Toronto-based singer-songwriter Steven Taetz isn’t afraid to experiment with his sound.
From his early work with EDM DJs across Europe, to his acclaimed jazz performances which has brought him to the Toronto Jazz Festival and Rochester Jazz Festival among others, Tatez has carved a unique musical path and isn’t done shifting direction just yet.
Today, the multi-faceted artist has released his new Americana-tinged single, “Late Bloom.”
The smitten song is the first song off of his third album, which is expected to be released in 2023. The highly anticipated project is following the success of his 2018 work, Drink You In, which received rave reviews from critics such as the JazzTimes.
The lead single explores Taetz’s feelings of falling in love slowly. While the love is a “late bloom,” Taetz is sure the love was made to last. The soaring harmonies makes the listener swoon, and the sound captures what could be a perfect “first dance” moment.
We got to chat with Taetz to talk about the new single, his newer musical direction, and much more.
So how has 2022 treated you? Any notable highlights?
2022 has been a year of interesting highs, including adopting a new puppy into our family, and returning to in-person performances after pandemic hiatus, mixed with the lows of several losses in my family.
All said, with an upcoming album and more music in the making, this year has really been a memorable one so far!
I see where you seemingly began your music career working with DJs and producers in Europe on EDM and dance music. Can you talk about that experience and how you shifted more into the jazz scene?
After university, I moved from rural Western Canada to Toronto, and connected with DJ/producers as a “topliner” (writing lyrics and melodies) to their beats and writing pop music for pop and EDM artists on Universal, Nettwerk, and European labels.
My first experiences with songwriting were largely in isolation from the other writers and artists, and led to virtual releases without any performance opportunities. This indirectly inspired me to write and record my 2013 self-titled album, as I wanted to move into a more organic, acoustic direction and perform for live audiences. To create that album 10 years ago, I co-wrote with JUNO (Canadian Grammy) award-winning singer-songwriters from each area of Canada.
In 2013-2015, I was living in New York, and inspired by the local jazz scene, so I made my last album, Drink You In, with a vocal jazz crooner aesthetic. This project provided wonderful touring opportunities, including stand-out performances at Rochester International Jazz Festival. After a few years of performing mostly standards (covers of classic hits), I felt that I wanted to return to telling my own stories and get back to creating new music with other singers and songwriters.
So you’ve got your new single, “Late Bloom,” out today 11/22. What’s the inspiration and back story behind it?
After some inspiring co-writing sessions with several collaborators from Nashville, including Emma-Lee (writer for Mickey Guyton) and Mary Bragg (singer-songwriter, and recent producer with Indigo Girls), I had the idea to create this love song called “Late Bloom” that told my own story of finding love late(r) in life.
Like the other songs on the album, this song also has a hidden storyline – coming into my own as an artist late(r) in life. I approached singer-songwriter Jenn Grant to co-write the song, and she added her own beautiful lyricism, hooky melodies, and eventually also the background vocals on this tune. Grant’s husband and creative-partner, Daniel Ledwell, was tapped to produce several songs on the album.
The three of us shared a love for Fleetwood Mac and Blue Rodeo, so we wanted to produce a rootsy pop song that went in those musical directions. As a child, I experienced most of my music in our family station wagon, singing the harmonies of 1980’s classics with my parents and sister, so “Late Bloom” includes arrangements with full of lush harmonies, perfect for singing along to while driving.
What led you to release this song in particular as the first single? Was the process of choosing a lead single difficult?
The album itself has, at every step, taken time to percolate and the more we stopped trying to rush, the better the songs and stories that emerged, like the song’s lyrics, “It took a while, but it’s right on time.” As one of the final songs we recorded, it naturally seemed to sum up all of the themes of the album.
I’ve taken some artistic liberties blending genres between some of the tunes (eg. from contemporary roots-country of “Into the Sunset” to the blue-eyed soul vibes of “Only the Night Knows”). This song also was the most in line with my mood and musical style by the end of the project. On this tune, you can hear that I’ve really loved getting back to my roots!
So you’ve established a career as more of a jazz singer, but this single is more on the Americana and rootsy pop side of the spectrum. What led you to pursue this newer direction?
