ON EMPOWERING HIMSELF THROUGH SONGWRITING
Based out of Chicago, singer/songwriter Taylor Gray is inspired by all the heavyweights of R&B. We talked with Taylor about his new single “No Time”, his upcoming EP, and incorporating his identity into his public persona.
Your new song is called “No Time”. What was your inspiration behind that title and the concept of the song in general?
It started off as something that was kind of innocent - I just really liked the vibe of the production and I started writing a song about not having time for people judging me or criticizing me or telling me what to do with myself. Then it kind of manifested itself into something greater after I went through a breakup and felt a little jaded and felt like I needed to get myself together. So I started writing it before the breakup, finished writing it after, and by the time I finished I felt like I had grown. And the song grew to into a bigger anthem about self-love and being secure in yourself and not worrying about what other people are saying about you or the negative things you might be saying to yourself.
The song took on a greater resonance for you after a breakup - it’s like you were writing something you needed to hear before you even knew it. Do you feel like your songwriting works like that - you in conversation with yourself?
I definitely think so. My last song “Fuckboys” was about a past experience but when I listen I can still feel those feelings all over again. And with the new song - when I was going through all this turmoil after the breakup, I was feeling despondent and unsure of myself and only focusing on the things I did wrong. But I was writing this song and I would read the lyrics and felt like I was talking to myself with lyrics like “No time for the Internet, no time for lonely feelings, feeling like you’re not enough”. And when I listen to it, it reminds me how I feel when I’m empowered.
Part of the concept of the song is how you don’t want to give any credence to the haters, basically. Did you connect that at all with the Jess Hilarious incident?
Okay, I’m not gonna say I was perfect, I wasn’t. So I used to follow the Shade Room - I stopped because I felt like it homophobic and even anti-black even though it’s a place…you know, it’s about black celebrities. But there’s so much homophobia and transphobia which to me is anti-black because you can’t only support straight black people, you know? So Jess Hilarious was constantly on there and made a comment about Demi Lovato and her drug use which I found gross. So I went to Jess’ page and commented “Imagine having to comment on the Shade Room 24/7 to keep the lights on” and she replied “Yeah, imagine it faggot”.
Was that surprising to see that from someone who is a public figure like that?
I thought it was surprising because it was so blatant and stupid of her. But I wasn’t surprised because I could tell she was homophobic based on things she’s said in the past. What was crazy was in her apology - which was funny because she blocked me first so I couldn’t actually see it - she lied about me and she said I was harassing her. No. I wasn’t harassing her, I made one comment to her and she made one comment back. Period. She must have felt really jaded about what I said to her for her to say that back. She had to go to my page and see I had a picture with Jussie Smollett - this was back around when his whole attack had first come to light - and she thought I was gay because of that. The crazy part was the reaction to that, like people were defending her saying I called her a man which I would never do. But it was crazy to see everyone else trying to tell me what happened. It was hilarious how I was planning this song because it’s applicable. “Talking loud and making no sense” is literally in the song. I really wasn’t prepared for all that exposure and I definitely didn’t take it well at first. This song was a good lesson. Now I don’t feel I need to engage with everyone or invest myself in people that aren’t going to change.
We’ve talked before and I know you are wanting to more openly claim your sexuality and identity. How do you identify?
I consider myself bisexual.
Right (laughs) I’m attracted to men and women but I mostly date men.
How do you feel about making that identity part of your music and your image as a public figure? A lot of us have wrestled with that in our personal lives but it must be trickier navigating that as part of a public persona.
It makes me nervous because whenever I’m thinking about concepts I think about how explicitly gay I can be - for example, if I wanted to do a music video where I was romantic with a man I would have to think “Is that going to turn some people off or set my career back in any way?” But I have to do it my way. Otherwise I will never be satisfied. The right people are going to support me because I reach out and connect with them in a way that’s natural. So yes, I get nervous but I have to do what I want and I’m in a position where I can do whatever I want - I have a job, I make my own money and pay my own bills. So who’s really gonna tell me what to do?
Does your job know you do music too?
Some people do. I had a couple coworkers come to my last gig as well. I actually secured a gig singing at a sexual assault awareness thing through my coworker.
Do you want to talk more about that event in case anyone local wants to go?
It’s called “Songs of Survival”, about people who have been through sexual assault or trauma. I wanted to sing at the event and be a part of it because I have been a victim of sexual assault. “Fuckboys” was about that, like about the initial feelings of anger or resentment when no one believes you and then the new song “No Time” is more the feeling of saying to myself “You are strong and even if no one believes you or even if someone had power over you, you can reclaim it”.
Both songs, “Fuckboys” from last November and now “No Time”, reflect your processing in real time?
Yeah, because it’s all connected. “No Time” might not be explicitly about sexual assault but it’s about trying to relieve myself of that emotional baggage and reliving that trauma in a way. They are connected in spite of the sound being completely different.
What are you planning next for your music?
Well, I just filmed a cover of the song “Claim” by the group dvsn and it’ll be coming out early April - I worked with a great crew and a live band. So between that and “No Time” that should hold everyone over until the EP that I’m already working on - the songs are already written and I’m gonna start recording this month. I also hope to do a video for “No Time” in the meantime. I have an idea that I hope will be raw and real and really get the point of the song across.
You’re a Mariah stan - do you feel like there’s a conspiracy behind why we still haven’t gotten the rumored “A No No” remix?
I can’t guess when it comes to Mariah, she’s unpredictable. If she feels like we are worthy of a remix, we should feel lucky and take what we get!
by Stevie Logan
Photos by Shea Petersen for Bops & Flops