Taylor Shae isn’t your typical eighteen-year-old undergrad. She’s also a working musician who has performed at venues and festivals across Colorado.
“Just because you’re young and new at something doesn’t mean you should be afraid to go after what you’re passionate about and what makes you happy,” she says.
Shae has already independently written, recorded and produced two albums, and a third is set for release next April. On her latest project, Twenty Paces, she blends honest lyrics with upbeat jazzy instrumentation. Her voice has a deep, bluesy timbre that distinguishes her from other acoustic singer-songwriters, especially young ones.
Shae's songwriting is inspired by a combination of her own experiences and what she notices in the world around her. "Twenty Paces" is one of the slowest songs on her last album; in it, she uses the background of a drawing as a metaphor for avoiding emotional vulnerability, here by "fading into the background." In "Eraser," she continues the drawing metaphor, this time meditating about "keeping your smudges within the lines."
The success of Shae's writing doesn't depend on complex lyrics; "Bad Luck," for example, is a simple number about the subject in the title. But with the singer's dynamic voice front and center, the tune becomes emotionally powerful.
Shae recently released the single "As I Please," an up-tempo number about the writing process. The lyrics reveal the singer's poetic tendencies, especially in the following creative refrains: "It's monochromatic/Gonna make me panic/I won't have it ... There's a door ajar in back of me/Sitting in the window seat/Should
For Shae, writing songs and performing professionally at such a young age stem from her lifelong passion for music.
“I grew up in a really musical family,” she says. “Singing has been a big part of my life ever since I was little. I did a lot of singing at family reunions, church camps and even a teen rock band I was in.”
When she was thirteen, she performed her first real gig, at a local art shop in her home town of Longmont. At the time, she was only covering other people's music. She was the opening act and was followed by two accomplished female songwriters: Lara Ruggles and Lyndsey Saunders. Watching those two musicians perform inspired her to start writing her own music, something she’d never seriously considered.
“When I started to write my own music and play the guitar, I just had so much fun performing,” reflects Shae. “You’re sharing a story. You just don’t know how a certain song or lyric can reach someone else. There’s something about original music that connects with people; it’s a way to build relationships and share messages with each other.”
She is especially grateful for Colorado’s welcoming music community.
“There’s something supportive and unique about Colorado music scenes," she says. "People embrace original music and songwriters. Without growing up here, I might not have had the opportunities that I’ve had. There have been a lot of helping hands along the way.”
Today, music isn’t the only way Shae tells stories. She’s majoring in journalism and media communication at Colorado State University in Fort Collins — and while journalism and songwriting might be seen by some as wholly different endeavors, for Shae the two practices are integrally connected.
“I’m storytelling with both,” she says. “I’ve always been really passionate about writing and sharing stories with people in different ways.”
Still, it can be challenging for her to find time for both of her passions.
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“It’s difficult being a working musician and a full-time student at the same time," she says. "There’s always a lot going on. When I have classes from nine in the morning to six at night, it’s tough to also fit in my music practice and all the other things I do, from booking shows to promoting myself on social media. I have to be thoughtful with how I choose to spend my time.”
Next summer, Shae plans to fully immerse herself in her music and hopes to expand her band (currently, she performs as a duo or trio). Above all, she’s excited to keep sharing her stories.
“I never see myself not doing music," she says. "Playing music is something that I need to do; it’s just who I am. In the future, I’d love to tour more, whether it’s just in Colorado or across the country.”
A Human Named David, with Taylor Shae and Tim Ostdiek
7 p.m. Thursday, November 29, Walnut Room, 3131 Walnut Street, $10-$15.