Taylor Swift Interview
Taylor Swift "Read Every Day" Live Webcast October 2012
Q: Moving from Philadelphia to Nashville, how did that influence you as a writer?
Taylor: I became obsessed with poetry really early on because my favorite books were the Dr. Seuss books and Shel Silverstein and the books where you have the stories come together through rhyming. That was always my favorite kind of book to read because it sounded like a song. Like when you have a line of poetry where the rhymes hit at the right ends of the sentences, it sounds kind of like lyrics. English class was always my favorite class because of the reading, the writing, and mostly because of the poetry.
Q: Did you have teachers who recognized your creativity early?
Q: What was the first song you wrote?
Taylor: The first one that I really finished that wasn’t like a structureless, eight-minute song was when I was 12 and I wrote this song called “Lucky You” about this girl who’s different. She believes in herself. It somehow got leaked online and it is a terrifying experience when people bring it up because I’m like, “I sound like a chipmunk. I’m 12 in that.” But you look back on your first experiences with writing and every one of those experiences turns you into who you’re going to be. And so I don’t think you can ever discount the creations you make when you’re really young.
Q: Have books been a huge source of inspiration for your music and your life?
Taylor: Books have been a huge inspiration for my imagination. I was a big fan of a fairy tales growing up, and you’ll see a lot of references to like Romeo and Juliet and The Scarlet Letter, and that’s from my reading. That’s from the stories that I was brought up with. So, you know, it definitely rubs off to read.
Q: Ms. Fisher, a teacher in Michigan, wants to know, “How has reading influenced your choices in life, especially your career?”
Taylor: There are a lot of books I loved to read when I was younger that kind of teach you lessons - funny ones like Amelia Bedelia, or The Giving Tree, which teaches you about being kind to others. Those stories that really have a moral to them are hopefully the first ones that we’re presented with by our parents or teachers. If those are the first things you start reading, it can really affect your character. Being good to other people was the main concept I really loved in books.
Questions from students in the audience.
Danny: What was your childhood like?
Taylor: I grew up on a Christmas tree farm. We grew Christmas trees for other people to put in their houses. And we had all kinds of animals running around, and I remember having a lot of room to run and just come up with wild stories, and I feel like it was a time for me to really let my imagination run wild. But, you know, I don’t necessarily think you have to have a lot of wide open space in order to let your imagination run wild. You can see beauty and fantasy and things that aren’t real and things that are magical in any place you grow up if you think hard enough and reach into your mind. But my childhood was really fun. It was a blast, so thank you for asking about it. That was a good question.
Q: This next question comes from Ms. Zeidler’s third grade class. They want to know, “What’s your favorite book that your parents read to you?”
Taylor: It started out when I was really little. It was Big Bird on the Farm, and then it was Winnie the Pooh and then all the classic children’s poetry books and stuff like that and fables and fairy tales. It’s fun to escape from where you are in your life and jump into somebody else’s character. You know, when you’re reading a book, if you can really identify with one of the characters, it’s like you can escape and go somewhere else. It’s kind of like one of the thrills people get from going to the movies and seeing a story play out. But there’s really nothing like reading. You can find such a quiet space and just kind of go to a different world.
Q: This next question is from Chris Tweedie’s fourth grade class in Singapore. They want to know, “How do you choose the books you want to read?”
Taylor: I choose the books I want to read if I’ve heard really cool things about them, or if they have anything to do with a historical figure that I’m really interested in. When I was younger, they had these diaries of a Civil War soldier or a Revolutionary War daughter of a solider. They had all these kinds of historical books, and I would really get into those because I’ve always loved the idea of going back in time and learning about what things were like hundreds of years ago.
Alexandra: What are some of the things you had to do when you were our age to become a successful artist?
Taylor: Ok, middle school is kinda tough sometimes. Getting through middle school and just realizing that everybody has kind of a crazy time in middle school and it’s so hard to fit in and you’re trying to figure out who you want to be friends with and just who to be, how to act. . . Middle school was one of the toughest times for me as far as fitting in. So if you’re ever having any trouble with that, just know that pretty much everyone else is too. You can feel really alone when you don’t know who your friends are and you don’t know who to talk to or who to sit with at lunch. Nobody understands how dramatic and critical those decisions are, like who to sit with at lunch. That’s a really stressful moment for me, like looking back at middle school. If you focus on learning as much as you can and finding that thing you love, that can be an escape from bad days. I would have really difficult days at school and I would wait all day long to go home and play my guitar and write lyrics in my journal. To me, that made it feel ok. So if you can find something that can help you to express yourself, middle school doesn’t have to be as hard if you have something to look forward to after school. That’s a great question. Ugh, it’s so hard, you guys. Just hang in there.
