"I have always had this obsession with cataloging stuff of my life,” — Boy Scouts on Making Connections, Collaboration, and Deeply Personal Songwriting
Boy Scouts is a band from Oakland by way of the Central Valley. The project is the brainchild of multi-instrumentalist Taylor Vick, a Bay Area staple and like Rose Droll who we featured earlier this summer. Both were a part of Phluff’s Untitled Fest at SXSW back in March. Taylor just released her new album Free Company on Anti- and we were lucky enough to chat with her on her Friday evening walk home from work. We talked about growing up in Manteca, getting into music, and what it was like recording her new album.
I called Taylor up just as she was getting ready to leave an after school summer camp where she works with kids that play music, and writes songs with them. She tells me it’s the second to last week of camp, so things are a little crazy, but she sounds like she’s in a good mood.
She tells me about growing up in Manteca, which is a city directly east of San Francisco, and right under Stockton. “Growing up there was a good childhood for sure. We lived in the suburbs next to a park. But I’m definitely glad to not be living there anymore,” she laughs. It’s about a thirty minute drive from Modesto, where the music scene she first heard about and first got involved in was centered. “When I was in high school, there was this open mic night that happened every Sunday night at this coffee shop called Queen Bean. There was this period of many months where all these artists would go there pretty much every Sunday night and play a song or two.” She tells me, back then there really wasn’t that much fun stuff going on in the Central Valley arts scene, but the community was incredibly supportive. Maybe it’s because there was nothing else to do, but people always came out to shows, and it fostered a great community of people. “I started out at the Queen Bean open mics and then this guy Greg Edwards, started this promotional thing called “Off The Air” and put on shows once or twice a month at venues in downtown Modesto. That was such a cool time of my life and an amazing way to be put into a music community. Greg did such a good job booking bands from all over, who would normally never stop by in Modesto for a tour date.” Off The Air doesn’t happen anymore, but she tells me now, especially in Modesto, there are a lot of really cool diy spaces and shows happening all the time.
Taylor’s foray into music came early, with piano lessons starting at age 6 or so. From there she took up flute and played in her school’s band, until she finally settled on guitar in 4th grade. “I probably tried to write songs on the piano before I learned guitar, but I doubt I ever finished one. I think it was probably junior high that I actually attempted to write songs… and they were really bad,” she laughs. “But it was super fun and I didn’t care if I was a good singer or not, I just knew that I enjoyed singing.” She tells me that being a person who needs to write stuff out in order to process, it just made sense to try writing songs-- it was a natural progression into songwriting. But it wasn’t until she sang her songs for her brother Travis, that she felt like it was something she could really do.
Travis has always played a huge role in her life, especially as a supporter and collaborator in her musical endeavors. When they were younger, they would sing harmonies and play piano together, and he would get Taylor to be in his backing bands for his own shows. He even currently plays bass in her band. “He’s just really good at playing every instrument that he touches and he has a really good ear. It’s awesome. I love playing music with him and having him be a part of it. I feel very lucky.” She tells me the rest of her family has always been supportive of their musical escapades. At her parents’ house, they proudly display pictures from shows Taylor and her brother played in high school. “They are so proud and it’s really sweet. They come out to shows too! It’s really awesome.”
Taylor found her way to San Francisco after graduating from high school early, when some friends at San Francisco State asked if she wanted to move in with them. When she first moved to the city, she was still writing and recording at home, but she had replaced her Modesto music community with this other new life that she had stumbled upon. “I wasn’t really looking for a music community and I felt like music was just something to do at home for myself and record on my own.” Lucky for us, she eventually started working at Blue Bottle Coffee and met her soon-to-be bandmate Nik, who was really active in the music scene and had access to the amazing community of musicians in the Bay Area. “He knew I made music and heard it, and asked if he could be my drummer. Drums aren’t even his first instrument, but I really liked that because it made me feel less intimidated.” It didn’t take long for Taylor to start getting gigs and garnering attention in the Bay Area music scene, expanding her band and making new friends along the way.
