Today we’d like to introduce you to Taali.
So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
I remember vividly the first time I put my fingers on piano keys. I was 5, in my Savta’s apartment in Washington Heights, Manhattan. It felt like a first breath of fresh air. After that, the only piano I could find was our next door neighbors’, an elderly couple named Tom and Kathy. I would walk to their door and stay there for hours, while they generously gave me cookies and let me play. Ever since, I’ve been obsessed with music, and, perhaps more importantly, cookies.
In all seriousness though, eventually it was clear I wasn’t going to shake this thing, and my parents bought me my first piano, a perfect Yamaha upright. It was a wrap: After that, my whole life basically has been in service to music. I learned to sing, and more recently to write songs for other human beings. All of that led me to today, where I present music as Taali, and write songs for other artists as Talia Billig.
Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Smooth? That is a word. It is a word that makes me giggle.
My road has definitely not been smooth. At least in my experience, any artist who uses the word “smooth” to describe their journey is either not telling the truth or is too young to have lived a life. And that’s not a bad thing. I think that part of what makes artists is that we are constantly striving. It’s what drives us to create; we aren’t satisfied with normal.
To that end: Here are some struggles I’ve met along the way:
1) My singing voice:
I grew up in the early 2000s when big, booming belty pop voices were a *thing.* I had to learn to love my voice exactly as it was. But before I did that, I blew it out trying to sound like those pop singers. For five years I had to re-learn how to sing and speak properly, eventually culminating in a drastic vocal cord surgery in 2016 (from which, thankfully, I have made a full recovery!)
2) My writing voice:
It took me years to settle in on the idea that I was capable enough to write for other people, even though it was clear from my first session with José James that it was the thing I was best at. I questioned my abilities, turned down opportunities, and dove face first into songwriters (their work, their writings, their interviews) until I felt fully confident that I could show up and kill it. Looking back, I wish I had done this *while* writing, it would have saved me time and anxiety.
3) My voice, in general:
Though I learned early on how to yell and make myself heard artificially and through force, speaking up for myself, authentically, does not come easily to me. It took me a very long time to have the confidence and presence to be in a room and not need to push, yell or tap dance to have the “best” outcome. I think this is my most important lesson to date, and the absence of it/journey to learning it definitely caused the most struggle over the last decade.
We’d love to hear more about what you do.
I am a singer, songwriter, and storyteller. Above all, I describe myself as a lover and teller of stories.
As a songwriter, I’m most proud of my ability to learn an artist and tell their story quickly and effectively. I’ve been writing for José James for over five years, for example. I love that at this point, we can sit in the studio and barely speak and have a song finished within a few hours.
After living in LA in the songwriting scene for two years, I think that my skills as a lyricist set me apart from others. At some point in the business of churning out song after song, it seems like a blanket decision was made to make lyrics “secondary.” I’ve never felt that way. And rather than complain about it, I see this as a positive, because in LA I think it’s also about doing what you’re best at.
I’ve seen UNBELIEVABLE writers who just write what’s called “top line” (just the melody you sing on a track). They can bang out fifteen melodies one after another that are all interchangeably perfect pop songs. I can do the same with lyrics. I often get called to add or fix lyrics and am happy to do so, because, to me, lyrics are as important as the melody and surrounding song.
Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
Absolutely. My father (my first and best cheerleader), taught me young that nobody gets anywhere on their own. Ever since, I’ve made it my primary job to cultivate, celebrate and support creative community.
I’d never be able to quantify the magnificent community that has lifted me to where I am today (your site would crash), but here are a few:
-My dad, when I was four years old, bought me a journal and wrote on the inside cover, “To Talia, with love and respect for your writing.” That’s my parents in a nutshell. Unreal. He and my mom have been the kind of cheerleaders that dreams are made of.
-José James, my primary writing partner and co-founder of Rainbow Blonde Records, came to see me at Rockwood Music Hall in 2010, with twenty people in the audience and was able to see a vision for me that even I couldn’t foresee at the time. In the eight years, since I’ve lived out that vision: We have toured the world together, I’ve written on three of his albums, and he has become my best friend and most trusted collaborator.
-Michael Rubino, my first ever music teacher, saw past a troubled kid to a student who needed help that was tailored to his skill set. He taught me to improvise, to *love* music, and to laugh at myself. I don’t think I’d be alive today without him.
-Bruce Lundvall and Don Was, my former boss and current mentor, took me under their wing while I worked at Blue Note Records. “Under their wing” is an understatement…
They taught me almost everything I could ever ask or need to know about the business, and let me be a fly on the wall for absolutely spectacular meetings, sessions, shows, the works. I owe them big time!
- Instagram: www.instagram.com/taalimusic
- Facebook: www.facebook.com/musictaali
- Twitter: www.twitter.com/taalitweets