Taylor Swift on getting 'Speak Now' right where she wanted it
One of the topics I discussed with Taylor Swift during an afternoon spent with her last summer at Capitol Records in Hollywood while she was finishing work on her new album, “Speak Now,” was how it came about that, unlike her first two CDs, she didn’t collaborate with other songwriters on any of the album’s 14 songs.
Her response opened a window into her creative process, both as a songwriter and as the album’s co-producer, with Nathan Chapman.
“I didn’t consciously go into this record and go, ‘I’m going to do this all by myself; I’m going to write this one without any co-writers!’ It just happened that way,” said Swift, who is profiled in Sunday’s Arts & Books section. “When we were picking songs, it just ended up the ones that made the record were all ones I’d written by myself.”
Indeed, she told me she had written some songs for the new album with other writers early on, with the expectation they’d be on her third album, which arrives Monday. But then the honing process kicked in.
“I make lists,” she said. “I’ll make song lists of what I think the album could be, with the track order and everything. As time would go by, I’d write a new song that was better than all the [other] songs on the record, so I’d bump one off.
“Then I’d write a new one that was better, and I’d bump another one off that wasn’t as strong,” she said. “I remember I’ve revised that list probably 30 times. I have thought about it, and obsessed over it and finally gotten it to a place where I’m so proud of it. I’ve said everything I’ve wanted to say that’s happened in the last two years. I can’t wait for people to hear it.”
She also displayed a fighter’s spirit when I asked how she felt moving into the crowded field of adult singer-songwriters after creating a broad-based market that she quickly came to own by creating honest music about life as a teenager, written and sung by one.
Because also she co-produced her 2008 album “Fearless,” we spoke about the extent to which she’s gotten more involved with the technical aspects of recording and production: Is she fluent in ProTools and such? As usual, her thoughts ultimately came back to the big picture view of what she wants to do with her music.
“I felt like taking on this record -- having written it all -- it was a bigger undertaking,” she said. “I co-produced ‘Fearless’ too, but there’s something different about this album,” she said. “It’s hard to describe, but being in there every single day just picking apart every little thing about every little song and making sure that it was right….
“Nathan is incredible at going through the computer and we find these different sounds to create and to get us where we want it to go,” she said. “But I’ve always just been about figuring out what it is I hear in my head, and making it sound like that.
“I can learn all the technological things that are involved and all the tricks and all the keyboard shortcuts. But for me,” Swift said, “it’s always going to be this larger goal of making the song sound through the speakers the way it sounds in my head.”
-- Randy Lewis
Photo: Taylor Swift backstage at Club Nokia in Los Angeles. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times