Bu Christopher Treacy & Steven Taetz
Toronto-based crooner Steven Taetz is a musical shape-shifter. His earliest recordings were collaborations with leading DJ/producers across Europe, but for the debut album that followed, he chose to create something more roots oriented, working with JUNO-award-winning singer-songwriters from each province of Canada. Since that set arrived in 2013, Taetz has stuck with jazz, performing a mix of originals and standards that have made him a staple on the bustling Canadian jazz circuit.
But Taetz is returning to something more akin to his debut with a new album of originals slated for early next year. Certainly the album’s first single, “Late Bloom,” also our current CQ Roundup Song of The Week, reflects this. A cheery, hopeful song about things coming to fruition on their own timeline and the value of patience, it channels vintage soft-pop with some well-placed, twangy adornments that make it fit well at CQ. As we discovered in talking with him, the new album will likely appeal to fans of country and Americana on a broader spectrum—a set of tunes that’s heavily influenced by country songwriters of yore, many with queer subtexts.
Musically, “Late Bloom” sits at a cool intersection of pop idioms – it’s got a strong 70s AM vibe with hints of country. How did you arrive at this arrangement?
While writing and recording, cowriter Jenn Grant and her partner Dan Ledwell and I all felt inspired by the rootsy rock of Fleetwood Mac, the tight harmonies of classic Country and 70s bands like Bread, and the swagger of crooners like Roy Orbison or Chris Isaak. Like a lovely bouquet or a painting, we wanted to use all those rich, classic colors to support the story! As a queer singer and songwriter, I really wanted to lean into ‘using every crayon in the box,’ as RuPaul says.
The song comes across as a celebration – light and airy, kind of like a lemon bar. It’s a treat, and it’s sweet… confectionary, but not heavy. Yet, there’s something heavy in the frame, passing out of our sight: the idea that maybe love wouldn’t show up. Can you talk a little about writing it? I imagine it can be challenging to whittle something down to the nub, to achieve the right emotional balance, keeping the focus on the joy.
Without borrowing too much on musical references, Jenn Grant and I started with the idea of finding love late in life, or finding one’s artist voice, or bloom, … like the lyrics say, “it took a while, but it’s right on time.” The two words of the title can be bittersweet, but with an emphasis lyrically and melodically on the latter. Jenn and I started the song remotely, her in rural Nova Scotia and me in Toronto, and finished the lyrics while I recorded at their studio. We wanted to keep the lyrics simplified and let the emotions and blend of the harmonies transport the listener without weighing it down or dwelling too long on metaphors—this whole project is about honesty without having to over-explain, to allow each story to be more universal, while still staying impactful and clear.
You are mostly thought of as a jazz singer – and there’s nothing at all wrong with that! Your first record was more singer-songwriter fare, but you’ve stuck with a jazzy presentation mostly since, and have found a receptive audience there. I wonder what made you want to take a turn for/back to folk/Americana now? Was it a byproduct of what you’d been listening to, or people that you were meeting in your travels?
I grew up in Alberta, in Western Canada, which is deep into country music. My family’s record collection, which I recently inherited as a few grandparents passed away, was full of classic country like Wilf Carter and Patsy Cline, alongside gospel music. I’ve been lucky to write and perform in so many idioms and genres, but I always come back to my roots, musically. During the pandemic, as I faced these losses in my family, I reached out to several Nashville songwriters, including Emma-Lee and Mary Bragg, and wanted to revisit that quintessential Nashville style of writing; clear narratives, clever turns of phrases, memorable melodies, and tight harmonies. This continued with more co-writes with some award-winning songwriters like Jill Barber, Caroline Marie Brooks (Good Lovelies) and Jenn Grant who added their writing and vocal talents to the mix also. I guess I wanted to transition from interpretation songs via jazz back to telling stories that were more personal and authentic to myself.
As someone that sings jazz and has used that style as a vehicle for interpreting classic compositions, I wonder: when you step up to sing something “Late Bloom” is it a completely different mind-frame?
Each artist brings themselves to a performance or recording, and so my experiences with jazz and interpreting classic standards always came from a place of sharing what it meant to me and how I wanted to make it my own music. That said, this song and the album as a whole is more of a confessional; sometimes raw and exposed, and other times hidden under layers of narrative. “Late Bloom” also really hits at the heart of both my own life, finding my husband later in life, as well as my experience as an artist. We were writing and laying down the bedtracks of some of these songs in 2019, so really the ideas took their time to bloom and become what they wanted to be, so the mantra of taking one’s time really made it, as the song says, even more “worth the wait” because it comes from an honest place. And thankfully my collaborators (like producer and multi-instrumentalist Dan Ledwell) producing on this tune, made it sound so lovely!
Maybe you can tell us a little bit more about what to expect from your forthcoming album. Is “Late Bloom” characteristic of the material, or is it an unusual track compared with the others?
The album started as a series of queer love songs, some of them hidden and some were more ‘loud and proud.’ Many of them had a secondary storyline of queer experience so it can remain universal, while also being specific to my experiences as a gay person. In the song “Love Is In Me To Give” I’ve played on Canada Blood Service’s motto “Blood; it’s in you to give,” a commentary on the archaic and discriminatory gay blood ban that still exists in most countries. The album’s second single, “Making Room,” pushes this narrative further; at first listen, the song can be heard as a warning to a fictional lover to change their ways or risk losing the relationship, but underneath the surface the song is a declaration that I will carve out my own space without needing permission—“if you don’t wanna save me a place at the table,.. then I’m making room.” I co-wrote with fellow queer songwriter and rising star Mary Bragg on “How to Love,” which brings the album’s LGBTQ+ empowerment narrative full circle; directed to their younger selves, this unique queer anthem speaks its own personal ‘it gets better’ message. All of the songs on the album live in the same family musically, and fit together cohesively, but I think the album includes some really fun broad musical swings, from Beach Boys-meets-Danger Mouse swagger of “Making Room” (out Jan.16), to a James Bond-style confessional “For Better, For Worse,” to some blue-eyed soul Roy Orbison vibes on the third single “Only the Night Knows,” and more country and Americana on “Into the Sunset.” The album’s got something for everyone… especially LGBTQ+ folks. I’m so glad to tell some stories of our community, and really appreciate you helping to spotlight me, this project, along with other queer voices.
Christopher Treacy has been writing about music and the music industry for 20 years. He’s contributed to The Boston Phoenix, The Boston Herald, Nashville Scene, and Berklee College of Music’s quarterly journal, as well as myriad LGBTQ+ outlets including the Edge Media Network, Between the Lines/Pride Source, Bay Windows and In Newsweekly. He’s the Managing Editor for CQ and lives in Waitsfield, VT.
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