The New Wei is proud to introduce a feature series on bold, dynamic artists who push the boundaries of what’s possible and deliver a unique life vision.
Our first ever feature is musician Scarlett Taylor. The 23 year old phenom (it’s her birthday today, btw!) is a groundbreaking auteur who today 2/1/24 released her second album HALLOWS, a live remastered version of her spectacular debut demo album Veil. She is also playing a show tonight at the renowned NYC music venue Pianos at 7pm:
The following essay by Tejas Desai examines her music, motivations, and milieu, from her beginnings in quiet but dynamic Lancaster, Pennsylvania to her breakout releases over the past year, when she has come into her own in the greatest city on Earth. You won’t find musical biography or criticism this in-depth in any publication outside of possibly Rolling Stone.
So keep it right here on The New Wei, people!
While Olivia Rodrigo croons about relationship revenge and Billie Eilish belts movie soundtracks, another young singer is creating a different path altogether. Her name is Scarlett Taylor, she’s about to turn 23 and she is churning out a more thematically complex oeuvre than her contemporaries.
The 13 songs of her debut demo album Veil are rich in sound and meaning, from the abstract “Love Where the Soul’s At,” dedicated to the decapitated descriptions of Aphrodite in Greek art, to “The Night Beast,” where Taylor evokes “howling at the moon,” to the electronic-heavy “Déjà vu” and the doppelganger-themed “Shadow Talking.” The themes include her own concepts like the veil, silhouette and perfect timing, along with timeless ones like loneliness, fate and loss.
These tracks were released biweekly from her 22nd birthday on February 1, 2023, to the album’s official release date on August 1, 2023. 8 remastered versions will be available on her 23rd birthday, February 1st, 2024, on a live album called HALLOWS.
Before starting this steady output, Ms. Taylor was not performing or creating music regularly — previously she had only released one song called “Clementine,” which she has since disowned and taken off Spotify, claiming it “was not her own” because someone else produced it.
By contrast, Ms. Taylor has controlled every aspect of Veil’s creation and marketing. She makes her own merch, which includes sewing shirts, drawing posters, and creating pins. She performs regularly and creates art daily. This output, apparently, has been personal and artistic therapy for Ms. Taylor, who described the process of creating and releasing as “transformative like the cycles of the moon.” In fact, the biweekly releases are timed to coincide with the full moon and new moon, important symbols for her complex life philosophy.
I first officially met Scarlett Taylor at The Purgatory in Bushwick, Brooklyn, where she was scheduled to open for another up-and-coming singer, Taylor Mecca. Upon arriving, I spotted Ms. Taylor, a tall blonde wearing a trench coat with a guitar strung around her shoulder. I introduced myself. She was so excited I had come to see her play that she gifted me a button-down t-shirt she had sewn from scratch that exemplified the themes of her album: the veil and the silhouette.
On the other side of a flower pattern, the t-shirt stated: “Slipping into the Silhouette of this Veil.” According to Ms. Taylor, the veil represents the parts of us that others cannot see or that we hide, whereas the silhouette symbolizes those that are inevitably public. It seems that in her construction the truth behind the complexity of any human is a balance between those two elements, and perhaps her music tries to capture the space between that divide. Yet the meaning of her work goes well beyond this dichotomy because she describes her songs as “Witch Music,” which is also a title of one of the tracks.
To understand Ms. Taylor’s thinking and aesthetic intent more fully, it might make sense to delve into her background. Her father is Chad Taylor, long-time guitarist of the alternative rock band Live, which released 9 albums over 25 years and experienced some commercial success in the 1990s. Her mother is a yoga teacher. She was born and grew up in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, a distinct mixture of extremely progressive and conservative lifestyles. Ms. Taylor says she was raised in a loving home, where her parents cultivated both her musical and spiritual development. She attended private schools, including Montessori. She has two sisters, both of whom are artists of various types, though neither are musicians.
