Taylor Swift by Sarah Barlow for Nashville Lifestyles

30 Minutes with Taylor Swift: On Her New Album and Nashville Favorites

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I’ve gone and done it. I’ve interviewed my idol, reached the pinnacle of my career, and now I must retire. Given the nature of what I do and my Nashville locale, it was bound to happen eventually.

Perhaps I’m being a *tad* bit dramatic but I did get to talk to the country-turned-pop star for a half an hour on the phone a couple months back for the October cover story for Nashville. And it was glorious. She was smart. Witty. Personable. Professional. All the things I’ve envisioned TSwift to be since I became obsessed started following her career long ago.

Taylor Swift

photo from our Most Beautiful People party at Sinema

You can read snippets of the interview here, but in honor of her new album 1989 debuting today, I’m also including a transcript of our chat below. Even listening to our recorded conversation, I’m a bit shocked I was able to keep my cool when all I wanted to do was tell her what a genius she is and how much I have adored her for the past decade. (Our brief half-hour conversation only made that admiration grow exponentially.)

Without further ado…

Me: Did you have any idea “Shake It Off” was going to be such a huge hit right out the gate?

Taylor: One of the main things Max [Martin] and I wanted to do when we went into the studio is to make something that didn’t sound like anything either of us had ever done before. I hadn’t played around with a horn section or Motown vibes, and neither had Max, so we built this song from the ground up, and it turned into this very obvious chorus. I couldn’t believe it had never occurred to me to say, “haters gonna hate, players gonna play, I’m just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake it off.”

photo courtesy of Big Machine Records

photo courtesy of Big Machine Records

Me: I know the video took three days to shoot, but what was the process like of coordinating all those moving parts from concept to completion?

Taylor: When you’re shooting a music video before a song is even out, I approach that with a very high level of paranoia because I’ve never done things like that before. I’ve always put out a song and then shot the video, like, two weeks later. So going into this, it was very much a mission and a project and a secret kind of hush-hush thing, so I had to know what director I wanted to work with right off the bat. There was no sending out the song and getting directors to write treatments. I knew I wanted to work with Mark Romanek. I knew that would be my dream guy, and if he could in any way clear his schedule or make some room or meet with me, I knew he would be the one I would want.

screenshot from "Shake It Off"

screenshot from “Shake It Off”

So I played him the song early, and after one listen, he said, “I’m in. I want to be a part of this. This song is insane.” That was another really good indicator for the song for me. I was really excited when that was his reaction, because [Romanek] is very busy and has moved onto working more in film…and he hadn’t really ever done an artist concept before. He’s always thought of the concept and presented it to the artist, so this was a new working process for him. I told him that I wanted to make this song about a big, giant dance metaphor—like, “how you dance is how you live your life”—and this metaphor about fitting in and not fitting in but not caring if you don’t fit in because eventually you’ll find who you fit in with.

I wanted to put myself in situations where I clearly would look like the odd man out, and I wanted to hire all these different kinds of dancers, and Mark was so into the idea. We tweaked the idea a little bit because I think I wanted it to be more in the real world settings, like with the beat boys and the break dancing, we would have been on the street, and in the ballet, we would have been in the studio… but he was the one who wanted to do it more minimalistic, and I think that’s what made the video more interesting.

Me: What did you have to bribe them with to keep that a secret for so long?

Taylor: Basically, I just gave them a very, very long talk. And I asked them really nicely and somewhat desperately to please keep this secret for me, because I said it’s the biggest secret I have right now. And it’s all I have right now. “Please don’t tell anyone about this. You weren’t here. You can scream it from the rooftops after this is over. But please, please be the exception. Be the one group of people in this day and age who can keep a secret.” And they went and did that.

Me: One of my favorite things about you has always been your sense of humor—you don’t take anything too seriously. Is that how you have always been, or something that is evolved in the decade since you catapulted onto the music scene?

Taylor: I’ve used music to help me deal with life and love and all the important lessons you learn growing up. A song I wrote a couple years ago that I was very proud of, “Mean,” was a song about not understanding why people say what they say and why people make you feel small and weird or like you’re not special or deserve what you have. I was very confused about that social dynamic back when I wrote that song, and since then the lesson I’ve very gradually learned is that there’s nothing I can do, there’s no amount of questioning that to make people change their behavior—I have to change my behavior, and I have to change it from being protective of myself to kind of rocking it…loving the fact that I no longer care what people think.

I think you have to really tap into your sense of humor in order to survive. Going through the amount of scrutiny that your life is looked at when you’re performing for millions of people, when you’re on TV, when you’re putting out records and everybody has an opinion about it, you have to think certain things are funny. And you have to be able to make fun of yourself, and that’s one of the things that I think is a new development for me: not taking things too seriously and when people make fun of me, just laugh at it. And, thankfully, in doing that, I feel like lately less people are making fun of me.

Me: Since you’re the cover for our Most Beautiful People issue, I’d love to know what your personal definition of beauty is.

Taylor: My personal definition of beautiful is exhibiting an identity. I am so intrigued and drawn to people who know exactly who they are, who know what they want, who live life on their own terms. And that can be anything—it’s not defined by “wear less makeup” or “try a nice red lip” or “walk with your shoulders back.” It’s about embracing your identity.

