Russell Taylor’s Blue Setting the Moods (Interview Conducted by David A. Mitchell)

The career of singer-songwriter Russell Taylor exemplifies the true definition of D.I.Y. (do it yourself). He’s already released a string of albums through his label Indigo Blue, and is a onetime VH1 You Oughta to Know Artist, which helped propel the success of his video, single, and album, titled, War of Hearts. Taylor continues to tour around the country, and receive critical acclaim whenever he drops new music. His latest and sixth studio album is titled, Tin Man: The Blue. It is the first of a trilogy represented by the three primary colors of Blue, Red and Yellow.

What was the concept behind creating a trilogy?

I recorded about 20 songs in various stages. I spent weeks sitting, listening and jotting in my journals and doing a story board. How do I organize this? The colors are what came to mind, because when I’m recording throughout the various studios that I’m in, they all have mood lighting. They use a lot of blues and reds depending on how I’m feeling. Blue and red are the primary colors – the sensuality and the heat of emotions – and then yellow which is the final for exposure, and celebration. I wanted to create a story that was cohesive and approach it as if I was writing a book.

What’s the schedule for the other releases?

We’re playing it by ear with the other releases. It’s all a matter how things are moving along.

You’ve been independent for a while, and not all indies are created equal. How are you able to maintain and thrive in the space?

Chance The Rapper is independent, and at one of the highest functioning levels of being an independent. There are some in the middle who may have a publishing deal or a distributor like Empire working with them, and then there’s me where I have my own label, Indigo Blue. I have an awesome digital distributor DistroKid. I can put my music out within an instant. My budgets are my own. I have a tremendous team that works with me – and it’s the only way I’m able to do it, because of us leveraging our resources and relationships to spread the word about the project. One of the recurring mantras for me is ‘slow and steady.’ A slow burn will win the race.

Talk about the song “Superman” with Lalah Hathaway.

I’ve known Lalah for a longtime and she is a dear friend, and a mentor. “Superman” is a song I did with Ray Angry, who has worked with the Roots, Miguel, Lauryn Hill, and others. He and I got together on an early summer afternoon and wrote the track. As I composed the lyrics, melodies and vocal arrangements, I could hear Lalah’s vocals in the background, those velvet tones she has. She told me to send her the song, and she would let me know what she thought. Two days later, she called me and said the song was beautiful, and that she didn’t want to mess it up. I said, “Please, anything you touch will only make it better.” She did it, and sent it back to me. On the first playback I was in tears. It was perfect.

There’s also “Dance with Somebody,” a reworking of the Whitney Houston, classic, “I Wanna Dance With Somebody.” Was there a challenge in getting the song cleared?

I worked with some collaborators out of Los Angeles and periodically one of them will hit me up and ask me to listen some Pop songs from the 80s and to let them know what I like, and why. There was “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” and “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.” It was the Whitney Houston song that stuck with me. I wanted to do something different. The band and I went into rehearsal and after the first verse, I just wanted to hear me and the bass player. With that it was just magic, and I started to incorporate this piece in my shows. Someone made a suggestion that I put it on the album. I was intimated because one, it was a Whitney Houston tune, and you don’t touch Whitney Houston records; and two, I’m an independent artist and the possibility of clearing the song could cost me an arm and a leg. I dug into my independent spirit and located the songwriters [George Merrill & Shannon Rubicam], in hope that I would impress them. In less than a day, I got an email back, and [Shannon] asked was I the “War of Hearts” Russell Taylor? That blew my mind. She said they loved it. They put me in touch with Universal Music Publishing, and it was smooth sailing from there. We recently shot a video for the song, directed by Kai Morrison.

The single, “Thrill.” Why does that feel so familiar?

I wrote the song with Tim Kvasnosky. It’s a throwback to the days of 90’s Garage and London’s Drum and Bass styles.

Talk about the VH1 You Oughta Know Artists franchise, and how it changed the trajectory of your career.

It was a great platform. Initially, there were a couple of artists interested in recording “War of Hearts,” but something told me not to sell it. I put the video up, and I started getting attention from VH1. I started getting spins and the next thing I know, there was a crowd source contest for VH1’s You Oughta Know Artists. It allowed me to build a fanbase, and put me in front of a lot of people that most indie artists don’t have access to. They were playing “War of Hearts” several times for like 30 days, which turned into six months. It also opened doors for synch opportunities, where the song was placed on ABCs The Fosters, Degrassi the Next Generation, Atlanta Exes and Black Ink Crew.

What would you like to say in conclusion?

I’d like to say that ultimately the listener makes the choice of what each song on Blue means to him or her. Blue has an element of protest in it as well. “Wide Awake” is about love and life, and the times we live in. I wrote “Superman” in Harlem off of Lennox Avenue, while watching a little boy bouncing a basketball. I was hoping he doesn’t know the weight of what he’s going to deal with growing up. There is definitely social commentary in the art. I take that from all of the artists that I love and am exposed to. This is a tumultuous and challenging time we’re in and art will save us.