Taylor Rae’s roaring ‘Twenties’: How a Ben Lomond girl positioned herself for music stardom
Taylor Rae’s debut album, “Mad Twenties,” is a collection of songs that displays a wide palette of colors when it comes to relationships, and she’s stoked to bring that energy to a homecoming show Nov. 13 at Moe’s Alley.
There’s a moment in Taylor Rae’s sweetly relaxed crush song “Fixer Upper” where she gets at exactly what fans are looking for when they turn to their favorite music:
This album we have on/ Where every song tells our whole story
Pop songs aren’t essays or screenplays or even poems. We go to them not so much for rational arguments or metaphorical lessons, but more to reflect our mood, to amplify or give catharsis to our inner emotional states, which is why music is the go-to mode for anyone experiencing the highs and lows of relationships. When you really want to feel something, nothing else resonates quite as well.
The line is also a handy reminder of how best to enjoy Taylor Rae’s debut album “Mad Twenties,” a collection of songs that displays a wide palette of colors when it comes to relationships. She will showcase the new album in a big homecoming show Nov. 13 at Moe’s Alley in Santa Cruz.
Rae, 27, is one of Santa Cruz County’s most promising musical exports, a San Lorenzo Valley kid who now lives in Austin, Texas. “Mad Twenties” is her calling card to the music world, an album that shimmers with chill vibes one minute and deals some hard truths the next. “Fixer Upper,” one of the album’s highlights, finds a wistful Beth Orton sound, while “Home on the Road” bounces with a roadhouse-blues feel. At its highest moments, Rae’s vocals touch on country, but at other times, a grittiness suggests a young Bonnie Raitt.
The album was released in the wake of a breakup of a six-year relationship, Rae being named Musician of the Year in Santa Cruz at the NEXTies, and a 2018 move to Texas. She calls the new release a concept album on navigating that first decade of adulthood alluded to in the album’s title.
“I conceptualized it at 21 years old,” she told me by Zoom from her home in Austin. “I wrote a song called ‘Liquify,’ which is not on the album. I released that as a single a few years ago. But the first line in that song was ‘In our mad twenties …’ and it kinda touches on the idea of arriving in your early 20s and just being overwhelmed by the gravity, the heaviness that life can bring. So, after writing that song, I always thought it would be cool, later in my 20s, to do kind of a concept album about the journey through those years.”
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Judging by its title, one song, “Forgiveness,” might suggest a kind of lessons-learned coming to peace with a bad ending. But in this case, befitting the “mad twenties,” the song burns with a fresh bitterness, and the haunting chorus that raises to a wail of fury:
There’s no room in my head/
There’s no room in my heart/
There’s no room in my life/
For your mess, and your forgiveness.
She was born Taylor Rae Vencill, and she grew up in Ben Lomond, attending SLV High School. The first big concert she remembers attending, with her parents, was at the Mountain Winery in Saratoga. It was the singer-songwriter Jewel, a star in the 1990s. “That was a moment for me, for sure,” she said. “It was just her on stage with a guitar, playing all original music. I must have been like, 8 or 9. And, I was like, that’s what I want to do.”
Even at that age, Rae was already a singer, having taken vocal lessons as early as 7 and appearing in musical theater productions at school. The Jewel encounter convinced her that writing songs was her next step in developing her musical prowess.
She also grew up in a time when there were lots of role models for young women who aspired to be recording artists, and Rae’s earliest influences included Norah Jones, Bonnie Raitt, Sheryl Crow and Avril Lavigne. She grew up as part of a remarkable generation of local talent in the San Lorenzo Valley, with artists such as the Coffis Brothers and Henry Chadwick, most of whom are still close friends. After high school, she went off to study music at Musicians Institute in Los Angeles, which, she said, prepared her for life as a performer in one crucial way:
“It’s where I learned how to memorize things very quickly, which is a skill I use all the time. We would get a song on Monday and have to have it memorized to perform on Wednesday.”
Since moving to Austin, maybe the most musician-friendly city in America, Rae’s life has been in constant motion in an effort to establish herself and fulfill her lifelong goal of being a working musician. Though she lives in Austin, that constitutes only a short period of her year. Most of the year she is on the road performing, mostly in California, or traveling to Nashville, Tennessee, where her management “team” is, and where she does her recording.
“I feel like I’m never actually in Austin,” she said. “This is my apartment, and this is where I live technically. But I’m always traveling.”
With “Mad Twenties” behind her, Rae is wrestling with another collection of songs that serve a particular role in aiding her healing from a breakup. “I’ll probably put it out in a year or two,” she said. “Those are quite angsty and angry, from super hard times. So those are coming out of me now and I’m like, oh, these are a little gnarly. So, I think I’m going to batch them all together and do, like, an ‘angry EP,’ which probably not everyone’s going to like. But that’s OK.”
As for the Nov. 13 homecoming date at Moe’s, it’s a show that means a lot to her. “I’m trying to make it an experience. I want a party,” she said. “I’m going to encourage people to really dress up and I bought a bunch of colored sunglasses to hand out at the door. I want people to walk away and say, ‘Wow, that was an awesome Taylor Rae release party.’ It’s going to be an experience.”
Taylor Rae performs live at Moe’s Alley on Nov. 13. Showtime is 9 p.m.