When we caught up with Victorian singer songwriter Taylor Henderson as part of his whirlwind week of promo last week, he was battling it out with Brisbane’s Sheppard for the top spot on the ARIA albums chart with his new LP ‘Burnt Letters’. Turns out of course that the week was rather kind to him; his album debuting in the top spot across the weekend; his second to do so post his ‘X Factor’ journey.
But the Taylor Henderson story began many years before ‘The X Factor’. He first appeared on our screens as part of the 2010 edition of ‘Australia’s Got Talent’, performing alongside his father. He was just 16 years old, but he begins by telling us that in retrospect, he was nowhere near ready for a career in the music industry.
“100% ‘no’,” he says. “No-one wanted me when I came off the show and I got nothing out of it. I tried to share what I could offer, but I guess I really didn’t know myself either. It’s probably why I wasn’t convincing, because I was half-hearted.
“But I think the best thing about ‘X Factor’ is that even though I didn’t win, I knew what I had to do when I stepped off the show. I think that’s because I spent those four years wondering why I couldn’t get signed, I wrote these songs, I got my act together and figured out what I needed to do.
While ‘Australia’s Got Talent’ taught Taylor that he was a long way from ready as an artist, ‘The X Factor’ taught him the tricks of the performance trade.
“If you had have told me on ‘AGT’ to go and sing a Mumford & Sons song, I would have said, ‘you’re kidding me’. I didn’t sing songs that fast. I was very acoustic and I’d stay quite ballady.
“But what I learned from ‘X Factor’ was what the crowd enjoys, how to get crowds excited. Songs like that are instant energy and that’s why this album has a selection of songs that have, not so much an Avicii style, but that uptempo style. They’re written for a reason, but still have a meaning behind them. I’ll never leave a song that’s just been turned over because I needed an upbeat song. That’s not the case.”
‘The X Factor’ left Taylor flying high on the charts. His post-journey single ‘Borrow My Heart’ hit No.1, as did his self-titled debut album. ‘When You Were Mine’ achieved top five success, but his latest single ‘Already Gone’ has yet to find a home in the ARIA top ten. Taylor is seemingly taking it all in his stride.
“I remember when ‘Borrow My Heart’ went to No.1. I was in shock,” he says. “I even remember when the song was given to me. I still didn’t know whether the song would even suit me, but now it’s a completely different story because it just belongs to me and I feel to attached to it.
“Then ‘When You Were Mine’ peaked at No.5 and then ‘Already Gone’… That’s my new single, which I still love, but it hasn’t done as well as the others and that’s when you realise that you have to keep on your game consistently.”
With his second album – and first real album – ‘Burnt Letters’ debuting at No.1 over the weekend, it would appear that Taylor’s music is clearly still in demand. He was locked in a battle for most of release week with Brisbane band Sheppard and their debut album ‘Bombs Away’. They were leading him in the sales race when we chatted.
“It was pretty crazy on the first day of the release. Even though it’s sitting at No.2 on iTunes, it was at No.1 on the release day and it was a pinch myself moment that reminded me of ‘Borrow My Heart’… just the feeling of being No.1 is a very powerful feeling.
“I remember when I first heard Sheppard’s song ‘Let Me Down Easy’, I remember thinking they weren’t bad. I honestly remember thinking, ‘this band has more to offer’ and I never thought I’d be battling it out with them, so we’ll have to see at the end of the week.
“Sheppard will be the competition,” he admitted. “But I’m a massive Ed Sheeran fan too, so I was thinking, ‘crap! Ed Sheeran’s up there, Sia’s album’s out too… I’ve got no chance.’ And then it’s crazy to think how those artists are sitting behind me. I love their stuff. It is pretty crazy still to be in second spot, so it’s no small achievement.”
Of course, history will show that Taylor beat all comers to score his second No.1 album. It’s an album that’s undeniably close to his heart. An album that showcases his extraordinary vocal ability and an album which sees him reuniting with some old writing partners.
“I worked with a bunch of people. I worked with a guy called Louis Schoorl; and Alex Hope and Hayley Warner as well, so those three were a little group,” he explains. “They did ‘Borrow My Heart’ and that’s also where ‘Where You Were Mine’ came from; I went back to them and said that I wanted to write a song with them. I had some chords and a few lyrics that I needed to get out. We all worked on it and came up with ‘When You Were Mine’.
“Apart from that, I worked with a guy called John Hume, who wrote some amazing songs with me. We wrote ‘Host Of Angels’ together. I brought that song to him, actually. I said, ‘I have this song that is very important to me. I’ve written it, but I haven’t finished it yet and I’ve been stuck on it for a long time – since I was about 16’.
“I’d never played it to any other writers at that stage because it was so important. He almost didn’t want to touch it, because when I played it to him he was really impressed. I told him I’d written it in about 20 minutes, but I just needed his help in parts and he really understood what I wanted to say.
“The people I worked with really understood what I needed to say from the back of my mind. Some of the songs I was doing at the start were horrendous. People were almost trying to convince me that they were good. And I was listening to these opinions almost being convinced. I’d only been in the industry for a month at that stage and I had to put my foot down and say it wasn’t right. So those songs were never on the album and I’m kind of glad, because the tracks that made it are what I stand for.”
The album is also stylistically diverse. We ask him whether it was a challenge coming up with a body of work that would hold commercial appeal for his ‘X Factor’ audience, while also being indicative of him as an artist.
“I always used to think that. How the hell am I going to be on radio with my soft voice that likes to sing ballads?” he queries. “I don’t know how it happened, but I started to understand that there’s more to it than just a catchy song. If you can write a catchy song, that’s great. But I wanted to extend on that and write songs that have, not just meaning, but songs in which I feel I can bring a more original sound to radio.
“If they don’t work, I’ve got plenty more in the bank because I’m always writing. I’ll never say that I’ve written as much as I can, because it’s not true. I never used to say ‘I’m working on my writing’. Normally I’m working on my singing. It’s funny when you’re in this industry… you learn different phrases and different words and when you go through things, you feel the need to get down on a piece of paper. That’s what this album is.
“It’s called ‘Burnt Letters’ because it wants to be protected. It feels like it has meaning to it, but at the same time, it’s brittle and quite vulnerable with its lyrics and melodies.”
As for Taylor’s commercial hopes for the album…? Given Saturday’s chart debut, his words at the time turned out to be perhaps a little prophetic.
“I reckon everyone deserves a chance to be at No.1. It’s an amazing thing and I know what it’s like to be there. It’s a great spot and I’m honoured to be in the charts along with all those other artists who I admire, especially Ed Sheeran. So seeing my name standing next to all these people is one of the coolest things that’s ever happened.”
And for Taylor, it looks like continuing to happen for a little while yet.
Taylor Henderson’s album ‘Burnt Letters’, featuring the singles ‘When You Were Mine’ and ‘Already Gone’ is available digitally and physically now.
Catch Taylor playing live as part of his ‘Burnt Letters’ tour at one of the following venues;
August 07 : Port Macquarie (Glasshouse Theatre)
August 08 : Taree (Manning Theatre)
August 09 : Wollongong (Waves)
August 10 : Sydney (Metro Theatre)
August 14 : Melbourne (Ormond Hall)
August 15 : Ballarat (Regent Theatre)
August 16 : Benalla (Performing Arts Centre)
August 17 : Albury (Entertainment Centre)