Taylor & B.Steady Make Beautiful Poetry Together
Taylor Johnson and B.Steady explore the art of making fun pop music and spoken word poetry for queer people of color and other folks with silenced struggles. Taylor has opened for Bill Cosby, Suheir Hammad, Climbing Poetree and M1 of the hip hop duo dead.prez. B.Steady released her first self-produced album in January and posts an original live song weekly on her queerBgirl YouTube video blog.
We caught up with the duo in preparation for their upcoming show at the Camel as part of GayRVA Live.
GayRVA: How did you get started?
Taylor: I started writing poetry in middle school. I was under the toutlege of Laini Mataka, a black poet whose work came to the scene in the sixties. I started doing performance poetry in high school. I performed with the DC youth team when I was 15, then the Maryland youth slam team at 17. I didn’t realize how much I loved writing until I performed at Brave New Voices in DC and shared the stage with so many other passionate young poets.
B: I started singing in my high school jazz band when I was 13. I’d always loved music, loved to sing. I started writing music shortly after. I applied to a poetry program at UVA, and (probably because my poetry was so bad) they placed me in songwriting. Since then, writing music has been one of the most important parts of my artistic life.
Taylor: We met at an open mic in DC, Spit Dat in the summer of 2010.
B: I’d graduated from Oberlin College the year before Taylor started there, but we sort of knew who each other was. I heard Taylor was an amazing poet. A few days later, we basically stayed up all night sharing poems and music with each other and eventually started working together in the way of performance as well as friendship.
Who would you say are your biggest musical influences these days?
B: Oooh. Bilal, Nina Simone, Sweet Honey in the Rock, Anais Mitchell, Joni Mitchell, Cee-Lo, The Clovers, Nick Drake, Bon Iver, Krystle Warren, Bill Withers, Bobby McFerrin, Sade, Floetry. The list goes on. I love artists that use vocal layering, pop music and folk music.
Can you describe the process you go through creating your music/poetry?
Taylor: I think solitude helps a lot. Usually I don’t think of a topic, instead I think of words and how words sound together and something comes from that. Not necessarily rhyming but how words fit together and how they sound in my mouth.
B: It’s always easiest for me to start with a strong emotion, to come from a sincere place, something that I’m really feeling in the moment. I’ll write a melody in my head, and build up from there. If I feel uninspired, I’ll write the background for a song, then try and read what it feels like to me, what story it tells, then write words.
What made you decide to perform at GayRVA Live?
Taylor: I’m just really excited to perform in Richmond. I’ve heard it has a great poetry scene, so it wasn’t a question.
B: I saw an article on visiting Richmond in a AAA magazine recently. They had a list of places to visit in the city. The first one was the Civil War Museum and the second was the Museum of the Confederacy. Haha. Yeah, don’t think we’ll make it to those spots. I’m ready to see the other side of Richmond.
What is a Taylor/B.Steady show like? Any surprises that Richmonders can expect at your show?
Taylor: Rabbits out of a hat?
B: If we told you, then it wouldn’t be a surprise! But seriously. Since this is our first duo performance, I think it’ll be a surprise to all of us.
Check out more of Taylor and B.Steady on their Facebook page and YouTube channel. GayRVA Live is Monday, Aug. 1 at 8 p.m. DJ Amy Alderman will be spinning tunes before and after the show. Get more information at gayrva.com/live.
Andrew Cothern is a music lover and media professional in Richmond, Va. specializing in photography and video production. Check out his music blog Richmond Playlist.
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