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Interview: A Conversation With Taylor Hicks

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Taylor Hicks has kept very busy since winning American Idol in 2006. Despite speculation he might've faded into obscurity following his mutual split with Arista Records earlier this year, Hicks has been hard at work reestablishing himself as an artist. In addition to starting his own record label, Modern Whomp Records, he spent this past summer on Broadway playing the Teen Angel in Grease. And now, as he prepares to reprise the role in a national tour, Hicks is also finishing a new album for release early next year. Hicks took some time to chat with me about these exciting new developments in his career.

How did the upcoming Grease tour come about for you?

I think that after we had such great success on Broadway, they approached me with the idea of doing a national tour for Grease. I also have a brand new record coming out. We decided it would be a really cool and cutting edge thing to do, releasing a brand new record within the national theater tour.

So you will be cross-promoting the album within the tour?

Yes.

How are you doing that? I heard you're performing a song as part of the show?

Yes. Once the album is finished, I will be doing a single off of the record. And then I will be doing a very intimate national club tour alongside the Grease tour, hopefully in each market we perform in. I'm pretty excited that the new music will start to grow legs from a live perspective. I'm actually going into really cool, intimate clubs across the country, performing new material before I go out on tour myself.

How will your fans know about those dates?

Well, they can go to my website [TaylorHicks.com]. Or they can go to Pollstar. In each of the markets I go to, I'll hopefully do some radio [promotion]. Being in a particular city during a lengthy stay, I'll be able to get the word out about the show. And about Grease, also!

When you took the Broadway role, did you know you were going to be able to add harmonica, blending the character with your own personality?

I think we all went in with an open mind. I mean, we thought about how can the part be "Taylor-made?" I knew that the setting was in the '50s. I took a lot of those different aspects, and they let me play harmonica with the song. The role is making sure Frenchie puts down her teasin' comb and goes back to high school. Any way we could get that point across, we would try it. And it's just been a great success. I think it's a great part for me to start learning how to act. It's a very good start for me in that particular field.

Is acting something you hope to continue with in the future?

I think it is. It's definitely something I'm going to think about for the future. It's been an interesting thing to learn: how to act and play a role, while also playing music. Because they're very similar, one's musical and one's theatrical. It's been a wonderful learning experience.

Getting back to your live shows, my husband and I saw you when you played Seattle in 2007 and we were surprised by parts of your set-list – such as combining "Another Brick in the Wall" with "Hell of a Day". How do you come up with those ideas?

Well, I think it's just comes from years and years of playing live music. If a song has some space where you can perform another song within it – and it fits the style of the song you're already playing – there's a creative aspect to that. That's the spontaneity, and there's a creative outlet for all of that. And that's what I love. I enjoy being able to have songs within a song. I just think for me, I try to put myself outside and look inside. I know I would want to go to a show where that type of spontaneity and creativity were present.

Regarding your upcoming new album, what can you tell me about it stylistically?

My idea for this record was to try and find the greatest songs I possibly could. For me, having the time to be able to write and to be able to have those songs around me for an extended amount of time… I wanted to kind of live with the songs for awhile. I feel like my instincts on Idol were very similar to my instincts on this record. I've tried to really put great songs around me. In today's music – if you buy a CD, a whole album of songs – a lot of the songs are often similar in the way that they sound. But for me, there's a lot of different styles that I think are reflective of my artistic expression. I think with this record I've been able to hopefully take the listener on a musical journey into the songs I've written, and a lot of them touch on different styles. But the common thread is my voice. There's a lot of storytelling in the songs. I've been able to hop into different genres and pull out the greatest music that I can.

Did you collaborate with any writers on this album?

Yeah, I did actually. There were some writers in Nashville that I wrote with. And there were a lot of different styles of writers – one of the writers is Gary Nicholson in Nashville. Also a couple writers that are friends of mine, Wynne Christian and Alan Little. There are a lot of different people that have come together. I've been able to have the time to be able to really focus on what I feel a great song is.

Is it all original material, or did you do any covers?

There will be a few surprises on it. What's been great about this record is I've had total creative artistic freedom. That's really a great thing for me, because I allow myself to focus on what's best for creativity's sake and what's best for the audience's sake. It allowed me the opportunity to pick songs, like I was allowed the opportunity to pick songs on Idol. For me, you get around the music easier. It's been a great creative experience for me.

On your post-Idol album, you weren't able to do that as much?

Not as much. I think there's obviously some time constraints when you're under the Idol umbrella. I loved doing that record because I loved being in a great studio and learning how to become a better recording artist. And I think I'll always enjoy learning the art of recording music. I've done so much live work that [being in] the studio is interesting.

Your band for the new album – were you working with people from past albums, or new musicians?

