeat, sometimes self-loathing, reflective, just cut right to the heart of the matter. That lyricism, it’s why I’m such a fan of the band, and when we had an idea that that Matt could sound really amazing on this, that was the perspective I was coming from, was a male perspective of regret or guilt after a lifetime of a pattern of behavior. And I’d been touching on sort of things like that on the song, “tolerate it, » where there’s this person who’s on one side of the relationship who’s felt like their partner’s been there, but they haven’t been there. They’ve been there, but they’re just sitting next to each other eating breakfast. They haven’t been there. So writing Matt’s part was really fun. I really loved writing, « We were like the mall before the internet, it was the one place to be. » It was. It was the place to be and I was trying to reflect on the Coney Island visual of a place where thrills were once sought, a place where once it was all electricity and magic and now the lights are out and you’re looking at it thinking, « What did I do? » I also really liked having him say « Happy Birthday » in the song where he’s standing in the hallway with a big cake, Happy Birthday, and I knew I was going to release it on my birthday week. I actually got my favourite lead singer of my favorite band to wish me Happy Birthday, so that’s the real win.

Taylor Swift Tells Apple Music About Throwing Out The Playbook With ‘folklore’ and ‘evermore’…

This is one of those things where I’ve kind of had to, just sort of throw out any playbook I had. In times like these, when everything is uncertain, and everything changes in your world, I guess I just sort of took it as an opportunity to embrace the fact that, even if you think you have control in normal times, that’s an illusion. If you’re making stuff, put it out. If people need music and you’ve made music, put it out. There was a time in the beginning of the process, where I was, « I will wait until January when things are looking more normal, than I will put out folklore. » And I was, « That’s my old brain. That’s my old brain thinking that there’s any way that I can control this.” And humans do need to have some sort of strategy when they go into putting out music, or doing any business whatsoever. But as much as that has an ability to fall by the wayside, it did with this, because there was no way to make it and feel in control. You’ve got to just let fate do what it’s going to do with something like this, and I do talk to Aaron and Jack about this a lot, because we do feel sort of, « This was a whirlwind. We don’t understand it. Our logical brains don’t comprehend it.” And we know you guys make albums. Of course, you put out albums all the time, whatever. But this feels different for us. It does. It feels like something that will affect the rest of our lives and the way that we make art, and not being too precious. We actually really, weren’t very precious about this. We weren’t too picky or, « Oh, everything has to be perfect. » It’s, « No. Nothing’s going to be perfect right now.”

Taylor Swift Tells Apple Music About Ending The Album With ‘evermore’…

Well there’s sort of a double meaning to the months that are mentioned, and the feelings that are mentioned. One of the meanings is that I wrote this song and these lyrics when we were coming up to the election, and I didn’t know what was going to happen. So I was almost preparing for the worst to happen, and trying to see some sort of glimmer at the end of the tunnel. And the last verse… It goes through… I’m walking through the forest barefoot in the middle of winter, or standing on a balcony and letting the icy wind just hit you, and you’re catching your death, and then in the last chorus, the person goes inside, and finally is warm, and finally is safe. It’s about sort of the process of finding hope again, but it also reflected back to an experience that I had that was pretty life altering. When I went through a bunch of bad stuff in 2016, July, November. All those times were just sort of taking it day-by-day to get through, trying to find a glimmer of hope, all of that. So I was coming from both of those perspectives, and we wrote it exactly the same way we did « exile, » where Joe wrote the piano, I based the vocal melody on the piano, and we sent it to Justin, who then added that bridge. And Joe had written the piano part so that the tempo speeds up, and it changes. The music completely changes to a different tempo in the bridge. And Justin really latched onto that, and just 100% embraced it and wrote this beautiful sort of… The clutter of all your anxieties in your head, and they’re all speaking at once, And we got the bridge back, and then I wrote this narrative of, « When I was shipwrecked, I thought of you. » That sort of thing, where there was this beacon of hope, and then in the end, you realize the pain wouldn’t be forever. That it could get better. So that was why I wanted to end it there, but we also have two bonus tracks that are coming out, that are a second ending, which I’m excited about.

Taylor Swift Tells Apple Music What’s Next…

I have absolutely no idea what the next decade holds, and I think that’s kind of something… I’m going to keep that like it is, because I was always such a planner and such a list-maker, and lists of dreams and goals, and things I wanted to do. And I think my new list will be places I want to see in the world, adventures I want to have, experiences I want to have. Things I want to learn. I think that’ll be what the list looks like, because there’s always going to be a list. It’s me. But it will be lists of… In quarantine, my list was… I decided to start trying to cook everything that I had always loved to eat, but never been able to cook. So there’s always a list.

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