“MY CAREER HAS BEEN THE LOVE OF MY LIFE SINCE I WAS TEN YEARS OLD.”
If you’re a fan of musical mega-hits, there’s a pretty good chance that you’ve heard some of Tayla Parx’s work over the last year and a half. In 2018 alone, the LA-based singer-songwriter was credited as a co-writer on four top-10 singles on the Billboard Hot 100 charts, and all of them were huge; “Love Lies” by Khalid and Normani, “Thank U, Next” and “7 Rings” by Ariana Grande, and “High Hopes” by Panic! at the Disco.
As an artist and performer in her own right, Parx is also very accomplished: in 2007, she played the part of Little Inez in the film adaptation of Hairspray, and has also appeared in television shows like Gilmore Girls, Victorious (with Ariana Grande), and True Jackson, VP. Truly born-to-entertain, being in the spotlight has always been a part of Parx’s DNA. She’s been on stage since she was little, calls her career the love of her life “since she was ten years old” and is a demonstration that being a triple-threat entertainer is more than a paying job – it’s a vocation.
During her time in LA before for her next tour run supporting Lizzo, Early Bird Music chatted with Tayla to get the story behind her beginnings as a songwriter, actor, and singer, the secret-sauce behind her songwriting style, and motivations behind her own artist project, which now includes her recently-released and highly-anticipated debut album, We Need To Talk. Press play and check out our interview below.
This interview has been lightly-edited and condensed for clarity.
EB: Take me all the way back to growing up – how did you get into show business? You’ve done acting, singing and songwriting – what was it like as a kid, going through that process?
TP: Well it first started off while I was in a dance class with Debbie Allen. She had a dance academy, and I decided to go there with a best friend just because I felt like, “Okay I sing, but I gotta know how to dance if i’m gonna be an artist one day” and I didn’t know when that was gonna happen, but of course that it would.
Then one day, Debbie Allen walked in and she saw me and asked if I knew how to sing – I said yes; if I knew how to dance – and I show her I dance. Then she asked if I knew how to act, and I couldn’t even fathom being an actress at the time. She said, ‘Well I think it’s kind of like reading a book, read this as if you were each character.’ Then all of a sudden, I was introduced to this whole new world, of manipulating your voice and being able to see this whole different side of what makes me an artist, in all of its different aspects.
Eventually Debbie convinced my parents to move me to LA – this is already after I’d been performing at The Kennedy Center from 9-11 [years old], so I was on stage from the beginning of my life. From that point, my mom was sneaking me into auditions, reading the boards and blogs online and finding out how I could get my opportunity. The first room that I snuck into was Gilmore Girls, and I ended up booking it, but also getting caught when they realized that I didn’t have an agent. So they called some agents right there on the spot. They said I got the job but I needed an agent, so I sat down with three different people, and I told them, whichever agent could even get me an audition for Hairspray, that I would sign with him – that it didn’t even matter if I got the role, and that I just needed the opportunity.
Fast forward a few months, I was able to audition and book the role, which meant I was an actress, officially. But I missed music, even after Hairspray kind of catapulted my life in to that direction of acting and doing more roles, and Nickelodeon- which where I met Ariana – different things like that. I’ve watched my life make these interesting twists and turns and it all makes sense looking back on it.
EB: Now both of your careers have taken off, and you’ve written number one songs with Ariana. How did that friendship develop and how did you stay in touch?
TP: In the beginning, nobody really respected either of us in the music world, they saw us both as child actors. It was before we’d proven ourselves and solidified ourselves as songwriters and music creatives. I met her because I was on her show [Victorious] and I was on another show, True Jackson VP, that filmed on the same lot for a bit.
A few years later, we lost touch, but I met Tommy Brown (TB Hits) and the very first [songwriting] session we ever did was for “My Everything,” but Ariana wasn’t there. It wasn’t till down the road that she even found out that I was the co-writer on the song, because mind you, the last time that we saw each other was on the set – she had no idea I was writing music at that point. That was a nice re-connect, but we lost touch AGAIN and didn’t link up again till this album (Thank U, Next.)
Usually I’m very particular about who I write for. So once I do an artist one time, I don’t usually want to write with them again. Usually I’m like, Ooh that was a really cool experience, now I want something fresh and brand new. But the thing that made me curious about what was going on right now in her life was that I knew that she was going to be approaching music in a different way than she had ever done before. It’s fun to be a part of her evolution as an artist.
“EVENTUALLY I REALIZED…THAT I HAD SOMETHING DIFFERENT TO ADD TO THIS EQUATION, AS AN ARTIST.”
EB: As far as your evolution as an artist, did you start with songwriting with a full intention to only write for others, or did you always have your own singing career and artist project in mind?
