For her fourth studio album, “Red,” Taylor Swift tried the collaborative approach, reaching out to producers known for their work with Katy Perry, U2 and Snow Patrol and songwriters such as Ed Sheeran and Dan Wilson, whose collaborations with Adele resulted in Grammy wins.
Swift is featured on this week’s cover of Billboard. Here are some of her thoughts on the making of “Red,” the joy of being 22 and why she’ll always play her hits on tour.
Billboard: How did you decide who would make a good partner in the studio?
Swift: The people who inspired me were the people I reached out to. You look at someone like Ed Sheeran, who comes from such a sincere place as a writer, and his songs move you in every direction emotionally. That’s something I was so inspired by I ended up calling him. Snow Patrol are so absolutely dead-on, they can just hit you when they are singing about loss or longing. I have always been so fascinated by how (producer) Max Martin can just land a chorus. He comes at you and hits you and it’s a chorus — all caps, with exclamation points. Dan Wilson, back to his Semisonic days, has been a huge inspiration. When your inspirations become your collaborators, it becomes something really true to the music that you like.
Originally you were going to stick with your longtime collaborator, Nathan Chapman, who continues to work you. What changed?
I turned in 20 songs and I had this immediate sinking feeling, this can’t be done, this can’t be it. I think the reason I said that was because I made the record exactly the same way I made the last three. I knew I hadn’t jumped out of my comfort zone, which at the time was writing alone and working with Nathan. “Red” the song was a real turning point for “Red” the album. When I wrote that song my mind started wandering to all the places we could go. If I were to think outside the box enough, go in with different people, I could learn from and have what they do rub off on me as well as have what I do rub off on them.
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The album has songs about break-ups and your emotional condition, sometimes in the moment and sometimes from a reflective point of view. While the beats and instrumentation are different throughout “Red,” do you see a thematic link there?
It’s all the different ways that you have to say goodbye to someone. When you’re experiencing the ups and downs of a relationship, especially when you’re 22 years old, they all strike you different ways. Every different kind of missing someone, every kind of loss – it all sounds different to me. When you are missing someone, time seems to move slower and when I’m falling in love with someone, time seems to be moving faster. So I think, because time seems to move so slow when I’m sad, that’s why I spend so much time writing songs about it. It seems like I have more hours in the day.
Right, you don’t write about dancing, you just dance.
But you specifically come back and sing about dancing around at your current age. Why 22?
For me, being 22 has been my favorite year of my life. I like all the possibilities of how you’re still learning, but you know enough. You still know nothing, but you know that you know nothing. You’re old enough to start planning your life, but you’re young enough to know there are so many unanswered questions. That brings about a carefree feeling that is sort of based on indecision and fear and a the same time letting lose. Being 22 has taught me so much.
In writing with so many people on “Red” after doing “Speak Now” solo, did you have to find multiple ways to work with collaborators or is there one way that works for you?
I start all of my co-writing sessions with girl talk. I walk in and I go, “I have to tell you what I’m going through right now” and I spend 25 minutes talking about the guy that I met four months ago and how things were fine and then he lied about this and I freaked out. I haven’t been talking to him, but I really want to. I want to write a song about that feeling. And then I get out my guitar and say here’s my idea, but I wanted to give you the back story before I played you the idea.
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I think the pop songs will get the most attention, but you have a few lovely ballads on “Red,” “Treacherous” and “Sad Beautiful Tragic.”
“Sad Beautiful Tragic” is really close to my heart. I remember it was after a show and I was on the bus thinking about this relationship that ended months and months before. The feeling wasn’t sadness and anger or those things anymore. It was wistful loss. And so I just got my guitar and I hit on the fact that I was thinking in terms of rhyming; I rhymed magic with tragic, changed a few things and ended it with what a sad beautiful tragic love affair. I wanted to tell the story in terms of a cloudy recollection of what went wrong. It’s kind of the murky gray, looking back on something you can’t change or get back.
Have you begin to think about the “Red” tour and how you will present new material?
I know it will be theatrical, but different than the “Speak Now” tour. It felt like we put on a play every night. [As for material] I like when I go to a concert and the artist respects what the people’s favorite songs are. I’m going to be playing “Love Story” for the rest of my career because the fans really like it. If I ever get sick of it, I would continue to play it at my shows. You have to, as an artist, remember your experiences as a fan. And as a fan you heard the song in your bedroom, you played it over and over again, you know where the fiddle part is, you know where the banjo part is and you like the way it is sung on the record. I don’t see me altering the way my previous work sounds live because people want to hear it the way they heard it on record. I don’t need to do a jazz version of “Tim McGraw.” That being said, we’ve done some fun mash-ups. Sometimes it’s fun to weave someone else’s song into your song as a surprise. I’m always balancing — how much new material do people want to hear, how much old material — and at the end of the day I’m trying to put on a show that accurately represents where I am now.