Marnie: You once wrote a novel and also won a poetry contest. Can you tell us about that?
Taylor: I won a poetry contest for a poem called “Monster in My Closet.” I was in fourth grade and I wrote this long, long, long poem like, “There’s a monster in my closet and I don’t know what to do. Have you ever seen him? Has he ever pounced on you?” It had, like, 12 stanzas. I put it into this national poetry contest and it won and they sent me this book in the mail, and I got to read all the other kids’ poems. So that was really fun. Then a couple years later when I was about 12 or 13, my family spent the summer at the shore. I missed my friends back home so much that I would spend all my days locked in the den at a computer just writing a novel. I included all my friends from school as characters in the novel so I didn’t miss them as much, and I would send them back chapters of it. It ended up being like 400-something pages long. Writing in every sense has always been an escape for me, not just in songs. If you can come up with a story and you have a way you want to tell it, sometimes that can absolutely brighten your world if you can just get it out and write it down. Thank you for your question.
Our next question is from a seventh grader in California who asks, “Taylor, how often do you read? My teacher thinks we should read every day.”
Taylor: I think it is good to read every day. Definitely. Absolutely. Your teacher’s right about that one. I try to read as much as I can, and I read different things. I try to read like an article, like an informative article, every day. I’m trying to stay up to date with like human rights issues and what’s going on internationally and politics and just kind of our world issues because, you know, it’s just important. I think at this stage in my life being 22, it’s important to know what’s going on in the world. But as far as being in school, I think that’s the time you should be expanding your imagination, and if you want to go and escape to a different world or read a book about like history or read a book about science fiction and aliens, like do it. You know, wherever your mind takes you, I think it is important to read every day, and that doesn’t mean you don’t get to read what you love. You know, that’s the cool thing about there being so many different kinds of books you can read. I love to read books like The Hunger Games [for ages 12 and up] and Harry Potter. You guys are fantastic.
Kel: Do you remember the first book you read that you could hardly wait to get back to, and when you finished, did it make you say, “Wow, that was awesome!”?
Taylor: Wow, that’s a really, really good question. Oh my gosh. I think that there were a few books like that. There was a book called Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli. And there was a book called To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee that really changed the way I looked at life. And after reading all the Hunger Games books, I was so sad they were over. I wanted to read them over and over again. So, a lot of books have a very addictive quality, and a lot of writers are really good at putting lines at the end of a chapter that make you want to read the next one. That’s something I really admire about writers.
Q: Ms. Lasko’s class in New Jersey wants to know, “Do you write only about your memories, or do you create ideas and stories from your imagination?”
Taylor: I draw inspiration from lots of different places. Sometimes, you know, one of my friends will be in a fight with her boyfriend and I’ll write about what they’re going through. Or I’ll see a really cool scene in a movie and I’ll think, “If I could write the soundtrack to that moment, what would it sound like?” and I’ll just get an idea for it. And then there are, you know, a lot of cases where I’m writing songs about my own relationship issues.
Cody: What is your writing process like? How long does it take to write a song, and what comes first, the music or the words? And then when you put them together, do you ever change them?
Taylor: My writing process is different every time. That’s why it’s really fun to write songs because it’s always unpredictable. You never know what’s going to hit you first. And it’s hard to explain how you get ideas. You know when you get a cool idea and you’re like, “I have no idea where that came from.” It’s kind of like this like little cloud floats down in front of you and it’s got like an idea on it. I like to think of those ideas as like the first piece to a puzzle. Maybe I’ll get like one line and I don’t know if that’s going to be the first line of the song or the last line of the song or part of the chorus or maybe that’s just a background vocal part. It’s then my job to figure out what the other pieces to the puzzle are, where to put them and how to create a full song out of this tiny little idea. And I write songs at like four in the morning, or walking through an airport, I’ll get an idea and I’ll just like write lyrics on a paper towel. There is no telling when I’m going to write a song, and my friends are so used to me getting an idea. My biggest fear when I get an idea for a song is that I’m going to forget about it, so I have a way to record little voice memos on my phone. My friends are so used to us like being in the car and they’re going on and on and on about their day, and they look over and I’m like recording into my phone, singing like [sings muffled into hand] and they’re like, “You’re writing a song again. You should just let me know when you’re going to go do that and I’ll stop talking. It’s fine.”