I’ve really enjoyed trying on lots of different styles of music over the last ten or so years, both for my own recordings, features with other artists, or writing for other folks’ projects. This has ranged from pop to dance to jazz, etc. With my first album in the roots camp, and second album moreso a standards crooner project, I wanted to get back to a more organic contemporary roots direction for this material as it felt more authentic to support stories. Collaborating with Nashville songwriters, their style of songwriting – a more honest and narrative style of writing – also shaped both music, lyrics, and narratives of the new project.
Speaking of the new direction, “Late Bloom” is part of a new upcoming album. Are there any overarching themes or motifs behind this upcoming record?
During the writing process, this musical shift “rang true” with the loss of three grandparents who were based in rural Alberta, Canada, which made me revisit my family’s stories, and at the same time, my musical history. My grandfather Earl Lang was one grandfather who recently passed away; he had so many fascinating stories, like raising Arabian horses, or his side-career as a country singer in Calgary, once opening for Wilf Carter.
Looking through his sheet music and the records of my father’s parents who also recently passed, I was immersed in the music of my childhood; country, gospel, early rock and soul music. That acoustic music, tight harmonies, and the current stories of love and loss, all inspired this project and its musical direction.
Where was it recorded, and who helped you bring this vision to life?
The songs for this project have taken their sweet time (thus the album title Late Bloom) at certain stages of the recording, due in large part to the pandemic. We starting recording in 2019 in Toronto with producer Drew Jurecka (co-producer on Dua Lipa’s 2021 album, and Jill Barber’s previous albums). We worked remotely on the initial tracks, and after writing some new music with Jenn Grant, I also looped in her creative partner Daniel Ledwell to produce the final four tracks of the album at his studio in Lake Echo, Nova Scotia, and mix the full project as well.
Some of the instrumental overdubs were added remotely, in order to keep things moving during the pandemic, which opened up some great opportunities to add orchestral strings, pedal steel, brass section, or layers of background vocals to give as many colours to each song as possible.
What was it like collaborating with world class artists such as Jill Barber and Caroline Brooks of Good Lovelies among others?
I’ve been so lucky to have the opportunity to work with co-writers throughout my career, but the collaborators on this album were generous to reply to my cold-call emails asking to collaborate. Since writing together, they have each offered to join on the recordings, and have mentored me and introduced me to other collaborators in their network.
Jill Barber and I co-wrote with producer Drew Jurecka on the song “Into the Sunset”, and I wrote a duet “Lost from View” for Jill that she kindly sang on also. Caroline Marie Brooks (amazing artist who has her own solo project and is better known member as a member of the stellar band Good Lovelies co-wrote and duetted with me on “Promised Land,” which borrows lyrics from the Biblical story of Ruth, set to a Roy Orbison-inspired Motown ballad – I cant wait to share these with everyone!
Also, former Nashvillian and incredible singer-songwriter Mary Bragg wrote two tunes on the upcoming album. As a fellow LGBT+ artist, she helped me to mine the depths of each song’s narrative and helped to bring those narratives to life. She appears on another duet called “How to Love,” a Brandi Carlile-style queer anthem, singing to our younger selves with our own unique “it gets better” message.
I already mentioned Jenn Grant too – I’ve been so lucky to work with these world-class artists, and they’ve been so generous to take the time to make this project even more special with their magic touches.
You’ve played many iconic venues like Carnegie Hall and The Rogers Centre among others. Where has been your favorite place you’ve played so far and why?
It’s a close tie between two performances; first was the performance mainstage at Washington D.C.’s Capital Pride Festival near the steps of Congress, the same year DOMA was struck down. The second would be my last performance back in Calgary for a hometown crowd at Canada’s National Music Centre historic venue King Eddy – such a thrill to go back home and perform for family and friends.
If 2023 goes exactly as planned for you, it will entail…
I’m excited for touring dates in the new year with some note-worthy festivals and venues across Canada and U.S., including performances at Calgary Folk Festival’s Block Heater in February, as well as Ottawa’s National Arts Centre, and stops across Canada and the U.S. planned for later in 2023.
I love where we ended up on the journey creating this album, and it feels like these new songs are already starting to resonate with a broader audience than previous projects, both with the more universal storylines and the style of music. I’m looking forward to sharing this new material virtually and finally again in-person! I’ve missed the connection with other people in the same spaces together!