TP: I used to always go back and forth on if I wanted to be an artist, or if it was something that would satisfy me. Because I write A LOT of songs, and artists can’t release that many songs per year. So, I felt like if I was just an artist I would be stunting my writing, right? And if I was just a writer, I would be stunting my artistry. From that moment, I had to make a decision to say hey, first of all, timing is everything – it’s been something my life has taught me over and over and over again again – that I’m not really in control of the plan. If I try to control it, then I would never be where I am now. I think from a very young age, I had the realization that everything that is meant to happen will happen.
At that time, I was concerned with being the best writer that I could be, starting off and mastering one thing, versus being mediocre at a million things. I wanted to be the best songwriter I could be. In order to do that, you have to humble yourself and take yourself out of your own emotions, because as a songwriter, everything is about someone else. All of your emotions, and your feelings, and your history goes out of the door when you’re having that conversation with an artist as a songwriter.
That’s one of those things where I just learned people to have a story, and eventually I realized I’d talked to every type of artist there is to talk to, from the legends to the newer superstars, and that I had something different to add to this equation, as an artist; something that I felt could be a part of taking music where it’s going to be in the future, versus just being a fish, kind of being a part of the stream.
EB: You’ve written a ton of songs for other people, so when it comes to your own artist project, what does it take in a song to realize you want to keep it for yourself?
TP: Well I think it always starts with, either – I’ve produced a lot on this album as well, and you can hear that it sounds slightly left of center, because I’m not following the rules that a typical producer would follow. The same way that I don’t follow the same rules that a typical songwriter feels they need to follow.
There’s certain rules like the way you lift a hook, or a way that you structure your song, and it has to be structured a certain way, whether it’s the verse into the pre-hook, into the hook, or starting off with a hook. There’s so many different ways to flip the formula that we’ve created over the years as creatives.
Right now we’re at a time in music where we are able to do that more than ever, and more importantly than that, the fans want it and are excited about it, and want you to do something different. I’m extremely happy to be an artist right now in this day and age, and to be coming out at this perfect time when fans are begging for something new and fresh. I go out of my way to do whatever I want to do, and those things are usually quirky and colorful – things that people might not feel are “radio” at first… Until you realize it’s stuck in your head all day.
So I’m taking that artist approach, but also using the top songwriter inside of me to find the middle ground. You’ll never probably hear anything that’s like, a bit too weird, but you’ll also never hear anything that’s just too straightforward, in regards to my artistry, because I found myself having to be placed in those boxes as a songwriter all the time. It’s fun for me to shoot for a target and jump through flaming hoops [as a songwriter for others]. But as an artist, it’s a completely different approach – it’s about being free.
EB: One of the songs that sticks out to me of yours is “I Want You.” Tell me about where you were at in your life when you were writing that song.
TP: I was at a point in my life where I just wanted to be free and not having to think of a significant other. I’ve never been the type of person to be in a relationship ever, because my career has been the love of my life since I was ten years old.
I think that during this whole entire process, with this album, it’s been discovering myself. In the beginning of the album, and also at that time in my life, I was very much still focused on me, and it didn’t really matter how it made somebody who might’ve loved me, feel. But I was very honest about that, and that’s what that song is about. Just being like You know, I think I finally got your message, and I’m not going to let me let you down, and it’s okay because it’s not worth me losing my freedom. And then you listen to the album, and you see that change, you see that switch, you see that ending up seeing that maybe I fucked up this time.
EB: Along with the album, you’ve got an upcoming tour supporting Lizzo. Are you excited to hit the road again to play the album out live?
TP: I’m so excited to be touring, especially with Lizzo, touring with a female. I just finished up the US and European ABC (Andy’s Beach Club) Tour with Anderson .Paak, and it was a lot of guys on tour. It was so fun, because they’re like my brothers, you know.
But now, this time to have the different change in pace and work with all of these amazing females on the road, travel, and meet so many different kinds of fans, will be icing on the cake. It’s fun to meet the Tayla types and see how your music is affecting them, and I’ve got so many people that found out about me because of this last run that’ll be back at the show again. So it makes me feel good that they liked what they saw the first time.
EB: Since you’ve always been in show business, does performing a concert come as naturally as acting or writing?
TP: There’s a little switch that flips after the moment of me freaking out, which usually happens two minutes before I jump on the stage – no more or no less than that. It’s just those two minutes because I have to wait, and I just wanna go now! – I start to get really impatient and antsy. When I get out there is when everything’s okay again, when my heart stops beating as fast. It’s when I’m yeah, okay again.
I didn’t know at the time, before I started, if live performance was something that I would even like. I like the idea of something being perfect, and live performance isn’t about being perfect. So, it’s a complete different approach and something I’m having fun learning. I think that anything I do is because it’s a challenge. I’m naturally good at performing, but I have to take that idea and become great at it, the same way that I did at songwriting – because I always have to take things to the max.
You can catch Tayla Parx on tour supporting Lizzo this Spring. Check out tour dates below, including two Brooklyn Steel dates on 5/12 and 5/13, and Terminal 5 on 5/23: