Maria Taylor has a long history of creating music – she played in her first band when she was just fifteen, and spent most of the ensuing decades as a cornerstone of famed Omaha label Saddle Creek, releasing records both as a solo act and as part of duo Azure Ray (alongside Orenda Fink). Last December, she put out In the Next Life, her sixth solo record, this time on her own label, Flower Moon Records. The album sees vocal accompaniment from longtime collaborators like Conor Oberst, Joshua Radin, Macey Taylor, and others.
In the past three years, Taylor has taken time away from music to focus on family; she got married in 2013 and has two young children, slowing her prolific musical output somewhat. The result is that Next Life is an album full of appreciation and love for family as well as a personal reflection of a life spent seeking out higher fulfillment. The tracks are delicate and intimate, the type of warm and glistening folk music that resonates deeply. She reflects on the past (“Pretty Scars”), promises made to her children (“A Good Life”), perseverance (“There’s Only Now”) and living life to the fullest (“If Only”), with wisdom, grace, and gratitude.
Taylor has been touring to showcase her latest album, and we chatted with her briefly about how it’s all been going.
I see that you recently released In the Next Life and are touring for it. How has the reception around it been so far? Was it what you expected it might be?
It seems to be well received. I never really have any expectations when I release a record, but it’s always nice to feel like your fans are on the same page as you. We are all growing up together.
What inspired you to create this album?
I had taken three years off since having two kids. I adore being a mom, but writing and playing music has been such a part of me for my whole life. I really felt like I needed to write this record to remember my identity other than just being a mom. It was also important for me to show my kids this side of me, for them to see what I love and what makes me happy.
What has it been like setting up your own label and releasing music through it? I imagine there’s a certain sense of elation and pride behind doing so.
It’s been a really gratifying experience. I couldn’t do it without my husband. He’s the label head. It’s a ton of work, but it’s been a fun process, and we’ve even released my friend Louis Schefano’s record on the label.
You’ve toured alongside many notable acts and have some fantastic features on In the Next Life. Are there any past joint performances that shine particularly brightly in your memory?
Hmm. I think that the time I played with Bright Eyes at The Town Hall in New York was one of my most memorable performances. He played seven shows in a row and had guests each night. I was on stage playing two of my songs with his amazing band plus Gillian Welch, Dave Rawlings, Nick Zinner, and Ben Gibbard. I remember looking around and thinking, ” Oh my god, what the hell is happening?!”
Who would be an artist or band that you’d love to play with (living or deceased)?
I’d love to play with Carole King.
When playing live or writing an album, it is difficult to keep your solo work separate from the work you do with Azure Ray?
In Azure Ray we always wrote individually, so the writing process is the same. When I’m playing live I usually don’t play any of my Azure Ray songs. I have so many newer solo songs that I want to play, it’s hard enough to narrow that down to a set.
Your musical history is quite prolific at this point. What do you have in mind for next moves?
I’ll always write music—as long as i’m breathing! But my kids are my first priority now. Their needs will dictate what I do with my time from now on.