Taylor Nicks Steps Into Spotlight With Atlantis Aquarius
There's a saying that behind every successful man is a strong woman. Any artist that has had the pleasure of working with Taylor Nicks, certainly knows that's the case. Taylor has had the opportunity to sing background vocals with some of the best local artists, including Paul Cauthen, Larry Gee and Medicine Man Revival, but recently she has taken a step forward as one of the lead vocalists in Atlantis Aquarius with Jordan Cain. Singing in this new project has allowed Taylor to show off her dynamic vocal range, and we believe it’s just the tip of the iceberg in what is sure to be a promising career. We sat down with our good friend Taylor Nicks to hear more about Atlantis Aquarius and how she became one of Dallas’ most sought after female vocalists.
You have sang background vocals with some of the biggest names in the Dallas music scene from Larry Gee to Paul Cauthen, what's the transition been like now moving to a lead vocalist?
The transition has been the funnest part. Getting called upon to sing on a record or to sing background vocals at someone's next show, these are the opportunities I've both hoped would happen and have sought out intently the past few years. In Atlantis Aquarius I’m able to flex new muscles as a performer and vocalist that I wouldn't otherwise take the liberty to when accompanying another artist’s project. I've loved being apart of Atlantis Aquarius and assuming a little more of a lead role. I like to call it our “Fleetwood Mac” project — I’m obviously channeling Stevie (laughs). I still want to be the girl people think to call on in those moments that demand a female power background vocal. I’m not saying I am that girl or that voice, but I am a girl that has been called on to sing with some of my favorite local artists and that will never get old to me. That's where it all started, backing my brother and friend, Larry Gayao, as one-third of The Affections.
What do you consider to be your first big break into the local music scene?
To be honest, I still consider my first big break to be the night Beau Bedford heard me singing Beyoncé in my car — which I take very seriously as you may or may not imagine — and I remember him asking me what I was doing musically. At the time I was a senior in college (2012), and hadn’t been singing since I graduated high school. I said, “Oh nothing, just going to design school, but keep me in mind!”
He was the music leader for Larry Gee at the time...and I had been a super fan of Larry since I first saw him play. I did my best to not to miss any of his local shows and we eventually had made acquaintances, social media friends, etc. Months later, as I was preparing for my senior show at UNT’s School of Interior Design, I got a text from Larry saying that Beau had referred me to audition to be one of his three background vocalists (later to be dubbed “The Affections”), for a showcase tour that just so happened to be during finals week of my senior year.
I went to that audition and they put me in the band. Luckily all my teachers let me postpone my exams, and I was studying for my finals all the way back home from tour. I passed all my tests, graduated college, and really haven’t stopped since then. Shortly after, Beau put me on my first studio track as a background vocalist on “Sons and Daughters“ from the Quaker City Night Hawks’ most recent album El Astronauta. That was the first time I was ever on someone else’s record. I was so giddy about it.
You mentioned that you had sung in high school, can you talk about your musical background growing up?
I’ve been singing since I’ve been talking. My first voice lessons were with Renee Rollins in North Richland Hills at a little studio near my house. I wanted to be just like Leann Rimes, and Renee really just equipped and educated me on the art of performance, stage presence and vocal technique. Middle school through high school I was classically trained and sang competitively all throughout school. I sang in church; I was an All-Stater; I was in show choir, varsity choir, school musicals, you name it. Total choir nerd.
You have a very soulful/gospel music style, who are some of your music influences?
I’ve always listened to country music, as in old country music. My first cassette tape was Tanya Tucker. But I grew up listening to Patsy Cline, Reba McEntire, The Judds, Dolly Parton; all of those classic country female power houses. If I'm completely honest 90’s country shaped me as a singer, which is funny, but also shameless and totally reasonable. I then started listening to pop when Christina Aguilera emerged and that expanded my interest into some hip-hop/R&B vibes. While I recognized Christina was obviously way more exotic than I, I did identify with being a white girl with soul. I realized my voice could do certain things that she could and I studied her dynamics, her vocal agility, and her vocal delivery. As I later would do with other artists of R&B/Funk/Soul. Growing up singing in church really rooted me musically, as well.
The music scene in Dallas is very male dominated, do you see this as more of a challenge or more of an opportunity because there aren’t as many female vocalists?
Both are true I think. There's not a super huge pond of female vocalists here in Dallas. There’s definitely several ladies that are killing it locally (Sudie, Sam Lao, Jenna Clark, Mattie Michelle, Ashley Falgout—to name a few). But there is definitely room to grow. Being at the Dallas Observer music awards this year made me realize that I wanted to be amongst the roster of women doing big things musically in our city. It shifted my perspective and challenged me to work harder. There is definitely a male-dominant presence in the “scene” right now, and I don’t know why that is…but It never hurts to have less competition (laughs). I don’t really look at those girls as competition though, because we’re all like apples and oranges. They are each queens in their own arenas and we all support each other, and that's special. They all inspire me. There may not be a ton of us out here hustling locally, but hey, that means more floor space on stage and more room for activities (laughs).
