Interview: Taylor Hicks

Interview: Taylor Hicks
December 21, 2006 11:46 AM
by Christina Fuoco
LiveDaily Contributor

Soulful pop singer Taylor Hicks was crowned the fifth "American Idol" in front of 36.4 million television viewers May 24, including his legions of fans nicknamed the "Soul Patrol." So what was the 30-year-old thinking as confetti rained on him?

"Don't fall over and don't let your knees buckle," Hicks said with a slight giggle during a recent phone interview from New York City. "I'm very grateful for all those people who watched 'American Idol' and all the people who voted."

Those 63 million-plus votes have since been parlayed into Hicks' self-titled debut, which hit stores last week. It was produced by Matt Serletic of Matchbox Twenty fame; guest songwriters include Bryan Adams, Matchbox Twenty frontman Rob Thomas, Diane Warren and Kara DioGuardi (of Platinum Weird). The closing number, "The Right Place," was originally written by Adams and Jim Vallance for Ray Charles to record before his death.

"It's got some groovy stuff on there," said Hicks, of Birmingham, AL.

Just after a recent "Good Morning America" appearance, Hicks talked to LiveDaily about his album, his "American Idol" peers and his soulful side.

LiveDaily: What was it like to work with two-time Grammy winner Matt Serletic?

Taylor Hicks: Matt knew who I was as an artist, which was like a double whammy. He just kind of understood me. He took some time getting to know me as an artist. He came out and saw some live shows. He was really great at understanding who I was and the direction that I wanted to go musically for this album.

How would you describe that direction?

A soulful slant on modern music--modern soul music. Maybe a modern slant on modern soul music.

That's the vibe I picked up in listening to it. I expected it to be a little more old school, but was pleasantly surprised. It's something you don't really hear on the radio.

Well, let's get out and put it on the radio. I'm ready to do that. That's kind of what we wanted to do. The easy part is making an old-school record. The hardest part is making an old-school and a new-school record.

Are you prepared for the promotional machine--all the TV appearances and the tour that begins at the end of February?

Oh, yes. I'm very excited for both. I'm excited to get on TV again because I enjoyed performing visually. The tour, I'm stoked about as well. I'm learning how to be a recording artist, and I'm really trying to hone my skills as a live performer. I'm just trying to make it happen.

You said on "Good Morning America" that your tour begins Feb. 24. How long will that last?

Hopefully 10 years. [Laughs]

How was it to work with Rob Thomas?

Rob sent me a wonderful song, "Dream Myself Awake," and it was really cool. We kind of come from the same playground--that soulful, blue-eyed-soul singer. And some of his music fits me.

Did you instantly take to that song?

Yeah, I thought it was really good. It grew legs and it came to life. I was really pleased that it worked out the way it did on the record.

You really worked with some heavy hitters on this album. What was it like to have all these great people in your corner?

It was wonderful. It really helped the album out. It made the album go better, and it was one of those things where you have really talented people in your corner and it helps the whole project.

Tell me about the tour. Are you going to hit arenas, clubs, theaters?

I'm going back to my intimate music setting. I'm going back to theaters and really cool music venues that I think would be great for some really great live music. I've been playing music venues for a long time. I feel like the theater is the place for this album. The theater and the clubs.

How does the music on "Taylor Hicks" compare to the albums you released prior to "American Idol"?

I just think it's an extension of that, with more of a production value involved. I think I was able to expand on the production side of the music. I'm just very thankful for Matt Serletic and all the people who were involved in the album to help me get this modern sound out.

So, basically, your older fans would see this as a logical progression?

Yeah, there's a little more productive quality on this album but the journey's just beginning. This is one album that's going to be taking that route. I'm happy with it. You can definitely still hear Taylor Hicks on the album.

The album has a very live vibe to it. Is that how it was recorded?

Interestingly enough, we did. We took the old-school way of recording, which was recording all the instruments live and adding all the stuff later.

For this album, you had the opportunity to re-record new versions of the self-penned "Soul Thing" and "The Deal," two songs that previously appeared on your second indie album, "Under the Radar."

I've been having ideas to re-do those songs for awhile. Now that I've gotten the opportunity, I got to dig in with them.

For those who haven't heard "Under the Radar," how are the songs different?

Maybe we had a little bit of an extra verse, a bridge. Production-wise, some of the verses and the bridges are different and stuff.

Do you still keep in touch with fellow "American Idol" contestants?

I talked to Elliott [Yamin] not too long ago. I left a message for Bucky [Covington]. I saw Chris [Daughtry] and Katharine [McPhee] not too long ago. I run into them and talk to them.

The least you can say about Taylor Hicks is that he's not like prior American Idol champs: he already had almost a decade of gigging in bars when he won the fifth season in 2006, complete with songwriting experience, an ability to play harmonica and guitar, and a pair of self-released albums. On his major-label debut, the Silver Fox settles in a plush, comfortable sound framed by vintage-sounding soul and R&B, as well as classic rock--it's comfort food for the ears. The one thing that's not here is Hicks's first single, "Do I Make You Proud." Other than that, the songs are a well-balanced mix of oldies (Marvin Gaye's "Wherever I Lay My Hat"), newbies that sound like oldies (Rob Thomas's "Dream Myself Awake," Bryan Adams's "The Right Place"), the obligatory Diane Warren ballad ("Places I've Been"), and some party-fun anthems ("The Runaround," "Heaven Knows"). This last track actually is one of two paying tribute to Hicks's patron saint, Ray Charles--it references the piano riff from "What'd I Say," while "The Right Place" was originally written for Charles. Clearly, there are worse people to look up to. --Elisabeth Vincentelli

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