Part of Taylor Swift's charm is that she really is the one behind the songs. She's the one dreaming up these big stories and setting them to a seriously country sound. It's easy to ignore that, though, and get swept up in her beauty, her enthusiasm and what her fans might refer to as her "overall awesomeness." She's a pop culture phenom, with an l.e.i. jeans deal, a Seventeen magazine cover and an oft-visited MySpace page.
But none of this would have happened if not for the songs she writes. The novelty of her being a tween with a Nashville songwriting deal has worn off. Now she's a very legit hitmaker, regardless of the facts that she's just finished high school and isn't even old enough to drink. When you see her perform at concerts, she introduces each song with the story that inspired it. Everyone knows about Drew, the one who caused the teardrops on her guitar. But there are other guys who did her wrong and other girls who wouldn't let her into their cliques. And about a million other ways to spin teen angst into tunes her fans know by heart.
During her recent visit to the Country Thunder USA festival in Wisconsin, CMT.com had the chance to talk music with the teen queen on her posh tour bus (picture tons of brown velvet), and get the details on her approach to songwriting.
CMT.com: Your phone's ringing. Are you gonna get that?
What is that ringtone, anyway?
Augustana's "Sweet and Low."
OK. Cool. Now let's talk about your songs. Clearly, whatever you're doing, people are digging. So many of your fans can relate to the words in your songs. Is that what you tend to focus on when you write?
Not just the lyrics, no. They're important. But when I write a song, I hear the full production in my head. Every banjo roll, every fiddle riff, every single nuance. I think my songs really come to life once that production is behind them.
You seem to really have this down to a science. But how do you make sure you never write the same song twice?
I never ever want to be that kind of artist who writes the same song over and over. The perfect album for me will always be about having all different beats and syncopations and lyrics.
Your first album wasn't all just girl-gets-boy, girl-loses-boy stories. But now that your life is spent touring -- instead of hiding behind your school locker door and watching your crush fall for someone else -- will that change the way you write?
No way. My goal is to never write songs that my fans can't relate to. Like road songs. As a 16-year-old girl, I could never relate to those songs about playing a different city every night. I want to write about feelings and love and the lack of love. I ask myself, "OK, where's the song for the 15-year-old who just had her heart broken? Got that? OK, good. Now where's the song for when she falls in love again?" I like to listen to music that's about life. That's what I think my fans like, too.
I know John Rich and even Colbie Caillat had some say in some of your new songs. But when do you ever get the chance to write with other people now that you're on the road so much?
I end up writing a lot of the songs myself because I get inspired at weird times. You can't always have a co-writer with you when you get an idea for a song.
One last question. You'll be doing a CMT Crossroads with Def Leppard? What gives?
My mom is their biggest fan. Ever. She listened to them when she was pregnant with me, and as a kid, that's all I heard. The fact that I get to perform with them is incredible to me. And to her.