From the beginning, her parents had an enormous influence on her life path. When her father was home from tours, music would fill the house, and like her mother, she was trained in yoga, becoming a teacher herself. When it was time to consider colleges, she decided to apply to only one school, the Clive Davis School of Music at NYU, which she has attended for the past three years and from which she graduated early in December 2023. If she had not gained acceptance, she says she would have continued to live at her parents’ home in Lancaster, teaching yoga, perhaps working a day job, and creating her music.
In Lancaster, witches, mediums, and doulas filled her social life, and she says that she is fortunate to have been surrounded by so many spiritual women, who taught her to read tarot cards, to release and manifest, to understand the meaning behind the intersection of stars and moons. This is why she celebrates witches, who she says are light workers who inform people how to live a more joyful and loving life through rituals and serving magical elements.
It seems Ms. Taylor’s music is a means of performing this work within herself. Her life has changed immeasurably for the better since she started releasing her music. She is far more spiritually and emotionally positive, and it has unfurled an enormous social life in New York City for her that revolves around music and art.
I categorized my first meeting with Ms. Taylor as “official” because I had encountered her once before. Earlier that summer, I had attended a concert at a converted garage in Bushwick called The Shop. I was there to see another rising star, model-cum-rocker Bec Lauder, who had described it on Instagram as a “secret little show.” I needed to click on a link, enter a password (that I gleaned from another spotlighted band’s post) and pay $8 via Venmo or cash at the door. Being old school and middle-aged, I think I was the only one to pay cash, and Ale, one of the organizers who lived upstairs, needed to go to his apartment to get change for me.
I had come half an hour late, fashionably, but I still needed to wait another hour to see the first band play. During that time, I drank a Bud, included in the price, and met some of The Wedding Planners, the group that organized the event. Jacob Geoffrey and Ale, of the band Ale’s Love Letters, are both musicians themselves, while Maddie, one of several non-musicians, is a philosophy PhD. student, part-time painter, and editor of A Zine.
Several copies of this publication were stacked up in the corner of the garage, and their content, a mixture of poetry, grotesque drawings, and trauma-based prose, seemed to correspond to the shadow work of Ms. Taylor’s musical imaginings. She was there as well — we exchanged a smile — but I never actually met her that night.
The space was filled with art. It was one of a series of monthly concerts that focused on different themes. That evening it was “Magic Night” — participants were urged by email to “dress magically” and there was a magician on-site doing tricks — whereas other themes included “Beach Night,” “Art Night,” and “Alien Night.”
The crowd consisted of young 20 somethings, mostly seniors in college or recent graduates. The initial attendees seemed to know each other, and I was treated with a mixture of fear and wonder.
According to Ms. Taylor, the Wedding Planners formed from a text thread created by Mr. Geoffrey, a recent NYU grad himself. There’s no individual photography allowed at Wedding Planner events (there usually is a designated photographer, however), meaning it’s one of the rare contemporary concerts where a million iPhones aren’t held up to a performer’s face. Ms. Taylor says this radiates a different energy, and it’s meant to form a safe space with no judgment for performers and participants alike.
Concerts are essentially ceremonies, according to Ms. Taylor, and one of the most intriguing aspects of the Wedding Planners concerts is that they perform mock weddings during the night. After their set, the first act throws a bouquet into the crowd. Whoever catches it must propose to someone by the end of the night — it could be a stranger, their friend, a crush, whoever. One of the Wedding Planners officiates, and sometimes this is Ms. Taylor. Otherwise, the night has a few acts, and a DJ takes care of the rest.
Among this friend’s group are an endless number of young musicians, some of whom are Wedding Planners, others not. A vastly truncated list includes Jacob, Ale and Bec, Stevie Bill and Juliet Ivy, Ty Lorenzo, Khaliko and Vanessa Camacho. But for me, Ms. Taylor’s music stands out as worth exploring in depth.
Throughout Veil, there’s a tension between opposing forces — the veil and silhouette, nature and man, love and sex, spirit and body, beast and machine. The narrator struggles within herself to understand the tensions between these elements, and ultimately, concludes that a greater force might be at work in the orientations of her life.