As a female, I’m getting to dabble in multiple genres at once and that’s an advantage I have that others don’t. Every one of the bands I’m singing with are fronted by male musicians, so to say that they pose a challenge to me would be discrediting. I couldn’t do what I’m doing without them. The only instrument I play are these pipes. Is the music scene male-driven? Sure. Do I need it to stay that way? Yes. Someone’s got to play the music I'm singing to (laughs). If you know how to be a lady in this industry, it’s actually easier and probably more fun. After all, the Gents let me tag along with them sometimes and I'll never pass up an opportunity to sing their praises for it. I’m really grateful to witness and be a part of the magic those boys are making. They're the most talented guys I know and some of my best friends. I’m glad they're dominating, they’ve had my back and I'll always have theirs.
How have you evolved from what you described as your big break to where you are now?
I feel like I’ve really blossomed in the last year or two as a human, as a business professional, and as a woman. I’ve lived in Dallas for almost four years now, and while many of my predecessors have moved on or taken a step back from their spotlight, it’s left a sweet spot in the music community that a lot of talented girls have begun to fill. And I recognize that as an opportunity. I’ve done my best to seize it and take my part in it. I’ve seen myself evolve from singing backup for Larry Gee and anticipating my one solo verse of “Rock Me Baby”. Us girls would each take a verse of that song and it was kind of our moment to show off during Larry’s set. I would get nervous before singing mine, once upon a time. Now I’m sharing center stage with Jordan in Atlantis Aquarius, and singing the whole song by myself! I mean I've really arrived (laughs). But now my focus has shifted and my plate is a bit fuller. I have the honor and pleasure of being featured on people’s albums and playing in a few bands, contributing a small piece of myself to each them. I'm having so much fun and I love where I'm at.
I’m also discovering and honing-in more every day on what my sound is. I like to think of myself as a vocal chameleon in that I can adapt to a variety of styles and enjoy doing so. But that presents all the more of a challenge. Being classically trained, you’re taught to blend and to allow your voice be malleable; to listen and let your sound be shaped by the music, as to never compete with what’s happening around you. Knowing your role as a supporting element; and owning it without detracting from the focal point is an art in and of itself. I have more experience being apart of a unit and paying attention to the frontman, so to totally pinpoint what I sound like as the/a frontman has really taken some time for me.
I’d say that I've grown in my level of confidence on and off stage, both vocally and as a performer. I’m learning a lot about myself and what I'm capable of, which has been both humbling and empowering. I had the opportunity to sing at the Ryman with my buddy Paul Cauthen and I was nervous for the first time in quite a long time. Being cognoscente of that was kind of a “moment” for me.
When I was a little girl, probably 10 years old, I was about to sing at the Garland Opry with a live band of adults for the first time ever. I remember telling my Grandaddy how nervous I was, “I’ve got butterflies in my stomach,” I told him. My grandaddy looked at me and said, “You never see a butterfly on a bad day”, and that it means, “something good is on the way.” Seventeen years later, standing on stage at the Ryman, I felt like a little girl again with those same butterflies that once took my breath away. Instead of wishing them away, I embraced the feeling. I remember promising myself that I'd always keep trying to find those butterflies; that I'd never lose the ability to feel smaller than a moment or an opportunity that deserves my honor and respect. To feel those butterflies again at the Ryman reminded me how far I've come, and I’m still growing, which to me, is the greatest victory of all.
You are now a lead vocalist with Jordan Cain in Atlantis Aquarius, how did joining that group come about?
I started singing with Rise and Shine at bar gigs, they would just pull me on stage to sing background or a cover from time to time. Brandon Pinckard and Jordan Cain also work with me at 44 Build—both great buddies of mine. One day, Jordan asked me to sing with his low key solo project, which I had already been hip to for a few years. I showed up to sing a show with him and afterwards was invited to the next one—and the next one. Before I knew it I had just sort of become a part of the band! Jordan has a strong vision and creative drive, he curated this project and I just kinda just ran with it. According to your interview with him shortly thereafter, I had became an “integral part of the band and was the differentiating element between Atlantis and Rise and Shine” (laughs). This was unbeknownst to me, but it was at that point that I kinda dove in and it's been a lot of fun so far!
So from that point to now, what do you consider your role is in the band going forward?
I feel like we’re a Fleetwood Mac hybrid mixed with Leon Russell and Alabama Shakes. This is the first time I’ve been apart of a duo act, and my first time to be center stage this often and to this capacity. I've done my best to assume and own my role. I welcome all that comes with it. The audience and their response to the music has been a huge motivating factor. I’m assuming this role in this way because they’re asking me to. So shoot, I'm gonna give it to ‘em!
I’m so grateful for all the encouragement and positive feedback that we’ve received in Atlantis Aquarius. I see it now as a platform that can only lead me and develop me further as an artist. Who knows, maybe I'll do my own thing too one day. I think in a couple years I’ll release my own EP. I'm open to the possibilities of the future, I love where I'm at and I'm following my arrows wherever they may lead. I'm having my cake and eating it too, y'all. Life is sweet!