Some kids dream of growing up to be doctors, firemen, even astronauts. Not Brit Taylor. Ever since gradeschool, she’s known exactly what she wanted to do as an adult—a professional country singer, no aside-whispering stage mother required.
“I come from a really small Kentucky town, but because of artists like Dwight Yoakam and Patty Loveless and Loretta Lynn, the area really fosters country music and young entertainers,” says the hickory-smoky chanteuse, who joined the local Kentucky Opry’s children’s chapter The Junior Pros at age seven and even once regaled Yoakam himself in concert. “So I’ve been singing on a really cool stage—with a real band—ever since that age. And my mom was never pushy—she’s as easygoing as it comes.”
A family friend overheard the young warbler trilling, and suggested a Kentucky Opry audition, which she passed with flying colors. “So this is the only thing that I ever wanted to do, and I think because I started so young, I just never thought about anything else.”
But a funny thing happened on the way to Music Row notoriety. Make that several things, and none of them all that amusing, in cold, clinical retrospect. At 31, Taylor released her retro-C&W debut disc Real Me last year on her own label, Cut a Shine, which is hillbilly slang for a temper tantrum. And—although the Dave Brainard-produced, Dan Auerbach-assisted effort features her smoky singing voice on everything from barn-dance waltzes (“Raggedy Heart,” “Broken Heart Breaks”) to the Western-swing “Go Down Swingin’,” the honky-tonk growling “Married Again,” and Dusty in Memphis-plush experiments like “Back in the Fire”—she had every right to throw a frustrated hissyfit. And Yes, she sighs, 2020 was a dismal, soul-trying year. But personally, she admits that she’s experienced worse. Like 2017, in particular, when all of those childhood dreams shattered in the space of only four months.
“If my life were a sitcom, it would be a dark, dark comedy,” she says. “Because it’s kind of hilarious, but just not that funny when it’s your own life.”
Paste: Where have you been quarantining?
Brit Taylor: I am right outside of Nashville in a little town. I moved to Nashville when I was 17, and I lived in East Nashville. But it never really felt like home. I grew up on top of a mountain in East Kentucky, so I found a spot outside of Nashville, and there was was a little over three acres, and it was right in my price range, almost out of it. So I’ve been out here for eight years now, and I’ve got six goats, three dogs, some chickens, and a three-legged cat named Loretta, after Loretta Lynn.
Paste: But you actually kind of lived a country song, didn’t you?
Taylor: Yes. It was kind of comical. 2017 was such a crappy year, and it all happened so fast, just like everything falling apart. First, my husband of five years walked out on me. Second, I was in a band called Triple Run—which was named after moonshine, because you have to run moonshine through a still three times—and my bandmate, who was one of my best friends, suddenly just quit the band. Then my computer literally exploded, then my dog died. And the one shimmer of light that I had in my life at that point was a co-write with my now-producer Dave Brainard. But on the way to the write, my car broke down and I could not make it. And something had happened to my Triple A card—my now ex-husband had the card at the time, and they wouldn’t let me use unless he was there with me, but we weren’t even communicating at the time. Oh, my God. It was just awful, and I was in tears. It felt like the whole world had turned against me. And all my fiends were answering on the first ring every time back then—they were like, “What now? What’s happened? Are you okay?”
Paste: And Dave is a Grammy-winning guy. A lot of times, you may not get a second meeting with someone like that.
Taylor: I know! But luckily, he was cool with rescheduling. And then we started writing, and I don’t even know if he knew what was going on in my life at the time, because I was still in the band. So we wrote a few songs that year, and in December my option on my publishing deal was up, and they had actually wanted me to continue as a solo artist and sign an extension on the deal. But I just couldn’t—I felt like I had to start over. So I actually turned it down, which made me jobless. So I called Dave and said, “I don’t have a publishing deal anymore, I’m divorced, and I also quit the band. But I’d still like to write songs with you.” And he called me immediately after he heard that voicemail and jumped on board. I think Dave likes a good country story, and a good heartache.
Paste: At the publishing house, did you write songs for yourself or for others?
Taylor: A bit of both. I was there for four years, and I really enjoyed all my time there. It’s a big blessing to get a deal like that in this town, with as many songwriters as there are here. So I’m really grateful that that happened to me, and I learned a lot and I met a lot of people, and it’s everybody that I met through those years that’s made everything happen for me now. So I was writing for other artists, but I was also writing for the band that I was in, but it was that constant battle of figuring out who we were as a band, and trying to fit the mold of commercial country radio, which had changed so much from what I grew up on to what it is now. Which is okay—a lot of people like it. But that’s just not what I do. I’m not much of a pop singer. But now everybody keeps saying, “The needle is shifting—country is going back to real country again.” But I’m still a little skeptical. And honestly, I’m just kind of done waiting for it to go back to country, I’m really done with the argument. And I’m a huge Dwight Yoakam fan, and he’s also from my neck of the woods. He’s one of my favorites, and I actually got to sing for him when I was a kid, and it was a surreal experience. So really, whatever you want to call it, I just made a record that I love that is true to who I am, both as a person and sonically, as a musician. And that’s the best that I can do, so hopefully it just finds a home wherever it belongs.
Paste: But didn’t you also start your own small business after your annus horribilis?
Taylor: I don’t really talk about it that much, but I started cleaning houses. So now I have a little business outside of Nashville called Service Maids. I started cleaning houses so I could pay my bills, but then I started getting so many houses that it was time to hire somebody. My whole goal was to create some jobs, and create free time for myself so I could still write songs, and my goal was to keep writing as many songs as I was writing on my publishing deal. I have eight employees right now, and I actually had to go show a worker a new house this morning.
Paste: In your song “Married Again”—wherein you swear you’re never getting married again—you grouse that the divorce process cost you “Two lawyers and $ 10 grand.”
Taylor: Umm, it amounted to more than that. But I am not married again. And I do not have kids. But I am seeing someone, and he’s also an artist—in fact, he’s actually on the front porch writing a song right now. And he put out a record this year, too—his name is Adam Chaffins, and he played bass on my record and sang all the harmony parts you hear. So it’s kind of cool to finally be with somebody that you have things in common with. I mean, who would’ve thought?
Paste: After everything you’d been through, when the pandemic hit this year did you shake your fist at the sky and yell, “Why, Lord? Why?”
Taylor: I know, I know. And I could have held off and waited until next year to release Real Me. Which some people advised me to do. But I just had the overwhelming gut feeling that I was supposed to put this record out right now. I thought, “You know, somebody needs a good country song right now—we’re in the middle of a friggin’ pandemic!” And if you look at the Great Depression and the music that was coming out at that time? Hey—just like now, it was time for music to talk about real stuff and serious things again, and that it’s okay to be comfortable with not feeling okay. And that’s exactly what this record is.
Paste: Lastly, I can’t resist asking—how did your cat Loretta lose a leg?
Taylor: Ow! She just attacked my foot! She is the meanest three-legged cat in the world! I try to keep her inside as much as possible, but she went outside one night and did not come home. But I found her the next morning—she had hobbled back to my front porch, and one of her legs was completely mangled and she was just covered in blood. So I took her to the vet, and we had to take it off. But she even picks on dogs, so it’s no wonder she lost her leg. She’s kind of a jerk!