The first quarter of Veil focuses on the individual’s relationship with the cosmos in a mechanized world, beginning with its title track, which will be renamed “Perfect Timing” on the live HALLOWS album. Immediately the singer slips into the silhouette of this veil, and the progression of the song suggests confusion and transformation. In “Internet,” or “The Machine” on HALLOWS, the singer laments a mechanized world where “machines talk to robots” and regrets “growing up online.” “Illusion” finds the narrator defiant that she “won’t quit howling at the moon,” or give up trying to understand the universe despite our man-made reality.
Then we are thrust into a dream and dance sequence of rock rhythms and electronic beats. “New Year’s Day,” a cryptic diatribe, flows into “Déjà vu,” where a dreamy, naive girl meets her lover in the cosmos, and concludes with a desperate wish for reciprocation. “Witch Music,” defining the album’s core vision, serves as its pivot, interrupting its pensiveness with a clubby dance anthem.
The third quarter of Veil explores decadent nights, stormy relationships and insecure feelings. “Tooth Decay” evokes the image of a cigarette on an ashtray and transitions to foreplay and one-night stands. “Love’s Where the Soul’s At” explores the tension between body and spirit, as a woman wonders why she’s loved, and whether her lover is placing her on a pedestal for the wrong reasons. “I don’t want to be like a god to you,” she insists. “I wish my body was gone.” But she keeps repeating to herself, “sex means more” than love, perhaps trying to convince herself that it does.
“The Labyrinth is Bored” uses the metaphor of a bullfight to explore the power dynamics of entanglements and break ups. “Deep grief, time thief. I’m forever mad at the matador. Wrap my skin in red, the victory is yours,” she says, apparently giving into her lover’s worship, whereas in “Night Beast,” the narrator feels guilt “in hindsight” for her previous behavior. “I’ve been the night beast, howling at the moon. A lover to you, destined and doomed.”
The album’s final quarter brings us back to the individual’s battle within herself — the tension between her internal confusion and external savvy. “Slide Down the Wall” evokes the familiar feeling of finally having a relationship you’ve always wanted but now feel you don’t deserve: “You told me you’d be by my side. You are what I’ve been looking for. Loving you feels so easy. Loving you feels like changing seasons. Loving a fool. Loving a fool.” Despite having what she wants, the narrator is still dissatisfied, and wonders if a human relationship is enough to satisfy her need for personal evolution.
The next song, “Where the Shadow’s Play,” references a tempered moon and evokes a lover’s gloom about loneliness and loss. “Meet me where the shadow’s play. My darling’s gone in the afternoon. Sun’s pouring into my moon.” Here the narrator confronts her doppelganger and ponders light and darkness as she considers her true path.
In the final song, “Shadow Talking,” the narrator wakes up on a Monday morning, and considers her relationship-free reality. “My life is scary at night,” she laments. “Lately I’ve been running from my shadows.” Her doctor, in lieu of her lover, doesn’t talk to her and only prescribes her pills. “I’ll wait for the dawn, for that’s the only thing to do,” she concludes. Having struggled with nature and man, love and sex, and now alone to battle within herself yet again, she appears to be at an uneasy truce with the fact that things will unfurl as they will — and perhaps according to a greater ordinance.
The moon themes and investigation of individual identity and mental health, along with the essential conflicts of the time in our “civilized” era, call to mind The Pink Floyd album The Dark Side of the Moon, released exactly 50 years earlier in 1973. Ms. Taylor claims this is mostly coincidental (although, she continuously notes, “there are no coincidences”). However, she has listened to it, as it was grandfather’s favorite album and her singing teacher at NYU, Machan Taylor, is the voice on The Dark Side of the Moon. So, she says there is a lot of “collision” with the album. but she hasn’t spent an exorbitant amount of time with it.
But it’s difficult to completely divorce this album from its predecessor. Like The Dark Side of the Moon, Veil is both a studio album and a concept album. It experiments with sound and is creative in the musical and recording process. In Ms. Taylor’s case, she uses stock logic plugins to alter her voice on certain songs. Just as Pink Floyd’s album was mixed at the famed Abbey Road, the tracks on Veil were mixed in the same studio as where Survivor’s Eye of the Tiger was recorded. The Beastie Boys donated this studio to NYU, and band Phoenix provided its EQ.