Yeah, I hired studio musicians for the record. Nathan East is playing bass. Abe Laborial Jr. is playing drums.

Paul McCartney's drummer, right?

Yes. Also Doyle Bramhall is playing guitar. Just an array of musicians that have come together because they heard about the album and wanted to make a great record. You know, I can honestly tell you that it is a great record. I'm really excited about it.

And it's coming out in February?

February 10th. The single hasn't been picked yet, but hopefully we'll be releasing the single for the new year.

You also have a new DVD coming out, Whomp at the Warfield?

We are planning on a release. You have to space products out and make sure they don't overlap. I spent my own money to record Whomp at the Warfield, and I know it's been awhile since it was recorded. It's not that it won't be released, it's just that the timing needs to be right for it to have the most impact. So we can get my live band, and my live feel, out to as many people as we can. It's been in the hopper for awhile, but we're about to put a bow around it and present it to everybody.

And the Grease tour is right around the corner?

Yeah, the Grease tour starts next week, December 2nd. And I'll be gearing up to start rehearsing with the band for this intimate club tour. I'm just going to be back out on the road, coming to a city near you with all kinds of fun stuff for the fans. I'm excited to get back out on the road and visit with everybody!

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About Sherry Lipp

Sherry Lipp is an entertainment and food writer who specializes in film and television reviews. She has published the gluten and grain-free cookbook Don't Skip Dessert.
  • TESSA

    TAYLOR HICKS IS AN AWESOME PERFORMER AND SUCH A GREAT ARTIST. I THINK TRUE FANS SEE SOMETHING IN TAYLOR THAT IS REALLY DEEP – HE HAS A GENUINE LOVE FOR THE MUSIC HE CREATES AND HE HAS A KEEN EAR FOR THE MUSIC HE LOVES. HE IS TRULY AN ENTERTAINER AND WHEN HE PLAYS AND SINGS YOU CAN TRULY GET LOST IN THE MESSAGE. HE “FEELS” THE LYRICS AND THAT COMES ACROSS IN HIS PERFORMANCE. I WISH HIM THE BEST WITH THIS CD – THERE IS A LOT MORE TAYLOR HICKS TO COME.

  • mavis

    I love Taylor Hicks music and his many entertaining skills. He has overcome so much in his climb to fulfill his dream and in so doing has brought his dream to us to enjoy. There is a lot to look forward to and I hope that others enjoy his exceptional accomplishments as I do.

  • cypfan

    Absolutely love the smokey, husky quality of his voice. I would know it anywhere. Thanks for asking some good questions about music.

  • Julianne

    Taylor Hicks has had my respect since Idol. I loved his album that came out thereafter, and found it inspiring, pensive and upbeat. He is very talented and i look forward to all his opportunities to show his creativity. Thanks, Taylor!

  • Dawniebelle

    A friend of mine bought tickets to go see Grease on Rhode Island last night. Now, being a novice to all things “Idol” I had only really heard of Taylor Hicks when he won and then not again until last night.

    It was a night I’ll never forget! He might have a bit role, but,make no mistake about it, he is without question, the star of the show.

    There was a lot of buzz about him singing his new single last night from his upcoming album. Taylor fans as well as non-Taylor fans were waiting in anticipation. Sadly, it didn’t happen.

    But, the good news is as a non-fan I can’t wait to see this incredibly talented man in concert when he is out of character. One thing that struck me is his soul shines through.

  • havingfun

    This is a wonderful article.
    GREAT QUESTIONS !
    I too have seen Taylor live, and he puts on one heck of a show. I’ve been to several other artists’ concerts in the last two years, and Taylor’s voice and performances are “up there” with the “big boys” as far as I am concerned.

  • sallyannlady

    Dawniebelle, sounds to me like you’re not a “non-fan” anymore. The number of people that go to see him and come away astounded by him is incredible. I’ve seen him a number of times, and every time, I do, there’s something new that I take away with me. This is a really great interview!

  • debO

    Taylor Hicks is an enigma. Brilliant singer, electric performer, but whitewashed by Idol and, as a result, has not received the critical praise he deserves. Revisiting the “Idol audition,” was struck again by the ease with which Paula and Randy “got” him, and the naysaying of Simon which, in fact, did represent the Idol Juggernaut of overly tidied-up and plasticized packaging of format that enhances some but devalues other performers. Hicks was immediately recognized as a “soul singer” by no less than Stevie Wonder, a brilliant musician himself. Has Taylor lost his way? Not vocally but as a production artist? That is to say, are the perceived demands of the public in general what an artist should concentrate on. Or should he, rather, concentrate on his soul and share that helplessly, joyfully and without any agenda other than to speak his own truth. God bless the child that’s got his own.
    PS: someone send Taylor to Santa Cruz CA, willya?