Me: You never stop. Like, ever. What’s a “day off” like for you, if such a thing exists?

Taylor: I’m one of those people who, in my mind, I classify it as “a day off” if I just have five hours free. Because I don’t like to feel overworked and I don’t like to be one of those people who complains about how exhausting their job is. People who whine about that are, I think, statistically less fun to be around. I have friends who if they send an email and are like, “oh, this was a be a day off, and now it’s not. I have to work.” You cannot live your life this way. This is not a productive way to live your life. I classify my days off as ways that other people who consider workdays, but it keeps me sane, which I guess is the main goal at hand here.

Me: But really, is there ever a time when you just completely disconnect and log off your phone and social media?

Taylor: At this point, I’m excited to hear from people, I’m excited to talk to my friends—my friends are the key aspect of my life. It’s music, family, friends; those are my priorities. It’s not like my friends ever feel like a burden.

Me: I hear you tell a lot of people in New York what to do and eat in Nashville.

Taylor: Most of my friends—or even people I’ve met once at a party—will reach out and say, “give me a Nashville guide.” Seth Meyers and I were just talking about that, and he emailed me asking me what to do. And, basically, I’ll give this very comprehensive, broken down, organized guide: “If you’re looking for this type of experience, try this and this and this. If you’re looking for shopping experience, go this, this, this. If you’re looking to experience more of a touristy bar situation but if you’re looking for sore of under-the-radar speakeasy type of situation, go here, here, here. If you’re looking for this type of music, go here, or if you’re looking for this type of music, go there.” So honestly, I could keep you on the phone for an hour telling you about my recommendations for where to go to in Nashville.”

Me: What new Nashville restaurants are you loving?

Taylor: It’s hard to keep up with all the new things happening. I stick to the things that are old favorites for me. I love ordering sushi from Virago, I love Fido and the Hillsboro Village area. I love 12 South—everybody loves 12 South—but there’s also something good there. For me, when I’m in Nashville, I do a lot of cooking and a lot of ordering in now, because usually I just want to spend time with my mom and dad.

Me: Speaking of Nashville, your career has run a pretty close to the city’s evolution these past 10 years. Traditionally, it was known for country music, and now it’s become so many other things—from a culinary mecca to a design destination. Similar to how you’re now an entrepreneur, an actress, a pop star, and much more—do you think that’s a pretty fair comparison?

Taylor: I think it’s a flattering comparison. I’ll take that any day. Nashville is a much different city now than it was 10 years ago, and I’m one of the people who loves to see a city become more popular. And when I hear statistics about our real estate booming and everyone wants to move here, that doesn’t make me feel this strange jealousy and possessiveness. It makes me feel so excited that everyone else is discovering what I’ve known was awesome for 10 years.

It makes me happy, it makes me stoked when my friends tell me they’re going on vacation to Nashville. They’re not on a road trip on their way to somewhere else, they’re just going to Nashville for vacation. So I love that, and I think that’s also a parallel to how people see music. A lot of people discover a new artist and then they get super angry when everybody else discovers that music, and they’re like, ‘I don’t like them anymore. They sold out.’ I don’t feel like Nashville has in any way sold out. I think it’s just that the rest of the world is becoming hip to the fact that it’s one of the greatest places [on Earth].

Me: You recently bought a place in Manhattan. Are we in danger of losing you to NYC anytime soon?

Taylor: I’m not anyone who can be anywhere permanently. Things get very, well, social when I’m in a place for more than three days. I’ll go out to a restaurant in one of the cities I’m in, and all of a sudden there are lot of people around, lots of paparazzi on planes heading to where I am. I just sort of have to, at this point in my life, hop around, which I’m comfortable with doing. I don’t really have any reason not to hop around right now.

Me: How has your life changed since moving to New York? Is that an added sense of pressure for you?

Taylor: I just have to cater my life to where I’m going. I know if I’m in Nashville, I can wear whatever I want. And if I want to wear the same pair of shoes two days in a row, no one’s going to notice because there aren’t paparazzi waiting outside my place. And that is a whole different level of comfort than I experience in the rest of the world.

photo courtesy of Big Machine Records

But if I’m going to New York or LA, I know I should pack a few different outfits and I should not repeat outfits because that will be very loudly pointed out to me. I should not look wrinkled. I cannot have one shoelace untied. I cannot have any mysterious bruises or scrapes on my legs. It will [all] be questioned. Very interesting dynamic changes from city to city, and yet I’m used to all of them strangely.

Me: You have a bit milestone birthday—your 25th—coming up in December. Any plans for that?

Taylor: I think I’m scheduled to be on a transatlantic flight on my birthday. That kind of says everything, doesn’t it? I should probably think of something to do other than a big TV performance in the UK. But I think that I go into game time mode [when launching an album]—I have a birthday every year, but I don’t get to promote a record every year.

Me: So really, this entire fall is like your ongoing birthday party.

Taylor: Yeah, I’m just really excited about this entire season—this fall and this winter.

(cover photo by Sarah Barlow for Nashville Lifestyles)
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