Maria Taylor's 5-String Solo Journey

“I always have a difficult time putting things into words. That’s why I make music,” says Maria Taylor, the guitarist/singer/songwriter best know for her work with the dream-pop duo Azure Ray. Taylor’s latest release, 11:11 [Saddle Creek], is her solo debut—an ambient blend of folk and pop that effortlessly combines electronic and acoustic elements. Drawing on influences that include Carly Simon, Carole King, and Leonard Cohen, Taylor played acoustic guitar on all but one of the album’s tunes, as well as tackling drums, keyboards, and vocals.

You started off playing keyboards. When did you realize you wanted to be a guitarist?
When I started writing songs, I decided it was easier to write songs on guitar than on piano. I’d teach myself chords and string them together. Because I didn’t know what I was doing on the guitar yet, I came up with more interesting things, whereas on the piano, everything I wrote sounded typical.

What was your main acoustic on 11:11?
A Martin OM-21. It’s a slightly smaller guitar.

How did you record it?
I’m not sure of the mic, but we’ll place it right in front of the guitar and I move until I find the sweet spot. Then I try to stay as still as I can. I record the part twice and pan them left and right.

How would you describe your playing style?
I used to play really hard, but I feel too disconnected if I use a pick. I prefer to feel the strings, so I usually wear an acrylic nail on my pointer finger to strum with now. I also take the high-E string off my guitar because I like smooth, rich, bottom-heavy sounds.

What inspired you to remove the E string?
The high-E string drove me nuts until it broke at a show five years ago. I played without it for a couple of weeks and realized I wasn’t hearing that “ping” sound. I take it off all my guitars.

What is it about acoustic guitar that you like?
When I’m recording, I always like to start with an acoustic because it has a percussive feel to it. You can hear your fingers on the strings. I find it to be a good foundation for the tune. You can probably pull my acoustic out of every song and the songs would still stand, but it’s the instrument I write on, so it helps keep them grounded.

Would you like to develop any aspect of your playing style?
I have a lot of room to grow as a guitarist, which is really exciting. I hope I can be a smoother guitar player, and I want to learn different styles. Every year I appreciate the guitar more, and I love everything about it. I love the smell, the way it feels. I love that it’s such a tangible way to feel the songs while you’re playing.

As a self-taught player, is there anything you wish you had learned early on, something you could recommend to new players?
You don’t have to strum on every beat! I used to think you always had to, but I realize now the subtleties are really important. That’s true with any instrument, but especially with the acoustic guitar. Space is just as important as sound.