Taylor strikes me as a really gentle soul that feels a lot and often. She tells me, “I’ve always been a journaler and I’ve kept a journal since 4th grade. I always need to write down stuff that I’m feeling. It really helps me. And I’ve always been like that.” She doesn’t really have a songwriting process per se, but generally, songs usually start by sitting down with a guitar and finding a chord progression that works, and singing a melody over it. Then she sings some words and makes revisions, and before she knows it, the song is done. “I don’t really set out with ‘This thing happened and now I’m going to write about it.’ It’s more of a stream of consciousness. I feel like sometimes I’m tapping into this subconscious thing that I don’t even know that I’m feeling in the moment. But later I look back and say ‘Wow, that’s actually interesting that I wrote that or felt that.”
Earlier this summer, Boy Scouts was also signed to Anti- Records. “It was incredibly validating when I first found out that they were even interested. It’s interesting to be putting out music where other people are involved and benefitting from my success now. Other people have a hand in it and it’s a weird juxtaposition with how personal my music feels to me.” Anti- just put out Boy Scouts’ newest album, Free Company-- a chronicling of heartbreak and healing, that takes the devastating end of a long and positive relationship, and somehow manages to make something beautiful out of it. Taylor’s unique voice floats effortlessly through the songs, easy and breezy with words of hurt, healing, and sometimes hostility. “I have always had this obsession with cataloging stuff of my life. I re-read all my old journals pretty often and it’s cool to capture stuff how it feels in the moment, even if they are shitty feelings. It brings me some kind of weird happiness.” She tells me she didn’t intend to write songs to make an album out of them, but that’s what was going on in her life. “These are the songs that I had after a few sessions and I was like… ‘So yeah, it’s a break up album, if you didn’t know that already,’” she tells me between laughs. A few of the songs are bright and happy sounding songs, which upon second listen reveal a lot of sad and hurt feelings. “I think it’s a combination of wanting to make music that feels honest and vulnerable, as far as lyrics and stuff, but with catchy pop melodies. I love simple catchy pop melodies and I’m always trying to write that, I think.”
This album marks a departure from the more acoustic and folk driven sound of Boy Scouts’ older releases. An array of friends from the Bay Area music community: Stephen Steinbrink, Rose Droll, Madeline Kenney, and others, appear on the album and feature in the videos (or in Madeline’s case, she even directed a video!), making this album the most collaborative effort in Boy Scouts’ repertoire thus far. It was recorded in Stephen’s shipping-container-turned-studio, with no intention or idea of making a full album. Taylor simply had a bunch of home recordings, but hadn’t put anything out yet. “Honestly, I had all these songs written, and I didn’t really have a plan. Then Stephen hit me up saying he would love to try recording with me. Once we had started going, a couple of sessions in, we got a few songs done and I thought, ‘Wow! We could make a whole album!’ I didn’t have any big ideas that I was trying to execute and I was encouraging him to share his ideas if he had any because I already knew that I loved his music so much, and would probably love his ideas and what he thinks the songs should have on them.” She tells me a lot of the songs evolved through that kind of collaborative effort, and she feels really lucky that people whose opinions she values want to work with her.
Throughout our conversation, Taylor had this really sweet way of talking about her friends. She gushes about her admiration for Stephen Steinbrink, how Madeline Kenney is a great person who she loves dearly, and how she thinks Rose Droll is a “prolific genius.” There’s a lot of love for her community and it shows in the words of advice she has for others. “I feel like, just being active in the community, going to events, and meeting people is so important. Making and having connections in person is so valuable and there are just so many incredible people that do so much cool stuff. I know it sounds cheesy, but put yourself out there!” I think we need more people like Taylor in the world.
What’s next for Boy Scouts? “It’s hard to think about… I don’t know what’s next. I’m going to tour for a bit with Jay Som and then with Stephen Steinbrink. Then, I hopefully will start recording a new album. I don’t know how exactly I want to go about it, but we’ll see.”