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When I first called Sunny Taylor to talk to her about her new EP and her CD release party at C2G Music Hall, she was in the Target dressing room, trying on tops. “It’s a tradition,” she said. “A new CD, a big show, a new shirt.”
Anyone lucky enough to have been in the audience at C2G the night Taylor and her band – Ben Porter (electric guitar), Dan Willig (drums) and Pete Jacobs (bass) – treated fans to her newest songs can tell you that Taylor has excellent fashion sense. They can also tell you that Taylor’s self-titled, four-song EP is exactly what followers of this 32-year-old singer-songwriter and Fort Wayne native have been craving since her last full-length, Lock the Door and Leave, came out four years ago: emotionally complex tracks that explore every facet of human relationships, from the ties that bind us together to the betrayals the break us apart.
Taylor said she feels like her new songs are more mature and less self-centered than those found on Lock the Door and Leave and her two live albums. And while it’s clear that her fans have not tired of her older hits – the woman has more than 25 Whammys to her credit – she sometimes has a hard time listening to the songs she wrote when she was just starting out (which, for anyone who’s been asleep for the late-90s and the early aughts, was as a precocious high schooler – name a coffee shop in Fort Wayne and Taylor was there, transforming a simple caffeine-pushing venue into a place of intimacy and warmth).
“I feel like with a lot of those songs I was focusing on a particular situation and how it affected me instead of taking into account everyone else and their perspectives. It was like I had one of two feelings. I was either happy or sad, and usually the sad songs were ‘this boy doesn’t like me’ kind of stuff. I’m much more interested in other people now, in turning my focus outward.”
And the great news is that she has enough material to record another full-length album. The EP, which includes the tracks “Trucker,” “Highview Drive,” “Paper Tiger (Getting Over It)” and “Break My Heart Please,” was produced by the respected and accomplished Mark Hornsby in his Java Jive studio in Nashville. Mike Ross, vice president of sales and marketing for Sweetwater Sound, put Taylor in touch with Hornsby – “Mike helped me out a lot on Lock the Door and Leave … and last winter I called him up, said ‘Hey, let’s make another album” – and Taylor is working on raising enough money to partner with him again.
How does a mother of three and guitar teacher living and working in a relatively unknown town plan to get her hands on the cash required to record a professional, studio album? Through a series of in-home concerts and intimate shows. Basically, if you weren’t lucky enough to attend the CD release party, don’t fret. You can hire Taylor to perform for you and your friends in the comfort of your own home or business, and for a little extra you can have the whole band bring the house down.
It’s an innovative approach to record-making and one that Taylor hopes succeeds, because the time she spent recording the EP was not only productive but inspiring.
“On one of my trips down to Nashville I took my good friend Meghan King and we talked about how we were in heaven, surrounded by all these people who get what we do,” she said. “We immediately felt right at home. Everyone had a great sense of humor and it was clear immediately that these were our kind of people. It’s not that I haven’t felt that here with my friends and family. I have, but there’s just something to being in a studio, working with people who want to help you bring your songs to life.”
And while for her EP Hornsby brought in a handful of award-winning Nashville session players – Tom Hemby on electric guitar, Phil Naish on grand piano and keyboards, Scott Williamson on drums, Dirk Darken on percussion and Brian Beller on bass – Taylor said she owes a great debt to her band whose feedback and support have made her new batch of songs possible.
“They helped me develop the new songs. I’ve never felt more comfortable bringing songs to the table than I do with these guys,” she said. “It feels like exactly the right combination. I love my bandmates.”
Many who have heard the new EP are predicting great things for Taylor. They’re seeing visions of music videos and radio play and world tours, but Taylor’s ambitions are more modest and, like her winning, funny personality, more down to earth.
“I’m not going to turn down any great opportunity, whether it’s opening for a big act or playing for a big audience, but I’m not going to do anything that would be detrimental to my family and home life,” said the married mother of three. “That’s my sanity. That’s my sanctuary. I don’t want to get lost on the road somewhere, but playing regionally will be nice, and if the chance comes to play some national shows I’ll do it. I’m willing to stretch myself this time.”
When she says her home life is her sanity, she’s referring to the time she spends with husband, Jason Berry, and their three daughters: Josie, 3; Myra, 5; and Jayna, 6. The girls are all very different but get along well, and together they have their mother laughing constantly.
“Josie, she’s my wild one. I was eight months pregnant with her when I performed at the Whammys after Lock the Door and Leave came out. My hands were so swollen I couldn’t hold a guitar pick. And Myra, she’s mischievous but also very genuine and scientific. She’d rather pulverize and study her dinner than eat it. Jayna is very artistic, very sensitive. She’s like a little mommy. Her teacher told me that if someone gets hurt on the playground, Jayna’s there, nursing them. She’s super sweet and very emotional. I don’t know where she gets it.”
Taylor has come a long way since she lit up such local haunts as Toast and Jam and Higher Grounds as a teenager. Gradually she earned a loyal local fanbase through her live performances, charming onstage persona and proven talent as a guitarist, singer and writer. And, for the last half-decade, she’s managed to balance life as a passionate musician with that of a devoted wife and mother. It’s no wonder that she considers her new material to be her best yet, strengthened as it is by the wisdom of experience. Taylor said she’s particularly happy with how one song on the EP, “Highview Drive” came out. Based on Taylor’s childhood and her parents’ divorce, the song eluded her for years. Then, when she sat down to write it last winter, it came out in a rush.
“All the memories came back piece by piece,” she said. “It was a song I’d always wanted to write but didn’t think I could, and then I sat down and it came to me in 10 minutes.
“I can barely perform the song without breaking down,” she continued. “I can’t think about what it’s about. It hits me like no song ever has, and it seems to get the audience too. When I was singing it with Mark Hornsby I actually started crying. I felt like such an idiot. He probably couldn’t use anything from that take, but later, when I heard what he’d done with the song, how it sounded on the final version, I was thrilled. It sounded exactly how I wanted it to, how it sounded in my head.”
Taylor says many of her songs are therapeutic, that the act of writing down her feelings and setting them to music has helped her get over and beyond some of her life’s most trying times. She’s glad that she’s provided that same experience for her fans who have a habit of taking her aside after her shows and telling her that a certain song made them cry or even just see things a little differently. She knows she’s loved in this town, so even if this EP marks the beginning of the big time for Sunny Taylor, she’s not about to forget where she came from.
“I’m ridiculously grateful for the amount of support I’ve gotten. I have the best family and friends anybody could have. They’re amazing to me. And then there’s my Come 2 Go church family and all the wonderful people who come to my shows. It’s been so humbling. I’ve been spoiled.”