Words by David C. Obenour
Often time the only thing that we need is for someone to sit and be present. So much of our grief and struggle is wound up too tightly for words to express. Understanding comes with time and distraction. Or it doesn’t, but that time and distraction form their own kind of measured perspective.
Growing up, for writer and musician, Attia Taylor, that someone came from hours spent watching Cartoon Network. Sometime with her sister. Sometime alone. And as the hour would get late into the night, the kid-focused storylines would give way to the absurdist humor of Adult Swim’s format. She didn’t understand it. Part of that echoed her loneliness and isolation. But it was there and present. Forming its own sort of supportive and therapeutic release and exploration.
Her debut album, Space Ghost draws from those memories. Her songs weave in pop and RnB melodies with the warmth of analog synths, bringing to mind the comforting glow of a TV late at night.
Off Shelf: Maybe it’s just sharing a similar age, but the “Space Ghost” era of Adult Swim definitely felt like a broader cultural moment with a number of shows that broke through to find an audience. How did you first become exposed to them?
Attia Taylor: I was a Cartoon Network fanatic as a kid. I’d watch for hours and hours with a bunch of Oreo Cookies or a paper plate of Eggo Waffles in my lap. Eventually Cartoon Network would turn into Adult Swim and I would just keep watching. Most of the jokes went right over my head on Space Ghost Coast to Coast but I was super intrigued by the show. The memory of it always stuck with me. Watching it as an adult and laughing so hard – because now I get it sort of – makes me think I was on to something as a little kid.
OS: A refuge from the traumas experienced during childhood, what about an absurdist comedy like Space Ghost Coast to Coast felt welcoming to you?
AT: I think it’s the memory that ties everything together for me. That moment where I was watching cartoons so long that I landed on Adult Swim and just kept watching. The feeling of being alone. It’s that single memory or those bunch of memories where I’m mindlessly watching the show because it was just on. I definitely didn’t find it funny at that time. In a way, it represented some of my sadness. I’ve tried to channel that in a lot of the songs. That feeling and where it showed up in my life.
OS: Was watching these shows something you primarily did on your own or with friends? Did you have any “rituals” that tied into the experience for creating that safe space?
AT: I was alone a lot watching cartoons but I was also with my older sister at times. The two of us. She was a really important person in my life in terms of coping with what was going on around me. A needed distraction and a playmate. We would just snack and watch tv for hours on end.
OS: It also made me think, you were getting a lot from these shows that was never even considered by their creators. Writing a very personal album, set to airry and uptempo pop structures, your audience will undoubtedly have the same range of intended to unintended translations. How do you value the distance between artist intent and audience reception?
AT: It’s a real balance. I created this album from super personal feelings. I didn’t write for an audience but I love when people take what they need from it or find meaning where I maybe didn’t intend. I got an email a few months ago from someone going through a breakup looking for lyrics to my song because their former partner shared the song with them. I could sense their desperation. Looking for a sign. The song was actually about fighting hard to be in a relationship that wasn’t working so I love how much complexity that carries for others and their own situations.
I don’t ever intend on writing for others. I only intend on writing what comes up when it comes up and working on improving my skills. But I’ll always love hearing and seeing the ways people find themselves and their lives in the music I make.
OS: Your debut solo album, Space Ghost will be many listeners’ introduction to you as an artist. When deciding on what songs to include, was there any consideration for the range you wanted to present with this first impression?
AT: I have always felt inclined to write upbeat songs that feel fun and dancey. I used to listen to a lot of French pop and indie pop as a teen. And I generally enjoy making music that people can dance or at least sway to. But I also felt this need to share that I was able to make more emotionally complex sounds. Works that felt like they came from a deeper place. Like Seventy, the album’s intro song, has a dark and mysterious feel to it which was purposeful as the first song because if I started off with a song like Dog and Pony Show, the album would seem more of what that song represents. So I wanted to wrap a nice intense bow around the tracks by finishing with ‘Alone’.
As a Black woman making alternative music, I definitely feel the weight of the gaze. I’ve constantly had to prove that I belong in certain spaces, on certain stages, and that I am good enough to be listened to. I fight the feeling but it’s ever present. No matter what. Nevertheless, I’m proud of this album and am grateful that I got to share so much of my life and experiences. That something beautiful and different can come from someone from where I’m from and someone who looks like me.
OS: The use of analog synths and the warmth of the lofi production give an intimate and earnest sound to the songs. Did you and producer Jeff Zeigler experiment on approaches before dialing that in? How do you feel about how the finished album sounds?
AT: I had a ton of demos already with midi sounds. I wrote them before I switched to using mostly analog synths. When I took the demos to Jeff, we were both excited to find the right sounds on analog synths. And Jeff has an amazing collection. So I was very pleased with the warmth of it all. I also loved the work Jeff did on my vocals. I love washed out vocals. And I love harmonies. My favorite vocal stylings are from 90s RnB groups like Xscape, TLC, and Destiny’s Child. So many amazing Black women from the 90s are major influences on the way I design my melodies and harmonies. Jeff totally nailed it in giving it that washed and spacey sound. It’s the perfect mix in my opinion.
OS: These recordings go back as far as three years, how do you feel you’ve evolved as a musician since then and as a person as it relates to your music? Did the pandemic play any role in the length of getting them together and out as an album?
AT: My work has definitely evolved since this album. It has had to. Because I’m constantly growing, learning, and working on myself. I wasn’t able to write anything at all until this album came out. It was such a block because I still had this big part of my life hanging in the balance. I wanted to get the album out but I also wanted people to actually hear it. So self-releasing wasn’t an option. COVID made the process even longer and more difficult which was very frustrating.
Now that it’s out, I’m writing again. I’m excited to see where this new me values sound and all the influences I’ve taken in since I wrote these songs. I want to write about grief and its complexities. I also want to write about erasure and how we as Black people have had to build new traditions as our history was stolen from us. I’m excited explore these themes and more.
OS: You worked with your Strange Parts bandmate for Space Ghost, how do you see your solo work as different from that other working relation?
AT: Strange Parts is truly a collaboration with my bandmates Corey Carris Duncan and Chris Acree. We all write equally and it just sounds different because we all have different strengths. On Space Ghost, I wrote the majority of the songs and got to decide how they were arranged. So I don’t see it overlapping a ton as long as I’m in full control of my solo work. I deeply respect the work of my bandmates and I’m so proud of what we put out so far with Strange Parts but it has been important to me to set myself apart and hold my own so to speak. I think the guys understand that and have their own beautiful solo projects as well.
OS: In addition to music, you also serve as the editor for Womanly – a magazine providing accessible health information to women and non-binary people through visual and literary art. What role do you see art playing in this mission?
AT: We actually do a lot of music coverage at Womanly. And we’ve had some live shows over the years. I want to continue putting music at the forefront of the publication along with other forms of art because it really is a way of healing, releasing pain, and stress that causes illness. Whether you’re listening to music to cope or making music, it all works to make us feel better. We use art as a broad tool for health and wellness. We share stories through pretty much any medium that will either educate or uplift someone. I’m excited to keep digging deeper and helping people cope and survive through art.
OS: Is there a recent inspiration you can share from your writing or interview subjects?
AT: We did a relaunch of our website this past year and got to do a piece on culture writer and film critic, Zeba Blay. She just wrote a book called Carefree Black Girls: A Celebration of Black Women in Pop Culture that moved me to tears. I was super proud to be able to have her on our platform and find inspiration in her work and words all the time. I got to produce the photoshoot and worked with so many great creatives on the piece. It’s probably my favorite work this year.