Veil is more electronic than rock and it has a decidedly female spin. But like The Dark Side of the Moon, its songs blend into each other in a way that add progressive meaning. While Pink Floyd often wrote their songs as they were touring, in Ms. Taylor’s case, the songs were released as she was creating them.
Yet, she insists, her major influences are more modern, including Maggie Rogers, Grammy-nominated alternative singer who graduated from Clive, got her master’s at Harvard, and shares some of Ms. Taylor’s academic interests; Taylor Swift; Phoebe Bridgers; Bjork; and Mitski. Her father, of course, was a musician with Live, and she was able to go to rock concerts at a very young age, a privilege most aspiring musicians don’t have.
Ms. Taylor’s singing in Veil has a raw and caustic quality, so I was a bit surprised when she informed me that she has been trained professionally from a young age. Her crooning as a toddler led her parents to send her to singing lessons. She quickly graduated to musical theater, then opera, and competed in all-girls choir competitions in middle school.
While in high school, she always assumed she would take a more classical route, since he had always sung Soprano 1 opera music at her local college with their Artist-in-Residence who was a Metropolitan Opera singer. Yet this training, she says, prepared her well for rock music, which tends to be verbose, what she called an “Evanescence vibe.”
Why she now exclusively creates rock and electronic music, rather than continuing with opera, has to do with personal vision and control. With opera, she was a hired hand, but with rock, she can create what she wants. She can write her own lyrics and experiment with sounds. While the live album, HALLOWS, was not recorded by her, she did control all aspects of Veil, making it a true auteur work.
Yet, her auteur vision is matched by a strong fatalistic quality. In Ms. Taylor’s life philosophy, there is a sense that the future has already been written, even understood by those who have studied it for centuries, and she even says that we, as individuals, know more about the future than we let on, because we already plan for it on a daily, weekly, monthly, and even yearly basis.
This duality is present in yet another concept of hers, “Perfect Timing.” In fact, she read an essay about this phenomenon at Lincoln Center a week before our first interview at an event called Truth to Power Café. In the essay she describes her sister’s metaphor of the lemon tree. Because it is a perennial plant, it continues to bloom without water or resources, and it can take between 15–70 years to grow a lemon even after planting the seed. You can either wait for the lemon to bloom with joy or fear, because either way the blooming is predestined, but you do not know it’s timing. Therefore, it’s the attitude of the bearer of fruit that is essential — everything else is prewritten without necessary knowledge.
Ms. Taylor takes this joyful and positive attitude wherever she goes: to her volunteer tutoring, to her classes, to her paid internship at a major record label, where she conducts research and writes reviews on which artists the label should sign, and reads tarot cards to anyone who is interested; and at her part-time job, where she studies the intersection of the stars and moons when not folding jeans.
She intends to stay in New York City, bolstered by her large, and ever growing, circle of friends in the burgeoning indie music scene here. Her goal is to create 2 albums per year for the next five years. When I asked her where she sees herself in that time, she was unequivocal that she would be able to make a living from her songs by then. “I believe it, so it will happen,” she proclaimed, despite the reality that she has only earned a few cents on Spotify for her songs so far.
But she is also practical. At this point, she does not plan to pursue advanced education, so she knows she will need a day job in the interim, and she is trying to gain positions at the record label or in the fashion industry, believing that her NYU degree will give her a leg up in this quest. But her music and art will always come first for Ms. Taylor.
About the Author:
Tejas Desai is an Amazon #1 Bestselling, multiple award-winning author of two dynamic book series: The Brotherhood Chronicle international crime trilogy (The Brotherhood, The Run and Hide, The Dance Towards Death) and The Human Tragedy literary series (Good Americans, the unpublished Bad Americans). He is the founder of The New Wei Literary Arts Movement and runs its associated Salons. He is a graduate of Wesleyan University, attended the University of Oxford, holds two Masters degrees from CUNY-Queens College. While he travels frequently, he works as a Supervising Librarian at one of the busiest public libraries in New York City, where he was born, raised, and of course, still lives.
Tejas Desai is an American Novelist, Librarian, Publisher and Founder of The New Wei Literary Movement