A conversation with Dream Pop star Whitney Tai.
Patrick O’Heffernan. Host, Music FridayLive!,
Whitney Tai is a singer-songwriter who creates dream pop by walking on the razor edge of pop and indie, staying aloft with talent, honesty and integrity. She is otherworldly but also totally authentic – what you hear is what she is. Tai lost her mother to cancer when she was 10 years old, surfacing health issues including severe anxiety and depression. But her mother’s memory inspired her to channel her feelings into songs and poems and performances that helped lead her out of the darkness inside. Singles led to albums like her debut Metamorphosis, then the EP Forever, followed by a series of singles after an extended trip to Europe, ranging from the jazz-flavored ‘Good At Being Bad’, the emotionally devastating ”How Was I Supposed To Know” plus breathtaking videos. I have been fortunate enough to see her live and caught up with her a day before her show at the Hudson Theater in Los Angles.
Patrick. You have been performing pretty relentlessly – Hotel Café, Bar20 in Hollywood and then this Sunday night at the Hudson, which strikes me as a bit unusual since is a stage theater, not a music venue.
Whitney Tai. Sunday we are going to be playing at TMI Hollywood. It is a show hosted by TMI Hollywood, which is similar to SNL, with skits and music – we are going to be providing entertainment. I am very excited. And you know we are coming back to the Hotel Café on November 11.
Patrick. You have an upcoming album release and I have been able to preview one of the songs “How Was I Supposed To Know”. Your voice in that song is stunning. You get just the right of breath on it. it gives a hint of vulnerability but from a place of strength. How do you do that? did that take a lot of trys?
Whitney Tai. I am not sure. I think for the most part when I have performed during my life –onstage or being behind a microphone — it always feels like the right place, like it is a connection with me, the inner me. We are all so overwhelmed and inundated every day with stresses and things that we have to go through in life that if we have an outlet that we can pour our emotions into we need to be very conscious of that. To me, performance has been that conscious place of aha! , I feel safe here, comfortable here, I feel loved her. It is a natural ebb and flow when I perform.
Patrick. Your songwriting shows that. In “How Was I Supposed To Know” there are many great lines, one of which just stays with me: Growing older/Meant to end but far from over. You have a half century before you need to start thinking about growing older! Is this about your future self? Is this nostalgia from the future?
Whitney Tai. That line in particular in the song is directed toward a past love that I had a deep romance with. Our time together was short. It wasn’t meant to go on but the love wouldn’t stop, it would stay forever, it would just keep growing and evolve into something else even when were not together anymore. I feel that way about love. I feel that love is more continuous. It doesn’t just stop and disappear.
Patrick. I love the video, especially you with the golden horse. Are you a horse woman? Did you know the horse in the video? It felt like you were old friends.
Whitney Ta. I love animals. I just want them to be part of my visuals. I think animals are the purest form of nature. They are forgiving, they are innocent, display all the things humans can look to if they want to know the answers to deal with life’s situations. That horse is symbolic of the kind of majestic portion of yourself that you don’t get to appreciate. It is about purity, about reflection on pain and about realizing that you and nature and the universe are one and not separate.
Patrick. I love the way you took the horses head in your hands and kissed it. That is not always easy
Whitney Tai. I have always been afraid of horses because they are so powerful. I had never been that close to one before. It was really exciting to be with a horse that was that gentle and docile. It gave me a new appreciation and removed my fear of horses.
Patrick. In your song “Enigma” you look pretty deeply inside your pain. I know that your life has had its dark places. Frankly, many, many of the artists I talk to use music to come through those places. Is songwriting and singing a kind of therapy for you?
Whitney Ta. I had been singing and songwriting before my trauma. I think the trauma in my life was a kind of affirmation saying that now I have a duty to the world to be that shoulder people can lean on, to be that friend they need when they feel alone. For me it is a more of a mission that I have. I write because I want to help people. It is my service – I am writing to heal people.
Patrick. You call your music “dream pop”, like the music of My Bloody Valentine or the band Lush. But in listening to your songs, especially that “Underwater” from the Metamorphosis album, it seems like you go farther and range wider than dream pop. You not only seek to surround the listener with dreams but also to become a voice inside their heads. Do you realize that; is it planned that way?
Whitney Tai. I don’t usually plan. I have so many musical influences that I don’t always know which ones are coming through. I grew up with rock and roll and Motown; Michael Jackson was on my CD player when I was a little kid. I grew up with a lot of artists who were forward in fashion, forward in their attitudes. I love that sass in rock and roll and I think that may be part of my identity now. I love I people who have something to say and who are not afraid to stand up and say it with full emotion and vulnerability.
Patrick. I love your stage clothes. Do you make them yourself?
Whitney Tai. No, but I spend a lot of time putting things together. I went to school for Fine Arts, so fashion is something that really interests me. If I had the time, I would probably make my own stage costumes. In the meantime, I spend a lot of time picking the right pieces, and sometimes I modify my own pieces. In the future, I will probably make my own fashion line. I am interested in that.
Patrick. Why did you begin the album with the song “Gravity”?
Whitney Ta. That song was the first song I had written to kick off the album. I had made the conscious decision to put the album song order in the order in which I was experiencing that portion of my life. I wanted people to feel like they were a part of that change so the honesty of the track listing is the order of what I was going through over eight months. I think it is important to illustrate how Metamorphosis was compiled.
Patrick. In “Gravity”, you sing Running out of air/There goes my last flare. That uses the language of now to encapsulate both the personal and the universal. That could describe a relationship or the state of the earth. What drove you to write those particular lines?
Whitney Ta. That particular line for me at that time it was now or never – this is my last chance to tell the world who I am, to tell my story, I felt that my story is so complex that I had to start somewhere and that was like my relief. I was so afraid at the time to bear all and be vulnerable about my life — tell all about my life. I had held my pain for so long and been strong without getting angry with it to feel emotions. That was my way of saying that this is my last chance – I could die tomorrow and I don’t want to regret missing this opportunity.
Patrick. You also sing Energy is trapped, no longer flowing/Into my/Dreams and aspirations. Somehow I don’t feel that your energy is trapped now. What is in the future for Whitney Tai?
Whitney Tai. I’m just super excited to keep writing and growing as a songwriter and collaborating with amazing artists and to keep building my catalogue and keep performing for people who need that therapy. It has always been my dream to perform on a large scale and reach people with my poetry so they can deal with things maybe they don’t know how to deal with. I think that lyrics and musicians have been my therapists for years, so it is my duty to give back.
Patrick. Thank you. Keep writing and maybe the world will get sane.
Whitney Ta Thank you. I will.
Whitney Tai. www.whitneytgaimusic.com
Metamorphosis. available on all platforms for purchase or stream on Spotify
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