Indie Snobs, Furries, and Wubs: A Freewheeling Chat With Taylor Swift
Pop superstar sheds light on her new record, her fans, and her mixed feelings about dubstep
“I’m still in bed,” Taylor Swift admitted when she answered the phone from her home in Nashville. She had just gotten back from Europe, and was a little jetlagged; her cat kept biting her in retaliation for the long trip. Sadly for the cat, Swift will be absent a lot in the next few months promoting Red (Big Machine), her fourth and poppiest album to date. The record has already earned Swift her first Hot 100 No. 1, for the sassy, Max Martin and Shellback-produced “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.” It has also invited the traditional Talmudic reading of Swift’s lyrics and liner notes in search of boyfriends past. (Jake Gyllenhaal features heavily, if the Internet is to be trusted.) SPIN spoke with Swift on the phone about the indie record that contributed to her last breakup, the rumor that she’ll play Joni Mitchell in a new biopic, and her newfound interest in dubstep.
I was listening to the new album’s “I Knew You Were Trouble” earlier and wondered: do you listen to dubstep?
Not really. I’ve written some with Ed Sheeran, and he’s become a good friend of mine, and he always plays me really interesting stuff from the U.K. whenever he comes over and hangs out. But I never really thought, “Hey, I want to download some dubstep music.” What ended up happening was, I wrote this melody for this chorus on the piano, and I brought it to Max Martin and Shellback, and I said, “At the end of the chorus I just want this to go crazy. I want it to be really chaotic; I want the bass line to do this, like [makes loud GUH GUH GUH sound].
So you did the wubs?
Yeah. I don’t really know what to call it, but I just kind of sing it how I want it to sound. And they’re like, “Oh, sort of like a dubstep thing.” And I’m like, “I guess, I don’t know? Whatever that is, whatever that ridiculous sound that I made with my mouth when I was trying to figure out what to say.” You end up doing a lot of that when you’re recording and writing, being like “It kinda sounds like this! [Does a laser-y SCHOOM sound].” I wanted the song to sound as chaotic as the emotion felt. I wanted it to be loud and out of control.
Did you do any dubstep listening after that?
Not really. I didn’t even really know what I was doing. I wanted it to sound a certain way. That’s kind of how I’ve been making music lately — I kind of just make music the way that I want it to sound and the way that it depicts the emotions that I was feeling, and I let people call it what they want.
You’re trying a bunch of different types of music on the album. Were you just tired of country?
I really just wanted to have every single song reflect a different kind of sonic shade. And what I mean by that is, for me, as a country artist, on your fourth record, I don’t think you should only get to use certain instruments, and that certain other kinds of styles of music and influences should be off-limits. I just really liked painting with all different kinds of colors on this record. I kind of approach the songs from an emotional place, like, how did that emotion actually feel?
Along that line, have you heard anything about the show Nashville?
Yeah, Hayden [Panettiere] is actually my neighbor. We hang out all the time.
Well, has she talked to you about the show at all?
The first thing that she ever said to me when I first met her was, “My character is not based on you.”
Do you see why people would think it might be you?
‘Cause she has curly hair and sparkly dresses.
But also in the way that her music is dubbed crossover music, and not pure country. Does that resonate?
I think that’s kind of a criticism of like 65 percent of the country artists that are out right now. It’s like the most popular criticism of a country artist — that you’re not country enough.
I had a couple questions about “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.” The first is: why did you put furries in your video?
There’s really no reason. Nobody knows why there are people dressed as animals in my bedroom and for some reason that’s my posse of people that I hang out with in that video. I don’t even know.
What about the “indie record” you reference in the song? What was it?
Oh if I told you, it would completely give it away.
Can you give a hint?
I can’t, I can’t. It would completely, completely out this guy.
Was it cool at least?
We’re talking about a person who would get sick and tired of listening to a band if they had more than 500,000 fans. Like, “I only go to their concerts if they’re playing in a basement for 22 people.”
Will there be codes in the liner notes for this one?
Yeah, there are actually.
There are reports that you might play Joni Mitchell in a movie. What songs would you be most excited to do?
The whole thing with the movie is really unconfirmed, because I’m not even sure if the project is greenlit. It’s one of those things where you just never know. But if it were to happen, I would be so, so stoked about playing “A Case of You.”
A few months ago, you had a Vogue cover story, and you mentioned that you’d written a dolphin novel.
Or maybe it was a shark?
I wrote a bunch of books when I was little, but I don’t know if it was about a shark? I know I wrote one when I was 14 that was this tragic young teen romance, where these two fall in love for the first time, dealing with loss and all that. But I don’t think there was a shark in it.
How many books did you write?
I wrote two or three books when I was younger because I just always needed an outlet for writing stories. I hadn’t really fallen in love yet, or been anywhere near falling in love. So I would write stories and books and mini-novels about what it would be like to fall in love.
Your concerts are packed with young children — like, nine year olds — all singing along enthusiastically to breakup songs. Are nine-year-old boys that mean these days?
Well, that’s a small cross section of fans that are nine. Most that I see in the crowd are teens, and they always come up to me and they always ask me about relationship stuff. Or they come up to me and they say, “Remember how the last time I told you about that guy that cheated on me? Well, I’m back now and I have this new boyfriend who’s really awesome, and his name is Jack, and he’s really cool.” So they’ll give me the updates.
What’s the saddest story you’ve ever heard from a 14 year old?
Oh, you know, I get this all the time. “You know your song ‘Should’ve Said No?’ I can’t believe this, my boyfriend cheated on me with my best friend and now I can’t talk to either of them and I was at the dance and they laughed at me and they pointed at me. And I listen to that song and it makes me feel better.”