Taylor Swift’s fans were wondering when she’d ever finish her brand new record, Red. Meanwhile, Swift realized the precise moment when the record was finally ready. It arrives in stores Monday (Oct. 22).
“I knew that the album was done when I literally wrote and wrote and wrote for two years and I wrote until I could not write anymore. I think that is when I knew,” she tells CMT.com. “I couldn’t physically, mentally, emotionally push myself to write one more song. At that point, I had 30 or 40 songs compiled for the record and it just was about paring it down to 16. It was not easy, but it is a good problem to have.”
During a recent swing through CMT, she cheerfully chatted about her latest co-writing sessions, her flashes of songwriting inspiration and her approach to turning music into an event.
CMT.com: For this record, did you write with people you had never met before?
Swift: I did. Writing with people I had never met before, walking into a studio to work with them, is something I am kind of used to, based on my experience writing in Nashville and co-writing with different people. Your publisher will set up meetings for you, and you won’t know the person. You will never have met the person before. You walk in and you tell them everything that is going on in your life. I think you just have to have a certain trust level and comfort level, and you just have to be able to walk in and bare your soul to a stranger. It can be really, really fun to have someone with fresh ears on the situation and hear what they come up with.
When you are meeting a songwriter, do you like to listen to what they have written in the past and already know where they are coming from?
I make co-writing sessions based on being a fan of what that writer has done before. When I was writing songs for this album, I didn’t have a lot of time to go in to 20 different writing sessions. I wanted to make sure that the people I was writing with were people I desperately wanted to write with. So I did that, and it was such a blast because I wanted the styles of those co-writers to rub off on my music, and it happened.
How often do you wake up with the idea for the perfect song in your head?
When I get an idea for a song, it could be in the middle of the night. It could be in the middle of the day. It could be in the middle of riding in the car with my friend, in which case I record it into my phone. My friends are so used to that now. If you cannot get it out of your head and it sticks with you, then that is how you know you need to finish it. I really don’t like to finish songs I am not into. I get bored. You know, “If this song is not going to make the album, why am I finishing it? This is a waste of time.”
When you do finish a song that you’ve written, who gets to hear it?
When I write a song and I am in love with it, I’ll play it for my mom, my dad, my record label president Scott [Borchetta]. I’ll play it for some of my closest friends that I know I can trust. For me, their reactions really help determine where that song is going to end up because they are very honest with me. If they are like (lightly) “Oh, that’s great,” they don’t like it! (laughs)
Are you into power ballads? Do you have any power ballads on your own playlists?
Sure. Absolutely, I have a lot of rap. I have a lot of acoustic. I have a lot of folk-influenced [songs]. I have a lot of things that people have not heard yet because I am digging around trying to find the thing that has a cool melody that my friends will hear and go, “Oh, that’s great, what’s that!?” I really like turning my friends on to new music.
So are there any words or phrases we will never hear in one of your songs?
I don’t really swear in my songs. I guess there are certain things I shy away from. I try to shy away from things that sound like they have been said too many times, or I will put a twist on them so they sound a little bit new. I think it’s all about finding a new way to say something that can speak to people. It’s a difficult thing to do, for sure.
Yeah, and to make it still sound conversational.
I think that conversational writing is something I have always gravitated towards. That way, it’s very natural. It’s like you’re being told a story by one of your friends. That’s what I love when I try and find new songs. I always go for lyrics that sound conversational.
Are you a fan of vinyl records? Do you have a vinyl collection?
I love vinyl. I think it turns music into an event. You get out your vinyl record, you put it on your record player and it turns it into something you are doing that evening. I really love it. I loved putting my last album out on vinyl. It was really exciting.
Sometimes I’ll interview songwriters who talk about how certain guitars might have a song in them, waiting to come out. Do you identify with that?
Not at all. I have never identified songwriting with a certain room or a specific pair of shoes or a guitar. I feel like ideas are randomly floating around up in the sky and, every once in a while, one kind of lands right next to your head. And you have the opportunity to reach up and grab it at the right time. Sometimes you’ll be asleep and you have an idea, and you think, “I can remember that tomorrow.” And you wake up the next morning and it’s just gone. It’s the most frustrating feeling because you swear to yourself, “That was it, that was the best song that I have ever written — and now it’s gone!”