Thea Taylor is no model Mormon.
Growing up in a strict religious household in Southern California, the youngest of 10 kids was tattooing and piercing herself by age 13. A few years later, the teen’s “bad little kid” habits, as she describes them, evolved into serious trouble: drug addiction and stints in rehab.
But while in a six-month program in 2019, Taylor brought along her acoustic guitar. A deluge of introspective songwriting sessions ensued as the young artist channeled her feelings of melancholy and hopelessness into her music. She scribbled lamenting lyrics like “I think rock bottom’s fake, ‘cuz I’ve been here for a while now / Don’t think I’ll ever leave, ‘cuz pain just makes me smile now.”
Once home, Taylor — who’d never publicly released any of her songs — decided to record and post some tracks to SoundCloud under the moniker carolesdaughter, honoring her mom (“She’s a saint”). The tracks, including the sweetly sorrowful “wish i wuz dead” quoted above, took off in early 2020, earning thousands of listens — a mere fraction of the fanbase she would soon command.
Two years later, carolesdaughter now ranks among the flag-bearers of the latest pop-punk and emo resurgence, touring with Machine Gun Kelly and tallying monster streaming totals. Her 2021 tune “Violent” — a haunting cut fueled by 808s, traipsing guitars and her cutting vocal style — took off on TikTok and has since notched more than 120 million Spotify plays.
Taylor, now 19, says she isn’t surprised by her success.
“I always had a really crazy confidence in myself that this would one day happen,” she tells SPIN via Zoom from her home in Temecula, California. “I didn’t expect it to happen maybe as quickly as it did, but I am very grateful nonetheless.”
On April 8, carolesdaughter will release her debut EP, please put me in a medically induced coma, on Arista Records. The seven-track project furthers Taylor’s exploration of somber themes, matched with hurtling pop-punk guitars and unshakable hooks.
“I can’t really do anything without a little hint of darkness,” she says. “To me, something that’s so happy and has no deeper anything to it… I get why people like that stuff, but for me it just comes off as ingenuine. I don’t understand it, it doesn’t resonate with me.”
Hence the EP’s politely morbid title. “It just perfectly encapsulates the feeling of wanting a break, not wanting to do anything permanent, and just wanting to sleep and let everything bad pass, then you wake up and everything’s fine,” she explains, noting the songs were mostly written while she was still in rehab.
Taylor’s mall-goth aesthetic — smears of black makeup, prominent tattoos, a patchwork of facial piercings — fit the gloomy bill. Though her melodic sensibilities span well beyond bands like My Chemical Romance (whom she namedrops in a new song). As a kid, Taylor says she spent most of her free time online, scanning subreddits and forums for music she wasn’t supposed to hear, including everything from Black Flag to Metallica to Björk. She’s since added pop-soul icons the Bee Gees and R&B star Tinashe to her list of influences.
“It really annoys me when people just try and put me in one single genre,” she says.
While most of coma keeps carolesdaughter in a punk-ish lane — particularly the high school-inspired earworm “Target Practice” — and should play well on her spring tour opening for emo-rap star Nothing, Nowhere, there are moments that suggest the budding singer’s greater range. “Audrey” is an acoustic, almost folksy tune detailing a night with an unlikely muse in North Hollywood.
“I went to a strip club for the first time when I had just turned 18, and there was a girl there that I thought was really beautiful,” she says. “I spiced up what I knew about her life and made it into a song. I didn’t fall in love with her or anything, obviously. Well, I kind of did. She was really hot.”
As 2022 rolls on, carolesdaughter promises “a shit-ton” more music to come. And with her bounding confidence, there’s no limit to where she goes next.
“Why can’t I have a No. 1 pop song and then put out a screamo song?” she wonders. “Who’s going to stop me?”