Taylor Hicks is a maverick, determined to carve his own path through the often daunting music industry. By his own admission, it hasn’t been easy. His life changed forever in 2006, when he won American Idol during the show’s fifth season. His Idol coronation single, “Do I Make You Proud,” was an instant number one Billboard hit. His major label debut album, Taylor Hicks, sold nearly 300,000 copies in its first week, eventually receiving platinum certification from the RIAA.
Soon after the first flush of stardom, Taylor Hicks made the very brave decision to manage his career independently. He’d been toiling away at the lower rungs of the business for ten years prior to American Idol. During that time, he developed a very strong vision of himself as an artist. With his Idol victory validating the years of hard work, Hicks put his plans into action – even though it required swimming against the mainstream current.
With the spirit of a true entrepreneur, Hicks assumed complete control of his career and hasn’t looked back. I was fortunate enough to catch up with him during a break in his busy schedule.
You’re out on the road again. How’s the tour going?
Going great. Obviously I enjoy touring or I wouldn’t have been on tour for four and a half years. The Broadway tour with Grease was great, and I got to play a few shows here and there with my band. But this is getting back to a really good live music show for my record, The Distance.
Who’s playing with you in your current band?
Brian Less is playing piano. Jeff Lopez is playing saxophone. A few people that have played on the last tour are with me on this tour.
Your appearance on Don’t Forget the Lyrics airs October 12; what was that experience like?
That was really cool, the first game show I’ve ever been on. So I was really nervous, especially when you’re talking about singing lyrics and stuff. But it was for a great charity, VH-1 Save the Music. I didn’t realize how hard remembering lyrics could be! That’s just a super fun show, and I was excited to do it.
Speaking of charities, you recently released a charity single “S.O.S. (Save My Body, Save My Soul).”
SOS Children’s Villages is a great charity, for orphaned and abandoned children, that I’m working with. Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, they’ve worked to bring awareness to SOS. It’s one of the oldest charitable organizations in the world. I wanted to make sure to try and bring awareness to SOS here in the States. I worked closely with them and was really excited about putting out a song for that charity.
What’s on the horizon for you in the near future?
I’m planning on moving towards Nashville. I lived there once and recorded some music. Then Idol happened, and I’ve been so busy touring, making records, doing TV stuff. This time I’m going to let it happen more organically and be able to be in one place, have a base. And I think that musically it’s the best place for me.
Have you been doing much songwriting?
I’ve been doing a little bit, doing some songwriting. Also I’ve been reading over television and film scripts, actually. So I’m really excited about some of the opportunities that have come up.
Are you looking to do straight-ahead dramatic acting?
Right now I’m looking at four or five different things. Some drama, some comedic, some hosting. I’m just trying to find the right situation that fits. Luckily for my first role I was cast as the Teen Angel in Grease, which was perfect for me. Right now I’m just sifting through a lot of different things, trying to pick the right one.
I’ve always wondered if there’s a reason we don’t hear more harmonica playing on your studio recordings.
I think the song has to call for harmonica. I really don’t want to overuse it. I want it to be a special part of the album. You have to be careful with that instrument to really place it where it’s going to make the most impact.
Regarding your Early Works compilation: why were “On Broadway” and “Hell of a Day” left off the album?
I think “Hell of a Day” will resurface. With “On Broadway,” there’s some songs that are tough to clear from a publishing aspect. Even though “Hell of a Day” is my song, I think it’s a really great song and I’m probably going to rerecord it again in the future.
It appeared as bonus track, albeit heavily rearranged, on Taylor Hicks as a bonus track. Were you unhappy with that version?
I still probably want to revisit it. I think with that album, it was an issue of time. We were trying to get the record done and trying to get everything situated. That’s one of my favorite songs of mine.
You worked with songwriting collaborators for The Distance, but not on your early material. What was that like?
In my opinion, sometimes in songwriting three heads are better than one. I think you can get some really great ideas from collaboration. If you really have a vibe about a particular song, then you can write it yourself. But I enjoyed the process on the last record because I’ve never really collaborated like that before. It was a great learning experience, and ultimately all the collaboration is for the good of the song.
How did you select Simon Climie to produce The Distance?
Well, Simon has done some really great stuff with B.B. King and Eric Clapton, also Michael McDonald. A lot of the elements in their music that he recorded, I have a lot of the same elements in my music. I needed to find a producer that was able to pull that out of me, someone with experience in those elements.
Much of the album was recorded utilizing Clapton’s band, correct?
Yes, Clapton’s touring band was a large part of my record. I must admit, it was such an honor to have those people play on that record.
Can you describe the process of arranging the songs for the album?
It was a collaborative effort between Simon and myself, and the musicians poured everything else on top of it. Simon and I arranged all the music for that particular record. I enjoyed that so much, having the creative freedom on The Distance to be able to put my own creativity into the writing and arranging. I really feel good that I put out a product that was my own.
I saw a Grease show in Seattle. It was kind of a madhouse after the show, with people buying your merchandise and you signing autographs, meeting fans. I imagine you moved a lot of a records that way throughout the Grease tour?
Yeah I did, it was amazing. I think we’re hovering around the 55,000 mark, which is awesome for an independent artist. I’m really proud of having gone the independent route and being able to move that many records. And to be honest, I’m still in that process with this tour and the possibility of some TV shows. You’re always working and trying to expand your audience. The Broadway venture was super successful, in that it allowed me to get into acting. You really need to be, especially in this day and age, your own viable commodity.
It’s really impressive the way you’ve taken charge of the business aspects of your career. What can you share about your association with attorney Mike Douglas?
He was actually in one of my first bands that we played in. Here’s the thing: having your vision as a child and being able to have the confidence to know that you’re going to carry out that vision one day, allows you to put people in place that you can trust from an early point in your career. And Mike’s one of those people. I’ve been very fortunate to be able to have that vision. It’s very important that people know who you are and can really take you to the next level.
A lot of people in my position don’t know about the business. They have no clue about it. I think they kind of get taken for a ride, in my opinion. And when that ride is over, you want to be damn sure you own as much as you can in the beginning stages of your career. Because if you don’t, you’ll have nothing in the ending stages. You have to be very careful about, you know, the industry standards, what the percentages are. You have to do smart business.
In 2007 you went out on two very successful national tours. From what I gather those tours were planned and managed by your own business?
You’re exactly right. As soon as I won the show, those tours were all independently set up within my business. I’m really proud about independently owning my brand. I think its very important these days to do that, you have to really keep up with the times. And I appreciate you asking me that, because you’re right. I think there is a misconception about my post-Idol tours, I went out on my own. I started from the ground up. I’m very happy and proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish.
During your season on Idol, playing instruments was strictly forbidden. In recent seasons, not only is it allowed, but it’s become very common. Your thoughts?
When I won, throughout the whole run it was based off of character-building and personality-building. I think that has kind of been taken away since they integrated playing instruments into the contest. For me, I’m very fortunate to have been able to build a personality, build a brand. And now, post-Idol, I’ve been able to build artistically from an independent standpoint.
Thank you for your time, Taylor, I’m glad to have had this opportunity to talk with you.
I really appreciate it. I’ve definitely been fighting all the way. It’s funny too, this hasn’t been the easiest path but ultimately I know it’s the path for me. I’m looking forward to the future – it’s super bright right now.
For more information on Taylor Hicks’ schedule, visit his official website.