Q: You mentioned that you were a fan of The Hunger Games [for ages 12 and up] and you wrote a couple of songs for the movie. And we have a question from Jenna and Carly in Michigan. They wanted to know how the lyrics fit the mood of the books and the characters?
Taylor: I wrote two songs for The Hunger Games soundtrack and one of them is called “Eyes Open” and one of them is called “Safe and Sound.” I wrote “Safe and Sound” with a duo called The Civil Wars. When we sat down to write, we were talking about how we wanted to write a song about the relationship between Katniss and Rue, and we wanted to also represent the relationship between Katniss and Prim. So it became sort of a lullaby and sort of this song of compassion and it says, like, "It’s going to be all right. Just close your eyes. It’ll be fine. We’ll be safe and sound." The world that The Hunger Games takes place in is so catastrophic and filled with all this darkness. And so we wanted to write a song that was kind of reassuring that there’s a possibility that some day it could be ok and they could rise from that darkness. It was really interesting to write from someone else’s perspective who lives in such a different world than you do, and it really taught me a lot.
Evelyn: How many books have you read in your whole life?
Taylor: [Laughter] Umm, 4,522. No, I have no idea. You know, no matter what you’re reading you’re picking up some amount of knowledge and it’s influencing you whether you know it or not. It’s important that you read as many different kinds of books as you possibly can – the really small books that just, you know, you get to the end right away, and really, incredibly long books that sometimes it’s really hard to get through, and fiction and real, true stories. If you continue to always read different kinds of books, you’ll figure out what your favorites are, and that way you’ll just learn more. But that was a really interesting question. I really do probably have to think about that for a long time and I will never figure out the actual answer. [Laughter] Hardest question of the day. I’m proud of you.
Samantha: How has your life changed in the last few years, and how does it feel to be the person you are?
Taylor: Samantha, you’re so cute and I like you. My life has changed so much in the last six years because I put out my first album when I was 16, and once a lot of people knew about my music, you know, your life changes a lot. Like every time you leave the house you know that you’re going to talk to a lot of strangers. You know? Like when you’re growing up, what do your parents tell you? Don’t talk to strangers. So it’s sort of a mental reset because every time I leave the house I’m meeting these wonderful people who come up to me and say, you know, “I have this album,” or, “I like this song,” and, “Will you get a picture with me?” And that’s a different way to live your life because you have to schedule out things. Going to the grocery store takes a little longer, but just because it takes a little longer and you’re going to be talking to a few more people that day doesn’t mean that you can’t still live a normal life in a normal way. The whole fame thing is crazy, but it’s also really fun. I feel like I’m relatively the same person that I would’ve been if this hadn’t happened to me. My life is a lot different. I have a really, really abnormal life, but I feel like keeping my family really close to me has continued to make me stay who I would’ve been if I was, you know, in college right now or trying to find a job, wherever I would’ve ended up without music. I think it’s important if you have a good influence in your life, whether it’s a teacher or a parent or a friend who just has really great morals and really influences you in the right way, I think you should keep those people close to you. Thank you so much for your question.
Clarissa: What has been the most memorable moment in your life so far?
Taylor: I’ll tell you a story about a song I wrote called “Mean.” It’s a song that I wrote about a critic. When you put out an album or you do a performance on TV, all these reviewers write what they thought about it. Sometimes they’re really nice about it, and then other times they’re not. And this one guy who wrote about me, he would say the most mean, cold-hearted things. And it wasn’t constructive criticism. You know, when your teacher says, “You could do better on this. You could do better on that.” It wasn’t that at all. It was like absolutely this guy hated me. And I wrote this song called “Mean” about how that made me feel really helpless like there was nothing I could do or say to make him stop picking on me. When I put that song out, it became sort of an anti-bullying anthem, and I had all these fans coming up to me and saying, “That song really helped me with this group of people that was picking on me at school.” And that really touched me. It really made me feel so unbelievably proud that it turned into that when it went out into the world. We actually ended up winning two Grammys for that song. So I think that’s my most memorable moment of my entire life. Thank you for your question. You’re absolutely adorable. And you’re so friendly.